Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Should You Marry that Rude, Stinky, Creepy Person Since You’re Not Perfect Either?

Regressive writer tells singles to settle – and makes a bundle

Once upon a time, a reporter for a major magazine declared, in all seriousness, that women should just get married already - even if it means settling for someone kind of repulsive. I wish I could say that it happened back in the Stone Age. In fact, though, the insolent story was published by Lori Gottlieb in the Atlantic magazine in 2008.

Today, Gottlieb's regressive, singlist, matrimaniacal essay, in expanded form as a book, appeared in print. I will take a look at the book if someone sends it to me (after I read the other books in line to be reviewed at this blog), but I'm not about to send any of my money the way of Gottlieb or her publisher. (To read a review by someone who did read the book, try this one from the Daily Beast. Thanks to Natalya for the link.)

I did, however, read the original Atlantic essay very closely, and wrote about it for the Huffington Post. Gottlieb responded to my post, then I posted again. Some excerpts from my original posts are below, together with links to all three posts and the original Atlantic story.

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I. My original post about Gottlieb's regressive story in the Atlantic

My original critique of Gottlieb's essay was called "Marry Him!": Atlantic Magazine Back-of-the-Book Backlash Porn. Here are some excerpts:

Lori Gottlieb, writing in the Atlantic magazine, has one word for single women of any age: Settle!

Settle, she exhorts us, even for the guy who smells bad or who gives you "a cold shiver down your spine at the thought of embracing" him. Settle for the man who has "a long history of major depression," is enthralled by terrorists, and is obnoxious to the wait staff. Settle for the guy so boring that you "preferred reading during dinner to sitting through another tedious conversation." Settle for "a widower who has three nightmarish kids and is still grieving for his dead wife."

HER OWN LITTLE WORLD

I'm a social scientist, and in the next section I'll show that Gottlieb is peddling myths about singlehood and marriage that do not pass scientific muster. I don't expect Gottlieb to be open to data, though. She's already gathered all of the evidence she believes she needs, from every 30-year old single woman that she knows. No matter how successful these women are, Gottlieb proclaims, they are all panicked about their unmarried state.

Now look at the line that comes next - the one that the Atlantic has turned into a printed shout-out:

"If you're a single 30-year old and you say you're not panicked about your marriage prospects, then you're in denial or you're lying."

Try telling a person who would say a thing like this that you feel differently. Gottlieb is creating her own reality.

She is also the mom telling all her kiddie readers that they must do as she says "because I said so!!!"

SCIENCE - THAT PESKY PROTESTER

Gottlieb buys into just about all of the myths about singles that I debunk in my book, Singled Out. She believes, for example, that singles are interested in just one thing - getting married. She warns that even if they have great jobs, their jobs won't love them back. She thinks that if single women wait too long, the available men will all be "damaged goods." Most of all, she seems to believe that single people are miserable and lonely, and that the cure for what ails them is to get married.

Science demurs. (This section continues here. Next, I reprint the last sections of that post.)

UTTERLY CONVENTIONAL

I suspect that Flanagan, Gottlieb, and their ilk fashion themselves as shockingly unconventional. Look at me, they seem to be saying: I'm smart, I'm educated, and I alone am daring enough to say what those deluded feminists will not - that a woman's place is in the arms of her husband. Even if he stinks - literally.

In fact, though, their positions are profoundly conventional. Women have long been told, even by other educated women, and even now, that they belong with a man. The more progress women make, the more insistent the message becomes.

It takes an utterly unoriginal voice to pose the question, "Is it better to be alone or to settle?" and think that the universe of options has thereby been delineated. It is also kind of dopey to think that women who are single are alone.

MY ADVICE TO LORI GOTTLIEB AND THE ATLANTIC MAGAZINE

I have some advice of my own for the Atlantic. In the famous words of Jon Stewart, as he stuck a fork in CNN's Crossfire and declared it done:

"Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America."

II. Gottlieb's passionate response to my post

At this point, Lori Gottlieb completely freaked out. She published a long diatribe in response to me at the Huffington Post, in which she claimed that my claims about her piece were glaringly inaccurate and taken wildly out of context. (You can read the original Atlantic piece, my critique of it, and Gottlieb's screed about my critique by following the links in this sentence, and decide for yourself.)

III. My reply to Gottlieb's post

Noticing how upset Gottlieb was, I apologized about that. But I also objected to some of the new examples of singlism in Gottlieb's response to me. Here's some of what I said:

I wondered, when I first read your article, if perhaps you were writing it with your tongue lodged firmly in your cheek. I thought your article might be nothing more than Atlantic magazine backlash shtick (written more to roil readers than out of conviction). But upon reading your post, I'm concerned that you really do believe the things that you've said - for example, about how any single woman who says she is not worried is either in denial or lying.

Now I'm also troubled by many of the new comments in your post. My concern is that they were not written merely out of anger towards me, but reflect what you really do believe about people who are single.

Consider these, for instance:

Lori Gottlieb (LG) Quote #1: "If your definition of a fulfilling life is one that consists of three cats and physical contact only with uncommitted partners or the masseuse at Burke Williams, then put down the Atlantic and go stock up on kitty litter."

LG #2: "But please be aware that you're the minority in the subset of heterosexual women in this country who have never been married."

LG #3: "I suggest settling specifically for women in their thirties who do not want to be alone for the rest of their lives."

LG #4: "I hate to pop Bella's we-are-the-world view of female friendships."

LG #5: "if it is not advice that works for you, so be it. Stay single...eat dinner each night with your single female friends (but don't talk about dating or men; who needs them?)"

LG #6: About me, you say, "I think she's got some, uh, issues here."

I'm especially concerned about these statements in the context of your comment that you are interning as a therapist. Look at the contempt and the scorn you are conveying about people who are single. I think you are saying (and I hope I am wrong) that people who are single are caricatures; that hardly anyone else thinks the way they do; that their friendships are worthy of nothing more than ridicule (even if those relationships are greatly valued by the single people themselves); that even with cherished friendships, single people will be "alone for the rest of their lives," perhaps because you believe that if a woman does not have a husband, she does not have anyone. Most troubling, I think you are saying that people who are single, especially if they stand up for themselves or for other single people, have "issues."

Lori, this is why I say that you are hurting America. Your clients will come to you for help, looking to place their hearts in your hands. Do you really want to convey to your single clients that, no matter what they may believe about themselves or their lives, your judgment of them has been predetermined, and it is damning?

Maybe you will succeed in concealing your contempt and incredulousness from your single clients who do not see their single status as a problem. Still, I'm concerned that others, too, may be hurt by your writings. Some single people take to heart the essays and blogs like yours. Maybe there are some coupled people who find justification in your writings for their own condescension toward people who are single. So, in my opinion, you are hurting America by perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices, and I think you should stop.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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