As I mentioned in a “Things That Made Me Happy This Week” post a few weeks ago, I cheated a bit in the Bookshelf Project and bought myself a new book for my flight to LA. I was inspired to buy All the Single Ladies when I heard an interview with the author, Rebecca Traister, on one of my favorite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend. I’d also read many of Traister’s articles about marriage and relationships and women and politics before the book came out and I was a fan.
Admittedly, I have a complicated relationship with the notion of singlehood. Though I strongly identify with being a single woman, I’m technically also a divorced woman, which is considered by many as an entirely different thing. And perhaps it is, in many ways, but it doesn’t spare me or any other divorced or separated woman the pain, loneliness, judgements, and freedom that come with being unmarried–especially past a certain age.
Personal identity politics aside, I found this book insightful and illuminating. I learned a lot about the historical impact of unmarried women throughout history–logically, it makes sense that single women typically have a history of being more politically engaged and involved with their communities than those who were married, with families to take care of, but I never really considered it in that way before.
Though the history was really interesting, I was most drawn in by the stories of contemporary single women and how they’re navigating their lives. It’s certainly more socially acceptable to be unmarried than ever before, but it’s still a lifestyle choice (or circumstance) that’s seen as unconventional, and it can be difficult to live in a world geared toward the traditional couple and family structure.
Here were some of my favorite tidbits and passages I highlighted as I read:
- “By the time I walked down the aisle…I had lived fourteen independent years, early adult years that my mother had spent married. I had made friends and fallen out with friends, had moved in and out of apartments, had been hired, fired, promoted, and quit. I had had roommates I liked and roommates I didn’t like and I had lived on my own; I’d been on several forms of birth control and navigated a few serious medical questions; I’d paid my own bills and failed to pay my own bills; I’d fallen in love and fallen out of love and spent five consecutive years with nary a fling. I’d learned my way around new neighborhoods, felt scared and felt completely at home; I’d been heartbroken, afraid, jubilant, and bored. I was a grown-up: a reasonably complicated person. I’d become that person not in the company of any one man, but alongside my friends, my family, my city, my work, and, simply, by myself.”
- Birth control was illegal for single women until 1972.
- “What the women’s movement of the 1970s did, ultimately, was not to shrink marriage, or the desire for male companionship, as a reality for many women, but rather to enlarge the rest of the world to such an extent that marriage’s shadow became far less likely to blot out the sun of other possibilities.”
- “the Equal Rights Amendment, which read, simply, ‘Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction;’ it would be introduced to every Congressional session from 1923 until 1972, when it finally passed but was not ratified by the states. (It has been reintroduced, though never passed, in every session since 1982.)” This is some bullshit.
- “Among the largely unacknowledged truths of female life is that women’s primary, foundational, formative relationships are as likely to be with each other as they are with the men we’ve been told since childhood are supposed to be the people who complete us.”
- “Marriage and its ancillary, committed dating, are simply not the only relationships that sustain and help to give shape, direction, and passion to female life.”
- “…despite the fact that people who live alone make up almost 30 percent of the population…, stigmas about single people, and especially women, as aberrant, weird, stunted, and perhaps especially as immature, persist.”
- “After all, unmarried life is not a practice round or a staging ground or a suspension of real life. There is nothing automatically adolescent about moving through the world largely on one’s own–working, earning, spending, loving, screwing up, and having sex outside traditional marriage…But we’ve still got a lot of hardwired assumptions that the successful female life is measured not in professional achievements or friendships or even satisfying sexual relationships, but by whether you’re legally coupled….those assumptions are often undergirded by an unconscious conviction that, if a woman is not wed, it’s not because she’s made a set of active choices, but rather she has not been selected–chosen, desired, valued enough.”
- “There is a sense of: ‘What happened? How are you still on the shelf? You must be a defective product because nobody bought you.’ This is the message she absorbs every time a friend tries to be encouraging by telling her, ‘I would think everyone would be after you!'”
