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June 6, 2012

Why You're Not Married...Yet

We talk with Tracy McMillan about her new book.

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Remember that HuffPo piece last year that everyone you've ever met emailed, Facebooked and Tweeted called "Why You're Not Married?" Reasons included: You're a bitch, you're shallow, and you're a slut. It sparked much debate and discussion and now the author, Tracy McMillan, has expanded her list into a book.

Let me start by saying that I am 36, incredibly single and a person who would like to get married or at least find a nice boyfriend. That said, I have never read a relationship book in my life. I scoffed at The Rules and wouldn't even think about reading He's Just Not That Into You. But this one, I read and LOVED. For one, Tracy is a writer by trade‚ from TV news to Mad Men‚ so she knows how to turn a phrase. She's quick, snarky and ultimately, in my opinion, very wise. Also, she's not preachy. Tracy doesn't claim to be perfect in relationships (she's been married three times) but she does feel like your best friend having a real "get a grip" conversation with you. I basically want to give this book to every single girlfriend I have. Each chapter breaks down what she means when she says "You're a bitch" or "You're a liar", gives some real-life scenarios of these behaviors in action and then some ways to work on changing them.

Honestly, I feel like I want the trifecta of Tracy, Emily Thorne (Revenge), and Olivia Pope (Scandal) handling my dating decisions. Okay so two of those people are fictional television characters‚ but at least I've got Tracy and her book.

I loved sitting down with her last week and could have stayed for hours and hours and hours. Here's a bit of our conversation:

How do you give your friends the kind of advice, like "You’re being a bitch," in a way that it’s helpful?
I kind of jokingly say, "Oh, I read this book, it's super funny, it's such bullshit. You should read it." And then the person reads it and they're like, "Oh, okay." And they enjoy it and they get the thing out of it. But you start by saying, "Oh my god, I can't even believe this book," jokingly, "But it's super-funny and there's actually some really great stuff in here."

Some of the best books I've ever read have had really bad titles, and you could just say, "It’s one of those books with the title that's sort of like 'You did not just say that,' but it's actually a really good book." So, I think people get over the title really quick. Or you say, "It could just as easily have been called Why You’re Not in a Long Term Relationship.

Oh, and I think that's very true. Some are in a place where they're not thinking about the "M" word, but they do want to have a nice committed relationship.
Right, exactly. This book could have just as easily been called Why You Don't Have A Really Nice Boyfriend. And it would have been absolutely true. I feel like women of all ages who have read this book have really enjoyed it. I think part of it is because the woman in her twenties loves it because "this applies to my dating," and it's a way of thinking about dating and relationships that it just shifts the way you’re thinking about it — away from numbers and finding a cute guy or whatever. And more toward, "Oh, when I'm ready the dude is just going to come up, he will be there." And maybe what is standing in the way is not "I haven't met the right guy on OkCupid," but "Oh, maybe I'm not ready yet or there's some barriers or some challenges, and when I start to get in relationship with those challenges, when I start to address those challenges, things out there are going to change."

Because, see, I really believe that the world is just a reflection of my inner world and when you really start to live by that principle, like, "Really, you mean every single thing in my life is created at some level, maybe unconscious, by me? Wow!" And basically, I introduce you to that idea, and then tell you how it might be applying to these different things, and how to sort of shift that, start to shift things.

Do you think that maybe [women] don't put [themselves] out there because [they] don't have to be vulnerable and don't have to be hurt?
I do think that there comes a point where it’s very tempting to opt out. "I don’t want to deal with it anymore," or "I’ve been too hurt." But what we say is, "There are no good guys," or "I'm just too fabulous." There's this notion of staying with the trouble. Part of this book is about looking at the things that are going on in your life and staying with it.

