LET’S START BY SAYING WHAT FREE-SPIRITED, wanderlust-ing women who’ve been in love already know: love, freedom and travel don’t always easily mix. Being madly in love with a person, madly in love with your freedom, and madly in love with the idea of up-and-leaving at any moment can bring adventure, passion, beauty…and little long-term romantic success.
Needless to say, there is a desperate need for some role models. So stumbling across letters from Amelia Earhart online felt like a much-needed sign of guidance. Turns out, Amelia dealt with the same love/freedom/travel conundrum years before us modern female nomads ever even knew it could be a thing. And she tackled it with a lot of honesty, perspective, confidence that all made her ahead of her time. Here are six things millennial women can learn from Amelia Earthart about juggling love, freedom and travel:
1. Be skeptical of the institution of marriage. Don’t fall for it too quickly, especially if it impedes on your goals.
Amelia once wrote to a friend “I am still unsold on marriage . . . I may not ever be able to see [it] except as a cage until I am unfit to work or fly or be active.”
Before marrying her husband George Putnam, she rejected his proposal twice (other sources say as many as six times). Even before their wedding, she wrote Putnam a letter saying again, “You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me.”
Amelia understood the hierarchy of her priorities: work, fly, be active…then, be married. If one impeded the other, she knew she had the right to question which she needed most.
2. Or even more, rethink the traditional construct of marriage altogether.
Amelia may have been one of the pioneers of polyamory. In a letter to Putnam she said:
“On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest, I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.”
She also could have been the actual inventor of the “wedlease” — an idea popularized by an article in the Washington Post — where couples don’t say “I do” to forever, but instead to an agreed upon period of time. In that same letter to Putnam Amelia said,
“I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together. I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.”
Amelia had no interest in the trite, hollow vows couples traditionally make for marriage. Instead, she saw more value in acknowledging true feelings upfront, and only making promises she knew they could actually keep.
3. If you do agree to marry, it’s okay to want to keep your own name.
The New York Times story publicizing Amelia’s marriage focused heavily on this issue. The headline said “Atlantic Flier Will Remain “Miss Earhart” and the story noted that “Earhart would like it to be known that she will retain her own name for business and writing purposes.”
Keeping your own surname in the thirties made a bold statement, when even today, women who keep their last name are the minority (some studies have the number at a third).
4. Don’t worry about “timing.” When the time is right, the time is right.
Amelia was first engaged to chemical engineer Sam Chapman, but kept putting off the wedding (and declined to wear an engagement ring), because she knew that Chapman would ground her once they were married.
When she finally broke off the engagement, reporters asked her about her future matrimonial plans. She responded, “You never can tell. If I was sure of the man, I might get married tomorrow.”
Amelia understood that our society’s emphasis on “timing” is way overblown. Sometimes decisions take years to come to, others are easily made on a whim. Neither is more valid.
5. Every relationship requires each person to have their own independent space.
Amelia also told Putnam that if they were to stay in a committed relationship, “I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.” (again, “the cage”!)
Amelia knew that a committed relationship was…a relationship, which by nature means loss of total solitude. But she understood what she needed to “endure” that loss with stride.
6.…and, at the same, a private space together.
Later, she went on to tell Putnam “Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements.”
All this talk of independence and non-confinement didn’t mean Amelia couldn’t also see the beauty that can only arise within a relationship. She held their “private joys” and intimate moments more sacred because she balanced them against the backdrop of their moments apart.