For this, my final column, I thought it was high time I took a look at what I originally set out to do and assessed whether or not I actually did it.
My original proposal for the book describing the journey I wanted to go on with Helen Gurley Brown started with a quote from Sex and the Single Girl: “I never met a completely happy single woman…or a completely happy married one.” It sounds so simple but doesn’t that just sum it right up? A lot of the time, we pretend that one choice means everlasting happiness and the other serious misery—our opinion of which is which depending, of course, on where we find ourselves in the equation—when the truth is that life isn’t about everlasting happiness or major misery but simply about balancing everything as best we can.
After the quote, I went into this whole thing about my fears of intimacy until I got to the main point I was trying to make: that what I said I wanted wasn’t, perhaps, what I actually wanted. That was a major theme of the book for most of the time I was working on it (the working title was What I Say I Want; other potential titles along the way included Growing More Gurley, Sex and the Still Single Girl and The Perfect Man or The Perfect Me, among many, many others). Basically, I hoped to figure out through this project why I always went around saying that I wanted to get married and have a baby but didn’t behave like someone who wanted those things. Living the Helen way, I thought, would help me to determine if I was just claiming to want those things because society told me I should or if I really did. I decided that by the end of it, I would either meet the man of my dreams or decide that the whole thing was a fantasy and give up on it altogether. But neither happened. Instead I learned that I did, indeed, want those things—I just wasn’t ready for them yet. And, I began to see, I’d allowed the fact that I didn’t have them convince me that I never would. On a logical level, I knew that past events did not dictate the future but my fear had convinced me otherwise.
If I’d never taken on this project, I wouldn’t have actually learned how much I was lying to and torturing myself. Oh sure, I might have given lip service to how everything happens when it’s meant to, as I had before. But I don’t think I would have absorbed it at a cellular level and experienced the sense of peace that such absorption brought with it if I hadn’t tried to re-make myself into the most glittery, well-rounded, feminine, adventurous woman I could. Because I realized at the end of it that though I went in thinking I was making all that effort so that I could attract the best mate possible—my own personal David Brown—the end result was that I learned to attract me to myself; I learned to actually like and sometimes even love myself.
Now, look. That’s just the kind of sappy, self help-y, Hallmark card-esque sentence I would have sooner, once upon a time, committed Hari Kari than written. But you guys don’t know how far down the path of not loving myself I’d gotten. Or maybe you do. Maybe you’ve been there yourself. I’d essentially become so used to turning on myself—to telling myself, if something didn’t work out, that it was because I was unlovable, to forcing myself to go along with romantic situations because I believed it “might be my last chance,” to mixing up lust and status with liking and loving, among many other nasty habits—that I didn’t know there was any other way to think or be. It’s like that feeling you get in the depth of an East Coast winter. You know there was once sun on your snow-drenched street and that you had walked by that same stoop in shorts and a tank top, eating frozen yogurt and sweating from the effort, but you can’t actually remember what it felt like. I had once known how to love and support myself but I couldn’t get back there, emotionally or literally, until I put myself through the process I did.
I always hoped the book could serve as both a tale of what I went through and a sort of guidebook for others—married, single or otherwise—to put the same kind of lens on their lives. And although I’m too close to the material to be able to tell if I did that successfully, I do have several friends who started cleaning out their closets soon after reading it.
While my work on myself is far from done, my work here at the Gloss is. So I wanted to thank you for reading about my experiences with the great HGB here. If you want to buy the book that actually describes the journey I’ve given glimpses of each week in this space, here is a list of places where you can get it (anyone who buys the book during the first week of release—that’s now, folks—can participate in the first week sale promo; details are here.)
Now, let me leave you with a quote from the woman who launched my project: “I hope I have convinced you,” Helen once said, “that the only thing that separates successful people from the ones who aren’t is the willingness to work very, very hard.”
I agree with her but also think we get to define success however we want. (For me, personally: feeling good about myself—and the world—more often than I don’t.) It has been and will continue to be hard work for me but, like Helen, I’m a workhorse. And I’ve learned that my life is well worth the effort.