Friday, February 19, 2010

Back and Crankier Than Ever

And now, I pose the question: can one make up for lost time with an obscene amount of words? I didn't think so, but bear with me.

A particular friend of mine has been a good commiserator about our current inundation of weddings and babies (the babies are more her thing, I’ve only got a direct line on one of those). Every time I look at my calendar, flooded with weddings, I feel a little bit of dread. Dread at spending the money, dread at the same old circus with the same old people in the same three churches. But every time I actually attend one of these weddings, I’m filled with joy—these are my friends, people I love, being truly happy and inviting 400 people to share in this happiness. I think it’s safe to say that I’m torn on the idea of weddings, but here’s the rub: I worry that for people my age, wedding is getting thrown above marriage. With these big productions, we forget that these people are having more than just one big day. They’re changing their entire lives forever. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but really, isn’t that what they’re doing?

So for purposes of this discussion, you should be coming away from that paragraph with two thoughts: Beth is afraid of getting married at this point in time, but she’s very happy for her brave friends who are up for it. And in this frame of mind (combined with a somewhat confusing dating life), I received from my friend the following link: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

I guess “grossed out” is safest way to describe what I felt when I read the title and description for this so-called book. I looked it up at the library, but availability was low. Then I realized that I have a list of actually rewarding books I want to read, so I settled on a compromise: the article excerpt, as originally published in The Atlantic. (The Atlantic!?!?)

The pendulum swung as I read. I began angry, became furious, calmed to disbelief, hit depression, quickly transferred that to condescension, found a point of concurrence, and bounced back over to questioning. I came away wondering: who the hell is this written for? It seems that she’s speaking in the voice of a middle-aged mother, lecturing the young and marriageable. Settle now, ladies, before you’re stuck with a sperm donor and no partner to trade off duties with. So first, she’s assuming that we all want kids. [As someone very, very afraid of marriage, I find it hard to admit that yeah, I probably will want to have kids someday, but there it is. I guess you could say that I’m her target audience here.] But I know plenty of people with no interest in children, and I don’t see this changing. Maybe she should put this in her already frightening title: “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough so you can pop out some kids who act as entitled as you do.” With a title like the one she actually chose, she obviously wants the book to appeal to a broader audience than the child-hungry twenty-something. In the article, the only argument she makes is that you should settle so you can start a family. Which still grosses me out.

But let’s get to a dissection of the article, shall we?

“And all I can say is, if you say you’re not worried, either you’re in denial or you’re lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you’re not worried, because you’ll see how silly your face looks when you’re being disingenuous.”

Let’s look at her tone here. It’s hard to discuss tone with just a two-sentence snippet (more are below, for other purposes). I read the whole piece in two sittings. It took two because I was just too angry to continue after sentiments like the one above. I think she’s trying to make me, or any single woman, a little mad here. But why does she get to speak for all women? From the scant bio at the bottom of the piece, I can tell that she’s a successful writer, assumably living on the East Coast (I picture Manhattan, but can’t remember if this is true or not). This woman is in no way living a normal, everygirl life. She had the money not only to have a child with one income, but to create that child in a lab, and have it implanted in her body. I don’t think insurance covers that. In fact, I don’t know that most writers HAVE insurance. So yes, I’m angered by her condescension here. (I could also do a stylistic analysis of the prose—the use of first/second person, the interjections via commas, the “joke” and the use of “silly” with “disingenuous,” all adding up to a wanna-be conversational style while still trying to keep the reader down so that she’s the expert. But that would be boring.)

“Our culture tells us to keep our eyes on the prize (while our mothers, who know better, tell us not to be so picky), and the theme of holding out for true love (whatever that is—look at the divorce rate) permeates our collective mentality.”

First of all, the mothers thing. She refers to the wisdom of mothers a few times throughout this article. I suppose that’s not strange, since her message is all about enabling motherhood. I don’t know about you, but my mother has never encouraged me to be less picky about the manboys I date. Because my mother isn’t like all mothers—because all women aren’t the same. Imagine it.

Second of all, how about holding out for self-respect? How can you respect yourself if you don’t respect your partner? This is horrifying. The word is PARTNER, not robot who shares in child-rearing tasks. Another quote:

“My friend Alan, for instance, justified his choice of a “bland” wife who’s a good mom but with whom he shares little connection this way: ‘I think one-stop shopping is overrated. I get passion at my office with my work, or with my friends that I sometimes call or chat with—it’s not the same, and, boy, it would be exciting to have it with my spouse. But I spend more time with people at my office than I do with my spouse.’”

What is the point of having a partner if you’re getting all your passion filled at the office? Just don’t get fucking married. Don’t have kids. I feel like this man is doing his kids a disservice by creating a passionless family life. Why do you have kids if you spend more time at work than you do with your spouse? Gross.

