Still single after all these weeks

Neenah Pickett's plan to find a husband in a year didn't work -- but it shouldn't be called a failure

By Kate Harding

Published January 6, 2010 4:07PM (EST)

About 53 weeks ago, Neenah Pickett launched a year-long husband-landing project at the blog 52 Weeks 2 Find Him. As she wrote in a recent post, prior to the project, she had "over a decade of experience of doing nothing to find a husband. From the time I was 22 years old through the age of 36, I didn't spend any effort on finding love. I lived a very full life. I had lots of friends, was social and active in my community, and even volunteered on a regular basis. I had a great job, yet didn't spend any more or less hours at work than any of the other people my age in NYC. But in those 14 years, I had only 2 dates." So Pickett decided to put serious effort into dating for a year, in hopes of finding a man to spend her life with -- and, as you do, she chronicled the experience online.

The year is now over, and Neenah Pickett is still single. Turns out hard work and determination won't necessarily bring you love by a certain deadline -- go figure. There's no doubt that Pickett's predictable failure to meet her goal leaves her open to snarking and scolding galore. Everyone knows you can't hurry love, that trying too hard will ruin everything. Everyone knows The One only turns up when you're not looking. Everyone knows women who admit they want to get married come across as desperate and off-putting. And P.S., everyone knows a successful career gal should be happy alone, and if she's not, that means feminism's a bust and women should just admit that they'd all be happier back in their traditional roles as full-time wives and mothers.

Everyone knows a lot of things that grossly oversimplify the human desire for love and the nature of attraction, much of that "knowledge" revolving around the theme that women are peculiarly needy and, if they wish to date men, must focus all their energy on pretending they're not. (Lesbians, of course, have their choice of equally needy partners -- fire up the U-Haul!) The only way you'll get a man to commit to you is if you act like it's the furthest thing from your mind -- which means your best bet is to focus on being as pretty, charming and non-threatening as possible and, once a potential love is on the horizon, never doing anything that might spook him, like admitting what you want out of a relationship.

Funny how that dovetails with long-standing gender roles and sexist expectations, although it's now dressed up as the self-respecting, even vaguely feminist choice -- only the most pathetic,  unenlightened woman would openly act like she might be happier in a committed relationship, right? Even if she's pretty sure she would. Saying you want a man because you happen to be straight and lonely is just too dangerously close to saying you need one and single-handedly sending women back to the dark ages! It's much safer for your own heart and indeed the sisterhood if you squelch your desires and wait patiently for someone to come along and deem you dateworthy. Just as women have always been trained to do, but never mind that. (Perhaps the popularity of "The Rules" can be explained by the simple fact that it gives women something to do while furiously pretending we're doing nothing.)

That Neenah Pickett remains husband-free after knocking herself out to change that status can -- and no doubt will -- be presented as further evidence that desperation is the ultimate turn-off and playing hard to get is the only viable option for women who wish to be got. But focusing on her marital status means ignoring what she did achieve in the last 52 weeks. She went on over 30 dates -- some of which she describes as "awesome" -- gaining new insight into her preferences and her own behavior. In her final post of the project, she says, "I found courage, I found friendship, and I found acceptance. I shared what was on my heart hoping that it would resonate with a few. But as it turns out, there were many -- thousands all across the globe." Hmm, that doesn't sound so bad to me. "I also learned more than I bargained for, from how to treat others, and when to trust myself, to finding peace in the midst of hurt. I also learned to laugh a lot (especially at myself), and discovered ways to create adventures, so that I could hurdle burnout and the mundane." Neither does that. And how about this? "These 52 weeks will go down in my personal history books as one of the best years ever!"

Neenah Pickett's experiment can be seen as a cautionary tale for women who get it into their silly heads that admitting what they want and going after it are good ideas. But it can just as easily be seen as an inspiration: Whether or not abandoning passivity and pretense will lead you to The One, it can lead to laughter, new friendships, greater self-awareness and having one of the best years of your life. Is it just me, or does that sound like a lot more fun than sitting on your hands, waiting to be pursued? 

Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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