BY APRIL ALLISTON
Professor of Comparative Literature
Susan Patton’s letter of March 29 reminds me of a piece that preceded Anne-Marie Slaughter’s in The Atlantic by a few years: “Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough,” by Lori Gottlieb. After becoming a single mother after age 40, Gottlieb realized she still wasn’t quite living the dream: “The dream, like that of our mothers and their mothers from time immemorial, was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).”
At least Ms. Gottlieb does hint at an awareness that not all women are heterosexual, even though she doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of heterosexual women who don’t dream of marriage and children (or that lesbians might cherish that dream!). Her advice resonates strongly with Ms. Patton’s: addressing women who are already in the sad predicament Ms. Patton dreads for our female students after graduation from college and are no longer surrounded by “men worthy of them,” Gottlieb doesn’t mince words either. “My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection … Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.”
As a heterosexual woman who put my ambition to earn tenure at Princeton before my desire to have a family — which as a result has not happened — and as a woman who has gone through two husbands and grueling IVF treatments only to find myself now single and childless, neither of which was part of my youthful dreams, I thank Ms. Patton for this chance to address an issue that’s so central to so many women’s lives and can be a source of so much anxiety. I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that Ms. Patton’s piece comes at the same moment when another issue has come to the forefront of public notice, even though neither Patton nor Gottlieb acknowledge the connection: The question of gay marriage and the variety of relationships and families that are possible.
The day after Ms. Patton’s letter was published here, the Marietta Daily Journal published the objections to gay marriage of Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart, who “warned that straight people might enter into fraudulent gay marriages to obtain benefits” (Huffington Post 4/1/13). Marriage fraud is of course possible regardless of sexual orientation, yet in practice it doesn’t seem to happen much. My modest proposal is to recommend that it happen much more: What a woman who does want a family really needs is not a husband, but a wife. The last time I was married, my husband and I would both (simultaneously) wander around our house with arms upraised, lamenting, “Where’s the wife? Where’s the wife?” because that’s what we both really needed. My advice to any woman who dreams of a family is this: Do exactly what those men Ms. Patton describes do, the ones who “regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated.” As soon as same-sex marriage is the law of the land — or even the law of your state — go out and get yourself a Russian mail-order bride! Any ethnicity will do, of course, and she doesn’t even have to be younger, less intelligent or less educated — just less privileged, and thus ready to cook, clean and mind your children for you, all for a chance at living your American dream. She’ll doubtless be grateful not to have to get “done” doggy-style on top of all that, and thus will be all the more devoted to serving your other needs. If Mr. Right should still happen along, I’m sure he won’t mind the threesome. Of course, if you’re worried she might just be using you for the green card and insist on alimony payments and half of all you’re worth when she runs off with some guy after a few years — you can always just hire a nanny instead. While she’s rocking the cradle, you’ll be free to find a marriage of true minds with whatever sort of person really rocks your boat.
Professor of Comparative Literature