Last week, several people tipped me off to an article called “Why You’re Not Married,” written by TV writer (Mad Men, and United States of Tara), Tracy McMillan. “I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it,” one reader emailed me. My first thought was that the article sounded a lot like one I’d written a couple months ago called “8 Reasons You’re Still Single.” In fact, the two articles are so similar, I had a fleeting fantasy that this successful TV writer had actually mined my writing for ideas. Then I got over myself. And then I thought, “Boy, I bet she’s getting skewered,” because if there’s one thing I’ve learned writing for a primarily female audience it’s that single woman do not want other women insinuating that they’re doing anything wrong at all in terms of dating or finding a relationship. That McMillan used such a derisive tone and tongue-in-cheek language to deliver her message — which, for the record, is not that single women are doing it all wrong, but that they have some power in their dating lives and don’t have to passively wait around for Mr. Right — made it all but a sure thing she’d be taken to task. And she certainly was. But I happen to think there was a lot of truth in her words.
Sure, there is a subtext in the article that getting married period is the end goal versus getting married happily (or at all), but if you can look past that, and if you can look past the derisive tone and the language, there are some real nuggets of truth and good advice that may actually help some women who are sick of being unhappily single. (Please note: I am not suggesting that all women who are single are unhappily so). After all, if you’re in a situation you don’t want to be in, doesn’t it make the most sense to examine your own role for being in that situation? If you’ve been out of work for months and months and you go to a headhunter for help, don’t you think she’s going to want to look at how you’ve been approaching the job search as opposed to, I don’t know, how prospective employers are looking for you? You don’t have any control in how prospective employers are looking for you — or what they’re even looking for — but you certainly have some control in how to attract them and the impression you give when they find you. Looking for a romantic partner is exactly the same thing. Whether you want the job — or the prospective partner — is a different question, but wouldn’t it be nice if that choice was yours to make?
Read McMillan’s article critically — rather than just giving it a cursory glance — and you’ll find what she’s really saying is if you want to attract a husband (and if you don’t, then obviously this article doesn’t apply to you!), it would behoove you to: be nice to men; judge a man by his character and not by the size of his wallet or how pretty he is; quit having sex outside monogamous relationships so you don’t confuse oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that’s released during orgasms, with real love; quit dating guys who only want casual flings — especially when they’re honest about what they want; practice being selfless; know your own worth and look for someone who is an equal. So, I ask you: what is so wrong with those points?! Is it the assumption that if a woman is single it’s because she’s isn’t already doing those things? OK, based on the title of the article, “Why You’re Not Married,” I’ll grant you that. But if the message doesn’t apply to you, isn’t it possible that it still may apply to someone else? And maybe that someone else could learn something? I just don’t understand the vitriol. In my experience, the kind of anger McMillan’s article has incited usually comes about when a nerve is struck, and a nerve can’t be struck unless there’s an element of recognition.
So, single ladies, if you recognize yourself — or even part of yourself — in McMillan’s article — or my article by a similar title — rather than get angry at the author, go inward. See what part of your behavior the article resonates with and if it’s an element of who you are that might be worth modifying. If not, no big deal. Keep on doing what you’re doing and waiting for Mr. Right to show up. But if, just maybe, you recognize in this article something about yourself and your search for the right partner that could be examined a bit, don’t be scared to take a closer look. It may just make your search a bit more successful. And who can argue with that?
PFG-SCR February 21, 2011, 1:23 pm
While there are some overlap between the items on your list and her list, the main difference is that all of hers are character flaws in the woman. Being single isn’t necessarily (or solely) due to character flaws, though. Some of the character flaws in her list are present in women who are actually married, as well.
I agree with you above that being introspective about your situation and how you can change it is important for anyone single who doesn’t want to be that way. But, working on yourself is only one-half of the equation and finding your “other half” who possesses those attributes that are important to you is equally as important. Your list from the Frisky is much better at addressing that key element.
demoiselle February 21, 2011, 3:05 pm
Re: Character flaws and marriage.
Yes. All kinds of people find someone who loves and is willing to marry them. My mother once observed something which I have always remembered, after having being a guest at a friend’s house and seeing an angry, mean, and alcoholic individual with a spouse who obviously adored her. My mother realized then that a very big part of being loved is NOT being lovable, but picking someone who has the capacity to love. Sometimes it isn’t your (just) own merit, but the character of the person doing the loving.