- “…They found that health, life, home, and car insurance all cost more for single people, and report that ‘It is not a federal crime for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their marital status.’..Looking at income tax policy, Social Security, healthcare, and housing costs, Campbell and Arnold found that ‘in each category, the singles paid or lost more than the marrieds.'”
- “…marital rape was legal in some states until the 1990s.”
- In the House of Representatives, “women only got their own ladies’ room in 2011.”
- “…each of our loves is crucial and unique.” Gloria Steinem
- “It is too rarely acknowledged that there are millions of ways that women leave marks on the world, and having children is but one of them.”
- “We have to rebuild not just our internalized assumptions about individual freedoms and life paths; we almost must revise our social and economic structures to account for, acknowledge, and support women in the same way in which we have supported men for centuries.”
So, clearly, I took a lot away from the book. But I think the most important thing I got from reading it at this stage of my life is the acknowledgment of the validity and existence of alternate paths through life. It may seem silly to say that sometimes it feels as though single people’s lives aren’t as valid as coupled people’s, but it’s true. It’s something many of us feel every day. And it’s important to be reminded that being part of a couple isn’t some magical key to happiness or success or “real life” starting. Every day, I accept more and more the possibility that I will never get married again, that I will never have children, or a family of my own in a traditional sense. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t have love and romance and vacations and life-changing experiences and successes both creative and professional–those things I know are still available to me, and I know I will have them. We all will.
The past couple of weeks have gotten away from me in terms of blogging. I’m still working on my Bookshelf Project and will be updating soon–I just have a lot of thoughts, as usual. For now, here are a few standouts from the past couple of weeks, although I’m sure I’m forgetting some things since it’s definitely been more than a week.
- The World Figure Skating Championships were held in Boston for the first time this year and a few friends and I went to the Men’s Free Skate. I was a little apprehensive going into it–I hadn’t really paid attention to figure skating since the 1994 Winter Olympics–but it was SO MUCH FUN. I’d never seen any competition like it, with judges and scores and international competitors. We even got to see the medal ceremony! And these men can SKATE. They were amazing. I mean, obviously, they’re the best in the world, but I was so stunned by their grace and power. Here was my favorite routine, performed by the gold medalist from Spain, Javier Fernandez. (Disregard the Italian announcers).
- Whenever I’m too tired or stressed to cook, or I know there’s nothing in my refrigerator, or I just want a treat, Purple Cactus, my local burrito place in JP, is my go-to–I love their quesadillas and their Santa Fe Chicken Salad is a revelation. Good job, guys.
- I’m just really enjoying Tom Hiddleston these days. Look at that smile!
- It seems long ago now, but the night of Figure Skating Championships (April 1), the weather in Boston was lovely, and it was nice enough to walk from my office to the arena, and I walked through Boston Common and it was full of commuters and runners and kids and dogs and everyone seemed happy and it was a much-needed reminder that summer is on its way.
- Also a couple of weeks ago, I got to go wedding dress shopping with my best friend at BHLDN and not only are the dresses there gorgeous and appealed to all my magpie tendencies (ooh shiny things!), I was so happy and honored to be invited to help my friend choose her wedding dress. (She looked amazing in all of them, obvi.)
- I bought some new eyeliner at the same time as I purchased my favorite new red lipstick and I thought I should give it a shoutout here too, because I’m really enjoying it. I find liquid eyeliner tough to pull off, but the Kat Von D ink liner is super easy and looks good! (I bought it in Hemingway, a nice chestnut brown.)
- I love Broad City. I love the characters and their friendship and the ridiculous situations they get into. This week’s episode was a masterpiece, though. An homage to Mrs. Doubtfire, they nailed it. Also, the episode was more poignant and emotional than usual, when you got to see the ways these characters are also vulnerable and how much they love one another. A+.
Enjoy the rest of your week, all!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with travel for work that extended to a few extra days of vacation, then getting back to Boston to scramble to catch up with my routines and work at the office, and then spending this weekend with my family, celebrating both Easter and my sister’s birthday. These are not complaints, but it’s only 8:30 PM and I’m contemplating how soon I can go to bed, that’s how tired I am.
