Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Happily Ever After??

Just forty years ago a woman was considered an old maid of she was single in her 30’s.  Now she’s considered savvy and independent…by choice.

Tuesday night my friend Julie and I traveled to Stanford University to see a screening for the film, “Seeking Happily Ever After,” a documentary on single 30-something women in the United States.  The project was put together by Michelle Cove in attempts to paint a new picture of America’s women: independent, educated, single, and *gasp* happy.

Michelle started the film project after being overwhelmed with news headlines and TV programs focusing on the rise of single women over 30.  However, she claimed that the media’s portrayal was often off base.  “It either showed desperate women like in “The Bachelor” or angry career obsessed women with the ‘I don’t need a man’ attitude.”  Michelle wanted to show a different reality.  “So I got a $200 camera and combed streets of Boston to ask 30 something women what their single lives were like.”

Michelle was inspired by the honesty of the responses.  “Women WANTED to tell their story. All they had heard before was ‘Why can’t you find someone?’ and ‘What’s wrong with you? Are you too picky?’ No one bothered to ask questions about the bigger picture.” And through Michelle’s questioning, a film was born.

“Seeking Happily Ever After” features women who had pushed out the fairytale marriage in order to focus on other fairytales such as education, career, and whirlwind travel.  Now with their success under their belt, these women are considering long-term commitment and family life.  Although no one claims to ‘need’ a man, they still would like to have one.

The film’s main heroine is Jacqueline, an east coast woman who has built a career in corporate philanthropy and is now embarking upon a mad frenzy of nonstop dating. Watching Jacquie move from speed dating disasters to professional match making fiascos was an honest, comical, and sometimes painful glimpse of the lives many of us lead, but refuse to admit.  Michelle also interviewed women who had broken off engagements, froze their eggs, and done other non-traditional activities in order to maximize their independence.  However, even the most independent of the women interviewed still very much believed in love and hoped to find a partner.  Today’s Cinderella story has nothing to do with urgent timetables and fear of turning into a pumpkin, but rather finding the right fit.

I found the film to be a breath of fresh air to the article “Marry Him-the case for settling for Mr. Good Enough” that spread through 30 something’s inboxes last year.  The author, Lori Gottlieb, urged women to stop turning down men because they were too short, too fat, or, god forbid “not curious enough.”  We were going to all end up alone, she claimed.   After the article many of my girlfriends worried that perhaps they had judged Mr. Halitosis or Mr. Unathletic too harshly and would now spend the rest of their lives alone in a studio apartment with 12 cats.  I even found myself second guessing my breakup with a good, nice, but rather uncurious and non passionate man.  According the “Marry Him” article, passion wasn’t that important for a long-term commitment.  Tell that to my hormones.  Luckily Michelle sided with my passionate side.

Michelle commented, “Her article is good food for thought for women that have a laundry list of unattainable qualities.  But for others…really?  You are going to settle for a bad sex life? Really?”

Um, no.  As one woman in Michelle’s film stated, “I don’t want to waste my sexiness!”

Another woman in the film mentioned, “If all we want is to get married we can do that—we can walk out of our door and do that…but it’s about finding the right partner.  It’s a choice—not something that is happening to you.”

After the film Michelle was applauded and then barraged with questions from the audience, many which challenged the word “choice”.

The hard truth of the educated career women is that our pool of choices may not be that large.  Once we are successful and ready for a man-will a man still want us?

One girl, a 21 year old Stanford exchange student from Korea, was conflicted with the film’s implications.  She said, “I am at Stanford. I’m a scientist.  I will probably get an additional two degrees.  By the time I make it back to my country I’ll be undesirable. No man will want me.”

Another woman from Nigeria voiced the same concern. “I am planning a PhD and would like to meet a man of the same level.  However, everyone tells me that is being too picky.”

Although we are inspired by our achievements and happy in our prolonged singlehood, are we unknowingly lessening our dating pool?  Do men prefer younger, less accomplished models?  I once did an experiment in a bar where I gave different identities of myself to men.  Below are my identities and the responses evoked:

“I’m a fashion consultant and blogger”-intrigue and flirtatious actions

“I’m a strategy consultant in the apparel industry and  writer”intrigue and acknowledgement

“I’m a strategy consultant starting up a new media company”deer in headlights expression and mild fear

“I’m a flight attendant”lovesick embraces and near marriage proposals

The men were especially smitten when a friend and I recited the entire United airlines takeoff spiel.  They also asked if I missed serving peanuts.

However, I cannot change my identity as a double degreed woman with my own consultancy.  Nor can the women that are pursuing world-changing careers pretend to be anything less.  All we can do is be ourselves and hope the right man comes along that is both inspired by us and inspirational to us.  Good things are always worth waiting for. As Jacquie’s mom said, “I want you to get married when you are the best version of yourself—not when other people want you to get married.

Upon hearing my tales, a male 30 something friend told me that my friends and I were going to the wrong bars.  All of his (handsome, educated, ‘curious’) friends were complaining about the lack of accomplished beautiful women!  Part of me wanted to throw my rolodex at him.  But I decided to let everyone meet on their own terms.  Until we meet Mr. Right we will keep getting to that better version of ourselves. Time may be on our side after all.

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