Is there only one happy ending for women characters? Lady Mary shakes things up in season 6 of Downton
Ali sent me a text, “You should watch this week’s Downton Abbey. Mary Crawley has a big quirkyalone speech where she says she’d rather be alone than with a man she doesn’t love.”
I texted back, “OK, will do,” put down the phone and put Downton Abbey on the to-watch list for the night. Ali and I have been friends almost twenty years, we are both spotters of quirkyalone utterances in pop culture for fifteen years now. We look for moments when characters say being alone is preferable to settling, especially when they come from women. Those female articulations are more revolutionary in a world that defines women’s value in terms of their relationships.
Indeed the scene was awesome. Mary not only declared her preference for being alone over a loveless marriage, but also fended off a blackmailer who wanted to humiliate her for spending a week with a man (out-of-wedlock tryst! Scandal!). So not only did she declare her independence as a human being (she doesn’t need to be with a man to exist) but she stands up to slut-shaming.
The next question for me and Ali was, would Downton’s creators let Mary end up alone?
After Ali and I talked on the phone. Ali said, “They’re giving her all these boring men love interests this season. They’re not very inspiring. I hope they give her someone good before the series ends.”
I said, “I like the way they are playing it, that they have two single women sisters now Mary and Edith. That’s life too. Sometimes that is the way it goes.” I don’t mean either that Mary would always be single. But that there could be other valid endings.
I’ve been having conversations like these for quite a while now. Sex in the City was about to conclude a decade ago around the same time as my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics came out. Because they saw me as a real-life icon for the single girl, reporters often asked me for opinions about how ultimate single-women-in-the-city series (until then) should conclude. Would Carrie end up with Big? Carried ended up with Big.
When you look at other blockbuster memoirs-turned-to-movies such as Wild and Eat Pray Love, you realize they both begin with women who have husbands and end with women who have husbands. Is a woman finding a man a requirement for the ending of a big blockbuster book, movie or TV show? Do we need to be calmed by the formula of the fairy-tale storybook ending we’ve been sold since birth that a woman’s happiness begins when she finds her prince?
Even an edgy book like Gone Girl that is very critical of fake couplehood ends with the couple back together again. (In some ways Gone Girl is a sly argument that we get what we deserve.) HBO serial Girls which should herald a new era of higher standards (one might think) brings Hannah together over and over again with pretty lame boyfriend Adam.
Are are there a variety of happy endings for women characters? This question about women’s happy endings is something I have thought a lot about as I write the first and now second draft of my memoir Wet. How should I end my book, I ask myself often. For example, my memoir might end with me alone, but that doesn’t mean I will be alone forever.
My intuition tells me that in 2016 we are reading for new endings. It’s a thought experiment to imagine the multiple happy endings for a woman: she finally falls in love with herself; she finds her home, the right community of friends, her true calling, or the meaning of life; she heals from childhood abuse, or she learns how to have sex and not feel guilty about it afterwards.
Would we give these endings a chance, or do we really believe there is only one truly satisfying conclusion?
Let’s see what happens with Mary Crawley.
Join us to be Quirkyalone Together Feb. 14 in Oakland!
Through this intimate afternoon workshop, we are going to come together and I am going to teach you the key skills I have learned in years of writing and coaching other quirkyalones that you can use to live a happy, satisfying life where your heart is also open to being quirkytogether. To live as a happy quirkyalone takes specific mindset shifts, practices and behaviors. It takes self-compassion and a community of support.
For some it can be a lifelong journey to get to this point of embracing life single or in a relationship—through this workshop, we will help you get there sooner. Spaces are limited. The super early bird deadline for the best price is January 21. Sign up today!
Last week I got this email from a reader and I wanted to share it with you. . .
I doubt you’ll remember me, but I had e-mailed you a couple of years ago in response to a question you’d posed on Facebook, and I’d also mentioned to you that I’m a sociology professor at Wingate University in North Carolina, and that I assign your book Quirkyalone in my Deviant Behavior class, as one example of how to be a non-conformist in society.
I was grading exams tonight which included an essay question about the concept of being Quirkytogether from the book, and one of the students put it as well as I think I’ve ever heard it described, and I felt I ought to share this with you. She wrote:
“Quirkytogether: two whole people that don’t need each other but want to be together.”
Thanks to Aaron for passing this along. And yes I remembered you!
I often coach and write about this topic of two independent people coming together to create a relationship based on their own values, desires, and rules. (And I dedicate a chapter to “quirkytogether” in Quirkyalone.)
What do you think of the definition? What does “quirkytogether” mean to you? How does this student’s definition resonate for you? Please feel free to share in the comments, and who knows, it may become part of a list to be shared in a future Quirkytogether book!
My friend Tracy sent me a link: “Weird, random use of ‘quirkyalone'”
My father sent me a message: “Your word in headline type!”
A lot of acquaintances sent emails, “Hey this reminds me of your book.”
What was this all about? I was on my own writing retreat in Healdsburg, California, working on my memoir Wet when these emails flooded in.