Which is really hard whether you're in a relationship or not.
Totally, totally. I mean, it's interesting, this was something I was going to say earlier: women in their twenties read this book and get a lot of great ideas around dating and a way of thinking about dating. Women in their thirties read this book and go, "This is really clear about the marriage issue and the long term partner issue." Women forties and beyond read the book and say, "Okay, this is really very helpful for the relationship I'm in and for the women that I know. My sister, best friend, my cousin, who are facing these challenges and can't see what's going on and I want to tell her, 'Oh hey!'" Because older women absolutely see all this stuff.

Any woman in her fifties that I've talked to about this book, "Oh thank you so much." They get it immediately because at that point, you totally see all the mistakes that people are making and those women are very realistic about what a relationship is. And I think the thing is this whole book is about getting real, and the cool thing about getting real is that it hurts for a hot second. And then you're like, "Oh, I get it! I just need to get honest, be gentle…" and things shift, kind of why you're not looking. Because I think we come at it from this thing like, "I don't want to see anything I don't know how to fix already, and so if I don't know how to fix it, I'm going to not even want to know about it. I'm going to go into denial about it," instead of going, "No, come out of denial, have a look, you don't even need to know how to fix it, just have a look." And actually having a look and just going and taking a few deep breaths is the beginning of the shift. And I think I get at that in the book. That's the spiritual part.

Is there one place where everybody needs to start?
This is a book about getting honest with yourself in the gentlest and also most no-nonsense way. When I'm being provocative, it's really about — there's this balance you need to strike between being serious with yourself and being like "Come on, now" and being gentle with yourself. That's why I say it's like imagine Betty White is talking to you about your love-life because she is going to be sassy, she's going to give it to you straight, but she's also going to be really gentle and laughing, and warm and hugging and kissing with you. It's like that's the tone you want to be in with yourself, that's the attitude you want to adapt.

I think that's really hard for a lot of women, especially for women who have been very ambitious and successful in their careers. You have to toughen up in certain ways, especially if you're playing in a boy's club.
Well, we think we succeeded, and by some degree we did succeed, by being perfect. We didn't make mistakes. So it's very hard to come into this new relationship with ourselves where it’s "Oh, I'm making mistakes and it's okay," and actually being okay with the mistakes is what's going to get you the success in this aspect of life. That's not true in aspects of life that you're really in in your twenties. You're really in work. Well, work is a different type of pursuit than relationships. You can't take the skills that you know that have gotten you into that great school or into that great job and apply them to your relationships. And I think that so many people feel like they can because people are like, "Approach it like you would approach your job or business school, or whatever."

There's nothing wrong with having a strong masculine, but I also need a strong feminine. And no one's even talking about that. We think that the two things are never going to meet, and it's really about going, "Oh wait, I need to develop this part of myself, a receiver, and I need a receiver of creative ideas, a receiver of intuition, a receiver of love." It's an allowingness that needs to be cultivated, and it's actually fun. And once you move into that energy — it's a whole different kind of energy. It's almost like, you know that drawing with the faces and the candlesticks? It's either two faces of a profile or it's the candlesticks. They're both true, and you need to slowly shift your eyes — you can't stare it down. You're like "Oh, I see the candlesticks." You have to relax and then you can see the faces. That's what it is, you want to have these two things that are going on there. They're both there, they're already in you, that's the thing, they're already in you. We're just so used to seeing the candlestick, we don't ever look at the faces. And it's like, this is a huge thing with women. The business school, or whatever, that approach to getting a relationship: you'd know if it was working because there would be millions of married women in New York City. It's not working. Obviously, it's not working.

What do men think about the book?
Well, men love my book, I will say. You know why? Part of the reason is because they feel like they've been blamed a lot in the last ten years. Women blame men for their own singlehood. "Oh, there's no good guys," or "men suck." And then a lot of men feel like, "Well, I'm a good guy and you're not interested in me." The thing about men is, they're so interesting, I hate to generalize, but there are some generalizations that you can make and I see this because I have a son and my son has a bunch of friends and they've grown up together, so I see. The first thing I got from having a boy child was, "Oh, men weren't holding out on me all those years, that's how they are," and I didn’t get it. I thought they could be more like me if they just tried harder, and it's like, no. No. But one of the beautiful things about men is that they're very in the moment. That's why they don't want to have an argument about what happened six months ago. “"Remember when you did…" and they really can't remember.

