A few weeks ago, I was interviewing a woman who is at the top of her chosen profession. She’s a single mother to her teenage daughter. She is enormously successful, well-educated, beautiful — and never married.
Our conversation eventually — and inevitably — led us to the topic of why she never married, and to illustrate the point, she told me a story. “When I was younger,” she said, “I was dating a man who told me: ‘You’re extraordinarily smart, and you’re extraordinarily beautiful. You need a man who is either so strong that he can stand up to you, or so weak that you can walk all over him. I’m just a normal man. I’m not the man for you.’”
[20 years later, they met again, and she asked him why he had married his wife. “She made good sandwiches,” he said.]
As I was leaving, she said to me, with a great deal of kindness: “You’re pretty, and you’re smart. It’s a curse. You’ll have a lot of difficulty finding a man.”
It could have been crushing, if I wasn’t aware of it already. For the first time in my life, someone openly acknowledged the dirty dark secret of my generation of women. And that is that all of the qualities we cultivate in ourselves from our first overachieving moments in elementary school to our graduation from the best universities in the nation — confidence in our physical appearance, the ability to support ourselves, our cultured and well-read minds, the sterling pedigree of our schooling, our taste for healthy debate with our peers (both men and women) — actually won’t help us to find an equal partner. What it will do is make an “equal” man feel insecure, and what he will do with that insecurity is label us as “crazy.” And crazy people aren’t to be taken seriously — they’re to be medicated, dosed, tamed like “Kate,” the eponymous shrew — and made into the perfect wife. In essence, in order to participate in the ritual custom of marriage, we have to become shadows of our best selves.
So when you say to me, Tracy McMillan, that I have to work around a “man’s fear and insecurity in order to get married,” I say to you, why aren’t you telling me that I should be going out to look for the men who wants a woman like me? (They do exist; some of them are my friends.) Instead of being told I need to medicate my “craziness” to pander to a man’s itty-bitty oh-so-witty ego, I want a man who is every bit my match, and is not scared off by that. I want a man who appreciates that I enjoy sex. I want a man who loves that I can fire back a sassy comment like Katharine Hepburn on one of her lazy days.
Brienne Walsh: An Open Letter to the Women Who Are Telling Me It’s My Fault I’m Not Married