In (Reluctant) Defense Of “Why You’re Not Married … Yet”

I’m going to say something as a feminist ladyblogger that I suspect I’m not supposed to say: Why You’re Not Married … Yet: The Straight Talk You Need To Get The Relationship You Deserve, by Tracy McMillan, actually isn’t a terrible book.

Oh, it has some problematic aspects — and I’ll get to those. But generally what’s wrong with books like Why You’re Not Married … Yet or 2009’s Marry Him! The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough, by Lori Gottlieb, isn’t the actual content. I’ve read a decent number of self-help books, both for professional reasons (to write about them on The Frisky) and for personal reasons (to find out why am I such an idiot when it comes to boys), and I even read that godawful Steve Harvey book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man because my surrogate mother gave it to me. I’m open-minded to reading them, I guess you could say. So, while Why You’re Not Married … Yet is getting bopped everywhere from Jezebel to The Good Men Project, who titled their piece “Fuck Off Tracy McMillan,” I’ve actually read the book and what’s more, I loved it and found it extremely useful. What’s wrong with Why You’re Not Married … Yet isn’t the dating advice — it’s how that dating advice is only marketed towards women.

Dating advice books which are only marketed towards women further the narrative that women are the reason why women are single. If we just change a little bit to be more like what men want, we’ll be happily married in no time. No problem with you men! Just go on with your bad selves. It’s unfair for women (despite the fact we’re willing to shell out $25 for a hardcover copy of the book) and it’s not applying enough pressure on fucked up dudes themselves. I am single and in the past several months, I have gone on quite a few first and second dates with some self-confessed messed up dudes resistant to the idea of therapy; my most recent relationship only lasted five months because I couldn’t continue dating a man who refused to address his issues. The reality is men need help with personal growth, intimacy issues, and being less sucky on the dating scene for all the same reasons as women do. It bothers me that Why You’re Not Married … Yet is written with female pronouns, despite the fact that the book discusses extremely basic psychological concepts that apply to both genders. Knowledge about why relationships don’t last — or get off the ground in the first place — is useful to anyone of any age, male or female.

But all the snarky blog posts in the world won’t change the fact the advice in the book is — dare I say it? — sound.

Tracy McMillan’s overall point — albeit one bombastically packaged with chapters entitled “You’re a Bitch,” “You’re A Slut,” etc. — is that the reason people are single when they do not want to be single is due to their own bad behavior. Not because you haven’t met the right person yet. Not because your career is too busy. Not because you’re so awesome that no one dares approach you. Not because you haven’t Secret-ed it into being yet. Because of your own bad behavior. As McMillan told The New York Daily News, “It’s not that I’m telling women what’s wrong with them, it’s that I’m telling them that life is your responsibility. What I’m saying is the problems in your love life don’t start outside of you. Everything in my life begins with me.” No one who has read read the Tumblr OKC Enemies or BuzzFeed’s Annals Of Online Dating column will disagree some people are single ’cause they just suck.

Take the “You’re A Bitch” chapter, which in my imaginary dude version of the book would be titled “You’re A Douchebag.” In it, McMillan argues that no one wants to be in a relationship with someone who’s a jerk. People are jerks because they’re acting out of anger, defensiveness, powerlessness (i.e. the feeling that you need to bully people to be taken seriously) and a lack of empathy. She makes the simple, uncontroversial plea to treat others kindly — but more importantly, to realize when you are treating others in an unkind way and to care enough to change. Who could disagree that the dating world doesn’t need a little more kindness?

Or take “You’re A Slut,” which is far and away the most obnoxiously titled chapter. I personally don’t find the use of the word “slut” particularly offensive, but I can respect that others do. However, McMillan’s argument is that having casual sex is not a particularly good way to make a committed relationship happen. It can happen. It sometimes does happened. It happened to Hannah on “Girls.” (Although I still hate Adam, but whatever.) But by and large, no one anywhere, ever, thinks that just having casual sex is the best strategy for building towards a committed relationship. Sex feels great. Casual sex is awesome for those of us who can keep it just casual. But commitment takes shared experience, mutual romantic feelings, time — and that is not the same thing as a roll in the sheets every other Saturday night. That’s not really controversial at all.

There are other, less obvious aspects of the book which resonate even more. I particularly found the — again — bombastically named chapter “You’re A Liar” to be the most interesting. In that chapter, McMillan writes about the way people delude themselves about what’s really happening in a relationship. I can’t be the only person reading this book who related to lying to oneself about how the other person clearly is not available for a committed relationship. (We can alternatively call that chapter “My Early 20s.”) I resonated with McMillan’s examples about women who are bad at picking the guy to pin their affections on — say, the guy with a girlfriend. But McMillan also talks about the all-too-human trait of deluding ourselves when we know the other person is not being faithful or isn’t truly in love with us. Again, the book may be marketed towards women, but that’s good advice for anyone.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I started reading Why You’re Not Married … Yet, which was sent to me by a publicist, expecting to want to throw it on my office giveaway pile. Yet now having given it a chance, I feel the need to stick up for its reputation a little bit — like when Feministing editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay wrote on Jezebel that in books like this, the advice is “wrong,” “outdated” and “only works to make a reader hate herself more if she takes heed.” Well, I’ve read the book and I don’t hate myself, let alone hate myself “more”; on the contrary, I had more than a few “Aha!” moments about behaviors I’ve exhibited in relationships. Like me, Tracy McMillan’s family had addiction problems and loved ones in prison; like me, she has made a lot of her relationship decisions with the heavy weight of codependency hanging around her neck. She’s had a pretty fucked up life and three marriages under her belt — maybe this is a sign of my fuckedup-ness, but I trust that she knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

I’ve already detailed the reasons above why I find the marketing problematic, but I’m going to bat for this book because I think encouraging people to take personal responsibility and change their bad behavior is not as terrible an idea as some people may believe it to be. Dating awful people sucks. I don’t have a problem with telling awful people to be less awful.

I just wish it included men and their awful behavior, too. Next book?

[Huffington Post]
[The Good Men Project]
[BuzzFeed: Annals Of Online Dating]

Contact the author of this post at [email protected] Follow me on Twitter at @JessicaWakeman.