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?

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/paperorbs/ Petra

    The device that the heart shaped box is encased in in the article in the Village Voice is a bear trap.


    While not a medieval torture device I think the implicit reference in the picture is quite dehumanizing.

  • honeybee

    I strongly agree with the assertion that no one can have it all. It’s impossible. You have to make choices and pick a path. But the thing is – that’s TOTALLY FINE. No one needs to have it all nor should they want to. Telling women they can have it all is a major beef of mine, it just sets up unrealistic expectations and I know countless women who have suffered as a result, because in their mind, they don’t have it all, and thus feel like a failure.

    As you get older, and especially once you have kids, you realize the true ridiculous of the “have-it-all” meme. But hopefully you also make peace with it.

    As for men, in my experience men don’t actually want to have it all. They are fine to just have “some” of it all. It’s women that seem to want everything. That’s my experience at least.

  • honeybee

    “I just can’t believe that relationship trend pieces are still written as if men and women are two different species”

    This is an example to me of living in a feminist bubble. Sure, as feminists we don’t think like this and maybe even live lives where this isn’t true. But you have to remember, 99% of people are not feminists. To 99% of people, there are big differences between men and women. Even as a feminist I see it right in front of me every single day. You can’t tell me that the women in your lives don’t act differently then the men in your lives, and aren’t, well, different. You CAN tell me it’s because of socialization and other factors – I can agree with that – but that does NOT change the fact that TODAY, February 11, 2011, this is the way it is. Whether it should be this way or not is irrelevant. It IS this way. Maybe it will change, maybe it won’t, but that’s for the future and if you’re writing an article today, you have to address the world that exists today.

    So I agree with the gist of the post but we need to be cognizant of the reality that we actually live in, instead of the reality that we want to live in.

  • http://feministing.com/members/livb/ BETH

    These sorts of articles bother me for multiple reasons. And I think Maya’s commentary is pretty spot-on. First, though I’m a bit older than 25 (not by much), I happen to have the marriage and the career and the house in the country (though no babies…yet). And I think I pretty much “have it all”. Shockingly enough, I used to be picky! And then my pickiness led me to a man who treated me better, was more attractive and was *gasp* a feminist, too! Pickiness shouldn’t be a bad word. It can actually keep you from wasting your time. haha

    And still, I think it’s completely natural to think about “what could have been” or to miss “casual sex” or what have you. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. If it did, everyone would be considered ‘screwed up’! Whether you’re married or not, in a relationship or not, everyone ponders the counterfactuals. But ’tis life. And ultimately I always come down on the side of my current happy choices. :-)

    Finally, I wish that people who write about such things wouldn’t assume that men don’t feel similarly to women. I can’t tell you how many young men (my age or a bit younger) that I know who pine after love and family, even while not settling for any young woman who comes their way. It’s really not the crisis we all have made it out to be. Some of these people will get married, some won’t. Some will have kids, some won’t. But it’s not like we’re in some sort of anti-marriage, no-babies-being-had catastrophic time or anything.

  • http://feministing.com/members/steveo/ Steven Olson

    Am I the only one who can’t stand when someone says “If women would only withhold more, men would commit”? As a 26 year old man, I can say that if a woman ‘withholds’ or not, isn’t going to change whether I will commit. I would only commit if I really enjoyed spending time with that person. If the only reason you are committing to a person is that they are holding out sex, you shouldn’t be with them!

    I found the original article a bit strange, as some of it made a lot of sense and some seemed a bit off to me. But its nice to know that I am not alone in having what I want fluctuate wildly. Some days its single life, others its married, family life, and sometimes something inbetween the two. And it changes often. I guess there is just a fear of being unhappy with whatever one I eventually choose.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I’ll admit, I only read as far as this author person berating “herself” for something being wrong with “her” for not accepting more stable available men in lieu of the “bad boy with complications” or whatever. At this point I realized it was a rehash of the old Nice Guy(tm) meme of “women don’t know what they want, they don’t date me because I’m too NICE! Women are silly creatures who run off with JERKS who treat them like crap!” Only, you know, they pretended to write it from the point of view of a woman (or at least someone with a feminine pen name) to try and give it legitimacy.

