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Why are you still single? An interview with author and Modern Love columnist Sara Eckel

Posted by Karyn Polewaczyk  January 9, 2014 02:45 PM

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9780399162879_p0_v2_s260x420.JPGCredit: Perigee/Penguin Group

Why are you still single? It’s a question that haunts many of us, whether it’s shot across the dinner table by a well-intentioned family member at Thanksgiving, or written into the pages of a glossy magazine determined to produce a New And Improved You—just as long as you land a boyfriend, first.

Maybe you’re too picky. Or too available. Too sad. You secretly don’t want a relationship, because you’re not really ready for one. And if you keep walking around with all of that cool confidence, you’ll keep scaring them away.

Sara Eckel has heard it all. The author spent the majority of her 20s and 30s as a singleton, and was often on the receiving end of that very question, to the point where she, like so many other single women, asked herself another one: what was wrong with her?

The answer, it turns out, is nothing. She just was, until she wasn’t. (She’s now happily married to a husband she met on assignment five years ago.) She took it to the page, penning a piece for the New York Times’ Modern Love column that was so popular, it became a book: It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single.

I chatted with Sara about her experience writing the book, and why the single life is so often the subject of scorn. (The Boston Globe also sang the book's praises.) Her responses were smart and endearing, woven together by a reminder that self-love comes first, everything else second. Because life, it seems, will happen.

Your Modern Love essay, which is the basis for your book, was a huge success. Did you decide to take it further on your own, or did a publisher approach you about turning it into something bigger?

The original idea was for the book to be about women who married over 35, but for some reason that didn’t work. Perigee, my publisher, suggested I write the book as sort of an inspiration for single women. But as I began to write, I realized it was easiest to write about what inspired me—all of the letters I got from women who’d read my original piece in the New York Times, thanking me for putting it out there. I heard from women in their 30s and 40s, but also 18 year-olds and a 70-year old woman who just got married for the first time.

Where do you think “single shaming” comes from? Is it cultural?

I don’t know, to be honest. I’ve received letters from readers all over the world, so I don’t think it’s just a thing that happens in the United States. And yet it doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve heard from expatriates about how hard it is to be single in Ameica. Our lifestyle is geared toward couples. It’s not that it’s “single shaming”; it’s that we’re family-centric.

Feminist writers like Hanna Rosin and Bella DePaulo sometimes imply that romantic relationships and marriage are a thing of the past, and that women should give up on seeking them.

My sense of it is, not everyone should get married. But, we’re now in a position where women can marry for love, for people who make our lives better. Historically-speaking, this is a new concept; it used to be that women had to marry for survival. It would have been much more difficult, even as late as the ‘50s and ‘60s, to do that, in the past. It’s great to have the luxury of choice. Which means I think it’s fine if someone changes their mind and decides after awhile that they do want to get married. Or if they don’t, and they decide, Hey, I kind of like my life this way, and I don’t want to negotiate.

A lot of my friends have married, had babies and moved to the suburbs—it can be tough to stay in touch and keep those friendships alive, and even harder to make new friends as an adult.

It’s important to maintain those friendships. A lot of times I’d venture out to meet men, I’d wind up meeting women. For example, I went to a speed dating event that was supposed to be geared toward people aged 32 to 45, or something like that. But it was clear there were men in their 60s, even 70s, and it was just very weird. This support network of sorts developed in the ladies’ room—and in New York City, it’s very rare to have someone just come up and talk to you like that. But yeah, I made sure to be the one to organize plans and get togethers over drinks. Working from home, I’m always looking for ways to get outside the house. It can be hard to make friends as an adult. Kate White [the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine) had offered this great piece of advice in a book, about a person she knew who made friends no matter where she was. And the trick was that she entertained. I organized going out for cocktails, and when I got a bigger apartment, I’d have get togethers. It’s all about drawing people to you.

Boston and New York City—especially New York—are often criticized as being difficult places to date. Why do you think that is?

I’d say that each city, no matter where you are, will have its own set of challenges when it comes to dating. Where I live now, in upstate New York, it’s not uncommon to say hello to a stranger you pass on the street. But, it’s also more spread out here, so the odds of running into someone are smaller.

I know a lot of women who seem to have it all—great jobs, well-traveled, full social lives—and yet they feel like they’re missing a chink in their armor without having a significant other. What advice would you have to offer them, or to anyone who feels disappointed in their single status?

The main thing I stress in my book is that you don’t need to improve yourself to be in a relationship. You can still be neurotic and weird and find a person to be with you. (We all know people who are, who have significant others, right?) I tried that, going on this self-improvement bender, and I did things like yoga and meditation—which at the end of the day, was great, because I became a healthier person and still love doing that—but that alone didn’t produce a partner. All any of us can do is give it our best shot, and enjoy whatever happens after it. When you’re trying to meet people, you can still have a good time, even if you don’t come away with a date or a boyfriend. Try to lighten up a bit. Women are overloaded with advice: don’t be too picky, don’t be desperate, give him a chance—it’s all we hear. But the only person who truly knows when it’s right is yourself. Trust in that. Settling isn’t fair to you, or to the other person. Remember that you are a perfectly lovable human being, with or without the validation of a partner.

It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single is available for purchase at Amazon, and at bookstores. Follow Sara Eckel on Twitter at @saraeckel.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston, and believes that heading out into that good night, like any adventure, begins with the first step. Let's Go Out is a conversation about dating and nightlife in our notoriously chilly city, with first-hand tips from the trenches. Karyn's writing, which focuses largely on women's lifestyle topics, has appeared in the Weekly Dig, Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore Magazine and More.com, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @KarynPolewaczyk.

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