Yet another self-help book attempts to convince single women their singular status is something that must be fixed.
Liesl Schillinger is a New York-based writer and literary critic whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York magazine, The Washington Post, the New Republic, The London Independent on Sunday, and other publications here and abroad. In her provocative new book, Lori Gottlieb says women should just settle and give up trying to find the right man. Liesl Schillinger defends single women.
Let me tell you about the women I know who are unmarried in their 30s and 40s. One’s a world-roving journalist and author of several books; one’s a partner at a law firm; two are acclaimed photographers; one’s an international culinary expert; one’s written five novels; one’s a professional musician; one’s a choreographer; two make prize-winning documentaries; others write plays and TV scripts.
All of them are beautiful and sexy by agreed standards (fit, slender yet shapely, big eyes, symmetrical features). They’re not heartless careerists; they cook, dance, decorate, entertain, and dote on their boyfriends (when they have them). They’ve loved and lost in the past, yet still hope, one day, to love and win.
If that day never comes, they’d rather be alone than ill-matched. Their achievements, (which include, for some, single parenthood by choice) are the result of abilities, motivations and ambitions so central to their self-definition that suppressing them would have been a form of suicide.
Now let’s add to this mix another remarkable single woman (and single mom): the journalist, author, and NPR commentator Lori Gottlieb, 42, whose new book, which came out on February 4, is being made into a movie by Tobey Maguire.
This book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, grew out of a provocative essay Gottlieb published in 2008 in The Atlantic, in which she wrote about how tough she has found it to raise a child on her own (something 10.4 million American women already knew, as of the last census), and how fervently she wishes that, back in her 20s or 30s, she’d married one of the unexciting “scab-eating mouth breathers” (to quote Sue Sylvester from Glee, not Lori Gottlieb) whom she thinks she could have nabbed, rather than squander her most nubile years on non-marriage-minded time wasters.
Even so, she admits that, in her late 30s, when a married friend urged her to date nice men who were “older, overweight, and bald,” she thought her friend was “kidding” and couldn’t bring herself to heel. But half a decade on, furnished with a toddler (via donor sperm) and a U-Haul of regret, she wishes she and others like her had taken her pragmatic friend’s advice and made finding a “solid, like-minded teammate in life” job-one from the outset. She writes, “I wish I’d entertained the possibility when the possibility still existed.”
But did — and does — that possibility truly exist: that is, of ensuring your happiness by contracting yourself to an accommodating chump you don’t desire? (Gottlieb waxes this drab compromise to high luster, calling it “taking the best available option and appreciating it.”)
Is it true that willing, if non-luscious, bachelors can be plucked like so much low-hanging fruit? If Gottlieb and thousands of singletons in her demographic had gritted their teeth and partnered off with “older, overweight, and bald” suitors, would they all be married by now, as if in a mass ceremony of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, but under the banner of cynical resignation, not the Unification Church?
A woman doesn’t always find it easy to persevere in a tepid affair once it’s actual, not notional. And a man doesn’t have to be handsome to bolt — or to take umbrage at the suspicion that he’s being “settled” for. Perhaps in the future, in an over-perfected, suspense-less, Gattaca universe, men will come with LED displays on their foreheads that read: “I mean business” or “I’m deliberately wasting your time,” or, “Actually, I’m gay,” or “I’ll marry you, but we’ll loathe each other and I’ll leave you for a 20-year old when you’re 37.” Until that day comes, one wonders how Gottlieb can be so emphatic in her pronouncements, so blistering in her blame of single women for being entitled and picky in their 20s, and “desperate but picky” thereafter.
The way she sees it, as she explains in a chapter called, “How Feminism Fucked Up My Love Life,” a generation of women (or should I say ‘girls’?) who ought to have been taught — like their great-grandmothers and like women in Taliban-era Afghanistan — to be demure in deportment and modest in aspiration, were tricked by the women’s movement into “ego-tripping themselves out of romantic connection.” That’s right girls: If you’re unwillingly unwed, blame it on mom and Title IX for duping you into educating, respecting and supporting yourselves. She intends this book, she writes, as a blood-chilling cautionary tale, “like those graphic anti-drunk driving public service announcements that show people crashing into poles and getting killed.”
To drive home her message, Gottlieb consulted matchmakers and courtship “experts,” psychologists, online dating gurus, and scores of ordinary men and women of multiple generations. She also tested her theories (with depressing results) by speed-dating men in her age group (they turned out to be a generation older) and by trying to date a short, widowed, bald guy with a kid (he moved and the affair ended). Certainly, a woman would have to be a masochist to want to repeat the grisly “accident” of Gottlieb’s dating life; and the rank desperation she brings to the dating game robs it of any whiff of fun. One can see why she wants out. But not everyone does: Courtship is a massively multiplayer game whose rules shake down differently for each player.
There is such a thing as luck. Many unpartnered women who grew up in Gottlieb’s era dated successfully for ages, but the relationships didn’t work out; others married and got divorced. 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.
(Read More on The Daily Beast)