Another Perspective

Extreme Wedlock

Some American women will do anything to get married.

By 10.31.03

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Women will do anything to get married. At least that is the impression one gets watching television lately. The media have eaten up the story of Psychology Today West coast editor Robert Epstein. Epstein believes that just about any two people can fall in love and make it last, given the right tools. (Therapy, of course.) To prove it, he decided to test the theory -- on himself. He searched for a willing participant to sign a "Love Contract" with him. The two would agree to date exclusively for six months to a year, attend counseling, and attempt to fall in love.

Epstein is a Harvard-educated professor. But he is also 49 years old, divorced with four children, and not exactly Russell Crowe. So why did he receive letters from thousands of women eager to participate? Even a swimsuit model and an ESPN announcer were interested. One woman sent him a plane ticket to her private island off St. Thomas.

This is not an isolated case. Last month, The Early Show weatherman Dave Price had a date with a woman he barely knew. Thousands of women vied for this opportunity, too. As have thousands more to give up their dignity on national television on reality shows like The Bachelor and Married by America.

By no means are these all unattractive, unintelligent women. Some are successful lawyers, consultants, and writers. So why are they desperate to find husbands? To the point where they are willing to start relationships with men they've never even met?

I understand some of the anxiety. I'm unmarried and just days away from the birthday that will put me over the median age of matrimony for American women. No matter how ambitious or self-sufficient a woman is, she can't escape biology. Once a girl approaches 30, she starts seeing married people everywhere -- particularly elderly couples, holding hands, looking very content. A happy ending in books and movies usually involves at least the possibility of marriage.

Epstein understands this cultural imperative. "Hollywood tells us that the One is out there for everyone, so no one is willing to settle for Mr. or Ms. Two-Thirds," he writes in Psychology Today. "We want our relationships to be like our antidepressants -- perfect and effortless -- and if they don't look as perfect today as they did yesterday, unskilled and gutless, we abandon them."

There is much wisdom in those lines. And it is certainly one reason why so many women are still looking. But should they be looking quite so hard? Epstein, in a Q&A in his magazine, reflects on the notion that you don't choose love, love chooses you, and finds it "ridiculous and depressing. I'm much too much of an optimist to leave any form of happiness entirely to chance."

But, in fact, he did. Despite receiving thousands of offers, the woman he chose for his project was one he met by chance on an airplane, a beautiful Venezuelan socialite. Perhaps Epstein finally learned what every woman should know -- that love comes only when you aren't looking for it.

Many women don't feel that way now. The 48 Hours Investigates episode that featured Epstein also carried a segment on bizarre new dating rituals, like speed dating and dinner in the dark. Women are even hiring dating coaches to help them land a mate. Having passed over several perfectly eligible prospects, these aging women are starting to worry they will die alone.

It's not entirely their fault. A few generations ago, women didn't have to pursue prospects. A girl's family, for example, would be eager to introduce respectable young men. Communities have become much less tight-knit, and one of the results is that it is harder for young people to find each other. And once they do? Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. People are finally becoming fed up with this state of affairs and want to know how to make relationships work. But the latest dating fads are not likely to fix things.

Why not reconsider the old models of courtship? Women could strengthen their ties to friends and family. They might eschew the Hollywood myth that tells them to wait for perfection rather than work towards happiness. Couples are told to live together first and spend years figuring out if they are truly compatible. Yet people are not willing to put any real effort into relationships; the easy divorce culture has taught us to run at the first sign of trouble. Such attitudes breed a cavalier attitude towards commitment, which women are increasingly coming to lament as they reach the big Three Oh.

By effort, I do not recommend the intense counseling that Epstein advocates. We have had John Gray and Dr. Phil for years now, with no discernible change for the better. Advocating therapy merely urges reveling in process rather than being at peace with an end result. It also falsely implies that some marital discord is unnatural.

"The biggest myth of all about love is that it can't be studied or understood scientifically," Epstein bizarrely asserts. Not very romantic, is it?

The Venezuelan socialite didn't think so -- she abandoned the project after two months just for that reason. (Epstein plans to try again with someone else.) You might not think so from these sad trends in dating, but if female longing for a knight in shining armor in the post-feminist age is any indication, women are still hopeless romantics.

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About the Author

Kelly Jane Torrance is arts and culture editor of Brainwash.