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June 17, 2010

Every single thing that’s wrong with you: Q&A with Karin Anderson

Filed under: books,issues,media,Psychology — posted by Paula @ 1:21 am

anderson0751_v2The trusty formula found in many self-help books aimed at single women is:

A) You’re single–because there’s something very wrong with you.
B) But don’t worry, here’s how to fix it!

What sets apart Karin Anderson’s new book, It Just Hasn’t Happened Yet: bogus, ridiculous, absurd explanations as to why you’re still single and how to deal with them plus a few silly things we do to ourselves, is a glorious lack of blame, accompanied by a daring refusal to fix anyone’s problems.

Anderson, a Chicago-area psychotherapist and professor, strenuously resists the idea that single women are by definition doing “something wrong,” and in fact advocates a healthy acceptance of whatever relationship status a woman happens to find herself in.

To those readers who are unhappily single, she repeats the title of her book, mantra-like, and assures them it’s not because they’re “too picky,” or not trying hard enough, or trying too hard, or any number of questionable pieces of finger-wagging advice leveled at them from friends, magazine articles, TV shows, and, most egregiously, other self-help books. We caught up with her to hear more:

Did you have any specific self-help books in mind when you wrote this?

I wouldn’t say there was a particular book, but definitely the tone of the genre in general was what I was responding to, and [I was] responding with what I believe to be a counter-message that I think is equally plausible and empowering.

I just didn’t like the suggestion [promoted in other self-help books] that there’s always something amiss, or something that needs to be fixed in order for single women to find happiness. There’s one book that talks about, you know, “what your friends would tell you if they’d be honest with you.” It occurred to me that I know plenty of women who are married who are very happy but very flawed. They didn’t need to fix anything about themselves to get married.

But we have this bias in our society that marriage is good and singleness is bad, and so we feel compelled to come up with some explanation for why single women aren’t married. This need for an explanation is all about control.

You mention the concept of control several times in your book, and how it’s easier to blame someone, or dole out advice, than it is to just sit with the discomfort of not knowing–not knowing how to help, or not knowing the solution to a problem. I’m wondering how you’d counsel a person to be more supportive of a friend who may be unhappily single and looking, without falling into “control” patterns.

In this society, women are very much valued for their relationship status—not by my judgment or your judgment, but that is what we’re dealing with in our culture as a whole, this idea that a single woman is “less-than” because she doesn’t have a husband. Since that’s the case, I would put a lid on any unsolicited comments about relationship status unless the single woman brings it up herself.

So, number one, don’t bring up the subject unless it’s brought up.

Number two, I would really lay off the advice-giving. Just listen, and empathize.

A third thing is: just be a buddy, a wing man. If your friend wants to go somewhere and doesn’t want to go alone—go with her and keep her company. That kind of purely physical support can be really helpful.

What I like about your book is that, while it is very positive and encouraging, it is not blindly optimistic, either. In one of the final chapters, you answer a question from a woman who says, “Well, I’m 45, I never had a kid or got married, and I feel like I’ve missed the opportunity for these things” and your response to her is that, hey, sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we wanted. There’s an attitude of acceptance in your answer, rather than regret or shame, which I find quite rare in a relationship book.

I didn’t want to have a downer message, but I want to be realistic. It’s not easy for women in our generation, who were told we could have it all, when we find that sometimes we can’t. We all expect this linear trajectory, with checkpoints and accomplishments—perfect career, check; perfect mate, check; two children, check—that arrive at certain times.

It’s time for us to realize that, for some women, life can be a linear trajectory, but for some of us it’s a path that twists and turns and goes off on tangents that you didn’t anticipate…but if you take a step back and relax the energy of “It’s supposed to be this way,” and look at your life—it is beautiful in ways you never could have planned for.

That is not easy to do and requires a bit of detachment from our own desires, but at times it’s important to relieve ourselves of that pressure of our desires and timelines and just see the beauty of what is.

To say, “Okay, this isn’t the way I wanted it to be, but when I look back at the last five years at the things I thought I wanted, compared to the things that actually did happen, and if I’m on the path of remaining positive and excited and living life to the fullest, I bet some really cool things will happen.”

What kind of effect do you hope your book will have on people?

I have high hopes that, number one, I can encourage single women who are walking a path they didn’t anticipate and plan for, and who, in my belief system, through no fault of their own, are feeling stalled and thinking, “What happened?!”

Also, if it gets in the hands of some sympathetic friends or family members, I would love to think that it could inspire a moment of enlightenment, for someone to say, “Wow, I wonder if I’ve tried to offer advice, or some ‘cogent’ explanation for why my friend or daughter or cousin hasn’t arrived at where she wants to be in the area of marriage. Maybe I could learn something from this.”


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