Hoping to head down the aisle? Tracy McMillan's “Why You're Not Married ... Yet” delivers the unfiltered advice you need to perfect your relationship and get what you want. Here's an excerpt.
All through you twenties, you were fine — working, shopping, getting drunk on the weekends, and having sex with your boyfriend (or whomever), not necessarily in that order. Then something happened. Another birthday, maybe. A breakup. Your best friend’s wedding. Suddenly there you were: walking down the aisle wearing something halfway decent from J. Crew that you would totally be able to repurpose with a cute pair of boots and a jean jacket. And as you made your way toward the altar, looking at a groom who wasn’t yours (not that you’d even want that particular groom), you found yourself, for the ﬁrst time ever, having something — feelings? — about the craziest thing:
Why you’re not married. Why you’re not even close.
Intellectually, you know there’s nothing wrong with not being married, but then why does it feel kinda like there is? As if the Life Train is getting ready to pull out of the station and somehow you’re stuck trying to buy a ticket at a malfunctioning kiosk. You keep swiping your credit card, but nothing happens. You’re starting to wonder if this is like Europe, where your card needs to be embedded with some sort of magical chip to work.
The whole purpose of this book is to help you do something that — if you’re like a lot of women I know — might pain you to even admit that you want to do. And that something is get married.
But let’s get one thing clear right away. This is not a book about ﬁnding a man. In fact, it’s hardly about men at all. Because getting married — as you’ve probably ﬁgured out by now — is not about ﬁnding a man. There are zillions of guys out there. The question is, how come you’re not marrying any of them?
This is a book about you. About what kind of woman you are. Speciﬁcally, whether you are the kind of woman who is ready for marriage. And if you’re not, how you can be. Naturally, you probably think you already are that woman. Who wouldn’t think that? But one of the ideas behind this book is that you could probably stand to take a good, honest look at where you are — okay, a gooder, honester look — to really assess what your negative traits might be and how they might be holding you back. It’s unlikely that you’re doing every single thing wrong. But it’s also unlikely that you’re doing everything right. Only by being willing to really search your soul and look with compassion upon whatever you ﬁnd there will you expand as a person — and, as a result, become ready (or more ready) for marriage.
The premise here is that marriage is about love. Not the kind of love where you feel like you’re starring in a really amazing Banana Republic commercial. The kind where you take a risk, put your ego aside, let down your defenses, and decide to love a man for who he is, not what you want from him — even if what you want from him is to love him. (And, of course, marriage and a baby.)
It’s as simple as this: If you’re not married and you want to be, you need to express more love. Not get more love. Express it. Feel it. Be it. See it everywhere.
Like Madonna said—and I know this is cheesy—it’s about opening your heart.
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Gold Rings and Handguns
So who am I and why should you listen to me? Well, ﬁrst off, I’m not the kind of expert who did everything right in relationships and is now going to pass along some golden tablets with the get-married info on them. On the contrary. I am a (formerly) royal mess when it comes to relationships—but I’ve worked my ass off to have a healing. Kind of a girl version of Robert Downey Jr.—if men were crack and gold rings were handguns—who ﬁnally hit rock bottom.
For the past ten years or so I’ve been a sort of combination lay therapist, love coach, and mating-not-dating sponsor. My “practice” takes place at the water cooler, in the cafeteria, at the coffeehouse, or in the ladies’ room—usually when I’m supposed to be doing my real job. (I’m a television and ﬁ lm writer, and before that, I wrote broadcast news for ﬁfteen years.)
Not that I ever went out seeking “clients.” It’s more like I delved into all sorts of different subject matter as a way of evolving myself (I totally needed evolving), and invariably I would ﬁnd myself passing along what I had learned—mixed with my insights about people and my experiences in relationships. As the years went by, almost to my surprise, I started helping people. I’ll never forget the time I was walking through a big mall in Beverly Hills and I ran into a girl I was acquainted with. She excitedly stopped me and told me that she’d taken something from a really nice chance conversation we’d had at a coffee shop two years earlier and now she was living with a great guy whom she loved. How cool! I was really happy for her and glad to know that I had contributed something to the planet in some small way. (The gist of that coffee shop conversation became what is now Chapter 9.)
That was the ﬁrst of many such encounters. Since then, I’ve helped numerous women get on the road to marriage — usually not because I showed them how to get a guy, but because I helped them shift their perspective about being a woman. That changed how they thought about themselves and moved through the world, and the next thing you know they were walking down the aisle.