Here are the things that have made me happy over the last two weeks:
- House parties and roof decks. When I lived in Brooklyn, I missed the house parties I went to so frequently as a grad student in Boston. Of course, now that I’m back, I’m older, and most of my cohort are married and no longer students, so the house parties are fewer, but every once in a while, they still happen, and when the weather cooperates, a Boston house party often involves backyard grilling or hanging out on roof decks, both things I very much enjoy. Two weekends ago, I got to attend one of these rare house parties, and though I only knew a few people there, I just liked being there, floating in and out from the roof deck, drinking beers purchased at the convenience store down the block on the way there.
- Silent reading party. There’s a huge historic house in the center of my neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, and they hold many events for the community, including an annual “reading party” where they invite people inside the house to lounge and read for a few hours. This year’s party took place on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so I grabbed my hefty paperback copy of Infinite Jest, and spent an hour reading on a sunny window seat, just enjoying the companionable silence. But the real magic was the number of people in attendance–it was great to see so many people as excited as I was at the prospect of just reading in a beautiful space for a couple of hours.
- My apartment. One of my roommates is moving out in June, so my other roommate and I are searching for a new roommate. I was reminded of how much I love my apartment as I was showing a prospective new roommate around. It’s really a great space, comfortable and lived in and bright and spacious–a rare find. As I talked about the apartment, I found myself thinking about how lucky I was to have found it, and what a comfort it’s been to have a place I love to call home, especially during a time when my life was flipped upside down, and I desperately needed a new place to call home.
- All the Single Ladies.
I bought this book for my trip and though I wouldn’t say it was exactly a joyous read, I found it hopeful and smart. I’m going to write about it more extensively this week, but it was a reminder I’ve been needing lately that marriage isn’t the only happy narrative available to women.
- California. I attended a conference in Anaheim last week, and while I didn’t get much of a chance to be outdoors, I did carve out one hour of reading by the pool, which was just the relaxation I needed after the frenzy of 12-14 hour conference days. I love California. The palm trees, the sunshine, the ease that comes with living with near-perfect weather. I’ve been really lucky to have gotten the chance to spend so much time out there over the last few years!
Since I was already in Anaheim, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go to Disneyland. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Andy, lives in LA and happens to be a Disney expert, so he met me in Anaheim and we spent the day going on as many rides as we could. I have never been to Disneyland, but I have been to Disney World–once when I was 15, and once to Animal Kingdom only, a few years ago. Disneyland is much smaller and more manageable, and since it was the original, there’s just something more charming about it. I surprised myself by even going on roller coasters, which is not something I normally do–we got Space Mountain out of the way first thing (it was terrifying), and then I went on a few others throughout the day. I was surprised by how much fun I had, given my cynical and jaded attitude. There’s also something to be said for spending a few days visiting with a friend who’s known you for over two decades, having long, deep conversations, and also laughing over something ridiculous that happened in 1998.
- National Puppy Day/Sid Attenberg. It was something called “National Puppy Day” last week, which I know is made up and silly, but there were even more pictures of puppies in my social media than usual (which is impressive, because I keep my social media heavily populated with puppers) and that made me very happy. One of my favorite Internet pups, though, is Sidney Attenberg, the puggle who belongs to novelist Jami Attenberg. Sid reminds me of Chief, so I’m biased, but he’s got a great underbite, and quite a presence on camera. I’ve watched this vine of him more times than is probably normal. Sadly, my parents also had to put their dog, Rita, down this week after a sudden illness. She was a pudgy and sweet chihuahua and I will miss her.
