Oh, so much to react to in this New York Times story about women who spend years planning their weddings before meeting their grooms! First, the mixture of recognition and horror. I’ve always had ideas about the kind of wedding I’d like. Friends’ nuptials as well as ads in magazines have given me examples to react to, so I have a sense of what I find pretty or creative or too tacky for words. But I’m not obsessed with weddings; I just like plans.
I look at houses though I have no desire to own one. I think about baby names though I’m not having a baby anytime soon. I peruse astonishingly cute foster kittens though my current building does not allow pets. For me, this kind of daydreaming has always seemed like a harmless way of solidifying my taste. Now I know that Sphinx cats freak me out, that I strongly dislike ranch houses, and that I would never name my child Chardonnay. And I know, after being a bridesmaid in three weddings, that if I get married I will not have bridesmaids.
Still, I regard pre-booking your wedding entertainment nine years ahead in the same way I view awful traffic accidents in the opposite lane. I would never call up wedding planners when there was no wedding in sight. I would not curate a Pinterest board called “Someday My Prince Will Come,” or register on wedding websites while single, or shop for my own engagement ring. It’s admittedly a fine line, but that is where I draw mine.
According to Jane Eisner’s recent editorial, “For 2013, A Marriage Agenda,” I am a failure. So are the hordes of other young, unattached Jews who have committed significant time, effort and resources to enriching the communal life of the Jewish people. Our fatal sin: being single and childless. And yet without us, the Jewish world would be a bleaker, more boring, place.
Let me offer some examples.
There’s my friend the immigration policy expert, who volunteers for an organization that aids Jewish immigrants, helping them find homes, teaching English and connecting them to potential employers. He attends a Friday minyan, where another unmarried friend of mine also davens. She’s a journalist who reports on politics and Israel. When we lived in the same city, she was often my conduit to events, concerts and gallery openings put on by various constituencies within the Jewish community.
These are not Jews floundering at the fringes of Jewish communal life, but the very people supporting it.
Over the summer in The Atlantic, writer Kate Bolick looked into why smart, attractive women like herself may never get married. Through a heavy dose of anecdotes and a smattering of science, Bolick ascertained that the problem is that the more women achieve more the less they have in the way of marriage prospects. She boils her marriage choices down to two categories: the growing number of under-performing men (referred to as“deadbeats”), and the increasingly rare high-performing “playboys,” who have more power than ever in this era of male decline.
Bolick’s piece was a blockbuster in the world of magazine articles, earning her 50,000 Facebook likes and a mega book deal. There’s even a TV series in the works. Her story clearly tapped into some real anxiety about how we live now — sociologist Eric Klinenberg has a new book in which he argues that the rise of solo living is one of the biggest demographic shifts of our time — but ultimately the social science girding her analysis was a little weak.
Now marriage historian Stephanie Coontz is out to set the record straight about high-achieving women and their marriage prospects. In a recent New York Times editorial she writes: “For a woman seeking a satisfying relationship as well as a secure economic future, there has never been a better time to be or become highly educated.”