One of my girlfriends recently got into a strange fight with her potential future mother-in-law. Her boyfriend isn’t particularly wealthy or famous; there’s no concern about my friend being a gold-digger, and yet his mother warned her son, “She just wants to get married.”
This accusation stung, but it also confused my friend. She’s a traditional sort of Southern girl and she came to me, a born and bred New Yorker, confused. She asked, “Is that a bad thing? We’ve been together for three years, what does she think I want to do with her son?”
I’ve had similar conversations with several women my age recently. Despite being in their late twenties and early thirties, they take pains to reassure themselves, their dates, and their friends that they’re not out to get married. No, no; they just want to date and “see what happens.” They are committed, above all else, to maintaining the “playing it cool” image. The women who are out there looking for a spouse reek of desperation, they contend; while those just playing the field want everyone to know they’re open to a spouse but aren’t actively seeking one either.
It’s not just a self-conscious fear of appearing desperate, but one rooted in reality, as evidenced by my friend’s potential mother-in-law. Despite the fact that both members of the couple are in their mid-thirties, my friend is viewed with suspicion for wanting to settle down with a nice guy and get out of the dating scene.
One young woman has turned her “play it cool” dating persona into fame and a career. Kate Siegel started an Instagram account to document the text messages she receives hourly from her overbearing and kooky mother and named the account “Crazy Jewish Mom.” To be clear, her mother does come off as a little nuts, what with trying to set Kate up with strange men she meets in Starbucks or online with fake dating profiles she’s set up for her daughter. But part of what makes Siegel think her mother is crazy is just how fixated she is on marrying her daughter off.
Despite the fact that Kate has been in a serious relationship for over three years, she is not engaged. It’s not just mom pushing commitment as the end goal either; Siegel recently said in an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward, “I happen to be a heterosexual woman who wants to get married and have children. These are things that I want.” It’s not that mom wants her daughter to get married against her will; she’s merely pushing her daughter to behave in a manner that will get her where she wants to be in life.
If that’s indeed what Siegel wants, she should tell her boyfriend it’s time to fish or cut bait. Her mother’s desire to marry her daughter off doesn’t make her crazy; nor would Siegel deciding to break it off with a non-committal guy, even if they otherwise get along. Siegel’s mother frequently references her daughter’s ticking biological clock (albeit in somewhat crude language), but despite that, this crazy mother isn’t wrong either. Women in their late twenties and early thirties don’t have all the time in the world to try on relationships for years on end before settling down.
I met my husband when I was twenty-three and within weeks of beginning to date (long distance) we were talking marriage. I wasn’t particularly eager to tie the knot yet, but I was even less eager about stagnating in a dead-end relationship. There are few activities less fun in life than dating. Upon realizing we were on the same page about our future, my husband and I decided to work towards getting married because (to quote When Harry Met Sally) “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
It gets a bad rap, but being married is nice, fun and healthy. Beyond the emotional and financial safety net it provides, married couples have more sex and better sex than their single peers (according to social science researchers). Everywhere else in our lives we’re encouraged to go after what we want. It’s the feminist thing to do; Lean in! Shatter the glass ceiling at work! Yet in our personal lives, why is that same go-getter attitude viewed as desperate and strange?
Women like Siegel should adopt the same aggressiveness in their personal lives that they do in their professional ones. Recently Siegel quit her job in order to pursue a writing career that took off after her Instagram account led to a book deal and fame. If she’s not willing to settle for a dead-end job, she shouldn’t be willing to settle for a dead-end relationship either.