Amy February 21, 2011, 4:26 pm
What a wonderful way of putting it! I think I made that mistake the first time around – I loved someone who really didn’t have it in them to give back- and am seeing quite a few others coming to the same conclusion. Another thought (based solely on personal experiece) – it might be a good idea to wait till you are in your later 20s to pick a spouse… they have enough time for there to be evidence as to the kind of person they are choosing to be. Of the women I know in their late 20s and early 30s that are divorced – we all think we’d have been better off being a bit older when we married for this very reason. Of course that doesn’t hold true for everyone – my sister married at 21 and has a wonderful husband and family. And this goes off on a different tangent than the article – the article is addressed to women that have spent time doing their own thing, but I thought a valid point anyway.
WatersEdge February 21, 2011, 1:48 pm
I think there were a lot of things that I was doing wrong for a while there when I was dating. I took a good hard look at what I could be doing to contribute to my situation (my situation was, being unable to find good guys to date). And while I wasn’t willing to be open with many people about it, I knew that I needed to change things. I was choosing the wrong guys and acting in ways that didn’t get me to be taken seriously. Introspection is a good thing. In short, Wendy… I agree! And I bet a lot of married women do. It’s tough to watch single girls date and make the same poor decisions that I made when I was dating unsuccessfully, but single women don’t want to hear that they have to change a thing.
Amber February 21, 2011, 2:05 pm
With both articles, while I understand that those are all valid reasons why someone might be single, I do not like the inference that if someone is single, it means that there must be something wrong with them, or they are playing things wrong. Maybe it just means they haven’t found someone that they are compatible with yet. Men never seem to be questioned as to why they are still single. I don’t know why it is different for women. (Speaking from someone who is happily not single)
sharon November 5, 2011, 12:36 am
man are single becuse they want a women to love them for who they are and not how much money they make …..we want it to last forever and not be afraid you leave us when shit happens ….
callmehobo February 21, 2011, 2:11 pm
I had a friend complain to me that she couldn’t find her Mr. Right, so I told her that maybe she should focus on being Ms. Right for a change.
She did not like that one bit.
I think that the reason why this topic is the subject of so much ire is because a lot of women feel like they need to tie their ego into whether or not they have a relationship. So when you criticize some women’s single status, they also feel like you are criticizing their self worth all together…
_jsw_ February 21, 2011, 2:46 pm
I like both the mentioned articles – Wendy’s and Tracy’s – and, while McMillan’s was a bit… harsh, it was valid.
I _especially_ like Wendy’s comparison in this article to looking for a job. In the end, looking for a partner and looking for a place to further your career _are_ similar tasks, and there are lots of ways to flesh out that analogy. Granted, it’s not like one can follow a set of steps and be guaranteed of a good job or good marriage, but by keeping the end goal in mind, one can make either occurrence vastly more likely.
Mainer February 21, 2011, 2:47 pm
I think people are taking these “self-help” pieces a little too seriously. No one here, thankfully. Just in general. There is ALWAYS going to be someone who disagrees, or some inapplicable situation, for which you can slash the author apart. Does anyone REALLY want to read a piece on “Why You’re Single” that can be applied to both males and females, covering both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, as well as polygamous and monogamous relationships, and in the end covering every possibility, be it character-related or situationally-related, of why, but sheer happenstance, you are currently single while kindly avoiding any such blame or flaw in which you could possibly be held responsible? I sure as shit don’t.
The piece was not a letter written by the author to you. If anything, it was written more as a comical piece than as a professional therapeutic guide to digging you out of singlehood. We need to stop treating these articles as the be-all-end-all of advice, meriting them with absolute truth rather than just an anecdotal account from the author in an attempt to pass along some words of wisdom. I read some of the blog-commentary on this piece and was thinking to myself “why in pluperfect hell was this person even giving this piece a second thought if it so vastly didn’t apply to them?” Granted, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but when your opinion is to point out the absolute inexactitude of the authors opinion, then just keep it to yourself. Except for me. I am herby pointing out the absolute inexactitude of your opinion that the author is irrefutably wrong. Or something like that.
Wendy February 21, 2011, 2:54 pm
“Why in pluperfect hell” is a phrase that should be used far more frequently.
cdj0815 February 21, 2011, 3:02 pm
What if you are all of those things and more and still aren’t married? Shouldn’t this be about a “happy marriage” instead of marriage. Anybody can be married, all they have to do is accept or settle for anything that comes along because they don’t want to be alone. Maybe I misunderstood the article.
WatersEdge February 21, 2011, 3:13 pm
I think that “happily” is implied. Nobody strives to be unhappily married, do they? I think this is kind of nitpicking.
cdj0815 February 21, 2011, 3:39 pm
Wateredge, It probably is, but this is no reflection on Wendy or anybody else. I am just stating my opinion too. It just irks me that these type of article mostly target women (single or married).
And a lot women take this type of advice to heart. It is just not this black and white.
