I’m a 31 year old woman/girl who has been happy to be single for about 1.2 years. For the first 1.0 years I was very happy to not be attached to someone. I have had some very unhealthy relationships in the past, (starting at age 17) and this present break from the pain and the passion and the excitement and the horror and the sex and the waiting, waiting, waiting for the phone to ring syndrome has been the most productive and stress-free period in my life so far (not including before doing the rude thing with boys period)
I have sorted a lot of things out and feel very strong but I have found that during this period of single-hood, there has always been someone on my mind that I have fixated on, making me feel as though I do have a love life when actually I don’t, and…the thing is, now I wonder if I’ll ever be able to behave maturely in a relationship with anybody that I actually know, and indeed, if I’ll ever find anyone with whom to behave maturely with in a relationship. As you are not psychic, I suppose I need to ask a more specific question regarding my predicament/Lerve Question:
How can I stop myself from clinging to ridiculous fantasies about guys I hardly know and then feeling really stupid when I find out (after months of building up the fantasy) that they are Married, Gay or just in need of a babysitter. I seem to thrive (until they dissolve) on these psuedo-relationships in which I don’t actually know the guy but feel content and fulfilled just thinking about how gorgeous they are and how excited I am about seeing them next. Could it be that I have these fantasy relationships to protect myself from the cruel world of relationships that I have experienced in the past? Probably yes. And is it the case that I have a problem with getting to know and like men at the same time. It seems that the more I know a guy, the more I see their imperfections — things like the way they chew their food or hold their pen. Why am I so picky about minor details but have, in past relationships managed to forgive massive personality flaws? As you would say, Breakup Girl, one big fat Hmmm…
Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 9:27 am
What is it about summer romance? Why — here above the equator, anyway — is there no such thing as a Winter Fling? What were they thinking, re-releasing “Grease” in the spring? Theories abound as to why summer makes us all hot and bothered. For one thing, unless you are Smilla, seasonal shoulder-baring tanks and open-toed sandals are generally considered more flirtatious than the average anorak. Also, unless you are a lifeguard, the summer seems to bring on that crazysexycool feeling of reduced responsibility and urgency: 8 PM looks and feels like 3; vegans say, “Aw, what’s one cheeseburger!” — and since your must-see TV is in reruns, heck, even your VCR is on vacation.
Some experts even say — I am not making this up — that the male body actually produces more testosterone during summer months. Something about the position of the Earth in its orbit around the sun. Whatever. I say it’s because — well, as my friend Matt once pointed out, “there’s hardly a man in America whose hormones don’t start pumping at the thought of searing a huge chunk of cow over the open coals.” (He added: “But when a New Yorkerbarbeques, he gets the added rush of knowing that he’s an outlaw, the Jesse James — Jesse James-Beard? — of the brownstones, because open-flame cooking is apparently illegal in most NY public and private spaces. Which means that barbecuing legally in the city confers yet a different kind of manliness, because it means that the barbecuer has some abnormally large yard or deck. Especially in Manhattan, such real estate identifies the chef as filthy stinking rich. And in this town, there’s nothing more macho than money.”)
Me: otherwise easygoing SF, 29, in desirable neighborhood near excellent schools and world-class cheese market. You: 31-36, Ivy League (except Penn), minimum 5’ 10″, maximum 180 lbs., pectoral-to-waist ratio .33; fiscal conservative/social liberal; profession: law, medicine, banking (employer must have innovative paternity leave policy); hobbies: pan-Asian cooking, helping the needy, foot rubs; civil to (but not “friends” with) ex-girlfriends (maximum: 2); informed, witty, self-starter: equally comfortable chatting at state dinners and changing tires. Send introductory email along with photo, high school and college transcripts, 3 recommendations (1 academic, 1 professional, 1 non-threatening friend-girl) plus two 750-word essays on the topics: (1) “A Man of Quality is Not Threatened By A Woman For Equality” and (2) “Why I Always Share My Feelings.”
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.”
Gottlieb’s thesis: a woman, particularly an older woman (and by “older” we mean not 27), who allows pickiness and a sense of entitlement to restrict her dating life is missing an opportunity to find her “Mr. Good Enough.” It has, understandably, rankled some who take issue with the idea of “settling” — shifting definitions though it may have — or those who wonder if women, in fact, aren’t picky enough.
An animated, friendly lady with a good sense of humor about it all, Gottlieb is well-prepared to counter criticism from people who have read no more than her book’s title and thus feel qualified to reject it.
