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If you ever wanted to befriend Carrie Bradshaw, the closest you will probably ever come is meeting Mandy Stadtmiller.
Stadtmiller, who has written dating columns for New York Magazine and the New York Post as well as contributed and edited at xoJane, recently released her first book, the memoir Unwifeable. It chronicles her life after moving to New York City as a recently divorced thirty year-old who jumps back into the worlds of journalism and dating.
It begins with the notion of everyone having a "black box" inside of them that is able to articulate exactly why our relationships go awry. This is something most of us would agree we would rather keep hidden, doing "nearly any-fucking-thing" other than undergo the "emotional investigation" required to deal with our demons. Stadtmiller understands this, and yet she opens her own box and takes a look at how her divorce, her relocation, and her search for the perfect mate helped her learn something far more important: how to love herself.
Before getting there, Stadtmiller takes readers on a journey of some of her weirdest and wildest New York moments. It is a world where one day involves interviewing the first, legal male prostitute and the next includes lunch with Courtney Love (who blurbed the book). Stadtmiller's dating history of illustrious men is also detailed, which includes a brief and wondrous hook-up with Marc Maron, maybe inspiring Aaron Sorkin to create a character in The Newsroom, and dealing with the notorious inappropriate behavior of Andy Dick. They are the kind of moments even New Yorkers only have one or two of in their diaries.
Reading about Stadtmiller's experiences opens us up to not just her humor but also her heart as you slowly begin to understand there is something deeper happening underneath rubbing shoulders with bigwigs.
Some of the severity of the book comes out through Stadtmiller's discussion of her family members and their offbeat habits. While it is funny to hear of the confusion her father causes due to his blindness or her mother's mental illness leading her to dress her dog in ridiculous clothing, they are also real, serious issues with which the family deals. As Stadtmiller works to understand her own issues of PTSD and addiction she must consider her parents' problems. It is dark comedy at its best, and all the more unsettling because it is true.
While all of the relationships are intriguing in this book, it was Stadtmiller's time with a guy named Blaine that intrigued me most of all when thinking about her "unwifeable" concept.
Blaine comes from a background greatly unlike Stadtmiller's, one filled with wealth, pomp, and unrealistic standards. He often disapproves of Stadtmiller's behavior and most always discourages her from writing about him in her column. Throughout their relationship, the pressure to be perfect is present with Stadtmiller, to the point where she finds it easier to become self-sabotaging than to meet the standards. When the couple is preparing to take an idealistic trip to Brazil, Stadtmiller is paranoid about ruining it. She describes it as "a beautiful, shiny golden thing completely covered in the rust of [her] mind, which says, I can ruin this, oh, just you watch me."
On more than occasion, Stadtmiller calls herself "unwifeable" to Blaine, often when hoping he will disagree and put a ring on it. When I read this, in true Carrie Bradshaw fashion, I couldn't help but wonder: if a guy does not want you to do what you love most (in Stadtmiller's case, writing), is he a guy you really want to consider marrying, and if you cannot be yourself, then is it worth being "wifeable"?
I thought not. I then thought about all the Blaine-type guys I had spent time swooning over (the ones with the pastel colored shorts, sharp haircuts, and country club memberships), and how I had changed myself for them because I somehow thought that being their girl was something special.
Accepting this as a falsehood was easy, but forgiving myself for the mistake had been near impossible. This is the part of the equation that Stadtmiller uniquely understands, just as she grasps the flip side of the coin where as a writer I wonder if I am "commodifying and packaging" my life experiences for the sake of my career and if that is worth the impacts on my personal life overall.
"Why do sometimes the smallest mortifications impact us the hardest" Stadtmiller asks. "Maybe, in some way, because they are so real and cut to the quick of what we hate the most about ourselves." She explores how we often torture ourselves for our mistakes more than anyone else. One of her friends humorously explains shame as "Should Have Already Mastered Everything" syndrome, something I think every perfectionist understands. This has been something engrained in many people, particularly women.
So how do we go about overcoming this problem?
Self-love is the answer for Stadtmiller. "You don't need to 'attach' yourself to anyone," she writes. "You just need to make yourself something that you can stand to be with — alone." She realized she needed to give herself back the power, that the only person who had ever held her back from thinking she needed love was herself. "I am the soul mate I have been looking for all this time," she concludes.
She might be "unwifeable" but she is only so on her own terms. If being "unwifeable" also means being confident, self-assured, and passionate, I think more of us could afford to adopt the label ourselves.