Red_Lady February 21, 2011, 3:03 pm
Off-topic: Love the Lincoln hat! Happy Presidents Day!
Back on topic, “there is a subtext in the article that getting married period is the end goal versus getting married happily ” is a great point! I never understood the idea of wanting to get married, versus finding a person you can spend the rest of your life with. Marriage would not be worth it if it’s with the wrong person.
Desiree February 21, 2011, 3:05 pm
I saw a derogatory comment regarding Ms. McMillan’s article on another site, and since I am fascinated by articles labeled “controversial,” I decided to read it. Frankly–not all that controversial. Just the plain, hard facts in a format that is probably unpalatable to many female readers. Women aren’t the only ones making mistakes in the dating world, but we certainly are the loudest about bemoaning our single status, so the article is warranted. Living on a college campus, I see these mistakes on a daily basis. Generally, the young women tend to have sex outside monogamy and/or stay with guys who only want flings (neither of these things are inherently bad, but they can be incompatible with finding a serious relationship); the men, on the other hand, quite consistently set their hopes on girls that are beyond their dating potential.
cdj0815 February 21, 2011, 3:44 pm
I have several male friends and complain alot about not meeting the right women. I am told most of the women they meet are shallow, greedy, selfish and narcissistic? I always respond with what type of women (physically or otherwise) are you attracted to?
Green_Blessings_Goddess February 21, 2011, 5:51 pm
Amen, Wendy!! Couldn’t have said it better. It never ceases to amaze me how many women think a serious relationship will come from booty calls, friends with benefits or men who are just looking for casual flings and are upfront and honest about it. Newsflash, you don’t have to date a guy just looking for sex. One of my friends was complaining to me she went on a date with a guy who said women that have sex on the first date are sluts and I was #1 surprised she was going on a second date with the jerk and #2 he was saying that to get her to think about having sex with him.
You are right too Wendy that usually when someone gets so pissed off it is because it struck a nerve, it is ludicrous that those women get upset about the article, if it doesn’t apply to them then so what if you wrote that, then they leave it and go onto the next thing. I personally am addicted to your columns and enjoy reading them.
elisabeth February 21, 2011, 6:34 pm
Wow – I found myself feeling more angry reading the articles critiquing Tracy’s “Why You’re Not Married” article than the actual list. I think Wendy’s hit the nail on the head when she says people are getting angry because the article is striking a nerve. There’s a big feminism push, and women shouldn’t have to a), b), or c) because you are powerful.
But I think there’s absolutely merit in self-examination and determining what you can do to change your situation. Of course there are things out of your control, but how you react to your situation isn’t. I think Tracy is a victim of her word choice. She’s obviously trying to rock the boat, and she definitely did that. But put her points in other terms, and they sound much less negative.
Be level-headed. Value character. Forget promiscuity. Be up front about your (realistic) expectations. Expect to compromise. Have self-worth.
That’s the same list, just in different words. I assume the positive language would receive less animosity – AND less attention.
MissDre February 21, 2011, 11:04 pm
I really liked her article. I thought it was funny and everything she wrote seemed quite true in my opinion. I don’t think she honestly believes that women should do all the work and it’s all their own fault, I think she was just pointing out the things that we women can do to help ourselves out!!
Maracuya February 22, 2011, 2:17 pm
The article’s criticizing her own piece as controversial are driving me crazy. I just read this new one on CNN:
And I think she’s 1) being angry 2) lying.
I think Tracy’s list wasn’t sugarcoated and it hit a little too close to home for some women. There’s nothing wrong with self-reflection, and I doubt she meant to imply that men should bring nothing to the table in a relationship.
elisabeth February 22, 2011, 3:27 pm
Exactly. The people replying to Tracy’s article are so much angrier than they should be!
I had trouble picturing the author of the article you’ve linked as anything but bitter and sarcastic. Her entire story is phrased as if it were relatable, something that all women can get behind (“Maybe you ____, but ____”), but each paragraph is another moment to dwell on how horribly wrong her life has gone. It was too personal to read anything but her anger into it. O.o
Marissa February 23, 2011, 1:51 am
Good points in Wendy’s and Tracy’s articles. I’m still in a dry spell dating wise, so as of late, the only way I’m learning anything about dating is reading advice like this and listening to my friend’s stories. All I can think is: Where was all of this useful advice when I was in college?! Mistakes that seem so blatantly obvious now, that get pointed out constantly in these articles, are the same ones I made several times over for four years straight! I could have saved myself so much grief.
neuroticbeagle March 4, 2011, 11:57 pm
Here is an article where the author of “Why You’re Not Married” talks about the piece. Thought some might be interested. http://glo.msn.com/relationships/take-a-vow-1534167.story?GT1=49006