Take a Vow: Writer of Controversial Article Talks About "Why You're Not Married"
by Natasha Burton
Television writer and author Tracy McMillan made waves recently with her Huffington Post article “Why You're Not Married,” in which she outlines six possible reasons why women who want to get married remain single. With tongue-in-cheek explanations like “You're shallow” and “You're a liar,” the piece was pretty much guaranteed to go viral, which it did, inspiring spin-offs and parodies along the way.
I chatted with McMillan about her inspiration for writing a piece about marriage, the backlash she's received from it and what getting married is really about, as well as women's motivations for wanting to make that trek down the aisle.
NB: Since you're not the still-single woman you describe in the article, having been married three times, I'm interested in what inspired you to write the piece.
TM: Well, I have a lot of friends [wanting to be married], and I just feel that a lot of women in general really want to be married and have no idea why they're not. I look around, and to me it's really obvious. Part of the reason the piece went viral is because it's obvious to a lot of people, but sometimes I think women can't see what they're doing, you know? So I'm a writer, and I think about this stuff a lot, and I decided to write a funny, semi-satirical, over-the-top entertaining piece.
NB: I don't know if you've seen the parody that's on Jezebel, in which the writer basically calls your article “a primer for why no one loves you.” It seems like some people missed the point of what you were trying to say.
TM: A lot of people did, actually.
NB: Why do you think that is? Do you think people identified with the article but don't want to admit it?
TM: Why do I think people missed the point? Most of the rebuttals seemed to choose one aspect of [the article] without taking it as a whole, like they would focus on the idea that I think all women should be married, which isn't what I was saying. This is about a person waking up one day and going, “Oh my god, I want to be married.” At the end of the day, the piece was about directing a woman's attention away from [looking at marriage] as an acquisition. Frankly, I'm glad people wrote about it. A lot of what writers like me are trying to do sometimes is start a conversation.
The other place I got a lot of heat was from the feminist community. I talked to a young feminist friend of mine in her mid-twenties. She's too young to worry about getting married; she's not there yet. But I said to her, “Are you really mad at me?” And she said, “You know, I was very conflicted because I was of two minds:
The feminist in me was like ‘I hate this,' and the other part of me wanted to send it to about ten women right now.”
NB: I feel like there's a lot of backlash to the concept of women wanting to get married, as if it's antithetical to feminist ideals. There shouldn't be some kind of rift between being empowered and being married, and for some reason there is.
TM: I agree. And that is a basic problem. If feminism means it's not OK to want a man and a baby, then feminism is doomed. By the time I hit 35, like 85 percent of the women I know wanted to get married, even if in their mid-twenties it wasn't something they thought they needed to do. There really is something biological about it for many women, maybe even most women. (Certainly not all.) But you can't write a piece that's filled with all the exceptions to the rule. As a writer you're really going for what's gonna resonate with the biggest amount of people, you know what I mean? Obviously, the article is about generalities. I think a lot of people miss that there is a satirical part to this. The article is meant to get your attention.
NB: And I think it does. I love the line when you reference some women's mentality toward marriage as similar to that of a teenage girl. I think some women do approach marriage as a kind of achievement instead of from a place of finding and celebrating love.
TM: Yeah, marriage is not a wedding and it's not prom, you know what I mean? It's a long-term commitment, and I say that as a woman who clearly didn't really understand that, not for my first two marriages.
NB: I think your piece struck a chord with a lot of people in terms of this idea of giving rather than getting. I think there's a kind of prevailing notion around women, certainly women my age — I'm about to enter my late twenties — who feel like they're entitled to marriage somehow.
TM: I mean — having been married three times — I have made every mistake there is to make. I feel like the reason I can write this piece is because I was that girl. I learned the hard way: I had two great men of character that I married and I couldn't stop wanting that other guy. And so I went out and got myself the other guy. There's a lot more to it, of course. I had issues around intimacy. But I was willing to overlook a guy's character flaws because he was so damn cute. And that wasn't a good marriage.
NB: I think you having these different experiences gives you a unique perspective on what it means to be married. In terms of life experience, I don't think being married for 50 years to the same person automatically makes you a marriage expert. You know what I mean?
TM: And I'm not saying I'm a marriage expert; I'm saying I know how to get married. And you do learn a lot from failure, there's no question about it.
NB: What's the most important relationship lesson you've learned?
TM: Let's see … you have to be extremely honest with yourself. At this point in my life, I know who I am, I know what works and I know what doesn't. And if I see something that doesn't work, I need to stop [the relationship] right then. It's when you see the red flag and keep going forward that the trouble starts. And I do believe we all know when we see that red flag. We just want to think, “Maybe it will go away.”
NB: I think a lot of women, when they encounter red flags, they brush them aside, like, “Oh, I can handle it; it's not that big of a deal.”
TM: Yeah, this [issue] is a big one, because what happens is we get into it, we're bonded to the guy, and then we don't have the same ability to make choices the way we did in the very, very beginning 'cause now we're
like emotionally involved. And the judgment gets impaired by that.
NB: Love is a powerful drug, as they say.
TM: It really is