My shame at being single -- it burns, it buuuurns!

Lori Gottlieb says unmarried women in their 30s are panicked and desperate and should settle in romance. I say: Um, no.

Published February 8, 2008 10:30PM (EST)

In the March issue of the Atlantic, writer Lori Gottlieb throws down some fighting words about being female and single in your third decade. "Every woman I know -- no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure -- feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried."

But wait, there's more! Gottlieb goes on to say that it isn't just the women she knows; it's all women. Disagree with her? You're wrong. Don't feel the same? You're lying to yourself. As she writes, "Take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you're not worried, because you'll see how silly your face looks when you're being disingenuous."

I took Gottlieb's advice, and my face does look silly. But that's just because I'm making gagging faces and pantomiming a stabbing motion to my throat.

Look, I'm 33, and ain't no ring on this finger. And I don't feel bad about that. I feel remarkably fine about that. Maybe I'm just repressing my shame. Maybe I swallowed my panic and desperation. (Though it tasted, for all the world, like a delicious cheese blintz.) But I don't think so. Panic and desperation are old pals; they come over to dinner, sip Scotch and curl up with me in bed. But I just don't feel this feminine anxiety and shame about being single that smart, talented writers like Gottlieb keep trying to hang on me.

The point of the story, titled "The Case for Marrying Mr. Good Enough," is that women should settle rather than holding out for some ideal man. I like that Gottlieb is chipping away at the old poisonous myth of "The One." But her argument really isn't about the rest of us; it's about her. She wishes she hadn't been so idealistic in her 30s. And somehow, that gives her the wisdom to offer such advice as: "Don't worry about passion or intense connection. Don't nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling 'Bravo!' in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go."

(Maybe I'm just an insufferable romantic, but in my dreams about family, the word "infrastructure" has never figured.) I actually agree with Gottlieb in part here. I've known women (and men!) who dumped partners for stupid, superficial reasons: a messy bathroom, a soft pudge in the belly. You should never nix a guy because he yells 'Bravo!' in movie theaters (though you should ask how you began dating James Lipton). Accepting these things isn't settling; it's lowering your expectations to be more realistic, to allow for slight human flaws and not expect our partners, male or female, to be perfect.

But it frankly pisses me off when a stranger tells me I'm in denial about the shame of being single. And telling me not to demand passion or intense connection? Sorry. I won't settle for that.

By Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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