There’s a lot of pop culture in here, from “Friends” to “Will & Grace” to “Say Anything.” I’ll just include the quick note that I wrote after reading her discussion of this stuff: THERE’S A WHOLE PARAGRAPH ABOUT “FRIENDS.” WHAT THE FUCK. She says just two paragraphs above to ignore what our culture says, then she measures behavior by TV shows.

Later, she goes into why her books are different than those other self-help books, where she has the gall to make fun of, to mock self-help books she admits to reading. Because those other sarcastic, plucky books for lonely women are different from this sarcastic, plucky book for lonely women. At one point, she makes the argument that avoiding settling is a further form of the invincibility that you feel as a young person: “Those of us who choose not to settle in hopes of finding a soul mate later are almost like teenagers who believe they’re invulnerable to dying in a drunk-driving accident. We lose sight of our mortality.” Yeah, this sounds a lot different than self-help to me. Empower yourself in no longer thinking like a teenager, by facing up to your own mortality. That doesn’t scream lady-filled seminar to me At All.

“Unless you meet the man of your dreams (who, by the way, doesn’t exist, precisely because you dreamed him up), there’s going to be a downside to getting married, but a possibly more profound downside to holding out for someone better.”

Let’s ignore the crap around the parenthetical, because Gottlieb finally comes to something that I can agree with. People get confused about ideals and dreams because they can dream about themselves becoming doctors, or writing the great American novel, and (to an extent) can tangibly make that happen. Words can appear on a page, degrees can be earned. But dream people never surface. Maybe it’s because I’m younger than Gottlieb, but I still have the silly hope that when real people surprise me, they’re doing things better than I could dream up. Not just with romantic partners—even my immediate family and my closest friends surprise me in their abilities to love and interact with me.

Last quote, I promise. You still with me on this rant?

“This doesn’t undermine my case for settling. Instead, it supports my argument to do it young, when settling involves constructing a family environment with a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger—as opposed to doing it older, when settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods.”

This whole time I’m wondering, does this woman not have a support system? When I am 40, my mom will be 65. Let’s say I decide not to get married, but at 40, decide I want to have kids. Not only would I count on my parents, but also my three brothers, 2, 6, and 11 years younger than myself. I’d count on aunts, uncles, friends already married and raising kids who at that point will be trotting through junior high. I understand her point that to raise kids, you have to be part of a sturdy family. But I think her playgroups, or wherever she’s getting those bitter-spinster-settler quotes, aren’t providing the “family environment” that I feel now in my simple groups of friends, let alone my actual family. (PS—“Damaged goods?” Hello pot, this is the kettle, you’re black as coal.)

So I think I’ve spent enough words proving to myself that this woman is an idiot, that I’m different, that I’m able to raise a family without some guy who bores me but is stable. If I hadn’t spent so many words on this, I might try to argue a case for women who want conventional happiness (families, husbands, but god, no picket fences) but are smart enough not to read books like this or live lives like the one Gottlieb champions. But I’m betting no one has stuck with me this long, so I’ll call it a day.


ErinO said...

Wow. I love it! I must read that book, I must. Pot calling the kettle black does not even capture the severity...I mean, I am all for taking a good, hard, realistic look at your life and what you want out of it, but, wow, this point of view is by no means universal. And is perpetuating the exact problem she is describing. People should be writing books about how you can achieve whatever you want on your own and that having a partner you love and enjoy is a bonus...not a necessity. Weird.

ercwttmn said...

god, i hope i'm never on the other end of a relationship with a woman that agrees with this book! i'd love to know i'm in a relationship with a woman that found me "adequate" and "good enough". i can't wait to be someone that someone "settles" for.

"f" that noise. i'm waiting for that special, magical, once-in-a-lifetime, someone....and if it never happens, our deal is still on right?

allison said...

wittman, you don't have dreams of being in a loveless marriage? strange. i pegged you for the passionless meat head who can't remember his kids' names and spends more time on the company racquetball court with other bros than at home with his boring family.

ercwttmn said...

well, as enticing as that sounds carr, that would totally ruin my plans of creating a singing/performing family similar to the von trapps...or the jackson's.

Nicole said...

Beth - awesome. Love the analysis/rant. And I also have to say - NEVER SETTLE! If our generation starts 'settling' for a good enough partner, we're going to raise a bunch of kids that have false notions of happiness, just like our parents generation that LOVES divorce. (Not that people aren't doing that everyday, but for god's sake, we don't need books encouraging vulnerable women to do so.)

And - this author clearly assumes that there is only 1 acceptable path in life. Please! Get married, don't get married, adopt a kid, decide to do your own thing forever and just spoil someone else's kid. Who cares!