EXCERPT: 'The Feminine Mistake'

Still wearing the impressive diamonds her ex-husband gave her during their marriage, this particular friend always looks like the picture of affluence; but the truth is that she can barely pay her monthly bills. In coping with such an unwanted challenge, she has a dismaying amount of company. I've been a reporter for more than three decades, and I couldn't possibly count the number of women I've interviewed who thought they could depend on a husband to support them but who ultimately found themselves alone and unprepared to take care of themselves—and their children. With heartbreaking frequency, I've sat in so many lovely living rooms over the years, listening to women wearing beautiful clothes and expensive jewelry tell me they are broke and have no idea how they'll earn a living on their own, now that their breadwinner is gone.

"The feminine mistake" has cost women far too much over the last century, but we can escape it only by recognizing economic dependency for the dangerously anachronistic trap that it is. It's high time to confront reality, to protect ourselves and our children, and to embrace the happier, more secure lives we can earn by taking full responsibility for our own futures.

But in order to do so, women must reevaluate their assumptions and consider their long-term interests as well as their family's short-term needs before making major life choices. My hope is that this book will help them do that more effectively. Knowledge is power, but all too often, women make critical decisions that will circumscribe their futures without fully understanding the facts—and then get blindsided by the consequences.

Far better to arm ourselves with adequate information, prepare for reasonable risks, and march forward with strength and confidence to enjoy the intellectual, emotional, and material benefits of an independent life. That's a lot more fun than cheating ourselves out of all those rewards and resigning ourselves to living with insecurity and fear—because dependency inevitably breeds fear. Anyone who is not in control of her own circumstances must, unless she's got her head firmly buried in the sand, at times feel anxious about what could happen to her if something happened to her spouse.

What a contrast with taking control of your own destiny, which is both exhilarating and profoundly empowering. Women rarely talk about what it feels like to have power; many don't even think they have any, and those who do typically observe the social taboos that inhibit females from talking about it. In this culture, power is seen as a male attribute; the very word seems unfeminine. And yet having power over our own lives is a vital component of happiness. Enjoying a broad range of options, and knowing that we can exercise them to change whatever we don't like about our circumstances, is tremendously liberating, not to mention the best possible hedge against depression.

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