April 14th, 2008

This piece also appeared in The Huffington Post.

A month ago, I woke up feeling peaceful for the first time in months. I’m 29, I had just closed on my first apartment, and I was leaving a five-year relationship that, despite my dogged hopes of marriage, had become a stew pot of resentment and anger. While scores of articles eagerly inform me that unmarried men are as scarce as a renewable energy source, I’ve stubbornly refused to write the last five years off as a colossal failure. Instead, I’ve been throwing all my energy toward taking responsibility for my part in the relationship, learning what I can from it, and moving on with life.

Then, like every other white-collar woman north of the equator, I read this. At first, I laughed it off. It was assumptive. It was illogical. It was judgmental. It reeked of the “It is INEVITABLE that all women feel this way, and if they don’t think they do then they’re just in DENIAL!” school of social theory — never much of a recipe for enlightenment, for yourself or anyone else. So I shrugged, chalked the piece up to yet another woman existentially disappointed by men, and went back to my inner harmony.

Like many (not all) women around my age, I want the full package–a husband, children, a life that’s multidimensionally fulfilled, but centered around more than my own needs and ambitions. It’s a strange time to be female, in an era where women are labeled selfish if they decide not to procreate, but tarred and feathered if they do it too much. I don’t proclaim to know if the Malthusians are right — all I know is that, as a female in possession of a working uterus, I don’t have a clearer desire for my time on this planet other than to produce offspring. As a child of divorced Boomers, I have no illusions about marriage, but I consider it a gamble worth making. In short, I want what every human being wants: happiness, in the brand and packaging of my choice.

But a few days later, my hard-earned harmony was gone, replaced by something new: Gottlieb, the new voice of late-thirties angst, preaching in the back of my head. “Settle now, or you’ll wind up alone!” Her words had crept into my subconscious, blending all my fears and anxieties into a constant mosquito whine of self-doubt. Would I ever find someone as near-perfect as the man I’d just left? Had I blown whatever miniscule chance I had at happiness? “What makes you think you know better than her?” my inner dialogue ranted. “What makes you think you deserve better?”

Within a week, this 5,500 word tome of regret and resignation, from which book and movie deals have sprung, had fixed itself a permanent spot in my head. It’s there, in every phone conversation with my ex, in every evening with friends, the first thing I hear every morning when I wake up in my new bedroom, alone. All those nagging anxieties now have a champion, a single crystallized voice intent on plotting a future for me based on fear. My power and self-assurance have a new enemy, and it’s being adapted for film by Toby Maguire.

Logically, I know it’s all smoke and mirrors. Gottlieb’s sentence on my life is not The Truth. It is the interpretation of a late thirties woman who is apparently unhappy with the way things turned out for her. It is a hopeless bastardization of the fact that no man or woman is some fantasy version of perfection, and the choice to be in a committed relationship is just that — a choice made every day, regardless of faults, foibles, or annoying idiosyncracies. The Truth is that I’ve known bliss with another person. I’ve watched it fall apart, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. And I know that I’ll have the opportunity.

So honestly? Screw you, Lori Gottlieb. Screw you for exploiting my deepest fears for a piece you knew would clang the inflammatory gong. Screw you for cashing in after injecting me with your own regret and disappointment. I know of you only what I read in online bios, but I do know that you made your choices in life, and have no right to dictate mine. And so, I hereby exorcise your past from my future. I may end up wizened and alone, I may not. But either way, it won’t be because you decreed that my fate as a woman was “Settle, or Else.”

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