I have to admit, the subtitle of your book (The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough) is a little hard to digest, and I wonder if it doesn’t subvert what is basically a helpful and positive message about having more realistic expectations. Was this your choice of words, or your publisher’s?
Well, this came from the original subtitle of the Atlantic article, but it’s used to really get people to think about what “settling” actually means. Forgive the pun, but some people are unsettled by the idea of “settling.” But the thing is, I’m not telling women that they have to set low standards, or put up with relationships that don’t work. I’m suggesting they revise the list of things they’re looking for in a man — to conform with what actually makes a strong relationship and actually makes people happy in love.
There’s a presupposition here that marriage is a good thing for people–
Nope, no presupposition there at all. I’m saying that marriage is something I want personally, and I’m not alone in wanting it. So I was trying to figure out what was keeping me from finding the right guy. If you aren’t interested in marriage, there’s no reason to read a book about how to be happy in a marriage. This book isn’t for people who are happy to go through life single. It’s for people who want to find long-term romantic happiness and are curious about how to do that.
Your book is unusual in that it’s not truly a self-help book, although it does give advice to readers. Maybe it’s more like a memoir of a certain period of you life, with some breaks in the fourth wall…
It’s not self-help or a memoir, really–this is journalism. I’m a journalist by profession, and I did a lot of research to explore the question: what really matters in love? I interviewed neurobiologists to talk about chemistry, sociologists to talk about how the culture influences us, scientists and researchers who study relationships and marriage, men and women who were out there dating and who were married. The goal was to get some answers for myself and others struggling with these questions.
You emphasize the importance of distinguishing between “needs” and mere “wants” when looking for a life partner, and how learning to separate the two led you to a successful online match with the man you dub “Sheldon2.” I know you were only seeing him for a few months, but it sounds like the experience provided an important insight for you anyway.
Actually, I’m still in touch with “Sheldon2.” We’ve stayed in touch, and talk regularly, but yes, definitely: that was a lesson in not letting superficial criteria get in the way of more important qualities. I mean, I saw his bowtie in the [online dating profile] photo, and thought “Ugh! I don’t wanna date Orville Redenbacher!” but then it turns out the bowtie was from his grandfather, and was a way of honoring his connection with him. And his profession, which was listed as “real estate”—well, he had studied architecture, really loved his work, but I wrongly assumed he wouldn’t be creative enough. And Sheldon2 is 5’ 6”—I’m 5’1 ½ —and I just never thought I’d be attracted to a guy who was 5’6”. And I was so wrong, again! I was very attracted to him. But I learned that I had to get past that stuff, the stuff I always thought was important but had nothing to do whether he might make me happy
Were you able to process that lesson in your dating behavior after that?
Oh, yeah, and I have to say, my inbox is full of emails from men who’ve read the article or read the book and like what I have to say. Cuz I’m basically saying, let’s stop judging men on these superficial criteria, and value them for what they bring to a relationship–and they appreciate that.
Early in the book you pose the question “how much compromise [in a relationship] is too much?” and the question doesn’t explicitly get answered. I’m curious if you were able to answer that question at least for yourself.
Sure, that’s something that people have to address for themselves, and I think, again, it goes back to valuing what is going to make you happy in the long term, not what might look good on paper or what you assume will make you happy but so far hasn’t.
Your book is clearly written from a female heterosexual perspective, but have you gotten any feedback from the gay community?
Yes, the response has been very positive–it’s a universal theme. Hey, everyone wants to find their Mr.–or Ms.–Good Enough!
Author (and FOBG) Lori Gottlieb appeared on the Today Show this morning to discuss her — to me, bizarrely — inflammatory book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which basically urges women to be picky about the important stuff (kindness) and not picky about the not-important stuff (height), and which Lemondrop summarizes rather equitably here. What it’s left in its wake is a lot of women feeling very rankled and defensive about being told they should “settle,” which is not really what Lori is saying. That said, I understand the defensiveness. Women, rightly, do not like to hear, which they often do, over and over, that they are “too picky.” (Yes, picky. About the person you are going to spend your life with. Urr?) Not that there aren’t women (and men) who are indeed “too picky.” But to be told that, or to get that message from our culture, which single women do, over and over, can be insulting, dismissive, unsympathetic. For one thing among many, it puts the dating onus squarely and only on the woman, whereas it’s not like every still-single woman is surrounded by terrific uncomplicated men on bended knee, just waiting for her to get over her thing about bowties or “no lawyers” or whatever. Women who have gone on a million dates with and given a million chances to a million perfectly nice guys who for whatever legitimate reason leave them lukewarm do not want to hear that they are “just being picky.” They are tired. They are trying. Go away. That’s part of my theory, anyway, for why Lori’s message, fairly or not, has left so many women so totally steamed.
