So I’m recently single. Coming out of a two-year relationship (six months of which were spent cohabiting), this brings on all sorts of emotions that seem a little too self-indulgent for a public blog. Strangely, at the moment I’m not feeling plagued by self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy (maybe everything becomes less dramatic as you get older? or maybe I’m just in denial?). What annoys me to no end, though, is that I’m now the target of a publishing industry juggernaut that seems determined to convince single women that they’re miserable and pathetic. From books on meeting him to keeping him to getting thinner to attract him to finally snaring him into matrimony, the number of books that tout the “marriage or bust” message is staggering.
A recent addition to the library is Lori Gottlieb’s annoyingly titled Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. Gottlieb essentially argues that the feminist movement (among other things) has made women far too picky, and that they’d be better off settling for a less-than-perfect mate than spending the bulk of their lives unmarried. Liesl Schillinger skewers the book beautifully in her review, and rather than attempting a lengthy analysis of my own (haven’t read the book, admittedly) I’ll just include some of her choice quotes:
“Gottlieb moans about the misery of the sad, pathetic single woman, stuck at home with Netflix. But what of the misery of the sad, pathetic, partnered woman, stuck at home with a somnolent spouse or boyfriend who sits around watching TV and eating Chunky soup and won’t let her play her Netflix? What of the un-sad, un-pathetic single women who go to concerts, plays, films and parties, carouse with friends, date, travel, work out, dance, take classes, produce valuable work, and, generally, live life as if they were not coma patients? This is not to say that Gottlieb isn’t correct to assert that some single women are lonely (just as some single men are). This is merely to point out that a human being bears a certain amount of responsibility for his or her own entertainment; and that having a partner is no guarantee of a roaring good time or of a rich emotional life.”
“Do the women Gottlieb scolds (including herself) bear sole responsibility for their outcast state? Maybe some do. But a lot of these women were pathbreakers whose ideals outpaced reality. Some of them may still find the man of their dreams, or the schlub of Gottlieb’s; but if they don’t, are they to be reviled? Is a gold ring a fair trade for 20 years of exhilarating post-collegiate freedom, adventure and growth? Has Gottlieb never heard of an unhappy marriage?”
Like Schillinger, I always wonder where all those lonely, depressed, desperate single women are hiding. The ones I know seem to be doing just fine–they work, they volunteer, they have great friends, they travel solo to interesting places. They have relationships or flings when opportunities present themselves. Some of them genuinely want and hope to marry–or at least have a long-term partnership–but they don’t cling to that idea with a deathgrip. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, life’s still great.
I also take issue, like Schillinger, with the idea that married is always better than not. Unhappy marriages abound. Happy ones do too, of course–as do happy singles. I’d argue that it isn’t marriage or singledom that makes you happy or unhappy–it’s your approach to either one (and in the case of marriage, of course, the person you’re with).
I hope I find love again one day, and I hope that when I do I’ll be willing to compromise on certain things, if not “settle” for a partner that I don’t want. Until then, though, I’ll be tearing through my Netflix, reading books, writing my dissertation, cooking up odd recipes, and going on impromptu whale-watching trips. If that’s misery or desperation, give me an extra helping.