Q & A: On why I am so fat, and Lori Gottlieb’s “settling” advice.

By | February 9, 2010

I keep thinking your questions are going to eventually slow to a trickle and then evaporate completely. This may yet happen, but it’s certainly not the case right now. Recently I’ve answered questions on everything from Rufus’ current status to whether I wear dresses to the gym. So, as usual, if you have a question, get thee to my formspring.me page and ask.

Today I’m reproducing two recent questions and answers. The first is notable as a representative example of the truly unimaginative trolling publicly-unapologetic fat people occasionally have to suffer. It’s nearly impossible to take such inquiries seriously, but I do make efforts to be civil and truthful.

The second, after the jump, is a long and rambly musing on marriage and Lori Gottlieb’s new book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which may or may not make sense but which took me a very long time to write. The subject has probably been covered more coherently elsewhere, but these are my two four fifty cents.


Q. Why are you so fat ? , its disgusting really .

A. I’ve only written about 100,000 words on this subject just in the past year alone, but since you’ve asked so thoughtfully, I’ll sum up: It was gnomes. Magical invisible fat-making gnomes.

My fatness was first hewn out of flesh from one of the gnomes’ sacred pigs (a majestic animal that was, alas, ritually sacrificed for this purpose), and then, after an arduous process of transubstantiation, I was given life and sent forth into the world for some mysterious as-yet-undisclosed reason, though my suspicions are that bacon is somehow involved. This is where all fat people come from, and having revealed these facts to you and the world at large by answering this question, I will very shortly be spirited away to the gnomes’ reeducation camp, if I am not hanged for treason. That is the truth.

So farewell, my fat-disgusted friend, I hope you appreciate my heavy sacrifice, as I appreciate the heavy burden you must bear in being forced to witness the fatness of all who waddle forth from the gnomes’ secret pig-sacrificing fat-person-building bacon-worshipping kingdom.

Even now I hear them at my door. My time is short. Farewell, farewe—!

Q. Have you read the article “Marry Him!” over at The Atlantic? http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/single-marry What are your thoughts on it? I’m a single fat woman about to turn 30 and reading this has left me annoyed, but also a bit anxious.

A. Most of what I’ve read of Lori Gottlieb’s brand new one-woman campaign to destroy feminism (I am using hyperbole, here, mostly) has left me feeling nauseous at best. Because she is not entirely ridiculous; there is a point, buried deep in her creepily marriage-centric “settling” chatter, that is reasonable. The point, carefully extracted, is not to raise one’s expectations of marriage so high as to render them impossible to scale. I don’t know that this is the point she is intending to make, but it’s something we can take away from her work to quell the predominating queasiness.

I am, myself, a woman who got married at twenty-six, though reluctantly, as I’d never intended to be married before thirty, if at all. For me, marriage was little more than a legal formality, making “official” a relationship that we’d already decided was permanent. And it’s true I didn’t marry for “passion” or “intensity”… but this is not to say those things weren’t there, just that they did not factor into my decision to marry. I married because my husband and I make wonderful partners, we are best friends, we challenge each other, we check each other, we always drive each other to be smarter, we often drive each other up the wall. I married because it seemed logical to ensure legal protections for this relationship, given the opportunity, though the relationship itself was unchanged by the legal recognition. Marriage, for me, was less a romantic issue than one of making public and legally binding a promise to be full partners as we travel together through life (my husband often said back then, when people congratulated us on our new marriage: “We were married already. This was just signing a document.”). The promise existed whether we were married or not.

By way of example; several years ago the Massachusetts (where we live) legislature was debating an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage, which had been made legal via a supreme court ruling a year or two before. Fortunately, this amendment was voted down, but during the debate my husband and I emphatically agreed that should gay marriage be struck down in favor of civil unions, we would get divorced and apply for a civil union instead, as neither of us could live with the prospect of remaining “married” if “married” was a word of which non-straight couples were deemed unworthy. Like this, Gottlieb’s quandry is as much one of language as anything else; she seems to think you either date or are married, and if you are not going to marry the person you date, then you should date them no longer.

