Every year, right around Valentine's Day, a flurry of women write articles directly addressing the large population of single women in New York.
This year, the two that I read were "Why You're Not Married" by Tracy McMillan, a "Mad Men" staff writer, in The Huffington Post, and "Dear Single Women of NYC: It's Not Them, It's You" by Jen Doll in the Village Voice.
Both articles share a message: "Women: it's your fault that you're not married, and you should stop bitching about how you can't find a good man."
These sorts of articles used to scare the ever-loving daylights out of me; now they're just infuriating.
I know it's my fault I'm not married. I know that in the future, if I don't get married, it will be my fault as well. And thanks to the advancements made by the women in the generation above me, it's my decision to make.
Because staying in a bad relationship just because it is heading towards marriage is like putting a plastic bag over your head, and just letting in enough air that you can stay alive.
So, I'd like to take a minute to directly address the women, or at least the type of woman, who are directly addressing these articles to me.
Obviously, marriage is not a fairy tale; stop telling us that.
McMillan wraps up her article with this "insight:"
Because ultimately, marriage is not about getting something -- it's about giving it. Strangely, men understand this more than we do. Probably because for them marriage involves sacrificing their most treasured possession -- a free-agent penis -- and for us, it's the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland.
But I grew up in a generation of women that literally never stopped hearing that marriage isn't a fairy tale. We were fed statistics about divorce in the same way that the Baby Boomer generation was bombarded with ICBM figures. Daily, we were told that men were not Prince Charming, that they would not vanquish a dragon to save us, rescue us from a tower or even just fight their way through a double transfer on the subway to come kiss
And so we learned how to expect literally nothing from a man. And do you know what happened because of that? We learned to let men treat us like crap. We came to believe that men were doing us a favor by settling down -- because otherwise they would be out spraying the world of willing women with their abundant seed. We were taught to be grateful if a man showed interest in us, and we became fearful at all times that he would leave us once he did. Women of my generation are still the second-class citizens of
fairy tales: only now, we don't even have the chivalry or the ever-blooming roses to comfort us in our eternal boredom.
"All men want is for us to be nice to them." Do you know what men don't want? A lot of things that I really value about myself.
A few weeks ago, I was interviewing a woman who is at the top of her chosen profession. She's a single mother to her teenage daughter. She is enormously successful, well-educated, beautiful -- and never married.
Our conversation eventually -- and inevitably -- led us to the topic of why she never married, and to illustrate the point, she told me a story. "When I was younger," she said, "I was dating a man who told me: 'You're extraordinarily smart, and you're extraordinarily beautiful. You need a man who is either so strong that he can stand up to you, or so weak that you can walk all over him. I'm just a normal man. I'm not the man for you.'"
[20 years later, they met again, and she asked him why he had married his wife. "She made good sandwiches," he said.]
As I was leaving, she said to me, with a great deal of kindness: "You're pretty, and you're smart. It's a curse. You'll have a lot of difficulty finding a man."
It could have been crushing, if I wasn't aware of it already. For the first time in my life, someone openly acknowledged the dirty dark secret of my generation of women. And that is that all of the qualities we cultivate in ourselves from our first overachieving moments in elementary school to our graduation from the best universities in the nation -- confidence in our physical appearance, the ability to support ourselves, our cultured and well-read minds, the sterling pedigree of our schooling, our taste for healthy debate with our peers (both men and women) -- actually won't help us to find an equal partner. What it will do is make an "equal" man feel insecure, and what he will do with that insecurity is label us as "crazy." And crazy people aren't to be taken seriously -- they're to be medicated, dosed, tamed like "Kate," the eponymous shrew -- and made into the perfect wife. In essence, in order to participate in the ritual custom of marriage, we have to become shadows of our best selves.
So when you say to me, Tracy McMillan, that I have to work around a "man's fear and insecurity in order to get married," I say to you, why aren't you telling me that I should be going out to look for the men who wants a woman like me? (They do exist; some of them are my friends.) Instead of being told I need to medicate my "craziness" to pander to a man's itty-bitty oh-so-witty ego, I want a man who is every bit my match, and is not scared off by that. I want a man who appreciates that I enjoy sex. I want a man who loves that I can fire back a sassy comment like Katharine Hepburn on one of her lazy days.
I have a pedigree like an Arabian thoroughbred -- double Ivy League degrees in art history, the ability to speak in five languages, a resume full of prestigious jobs in the art world, a history of international travel that even Bruce Chatwin would gape at -- and it's come to the point that if a man doesn't immediately identify me as crazy, I question if he's even listening to me when I open my mouth.
When are women going to start telling women not to be afraid of raising children by themselves?
I'm a woman who both knows that she wants to have children, and who also knows that she'd like to have a few more opportunities to really, really fall in love. Because even though I know that the clock is ticking on my middle-aged ovaries, and even though I know that marriage isn't a fairy tale, I'd still like to actually be madly in love with the person I'm going to do all of this sacrificing and fighting and laughing and struggling with. I've been in love before, with men who were arguably (and endearingly) more troll than Prince Charming, and I know it can happen again.
In her article Doll quotes a friend as saying: "'If you could have babies easily into your 50s, I think you'd go on being single forever.'" She then follows the quote with the maxim: "But we can't. This is just a biological fact."
But it's clearly not a biological fact that a woman needs to be in a relationship to have a child. A decade from now, I know that I'll be making a more-than-decent living, and so, assuming I don't ask a friend to knock me up (hey, best friends make the best lovers, right?), I'll have plenty of money to pay for in vitro fertilization. I have many, many good friends, five siblings, relatively young parents, and over 20 aunts and uncles who would help me to raise that baby. I enjoy the perks of a thriving, enormous Irish Catholic family, but even if I didn't have over 50 immediate biological relatives, I still have the family that I've created from friends, mentors, lovers and co-workers in New York. And so do most women that I know. It might not be easy for us to be single mothers, but it would surely be workable, just another way of doing things that would have the same balance of happiness, sadness, and hardship as any other life I may choose to live.
All that I'm trying to say, ladies, is stop trying to frighten me; make me feel empowered. Speak to me like I can make my own decisions, and don't demean the difficulties I may be having finding a guy who I think is worth my time and energy. Marriage is a rapidly-changing institution. Let's discuss how it can be molded to fit our rising status, rather than trying to
jam ourselves into some outdated ideal.
Meanwhile, leave me a little room for my fantasies and my fairy tales. If I don't dream of the occasional miracle, the found glass slipper, the kiss that awakens me from my slumber, how do you expect me to make it through the drudgery of life?