    So, point number two…who exactly is this “Jen Doll”? Ignoring for a moment that a NYC writer is now running around with something vaguely similar to my own stage name, why can I not find a picture of this human being online? Why is “her” twitter avatar simply a chair and a desk? Linkedin profile no avatar at all? Let’s just say when someone assumes such an obvious pen name, has no photos and proceeds to write a victim blaming screed about how women are at fault if they get treated badly in the dating world, my suspicions get raised.

    I did find another Jen Doll article-“50 Reasons To Live In NYC” or some such thing. It is classist-“You can pay someone else to do your laundry!” (Maybe the yuppies do, but I live in NYC and everyone I know does it themselves). It is ableist (“There is always someone crazier than you!”) More classism snarking on Hell’s Kitchen-which is where I was born(WELL before it got gentrified)—you get the idea.

    • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

      It seems like you’re assuming that because the author’s perspective is not as feminist as you might like (and I perceive it as pretty anti-feminist, too), you’ve assumed the author must really be a man. Did it ever occur to you that a woman might be, you know, antifeminist (plenty are)? Or that she might just be, you know, unsure what she wants (many are, as are many men)?

      You also seem to place a lot of stock in this “Jen Doll’s” character’s avatars. My google search turned up a woman’s face, for what that’s worth: http://www.myspace.com/jen_doll

      • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

        Well, for what it’s worth, this doesn’t seem to be the myspace of the same Jen Doll. The woman in this myspace profile is from San Rafael, California, is an interior designer, and although currently listing her status as single, has her status marked as “getting married 2 the love of her life”–so she’s presumably engaged.

        Jen Doll the columnist, it turns out, lives in New York (previously in Florida), is a writer for the Village Voice and before that Radar magazine, and has just written a big article on the plight of being a single woman, so I’m guessing no current engagement?

        They don’t seem to be the same person.

    • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      Update to this–checked into it via other VV writers. She is actually a cisgendered female writer, and not a pen name for some angry jilted dude, as I previously suspected. In which case I’m kind of at a loss here. Some kind of internalization of cultural misogyny?

      • honeybee

        Really? I mean really?

        I don’t understand why some posters on this site always implicitely assume that women in general agree with the feminist perspective and/or are feminists whether they call themselves that or not. In my experience it’s the exact opposite. There’s an awful lot of what I would call anti-feminist women out there – and even more who mostly see nothing wrong with the status quo, and so to me it doesn’t surprise me at all that this was written by a woman. Alot of women I know would probably agree with the article.

        • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

          To Matthew and honeybee:

          Like I pointed out, I actually checked with another reporter, and posted with my findings as soon as I got the reply. Yes, I was incorrect. I already admitted that.

          Beyond that, I know there are anti-feminist women in the world, currying as many pats on the head as they can garner by being complicit in their own oppression and selling women as a whole up the river in a heartbeat. I also know I can easily find online images of most other such pundits and authors online. When this one didn’t have one, and trotted out the same old song and dance I’ve heard from far too many men (often with issues with women at their core) I don’t think it was entirely unreasonable to become suspicious.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    It depends on how we respond to uncertainty. Some people respond to uncertainty by faith, believing that ultimately they will receive what they need. Some people invest in something tangible, like their career.

    What concerns me is a generation of people who lack the ability for basic introspection. They’ve been raised by parents who tried to protect them from failure, not realizing that triumphing over adversity is how we all learn so much. And when that happens, one can’t entertain the possibility of the self being responsible, to whatever degree. Self-reflection is not the same thing as being shamed for not living up to some standard.

