We've all had those moments where we wake up wondering when our lives are going to begin. Whether we're Fortune 500 executives or stay-at-home moms, we question the paths we've taken and where to go from here.
Author Anna David was no exception, waking up one morning single, in her thirties, with two cats and no hot prospects on the horizon. But rather then succumbing to what she calls "single woman shame", she decided to try something a bit unconventional. She followed all the advice found in the 1962 self help book, Sex and the Single Girl, penned by legendary Cosmo maven Helen Gurley Brown.
From French lessons to windsurfing, David thought her journey to self improvement would enable her to attract the man of her dreams. But as she writes in her new memoir, Falling for Me, she ended up attracting someone much more important...herself.
We asked Anna to tell us a little bit about her journey.
Obviously at least at some point in her life, every woman will examine her choices and wonder if she made the best ones. What was that point in your life and what did you conclude?
My point came when I was about 10 years sober and I realized, for literally the first time in my life, that I actually wanted to have a traditional relationship: to get married and, if possible, raise a child with that person. It sounds crazy to some but it had never really occurred to me before then that this might be an appealing option. I always looked at marriage as a sort of last resort. I’d spent the first part of my life really anesthetizing myself from my feelings and then, when I got sober, I just became obsessed with my career. I always dated—and even felt deep love twice—but it wasn’t until a decade into my sobriety when I suddenly realized, “Oh, God. I am traditional after all. I want the same thing all those women I’ve always derided want.” I fell into a major depression when I actually faced that because it felt like I was too late to the party. But then I decided to try to do something about the fact that I felt like that.
You call it "Single Woman Shame." Define that for us, if you will.
Single Woman Shame is the result of the way single women in our society are looked at with pity and a sort of “well, there must be something terribly wrong with you” attitude. With single men, we collectively assume they’re really living the life, but single women are considered pathetic. It’s the sort of George Clooney is a stud vs. Jennifer Aniston is perpetually sad when she’s single philosophy. This attitude is so pervasive that I didn’t even consciously realize I’d fallen prey to it until I started working on my project. I’d just internalized the idea that there was something wrong with me and had grown accustomed to cringing in horror when, say, a family member asked me if I’d met anyone special—wishing they’d just mistakenly assume I was gay and simply hadn’t come out of the closet. Now that I feel like I’ve shed my Single Woman Shame, I’m thrilled when I hear from other women who have read my book and feel like they have as well.
Related: 7 Ways to LOVE Being Single
To combat this shame, you decided to try something a bit unconventional--to follow a 1962 self-help book. What made you choose this particular manual for improvement?
I chose it because it shocked the hell out of me. I tend to hate self-help books, even contemporary ones, because even when I agree with the general philosophy, that usually tends to be explained in the first chapter and then the rest of the book feels repetitious. But all I knew about Helen Gurley Brown when I picked up Sex and the Single Girl was that she was really skinny and she’d edited Cosmo forever. I figured her book would have a whole bunch of antiquated single-shaming advice, sort of like a Cosmo cover line about how to please your man in bed mixed with The Rules. Instead it was full of all sorts of ideas about how single women actually had it made. The message of the book was, to me, “If you’re single, don’t let anyone tell you that there’s something wrong with you. Live your life to the fullest.” And this was in 1962, when everyone was married by their earlier twenties! And it that was an idea I hadn’t even considered. Just reading the book was a great comfort. I figured if just reading it made me feel good, doing everything in it would make me feel even better.
What were some of the things you learned or did based on Gurley Brown's book?
I revised my wardrobe, my apartment and my approach to putting myself together. I took on all the activities I’d always wanted to try but felt too scared to—I learned French and to windsurf, do ceramics, rollerblade and cook. I traveled by myself for a month to a country where I didn’t speak the language. And I opened myself up to all sorts of different men than I ever had before.
Related: 11 Ways to Live Like a Hot Chick
And the final result? Sounds like it may have worked in a way you didn't expect...
When I first started, I fantasized that by the end of the project, I’d have fashioned myself into a perfect catch: a French-speaking, soufflé-making, fully independent woman who could rush from the ocean to a gourmet dinner she’d cooked for the most amazing man alive. And, well, not only is my cooking not going to cause Martha Stewart to lose any sleep, but my French and windsurfing skills are far from exemplary. Plus, when I officially “finished” the project, I was dating someone I didn’t even like very much. I thought the whole experiment had failed. But then I realized that I’d actually made myself into someone I really liked—for the first time in my life.
What did you conclude from this experiment in self-improvement?
I concluded that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that when I start finding fault with my life and telling myself that there’s something wrong with me because I don’t have the life that some girl I went to high school with seems to have from what I can tell on Facebook, I’m missing what’s truly wonderful about my own experience.
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