I’m also the mother of a teenage boy. I’ve said in the past, and I’ll say it again, that fourteen-year-old boys are like the single-cell protozoan version of a husband. I often want to invite my single girlfriends over to my house for a day so they can get a clear picture of what they’re really dealing with when it comes to men. It’s not that all men are immature. It’s that all men have a part inside them that matches the part inside me that never really left ninth grade. And in order to love them (and love myself), I’m going to need to get realistic about that part.
Then there’s the other big thing about me: I’ve been married — and divorced — three times. (Yes, three.) Once each in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Somehow I also managed to squeeze in three live-in boyfriends and four less-signiﬁcant signiﬁcant others, plus pine after scores of unavailable men who couldn’t or wouldn’t love me. I was a busy gal.
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In my decades of dating (and marrying) I have screwed up so many right relationships and chased after so many wrong ones that I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Now I’m like a jailhouse lawyer who’s done so much work on her own case that I can help you with yours. I know what you’re doing wrong because I’ve done it. And I’m the ﬁrst to admit that I’ve got a pretty dubious track record when it comes to staying married.
Getting married, however — that is a different story. Don’t ask me why, but attracting guys who are willing to marry me — or are at least willing to cohabit — is like my main superpower. (Talking a lot is a very close second.) I’ve thought about this quite a bit and have come to the conclusion that while I am sweet and faithful, and a man can be sure he will never ever be bored with me, there’s nothing particularly special about me. There are girls out there who are way more marriageable than me but who haven’t seen a third of my action.
I think my success in this area is more about my readiness to move toward, and choose, men who are willing to make commitments. As well as — and this is super important, and often more difficult — the willingness to let go of the men who aren’t.
I don’t take full credit for this. A big part has to do with the fact that I grew up in foster homes. I entered the world of dating with one objective: to avoid men who would abandon me. If we were talking about presidents of the United States, I was all about gentle, thoughtful, lusting-only-in-his-heart Jimmy Carter — the Bill Clintons of the world could go blow their saxes in some other chick’s bed. In my mind, the only thing worse than dating a guy like that would be marrying him, and I was all about getting married.
Let me stop right here. I bet you’re wondering how I ended up walking down the aisle multiple times before plucking out a single gray hair. A lot of people assume I married bad men and/or am bitter about marriage as a result of my three divorces. Neither is the case. Here’s the quick rundown.
HUSBAND #1. The second guy I ever slept with, a guy I started dating at age seventeen (to his credit, I lied; he thought I was nineteen) and wedded (on a boat) after a very reasonable two-year courtship. He was ten years older, with an MBA and a great job at a Fortune 500 company (where he still works, BTW, twenty-eight years later) — in other words, an honest-to-goodness great guy from a great family. The only problem was . . . me. I was just too young to make, and keep, that kind of commitment.
HUSBAND #2. Thirteen years later, along came Dan, a very nice minister’s son I met at work. Six months into our relationship, at age thirty-one, I found myself pregnant. Wanting desperately to have the kind of family I dreamed of as a child, I knew what to do — commit — but I had no idea how to do it. Unable to surmount a lifetime of abandonment programming, after three years of marriage I just did what came naturally: I left. Okay, I only moved three miles away, but still. I simply could not tolerate the kind of closeness that comes with marriage to a stable, loving man. This is not an excuse; it’s simply a fact. We are now candidates for the co-parenting hall of fame, or we would be, if there was one.
HUSBAND #3. Last but not least, there was Paul, whom I married at forty and divorced at forty-one. This was the guy I had been looking for my whole life — I was, in a word, wildly attracted to him — and what I found out is that sometimes “soul mate” is just another term for “gonna trigger all your deepest childhood wounds.” I didn’t know it, but Paul had all the best (and worst) qualities of my father — a guy for whom womanizing was more than a hobby, it was a vocation. About eight months into our marriage, Paul decided to start dating a twenty-one-year-old girl, so wisely I asked him to move out. It was a painful, painful period in my life — for both me and my son—but in that very special (and excruciating) way in which life tends to work, going through that relationship set me free. And I do mean free.
