The media is ablaze with the news of a new era in rom-com films, a resurrection of a genre full of hope and clichés. The romance renaissance is a beautiful thing, as are all of the optimistic films that came out this summer.
But all of these stories have romance in common, as well as the implication of long-term relationships. They tend to involve young single women who over the course of the story get married (“Crazy Rich Asians”), or women who don’t have boyfriends ending up with one at the end (“Set It Up,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”). Culturally, the space for being happy alone isn’t being celebrated.
That is, until one considers “No One Tells You This,” a memoir that appeared on the scene in July and is continuing to make big waves. In it, Glynnis MacNicol tells her story of being unmarried without children and of the stress she’s experienced in her 41st year.
Because that’s an expiration date for women, isn’t it? It’s the time when women are making choices about their fertility, when all signs point to “time running out.” It’s the moment when people start vaguely talking about the “biological clock,” a term that reduces women to hormonal changes and equates loss of fertility as loss of worth.
MacNicol doesn’t let this throw her, and throughout the memoir she has adventures in the American West, goes on dates with unexpectedly old men and experiences the difficulties of caring for others’ children.
Her story is a triumph that modern culture teaches women doesn’t happen: a woman who is happy without a husband by a certain age, who still has a strong support system of friends.
The support of MacNicol’s friends is another important point here: They show that MacNicol is not actually “alone” as popular culture would expect. She has emotionally fulfilling relationships with a lot of people.
She also is able to be more spontaneous than she might have been with children (i.e. she has the freedom that most men maintain basically forever because they don’t bear the expectation of being a caretaker).
She’s right about the title: No one tells you that it’s okay to be unmarried, and that being unmarried, by itself, isn’t a synonym for being alone. No one tells you that taking care of the people around you can still be hard and emotionally taxing, even if it isn’t caring for children.
No one tells you there are more ways to be a woman than the one that Western culture expects.
It’s not that the current wave of romcoms is bad: It’s great to see the genre return because it’s happy, fun and frankly I’ve watched most of the movies I’ve listed more than once and they’ve only been out for a month or two. But maybe supplementing those stories with those of a different kind can help balance out your views of happiness.