What a waste.

To some extent, you could argue that I did what Gottlieb proscribes, but to describe this as “settling”, in my opinion, betrays a profound misunderstanding of how marriages truly work, and what they are good for, and why people want them enough to risk their lives to fight for them. It would also be an unfair and needlessly vicious slam on my husband, who, while being far from perfect, is an amazing and wonderful person.

My husband and I didn’t have a wedding. We were married by a justice of the peace, who happened to work for the city, whose name I have long since forgotten, at our local city hall. No one was in attendance but ourselves. It was all paperwork, and when we said the words — they make you say the words, even alone, at city hall — it was sweet and moving, but only because it was a recognition of what we already had. It wasn’t the beginning of our journey. It was just a waystation on the road to somewhere else, somewhere more interesting and exciting than an early 20th-century city building with dark wood paneling and art deco stained glass where we once had a long piece of paper stamped with an official seal.

Gottlieb seems to be saying: this is the system. Just live with it. Do what they tell you. Don’t fight. Don’t question. Don’t carve your own path. And more than anything else, don’t wait. Gottlieb seems to be trying to speak about marriage from her own experiences as a single woman, and the experiences of the single women she knows. But Gottlieb’s lifelong failure to recognize marriage in, as its root, a personal problem. She and her single-lady friends are astonished to find themselves considering marriage as a primarily-practical matter, about sharing childcare and enjoying reliable human companionship, and not one composed chiefly of candlelit dinners and hours of intense conversation about the depth of your love. To me, this would indicate that Gottlieb just hasn’t talked deeply with very many married people in her life. Most of her revelations are things we all realize with age, and are not particularly brilliant or even insightful.

I will always say of marriage: If the person you’re marrying is not your best friend, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t bother. Don’t keep to the system, if it doesn’t work for you; change it. These rules aren’t written in books; they’re not compulsory or enforced. Marriage, ultimately, is just one option of many, for a life. Marriage alone, without a rooting in friendship and simpatico, it won’t make you happy, and it’s entirely possible to be lonely and married, and it can be a loneliness far more devastating than the kind you may feel when you’re alone. In fact, it won’t even make your life easier; it will make it more complicated, because decisions you could once make alone now require debate in committee. It will make it more frustrating, because even in the best relationships, the underside of having a spouse and best friend who knows you better than anyone is that they also know how to push your buttons. It will make it more heartbreaking, because your pain in life is doubled to include the pain of the person you love. All in all, marriage is not a cure for unhappiness. It’s hard fucking work. Not unlike raising kids, it can be extremely rewarding work, but for all Gottlieb’s expectations of shared household responsibilities, she ignores the reality that married couples don’t just fall into step with each other as if by magic; there are struggles and fights and occasional despair. A shared life means sacrifices, it means not always getting to do things the way you want to do them, it means having to put your own wants and needs aside in favor of your partner, now and again. We do this for children because we have to, in order to keep them safe and bring them up right; but we do it for a spouse because we choose to, eyes open, not because they will not survive without it, not out of obligation, but because this is what you do for a marriage.

Thus, don’t worry. Make friends, fall in love, be hurt, be adored, just take it all in and don’t worry about filing singly or jointly until the time comes, if you decide it should come at all. Your life is your life, and to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, it’s all you get. You make your choices, you have your regrets, and even married people have those, sometimes even about their marriages. For Gottlieb, it’s easy to look at married people’s yards and proclaim their grass greener from her vantage point in her lonely lonely yard. And that may be the case for her. But everyone is different. No one can tell you whether marriage is your goal, where your happiness will spring from, how many children will you have, will they be blue-eyed?, who will remember you and why, what to do in order to eventually lie on your deathbed, aged and glassy-eyed, sighing, “I’ve had a good life.” There is no universal prescription for your time on earth. Only you decide what and who you are, and with whom you spend it. And that’s how it should be.

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