Lori Gottlieb Says: Settle!; Three Romantic Songs

(Image: Miss Austen Regrets)

I got MeFi‘d on Feb. 10 (thanks Brandon!) for my old post about the smell of outer space. While perusing MeFi after discovering why my hit count was suddenly exploding on a Sunday, I found this article by Lori Gottlieb.

It’s called “Marry Him!,” and it’s an exhortation to “settle” in love and marriage — early, and for whatever reasonable offer you can get.

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist—vehemently, even—that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), every woman I know—no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure—feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.

Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. 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.

Read it here: Marry Him!

I’m a 38-year-old woman (39 next month) with (at the present time, anyway) zero prospects for marriage or children. My own mom casually mentioned the other day that she’d told a home health client that playing with the client’s son might be the closest she ever got to having a grandchild.

Ah, me.

I’ve never considered “settling” in love or marriage, but I have thought a lot about how my nontraditional life of studying and semi-cool freelancing work, while it looks great on paper, is really not so much lonely and miserable as it is endlessly dull.

Lonely doesn’t always mean tears and drama. Sometimes it’s just night after night after night of websurfing, knitting and watching DVD after DVD after DVD and trying to ignore the restlessness in my heart for someone to talk to. Trying to still myself and tell myself I really am having fun, that there needn’t be more to my evenings than Netflix and homework at the dinner table rather than dinners there. That I am self-complete as a flower or stone, as Sara Teasdale said.

This past weekend I spent a quiet Sunday alone at home, cleaning, blogging, making soup from scratch, doing my taxes, catching up on homework. It was somehow both restorative and taxing, but mostly it was just very boring. Restful is great, but every now and then I wish my life offered me something interactive — something that did not involve getting in the car and going somewhere. Something built in, part of the place.

I have amazing friendships, a good job, and studies that I still love after five difficult years. But there’s still a big chunk of life to live outside of these, and I live there all by myself. Time to forge an identity and be yourself is a good thing, but you really can have too much of a good thing. You really can.

If you’re at all in the same boat, or curious to read a well-reasoned, feminist-friendly article about settling, read Gottlieb’s article. It doesn’t haunt me, but I find it… interesting? Disturbing? Not quite in sync with life as I see it?

Maybe the last one, because not only am I a romantic, I also note that of my four closest friends, three of them are happily married to people with whom they are madly in love. And the fourth friend, while not married, is just as in love as the others.

Four out of four of Jen’s friends say: Love is real. Hang on.

Which brings me to this question: What if I end up holding on forever?

This and other Austenesque questions are addressed with surprising maturity and ambiguity in a 2008 Masterpiece Theatre production I highly recommend: Miss Austen Regrets, with Olivia Williams as a wonderfully quirky, complex and conflicted Jane Austen. There is no reinvention here: Austen is successful but lonely, and kicks off young from stomach cancer, just like in the real life of the real woman named Jane Austen who lived and died without any easy answers.  James McAvoy is nowhere to be seen.

I also note that Masterpiece Theatre is currently showing, on successive Sundays, the outstanding six-hour 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejuduce with Colin Firth and (fellow WNC native!) Jennifer Ehle. Look for it on PBS Sunday nights for the next two Sundays (the first episode was last night).

I love this adaptation, arguably the definitive film version, because it seems perfectly cast even to me (an Austen lightweight), has no real name actors other than the perfectly cast Firth and, at six hours, has time to proceed through a novel-length story at an appropriately monarchal pace, without leaving whole sections of plot on the cutting-room floor.

And because I am a romantic at heart (perhaps like Austen herself; perhaps to the very end), here’s three realist-approved Valentine’s love songs.

Rufus Wainwright

Neil Young

Tom Waits

Enjoy.

5 responses to “Lori Gottlieb Says: Settle!; Three Romantic Songs

  1. I had to wait until i was 50 before i found my Helen, my perfect match. Her and i have talked about it and we both recognize that had we met earlier we wouldn’t have put together all the pieces of ourselves to be who we are to each other. I’m not saying you’ll have to wait that long, only that it comes to me only after the end of longing to make something into what i wanted. Then i was open to what was and now have the most mature love i could have hoped for: one of mutual respect and a mind that keeps me endlessly fascinated, and a deep unbrooding unconditional caring.

  2. Jennifer,
    I have this DVD set if you want to borrow it.
    I loved the movie that came out years ago as well. It is such a touching story.
    I hope that you are well and enjoying school.
    Love,
    Michelle

  3. Hey Michelle, thank you for the DVD offer. I will take you up on it sometime.

    And Zen, you and Helen are the most inspiring couple I know.

  4. I think people do settle. And then they end up getting divorced.

  5. EM, I think you have said very succinctly and elegantly exactly what the flaw in Gottlieb’s logic is.

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