After spending entire relationships haunted by my desire for a certain kind of man — exciting, sexy, and yes, seriously unavailable — I know now ﬁrsthand what my version of Mr. Big was all about: anguish. In fact, my chief complaint about Sex and the City is that it made a relationship with Big seem desirable or even feasible, when in fact a fantasy man is just that: a fantasy. Ask any drug addict: trying to escape reality day in and day out is not only time-consuming, it’s agonizing. Otherwise, dude, we’d all be doing it.
In short, my marriages “failed” — actually, “collapsed” is a better word — for one very simple reason: I wasn’t yet the right woman for marriage.
Oh, So That’s Why
Okay, so if you’re still here, I want to welcome you to my funny, self-helpy, big-sistery, girlfriend-guide, spiritual-like, no-nonsense look at how to love more and love better. The principles in this book have the power to change your life. By the time you are done reading here, you will feel more hopeful than you have in years, because you will see that the stuff that’s going on with you can be remedied if you’re willing to deal with it.
There are ten chapters here—one for each of the big ways you might be sabotaging your ability to be in a relationship. I recommend simply reading the book once through with an open mind and heart. Then go back to a single chapter where you think you might have some work to do and spend a week just sort of living with the ideas in it. Practice making the suggested changes. Then move on to another chapter or area where you’ve identiﬁed a problem. Slowly you will incorporate these new ways of thinking about yourself when it comes to love and relationships. This isn’t a sprint. It isn’t even a marathon. It’s a nice long walk on a crisp fall day. There might be some hills, but mostly you should just relax and enjoy it. This is the work of life.
Within each of these chapters, the basic issues at hand will be discussed ﬁ rst, such as what “You’re a bitch” really means. Then I’ll unwrap the headline to examine what I see as the core issue underneath, in the section called “What It’s Really About.” Each chapter will also include “Notes from My Life,” which are special and not-so-special moments from my own life where I blew it in a similar manner to the way you may be blowing it right now. As well as a part called (for example) “Why Lisa’s Not Married,” so you can see how other perfectly nice women are screwing it up, too. This helps you see what you’re doing—because you know how much easier it is to identify a problem when you’re looking at it in someone else.
Every chapter will also cover “Some Relevant Stuff About Men,” where I share with you what I’ve learned from men over the years. I think it helps to know that men usually aren’t doing whatever they’re doing to you; they’re usually just doing it, and you simply happen to be in the vicinity. I’ve found that knowing this helps me to be not so mad at them.
After all that, we’ll head into the solutions, with a section on “How You’re Going to Have to Change,” which will have nothing to do with wearing makeup, blowing out your hair, or loitering in the frozen foods section of the grocery store and other places where men congregate, but will have everything to do with changing your mind — about men, about marriage, about yourself. Then, because change is hard (if it wasn’t, everybody would be doing it), we forge ahead to “Spiritual Stuff That Will Help You Change.” This section will, as promised, put the problem in a spiritual context (don’t worry, I won’t go too woo-woo on you) and give you tools to help you actually make that change. Last but not least, we will wrap up each chapter with “What Your Best Friend [or Mom, or Co-Workers, or Ex-Boyfriend] Knows but Isn’t Telling You,” which is what the people who love you would tell you if only they had the balls. Instead you’re hearing it from me, a stranger, though you will know enough embarrassing stuff about me by the end of this book that you will probably be judging me the way you do your closest friends. Which I hope means that you’ll at least consider inviting me to your wedding.
Be forewarned: When all that’s said and done, I’m going to suggest something completely punk rock. I’m going to suggest you get a god. Wait, come back. It doesn’t have to be a bearded guy in the sky and a big church with a painted ceiling — but it needs to be something, anything, that isn’t your mind or the stuff it’s telling you. A place beyond reason and pure intellect. Because like I said, ultimately marriage is a spiritual trip. Even for chicks like you.
The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when you feel they don’t necessarily deserve it. And loving is always spiritual in nature — because people are ﬂawed and it’s hard to love ﬂaws. You can count on the fact that, most of the time, a man will not be doing what you want him to do. But because you are loving him anyway — because you have made up your mind to transform yourself into a person who is practicing being kind, deep, virtuous, truthful, giving, and, most of all, accepting of your own dear self—you’ll ﬁnd that you experience the very thing you wanted all along: love.
And I would not be at all surprised if you ended up married.
Excerpted from WHY YOU’RE NOT MARRIED…YET by Tracy McMillan. Copyright © 2012 by Tracy McMillan. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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