The point being, men, their present moment, and what that means is: they see us right where we are, they just do. Where we see in intangibles. We see a man's potential, what a man sees is what's right in front of them. They see us in ways that we don't even know that they see us. I remember having a really wise woman in my life for many years — she's still in my life — basically we would go into her teepee and I would learn so much from her. She was like a spiritual wise woman. She'd been married twice, she had five kids, she'd seen a lot of life, and one thing she said to me is, "One of the gifts that men give us as women is they see us for who we really are." And what that means in terms of why you're not married is they see these things going on with women and it actually makes them sad, but they know they don't have the power to fix it. And they're not going to get into a long-term relationship with her. That happened to me once. They're not going to do it.

Yeah, why would they want to?
Oh, you know, because men love bitches? No they don't. Men with low self-esteem love bitches. Women love bad boys? No, they don't. Women with low self-esteem love bad boys. Women who have work to do love bad boys. Women who love themselves love good men. My whole thing in this, my higher purpose, is really to bring the entire conversation about men and women and relationships to a level where we stop getting in this war with each other, and we start working together. And that's going to require, I mean we've talked a lot about men — I don't, you know a lot of women have asked me at this point, I've been doing this for 15 years. I'm not being dismissive. With all the love in my heart, I know the type. I know about men, but that's not my business.

There are things that are different. I'm a woman and I've always been a girl. I can't tell you what it feels like to be a boy, like they don't know what it feels like to be a girl.
No, they don't. But are we really saying it's the same thing? All I'm here to say is what if we as women just look at ourselves, shifted something in here, how would that change what’s going on for us? For me, just as an individual, out there? That's what I noticed. I went through my life, and I went "Oh wow, when I shifted, when I addressed what was going on with me, suddenly a really nice guy…"

I've always liked nice guys and I feel like that's one of my gifts, but I married a guy who cheated on me, and I know that I have to take full responsibility for that relationship. That didn't happen to me. I'm not a victim. What happened to me is I had some blind spots and I lied to myself, and I allowed that to happen. And when I stop allowing that to happen, it's not going to happen to me anymore. There can be bad guys out there (guys who aren't great or aren't nice), but they're not going to hurt me unless I open the door to it. And it was shifting that and noticing that I had to take 100 percent responsibility for what I was creating in my life, in my love life.

And I think that taking that and stopping yourself is just going to help you in general.
Totally! And that's why I say this is not about men.

If you're a better person, the world is just a better place.
But we're so locked into this relationship with men versus women that we think, "If I'm nicer, it means he won."

That's very true. So you're not saying you should cook for a man and clean for a man?
No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying nurturing is a good thing. When you nurture yourself by cooking for yourself, when you love yourself, you extend that love to other people. What is controversial about that? That means a man won because I'm willing to create nurturing in my own life and extend it? Are you going to cook for your kids, does that mean they got over on you? Give me a break!

Well, I think when you nurture, you're typically nurtured in return.
You create a loving environment. We have thrown out the baby but kept the bath water.

Right. Being nice to people doesn't—
Diminish you. Being kind isn't bad. What if actual change begins with me? Like relationship change begins with women? I'm just going to let it start here, how about that? I'm not going to worry about, well, he better go first and then I'll do it. That's like the arms race, does that work? That is a male paradigm! The arms race, well, I'm not going to do it until — oh, hello Hatfields and McCoys. A total standoff, and we've been in a male and female standoff for a while. And I'm like, it can start here, that's all. And it doesn't mean they won. It's not even us versus them. That's a lie. The reality is a lie.


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