- Red lipstick. I’ve been looking for the right red lipstick for years now, and I may have finally found it. Or at least one I really like. I bought it when I was wandering around the Grove, LA’s most well-known outdoor shopping center (why, I’m not really sure, since it honestly doesn’t have that many stores), feeling sad because none of the pants I’d tried on that day fit me. So I rolled into Sephora to assuage my sorrow and found their “always red” cream lip stain. It was almost enough to make me feel okay again as I walked back to my friend’s apartment in the twilight, feet aching from all the walking I’d done over the last few days, but content. This lip stain has incredible staying power and it’s definitely bright, with a matte finish without feeling overly dry. For the price, I’d definitely recommend!
What’s making you happy this week?
Confession: I gave up on this one. Hey Ted, your BOOK is rolling nowhere! Hey-o.
Another confession: I’m copying the next two paragraphs from my Goodreads review.
I thought a book about hoboes would be more compelling, honestly. I liked the idea–a young, privileged, white college student takes to the rails to find out what it’s really like to live this lifestyle. What’s most compelling, to me, is that Conover didn’t have a book deal or a travel stipend–he just wanted to do it, so he did it. The book came later.
However, I was hoping for more analysis, more context. What I got was a day-by-day account of Conover’s experiences on the rails. In the introduction, Conover says he was reluctant to publish his inner thoughts, so I was expecting more interiority, more rumination on what drove him to take this kind of trip. Nearly halfway into the book, I wasn’t getting anything I came for, so I abandoned it. I think Ted would understand. Life’s too short.
So, ironically, I’m writing this blog post about a book about trains on a plane. Weird. It still boggles my mind that I can access the Internet 10,000 feet into the air. I’m on my way to Anaheim, CA for a work conference, followed by a couple of days of vacation (and Disney!) in LA. I’m looking forward to the sunshine and the change of pace. There is something romantic about the West Coast to me, and perhaps to most East Coasters. I’ve now spent a good amount of time on the “best coast” and if it were only closer, or there were more people I loved there, I would move there in a heartbeat. But again, maybe that’s just part and parcel of the “grass is always greener” mentality.
This was another book from the free shelves at the Random House offices, years ago. Truthfully, I think I only picked it up because it was free, and because my friend was writing a book about hoboes at the time, and I mean, who doesn’t think hoboes are cool? Definitely not Ted Conover. I don’t give up on books all that often, honestly, but especially with this project, I want to give myself a break from reading feeling like a chore. Because that’s definitely not the goal. It is very much a danger, though, so rather than slogging through a book just because it’s on my shelf, I’m trying to cut it off before it gets too taxing.
Final confession: I bought myself a new book for the plane ride–All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister. But it’s on my Kindle because I didn’t have time to go to the bookstore…but I will probably still review it because a virtual bookshelf is still a bookshelf. Now that book I’m thoroughly enjoying. If you’re curious, listen to the author and podcast greats Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow read from the book and talk about single ladies on Call Your Girlfriend.
Keep rolling, friends!
The idea of this book of short stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman intrigued me, so I picked it up on a whim during a trip to Papercuts when they didn’t have the Ferrante novel I was looking for at the time. (I’m pretty much incapable of going in that store and leaving without buying anything.)
For this collection, Mayhew Bergman examined women on the fringes of fame, women you’ve probably never heard of, and imagined what their lives were like. There’s a pair of conjoined twins, a boater named Joe who owns and commands a small island, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister Norma, Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter Allegra, and Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s doppelganger niece. Most of the women in the stories were outcasts of their time, outsiders who dared to succeed and compete and live outside of the confines society had created for women of the time. Most of them are also deeply troubled and unlikable, ravaged by drugs and power and poverty and fame.
The stories made me want to learn more about these women and I loved the idea of exploring these lives we never hear about, lives forgotten by the onslaught of history. But I have to admit that there was something gimmicky about this kind of writing. I felt the same way about stories in the Mary Gordon collection The Liar’s Wife. It almost seemed like a writing prompt you would complete in a writing class. And I love that kind of writing–I do it myself. However, a book full of these kinds of stories didn’t feel completely honest to me in some way. Like the author was trying to hide behind these real lives.
For me, the stories themselves were hit or miss, but I did enjoy a few of them, and the idea felt fresh enough to me to give it a fair shake.