The skinny: An essayist Tim Kreider wrote a New York Times Modern Love essay about his despair at finding love in the brutal New York City dating scene (which I’ve heard many times is very rough), and the despair he observed in his single friends.
The piece was titled “‘Quirkyalone’ Is Still Alone.”
Now this was strange. Every other time that the New York Times has used the word ‘quirkyalone’ in a news article, from 2003 to 2013, the reporter called me and we talked, and he or she got the definition right and cited me as the coiner of the word. Kreider conflated ‘quirkyalone’ with ‘happy single’ and said we quirkyalones are unicorns, we only exist in magazines. The meaning of the word that I created in a 700-word essay in 2000, and then in my book in 2004, is “a person who prefers to be single rather than settle.” We quirkyalones do exist and our numbers are growing!
I plan to take my time to write a full response to his essay, perhaps my own Modern Love essay, but for now, I want to share this piece with you and I welcome you to share your thoughts on the New York Times or with me in a comment or an email.
I will share a few thoughts here.
A longtime friend of mine (who actually was the first to read my original quirkyalone essay in 1999 before anyone else did) didn’t like the piece because she thought, “It’s basically like someone saying hey you single person, you want to think your life is every bit as good as the people in relationships (good relationships, that is) but really I’m here to tell you it’s not–it’s actually really lacking. I mean that may be the truth but it’s not really what I feel like reading right now so it’s just a personal thing I guess.”
I think my friend hits the nail on the head here. Any perspective that actually hurts when you feel it is probably not true at a deep level. How can we really compare one person’s unique life to another person’s unique life and say, this life is better? We are all on our own journey here. Another yogi friend of mine likes to say, “You’re on your mat. He/she’s on his mat.” The meaning is: don’t compare.
I appreciate a lot of the writing in the piece, but I think he draws a pretty erroneous conclusion that happiness and belonging happens through coupling.
In fact, I think we reach an important stage in our maturity when we realize that we are responsible for our own happiness, whether we’re single or in a relationship, quirkyalone or quirkytogether.
The most important thing you can do if you do want a loving, healthy partnership is to start with your relationship with yourself. To love and respect yourself. We are very good at being mean to ourselves, saying it’s our fault. I am writing about my own journey toward self-respect as a single woman in Wet, and in fact, I think these are the lessons that everyone needs to learn, woman or man, single or coupled. You can’t really be happy if you don’t respect yourself.
Cutting ourselves down for being single (messed-up, flawed, wrong, or living lesser lives than people in relationships) is something I have done too and most of my coaching clients have done. It’s the problem of being quirkyalone in this culture, thinking something is wrong with you when you’re single because we live in a couple-normative culture. The only way it could help is by causing so much pain that it gets you into desperate mode to change your habits and your way of thinking to then attract more love and connection into your life, but really, self-flagellation is usually not a successful strategy for change. It doesn’t help. I can’t get down with a perspective that makes single people feel bad for being single.
I am all for healthy relationships. I’m all for healthy singledom too. I’m not an advocate of lifelong singlehood for me or most quirkyalones either (most do want a partnership at some point, although some don’t). I certainly think we can grow in unique and important ways in the container of a healthy loving relationship when we have someone who is willing to be our mirror.
However, the magic starts when we connect with ourselves.
The trick is being our own best friend along the way.
I welcome your thoughts.
P.S. Welcome to all the new subscribers who found my work because of Tim’s piece! Happy to have you on board with us!
I just finished watching the first season of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. I have to say, I think this is a very quirkyalone show!
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are playing born-again quirkyalones, for sure, who didn’t have a choice about the matter initially–their husbands dump them when they finally announce they are gay and in love! I also think this show is the new Golden Girls–older women cohabitating and supporting each other through love and life. If you read Quirkyalone, you know that I loved the Golden Girls and and asked each quirkyalone I interviewed to name his or her favorite Golden Girl.
I know from talking with many of you that Netflix can be a soul-sucking distraction from getting things done and getting out in the world. Netflix is the new addiction of our time. But, if you want to relax with some quirkyalone entertainment I wholeheartedly recommend Grace and Frankie.
The series gets better and better (as most do). . . so hang on if you don’t love it immediately. They cover all the important topics:
+ how to communicate to a clumsy male lover about how to touch you (this episode is gold)
+ the invisibility (or not) of these hot older ladies, plus, of course, vaginal dryness and wetness
+ how to break up with the really, really, really nice guy who is so hard to break up with but you’re just not into him
The show is a great exploration of the importance of female friendship, especially the friendship of two prickly women. In Quirkyalone, I dedicated a chapter to friendship, and write about the concept of the “Boston Marriage”–an arrangement where women friends live together platonically to support each other. Grace and Frankie are thrown into, and then developing, a Boston Marriage through the show.
What strikes me about the show is that we are always learning. . . these women in their seventies are tackling a lot of the same questions that women and men face in their twenties, just with more life experience under their belt. The learning and adventure never has to stop. Personally I’m much more interested in watching the shenanigans of 72-year-old women rather than 22-year-old women, just because, well, they have lived. And we don’t get to see the shenanigans of 72-year-old women enough.
