And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! Oh, I know—I’m guessing there are single 30-year-old women reading this right now who will be writing letters to the editor to say that the women I know aren’t widely representative, that I’ve been co-opted by the cult of the feminist backlash, and basically, that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist—vehemently, even—that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. ), 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.
Even situation comedies, starting in the 1970s with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and going all the way to Friends, feature endearing single women in the dating trenches, and there’s supposed to be something romantic and even heroic about their search for true love.
Of course, the crucial difference is that, whereas the earlier series begins after Mary has been jilted by her fiancé, the more modern-day Friends opens as Rachel Green leaves her nice-guy orthodontist fiancé at the altar simply because she isn’t feeling it.
(Some time after the breakup, when Carrie ran into Aidan on the street, he was carrying his infant in a Baby Björn. Madame Bovary might not see it that way, but if she’d remained single, I’ll bet she would have been even more depressed than she was while living with her tedious but caring husband.
What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content.