    But otherwise, I wrote in my Community piece on this subject speaking particularly to female friends I know. I wish they would recognize that vulnerability for the sake of growth is the only way progress can ever proceed. On the subject of dating, I only learned what I wanted, or at least what I did not want, by putting myself out there, over and over again, even when it was painful.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mouchette/ Mouchette

    I am a single woman in NYC and although I thought this article was being intentionally provocative by blaming women for their disappointment in being single, that is what got me to read it just to feel outraged. However, I thought she (he?) made some valid points. I think i am definitely drawn to complicated men who are on the fence about committment precisely because I am that way myself. Men may get the blame for being non-commital, but I have to say I have really enjoyed my past few years of playing the field, it’s been quite an adventure and when it is misadventure, makes for great stories. Of course there are times when I pine for something more stable, but my married girlfriends in the suburbs often express envy for my lifestyle and the sexual adventures I have with men generally a decade or more younger than I am, while I envy…Well, right now I don’t envy them but maybe I will when I’m in my 60’s with no offspring but a lot of crazy stories instead…I do spend time with single girlfriends commiserating about the lack of decent men, but I don’t really believe it 100% as I have had a great time with completely unsuitable, inappropriate fellows and although there are occasional disappointments, many of them have provided me with fun and excitement and i think that alone has kept me off antidepressants, unlike a lot of people i know in more “stable” situations…

    • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

      I had a very similar reaction to this article. I often find myself wondering exactly what this “plight” of single women is, and why it is so bad. Nobody cares about the “plight” of single men, though. Is it any worse? For what it’s worth, I enjoyed being single, enjoyed dating and now enjoy being engaged (I’m male, as my name implies) and I don’t see why a single woman’s “plight” would be so terrible.

    • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      That’s great, though it should be noted that relationship status or sexual fulfillment, however one finds it, are not the only reason a person may need an antidepressant or have struggles with depression.

      • http://feministing.com/members/mjameson/ Matthew T. Jameson

        Did anyone say otherwise? Your comment seems completely out of left field.

  • http://feministing.com/members/theoutcast/ Heather

    I think the casual sex issue is a factor. When we are single women, it’s as if sex and adventure is the end-game or the goal. Women are not encouraged to plan (responsibly and/or financially) or look forward to a living a life that may included roles that involve nurturing family or children. Hook-ups and money spent to achieve dating objectives appear to take precedence.

    I think there is fear that women will set-back feminism to admit truths. Personally, I feel like I have it all! But it just it’s hard to have it all at the same time. It’s a process.

    Many moms are reporting to society after having lived in both worlds that we like to be nurturing to our children and husbands just as much as we like taking on the world, chasing our dreams and doing our jobs. It doesn’t feel acceptable in our society to embrace the goodness of that experience, to look forward to it as young single women and to call it ‘feminine’.

    • http://feministing.com/members/offfwhite/ offfwhite


      What alternate universe do you live in where women are not pressured to couple and make babies? I want to go to there.

  • http://feministing.com/members/athenia/ athenia

    Having just broke up with my NYC boyfriend, I feel like articles like this are just sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  • http://feministing.com/members/internetloser/ Internet Loser

    Having it all…

    Frankly, I don’t have the time to read a five page story like this when I can guess the inane opinions expressed. Dating can be hard for people of all genders. And it’s really just common sense that in some ways you’ll have to compromise some standards in some ways.

    I think the best way to combat idiotic columns like this is to just ignore them.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bbrant/ Brooke

    Sometimes I think women really live in this romantic fantasy world. It seems to me that this woman dated a whole bunch of loser guys she didn’t really like and is going to waste even more time on a guy she already knows is a loser with the hopes he will turn into a guy she could “settle” with. All for what? A house and a baby? You can get those things without a guy. I really believe everyone would be much happier if they started looking for love not just a person who fit into a certain set of criteria or they could accomplish a certain set of goals with. Or if we embraced a wider variety of relationships.