As a successful playwright this woman should have the world at her feet. So why, at 36, does she feel bitterly unfulfilled?
Last updated at 2:07 AM on 10th February 2009
Though I never thought I would be saying this, being a free woman isn't all it's cracked up to be. Is that the rustle of taffeta I hear as the suffragettes turn in their grave? Very possibly.
My mother - a film-maker - was a hippy who kept a pile of dusty books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bedside. (Like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning.) She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation.
As a result, I fought with my older brother and won, and at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.
Inner truth: Zoe Lewis has come to yearn for marriage and motherhood
But, at nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. Now, I want love and children, but they are nowhere to be seen.
When I was growing up, I was led to believe by my mother and other women of her generation that women could 'have it all', and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end, I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dream of being a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.
Ten years ago, I wrote a play called Paradise Syndrome. It was based on my girlfriends in the music business. All we did was party, work and drink. The play sold out and I thought: 'This is it! I'm going to have it all - success, power - and men are going to adore me for it.'
In reality, it was the beginning of years of hard slog, rejection letters and living on the breadline.
A decade on, I have written the follow-up play Touched For The Very First Time, in which the character of Lesley (played by Sadie Frost) is an ordinary 14-year-old from Manchester who falls in love with Madonna in 1984 after hearing the song Like A Virgin.
She religiously follows her icon through the years, as Madonna sells her the ultimate dream - 'You can do anything, be anything, Go girl!'.
Lesley discovers, along with Madonna, that trying to 'have it all' is a massive gamble.
I wrote the play because so many of my girlfriends were inspired by this independent woman who allowed us to feel we could be strong and feminists and have careers and still be sexy.
I still adore Madonna, and always will, but she has turned out not to be able to 'have it all'. The same goes for those of us who idolised her - and it's a huge disappointment.
Sadie Frost plays the lead role in Lewis's play Touched By An Angel
I may be an extreme case. My views may not represent
those of other women of my generation. Perhaps I am just
a spoilt middle-class girl who had a career and who has
now changed her mind about what she wants from life. But
I don't think so.
I would argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the forefront of women's lives and, as a result, the traditional role of women was trampled underneath their crusading Doc Martens.
I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother hadn't been such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of those formative decades.
Increasing numbers of my strongly feminist contemporaries are giving up their careers and opting for love and children and baking instead. Now, I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side. But the essence of the problem, I can see in retrospect, is not so much time as mentality.
It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel deep down, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.
Natasha Hidvegi, 37, who recently left her job as a surgeon in order to look after her son, told me: 'I don't want to judge other women in similar jobs, but I found it impossible to be both a good surgeon and a good mother. Giving up my career was a terribly hard decision, but I don't regret it.'
It's one thing to give up your career and have children before it's too late with the right man, but it's another issue altogether if you haven't yet found that man. Because, as my generation have discovered to their cost, men don't appear to like strong women very much.
They are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes.
Holly Kendrick, 34, who holds a high-status job in
theatre, agrees: 'Men tend to be freaked out if you work
as hard as them,' she says. 'It's like being the smart
kid in the class: no one likes them.'
This is why many of my girlfriends are still alone.
Perhaps men haven't accepted women's modernity. (By
modernity, I mean being the strong alpha woman who never
questions her entitlement to the same jobs, fun and
sexual gratification as men.)
Feminist Germaine Greer was one of Lewis's mother's heroes
And this is the crux of the problem. Modernity has made women stronger, and that consequently means that we have higher standards; we want more.
I am extremely capable, I really don't need a man. Seriously - it scares me how much I don't need a man. But that doesn't mean I don't want one. I am lonely, and terrified of being alone.
I have tried everything to stop the clocks, to stall time and find my ideal partner. I've considered the whole 'Let's adopt a baby from an African orphanage' thing. I have even had my eggs frozen (yes, really!) in the hope that if I do meet the right man, I will be in a position to have the children I now long for.
The problem is this: now I have decided I am ready for a new relationship, I am well prepared and I am totally efficient at running my life. But efficiency is not a very endearing quality; men find me daunting, and I can see that.
