Lori Gottlieb writes a weekly series called Dear Therapist for The Atlantic. This week’s letter is from a single woman who is tired of her married friends coming to her with petty grievances about their husbands. The article is titled Dear Therapist: It’s Hard to Accept Being Single
They assume that because things are going well in other aspects of my life, I am okay with my nonexistent romantic life, and therefore free to listen to them complain. I am not. It’s the reason I have been in and out of therapy for the past few years—the inability to accept and deal with the fact that I am single, with no real prospects on the horizon.
I want to be a good friend, but I just don’t think I can hear another story about how he forgot to take out the trash or call right back so the marriage/relationship is over!
Gottlieb’s response is markedly different than what we would see from a conservative Christian. She makes no disparaging remarks about men, either the loser men who don’t take out the trash, or the loser men who aren’t showing up to ask the letter writer out on paid dates and propose marriage. She also doesn’t tell the letter writer to embrace her “season of singleness”, tell her to find meaning in “the wait”, doesn’t warn her to “never settle”, and doesn’t tell her that she is the pearl of great price, a prize to be won, etc. Instead, Gottlieb acknowledges that the letter writer has something real to grieve:
What your friends might not realize is that many single people who long for a partner experience something called ambiguous loss or ambiguous grief. It’s a type of grieving, but it’s different from the grieving someone might do after a concrete loss like the death of a spouse from, say, cancer.
Gottlieb even obliquely acknowledges the pettiness of the wives complaining about their husbands when framing possible responses the letter writer can employ:
When you complain about your partner, it’s like telling me that your meal at a nice restaurant was disappointing at a time when I’m hungry and not sure there will ever be enough food for me.
When you’re upset with your partner and make offhand comments like “Don’t get married!” or “You’re so lucky you’re single!,” please remember that I’m often very lonely. When you say “I wish I had your free time!,” remember that a lot of my time and emotional energy involves trying to find a partner, which can be demoralizing and exhausting. I’d rather spend my supposedly glamorous “free” time doing something as unglamorous as sitting on the couch watching Netflix with a significant other.
Imagine how I feel when you complain that your husband, who adores and desires you, wants to have sex with you at an inopportune time—while my choices are sex with strangers or no sex at all.
I think it is fair to say that implicit in Gottlieb’s response is an assumption that the letter writer is in her late thirties or older. I think this is a fair assumption about her age, given the fact that the letter writer reads The Atlantic and her friends are all married or in something like a marriage. If the letter writer were under 25 I would expect Gottlieb to assure her that she is too young to marry. If the letter writer were in her late twenties or early thirties, I would expect Gottlieb to give the letter writer advice in line with Gottlieb’s famous Atlantic article and book, and encourage her to stop being so picky and settle for a good enough man.