A Valentine from the Village Voice: “Dear Single Women of NYC: It’s Not Them, It’s You”

It is almost Valentine’s Day so I wasn’t particularly surprised to see this cover story in the Village Voice entitled “Dear Single Women of NYC: It’s Not Them, It’s You.” I didn’t really think there would be much new to say about it. After all, I’ve read this piece before–just last month actually–so I already know that “the plight of the single lady” is real and very, very terrible.

But since I am currently a single (privileged, straight) woman living in NYC, this article was addressing me directly and just demanding to be read. Plus, that image of a pink heart-shaped box of candies entrapped in some sort of medieval torture device kept calling to me.

So I took the plunge. I pushed through the (rather unforgivable) references to Carrie Bradshaw, Eat Pray Love, and Lori Gottlieb, and here’s what I learned from Jen Doll’s piece:

1) Apparently NYC guys are known for being jerks. Or else they are gay or already in a relationship. This is a big complaint that single ladies in NYC have. I can’t really speak to that because the guys I know in NYC are pretty great. But I don’t know that many of them, so what do I know? Which brings me to #2…

2) Single women currently outnumber single men in New York by 149,219. That’s why I don’t know very many guys in this city–or, at least, from now I will definitely be using that as my excuse. This is by far my biggest take-away from the piece. I can blame my singleness on the numbers.

3) Except, according to Doll, complaining about 1) and 2) is a cop-out because the real problem is that successful single ladies don’t know what they want. Doll writes:

“There was (and still is) something wrong with me. And it’s the same thing that’s ‘wrong’ with pretty much every single woman in New York complaining she can’t find a decent man, or who has perhaps even given up in pursuit of her own continued drama and mini-amusements with the kind of guys she’d never want to settle down with anyway (safer that way): We don’t know what we want. And so we want a little bit of everything, over and over again.

Auntie Mame said famously that ‘Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death!’ But those poor bastards don’t live in New York City, where the banquet is 24 hours a day and everybody wants a piece of everybody else, if just for a little amuse-bouche. We’re free and ‘grown up’ and independent; we can do what we want, sexually and otherwise. Which is part of the problem, if you’re going to call it that.”

And are you going to call it that, Jen? Well, kinda. To be fair, Doll attempts to give some nuance to this tired tale. She acknowledges that the freedom to explore your options is a good thing–and admits at the end that she herself is “not narrowing them yet.” She notes that “settling” a la Lori Gottlieb has become a “dirty word.” Still, she argues:

“But I’d argue that it’s not about being picky. It’s about having all of these options, and not knowing how to choose from among them, or whether we even want to. It’s about the years of being told we can have it all, and suddenly being deeply afraid to admit that that house of cards has been a sham all along because no one really gets to have it all.”

Look, I don’t necessary think that’s totally untrue–although as an ambitious, idealist young woman, obviously, I patently refuse to accept it. I firmly believe that I will “have it all”–the career, the relationship(s), the family–and I will not have to make any sacrifices or compromises or tough choices and everything will fall into place perfectly on my terms and my schedule. Right??

Wrong! Doll tells me it won’t actually happen like that. In part, because that’s not how life goes and also because knowing what you want is actually pretty hard. And I kinda buy that. At almost 25 years old, I vacillate pretty much daily between wanting to have lots of exciting, casual sex in NYC and wanting to be married in the country in a house with a wrap-around porch. (I kid you not.) And I can only imagine it just gets more complicated, the timing of it all more frustrating, the conflicting desires more maddening, the stakes seemingly even higher.

But why, for the love of St. Valentine, is this a gendered story? If settling is simply, as Doll argues, “what all humans do when they make choices,” why are we only talking about the women humans? Why does she quote a 20-something guy who says, “I think if girls were more withholding, boys would be more likely to commit, but because boys can get most of what they want without having to commit, they do.” Why does she discuss the “the imminent biological reality of your decreasing fertility” as if this were solely a factor for women? Although they don’t have a physical clock counting down, surely men must have similar considerations about if and when they would like to start a family. Why does she think it’s “refreshing” to hear a 30-something guy express his desire to get married sometime soon?

I just can’t believe that relationship trend pieces are still written as if men and women are two different species. Doll admonishes her single lady peers to “remember that men are not the enemy.” But she’s written an article that can’t seem to break out that kind of adversarial framework. She simply took the “blame” for failed relationships off the men and placed it on women. When will we take blame out of the equation all together and recognize that all of us–men and women–are just trying to figure out what we want?

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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