Oh, Valentine’s Day. If you’re single, you spend the day resenting all the flowers, teddy bears, and heart decals bedecking every commercial surface. If you’re newly coupled, the question of what is enough but not too much can be agonizing, too often answered by an over-priced pre-fixe ‘romantic’ menu ending in a dry piece of chocolate cake and a cellophane wrapped rose. And if you’re married, you’ve probably forgotten all about it.
The only time the day is any fun at all is in grade school, when you get to make construction paper Valentines and come home with a bag of sugary swag, in the name of an emotion that won’t crush your tender heart for another decade or so. Some writers take issue not just with Valentines Day, but with the concept of romantic love itself – asking, who needs it, does it really exist, or is the myth of it in fact our biggest impediment to contented coupling?
For books that celebrate the single life, or at least ask if all the trouble we go to in search of a mate is really worth it, check out these examinations of that most confounding and elusive emotion we celebrate each year with chocolate and angst. Happy Valentines Day!
Making a Life of One's Own
From the time they are very young, most little girls grow up assuming there will be a wedding in their future – and the anxiety about who will be standing next to them when it happens can shape their early adulthood. But what if there’s another way? Is it possible to live a life defined not by who you marry (or if you marry at all) but by other passions, pleasures, and pursuits? Tracing the lives of five women who embodied the benefits of singlehood while recalling her own journey to embracing life as a party of one, journalist Bolick examines what happens when we decide to write our own happy endings.
“Reader, I married him.” This line, from Jane Eyre, sums up much of English literature until the middle of the twentieth century. If a novel had a happy ending, there’s a good bet it got there by way of a wedding. But what do divorce, contraception, and women’s economic liberation do to this equation? If love no longer equals marriage, and marriage no longer necessarily equally happiness, what new metaphors exist for contemporary writers? In these connected essays, writer Gornick examines the uses, and uselessness, of romantic love in literary fiction.
In 2009, single women outnumbered marrieds for the first time in America, and reporter Rebecca Traister set out to find out why. She discovered that this epidemic of singletons was actually not unprecedented – and that when it occurred in the past, great social change followed. If you appreciate the right to vote, the abolition of slavery, the popularization of higher education, or temperance (OK, maybe not that one), you have single women to thank. As Traister writes, rather than leading pitiful lives that end when they’re eaten by cats, women who delay, or even forgo marriage bring about positive developments, not just for other women, but for all of us.
Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg
Love used to be simple. Well, probably not, but maybe it used to be simpler than it is now. It certainly can feel complicated and confusing to the contemporary romance seeker. Technology has made it easier than ever to connect with more potential mates – and also easier than ever to get our hearts broken (or get broken up with via emoji.) In this humorous look at the pitfalls of the modern dating world, comedian Ansari teams up with sociologist Klinenberg to research why we have so much trouble finding a good match – and asks whether we should be even bothering at all.