It's not as if I'm famous or anything. It's just - like other women of my age - I seem to know it all. I do. And that's a massive turn-off for a bloke.
This is why I say: do it early, girls - do it before you get cynical and jaded. Do the whole 'falling in love thing' when you honestly can embrace that joie de vivre. And, for goodness' sake, have children when you are young enough to enjoy them and to have more if you want them.
I feel a great pressure from other women of my generation who have husbands and children to join their club. In their eyes, I am not the trailblazer but the failure.
My friend Rita Arnold, who's 36, works in marketing, says: 'It's not men who judge me for being a careerist - I find they are more accommodating of "modernity" - it's other women. The claws come out.'
This leaves a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. We are letting each other down, but there is a worse betrayal even than that. Apparently, I am a failure in my own eyes. Somewhere deep inside lurks a women I cannot control, and she is in the kitchen with a baby on her hip and a ball of dough in her hand, staring me down.
She is saying to me: 'This is happiness. You can't deny it, this is what it's all about.' It's an instinct that makes me a woman; an instinct that I can't ignore, even if I've tried to for 15 years.
Zoe Lewis's new play is all about one woman's obsession with Madonna
Had I had this understanding of my inner psyche in my 20s, I would have mentally demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour.
There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer from someone with whom I would have happily settled down. But no, I wasn't prepared to give up my dreams, the life I had been told was the right and proper one for a modern woman.
Struggling to understand my confusion, I went back and talked to the girls who were the subject of my play Paradise Syndrome in 1999.
Sas Taylor, 38, single and childless, runs her own PR company. 'In my 20s, I felt as if I was invincible, unstoppable,' she says. 'Now, I wish I had done it all differently. I seem to scare men off because I am so capable that I just don't appear to need them, but I do. I have business success, but it doesn't make me happy in the core of myself.'
Nicki P, 35, single and also childless, works in the music industry and adds: 'It was all a game back then. Now, it's serious, and I am panicking. No one told me having fun isn't as much fun as I thought.'
As I write this, I feel sad, as if the feminist principles my mother brought me up to have are being trashed. Am I betraying womanhood? No, I am revealing a shameful inner truth.
Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up. We only have a finite time to be mothers, and when that biological clock starts ticking, we receive the most enormous reality check. That's why we suddenly abandon all our strength, forget all talk of deadlines and Powerpoint presentations, and start keeping ovulation diaries.
Of course, not all women want children. But I challenge any woman to say they don't want loving relationships.
I wish I had been given the advice that I am now giving to my sister, who is 22. If you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't go back and do later - apart from having kids.
In the future, I hope there can be a better understanding of women by women. The past 25 years has been confusing for our sex, and I can't help feeling I've been caught in the crossfire.
As women, we should accept each other full stop, rather than only appreciating professional 'success'.
I have always felt an immense pressure to be successful, to show men I am their equal. What a waste of time that was. The traditional role of wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists as well as men.
My mother has managed to juggle a career as a film-maker and being a great mother. She was part of the generation that overlapped in the sense that they had feminist values, but still had children early. She hasn't had the career opportunities that my generation of women have had because she had to make sacrifices and take lesser jobs so she could be there at parents' evenings. That is not a clash of priorities that I or most of my friends have ever faced.
Before the sisterhood rise up in fury, I would say this: I am not betraying feminism at all. Choice and careers are vital, of course, but they shouldn't be held up as a Holy Grail and pursued relentlessly. I love being a writer, but my career hasn't made me feel as fulfilled as I had imagined it would.
So, now I am facing facts. The thing that has made me feel best in life was being in love with my ex-boyfriend - whom I was with for five years from the age of 30 - and the thing that makes me feel the most centred is being in the country with other people's children and dogs, and, yes, maybe in the kitchen.
Of course, I still have time to find a man and have children, but it doesn't often work like that, does it?
I don't want to be an old mother whose arthritic knees don't allow her to run in the park with her little ones. It's all about now, now, now. And sod's law says that every day, minute, hour that goes by makes you older and more desperate. It might as well be tattooed on my forehead.
● Touched For The Very First Time is at Trafalgar Studios, London. (www.touchedtheplay.com)