I also wonder this: to the degree that men are paying attention to this tempest in a coffee-date, how does this message make you feel? If I may render it in the shorthand of stereotype, it’s basically “give the short bald poor guy a chance.” Do you feel that Lori’s advice, for those who follow it, could spell triumph for the common man? Let us know in comments!
Writing in today’s WaPo, Jenée Desmond-Harris wonders: “It’s easy to see now that [Barack Obama] was a great catch, but how many of us would have been open to this guy who strayed so far from the black Prince Charming ideal, starting with his very name?” Her exhortation: “[I]f black women are going to defy the statistics, they need to start being more realistic. Holding out for the perfect man, someone who is intellectual but not nerdy—cool but not arrogant—impeccably dressed but not effeminate—not a player but with just the right amount of edge—is useless.” Read the piece, then let us know: just another scolding for the “picky“* among us, or does Desmond-Harris have a point?
* “picky,” as in: about the person with whom you’re going to spend the rest of your life
To me, the idea that, out of nothing but earth and water and sunlight, these wildly complex living beings have developed, not only with the capacity for consciousness but with the capacity to create the experience of ecstasy for ourselves and one another…that is just jaw-droppingly astonishing. We can create the experience of joy, of deep, expansive pleasure that takes us out of ourselves and into one another…and we do it through a complex re-arrangement of the energy of the sun, and the atoms and molecules of the planet.
That is magnificent. That, more than any spiritual belief I ever had, makes me feel both humble and proud. That makes me feel intimately connected with the rest of the Universe…in a way that no spiritual practice ever did. What’s that old hippie song about how we’re stardust, made of billion- year- old carbon? You don’t have to believe in metaphysical energy to think that that is wicked cool.
There’s something else, too. When you look at human beings from a materialist and evolutionary standpoint, not as special spiritual entities or children of the Goddess but simply as another twig on the evolutionary tree…that view puts sex squarely front and center in the human experience. Sex has an immensely important place in the evolutionary scheme. Darwin wrote an entire book about it.
Why does sex feel so good? Sex feels so good because it evolved to feel good. Sex feels profoundly, transcendently amazing because evolutionary forces strongly favor animals who really, really like to boff. That’s an oversimplification — for one thing, evolution can also favor animals who are picky about their sex partners — but it is a huge part of the picture./snip/
In other words: According to a materialist viewpoint, the capacity for transcendent sexual joy is hard- wired into our brains…and it’s deeply and powerfully hard- wired, as a crucial and central feature of our lives, by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. /snip/
[This] means that the act of sex, and the experience of sexual pleasure, connects us to every other living thing on earth. We are the cousins of everything that lives on this planet, with a common ancestor of primordial soup going back billions of years…and we are all related, not entirely but substantially, because of sex.
That is awesome. That makes me want to go f*ck right now, just so I can feel connected with my fish and tetrapod and primate ancestors. That is entirely made of win.
Now, I would argue that the experience of Extreme Connectedness she describes is a spiritual experience. But why get all is-too-is-not over such a plainly lovely, and passionate, piece of writing? Primordial soup never sounded so hot.
Disagreements about food probably wouldn’t make a counselor’s top-10 list of couples issues. But in today’s food-conscious culture, what and how a significant other eats is becoming one more proxy for couples’ deeper conflicts about control and respect. Food obsessives divide the world into two kinds of people: those who seek out truffles, sea urchin and single-estate chocolate, and those who don’t. And when an avid food lover falls for one of the others, it can get complicated. Unlike fly-fishing or knitting, what to eat is a question that comes up three times a day. The result: Romantic dinners are ruined. Tempers flare. And though some couples find ways to make compromises, in extreme cases, relationships fall apart.
Has your picky palate ever come between you and the person you are/were dating?
In honor of those going home for the holidays and taking a friend we re-present BG’s New Adventure featuring BAD BOY! When this story was originally scripted in December 2000, the hijinks ensued over a holiday meal; When it was retooled last year for Lifetime Mobile, the story was shortened to five pages and the holiday angle was taken out so it would be readable at any time of year. Today we link to the finished story, AND for the first time anywhere I am sharing one of my original Breakup Girl scripts (below). Happy Thanksgiving!