Enjoy. . . and let me know what you think.
In my world. . . We are getting ready for the fifth TANGASM ADVENTURE in two weeks here in Buenos Aires with some awesome quirkyalone women coming. The dates are August 15-22. Just last night I got this message, “I just sent you a link from your website to see if I can possibly hop on the Argentina bandwagon in a couple of weeks. For many reasons, I have time available and just came across this. I would love to join the group. Is there any chance? I guess life is really short and I want to hop on this.” So if you too are a way last-minute planner, the answer is yes, we have two spots open. If that’s you fill this out TODAY to hop on the bandwagon!
P.S. I’ll be back in the Bay Area in September and October. Stay tuned for stateside stuff.
It can be scary for me to share my own story, but it’s also tremendously liberating to try to live a life without shame. Sharing my single shame story helps me to stand up straight and I know my story can be of service to others. So with that I am happy to share with you this awesome podcast with my friends Lindsay and Lani of Fuck Dating (“actually helpful banter about dating, relationships and all the bullshit and bliss that goes with them”) and you will hear me tell the story of how I got over my single shame and speak with honesty and vulnerability about my relationship history to a man that I was dating.
Shame is all about the secret. Accepting yourself is always the key. There is no way someone else can accept and love you if you don’t share with them who you really are. Just by talking about it with others, you break the secrecy. You can do that with a friend, a therapist, or with me first through one-on-one coaching. Breaking down the single shame so you can open up for the relationships you really want has become a huge focus of my coaching practice.
Single shame held me back from loving myself and truly connecting for many years. I don’t want that to be true for you.
Listen in to this podcast (click play above) and let us know what you think in a comment!
PS We also talk about how tango is is the perfect manifestation of quirkytogether in a dance. (You’ll hear how the awareness I gained through tango helped me to heal my shame and speak it out loud to a boyfriend.) Our next Quirky Heart Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires is May 23-30, so if you want to get your quirkyalone and quirkytogether on through dance, and become more confident on and off the dance floor, then come on down and join us.
I got a tweet the other day from a woman B. who said, @sashacagen Feb. 14 is worst day of the year for me. I’m just going to stay home, cry, and hide.
I responded, Why?
She said, It’s hard to celebrate being single when I’ve always been alone—I haven’t dated in years.
I told her I understood. This is one of the specialties of my coaching practice. . . working with people whose single shame or other “stuff” blocking them from dating and opening up to love. I won’t be a Pollyanna and tell you that it’s easy to move from that feeling of despair to celebration, especially if you do really want more love and connection and feel stuck. (If that’s you and you want dedicated coaching support to create what you really really want, then contact me.)
But I am going to urge B. and you to stop worrying about Valentine’s Day and celebrate Quirkyalone Day instead. Don’t sit at home and cry. Let your energy expand outward. Even if that means dancing in your underwear today in your living room for one song.
Come on, let’s take another perspective for a moment. This is awesome. . . we have the freedom in 2015 to create the lives we really want, single or coupled, rather than stay in so-so marriages because of economic need.
We can delight in our solitude.
We can celebrate our friendships.
We can connect with others authentically and tell them what they mean to us.
We can do whatever we want, and while freedom can be dizzying, it is a true privilege that many before us did not have.
Watch the above video greetings wishing you a very happy Quirkyalone Day. . .
Anja and I talk about:
– Quirkyalone Day vs. Valentine’s Day
– Cultural conditioning which still suggests we’re not complete until we have found the right partner
– How I help my clients work through their “single shame” to open up for dating and new relationships
– One important vow I made to myself in my self-marriage. Yes, I married myself (it’s an open marriage) and now I am helping others to do the same.
– Why the Germans are particularly suited to embrace the quirkyalone: They hate being normal.
– Why it’s important for us to resist the idea that the only happy ending for a book or movie is when girl meets boy (a la Eat Pray Love, Sex and the City, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and most women’s tales that tell us that this is the most important thing)
Ajna Shuetz and I recorded these Quirkyalone Day greetings for you yesterday. Anja is a fellow coach in Berlin, and she reached out in an awesomely spontaneous way to do this interview with me.
As the quirkyalone movement is building in Europe, quirkyalone is having a media moment in Germany. A German psychologist says in this story, “Society and misunderstood romance suggests that we can only be happy and complete with a partner. The American “Quirkyalone” trend–being single with passion–advocates a letting go of the couple-mania, though.”
Now, here’s a list of classics, new books that have inspired me lately with an authentic je ne sais quoi, as well as books that were written by quirkyalone readers!
For your reading pleasure . . .
The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum. . . they call her this generation’s Joan Didion. Her commitment to authenticity in her essays qualifies her for the Quirkyalone Writer Hall of Fame. You’ll love the whole book, but certainly the essay “The Best Possible Experience” is a quirkyalone classic where she debates the writer Lori Gottlieb who famously told women to settle for good enough (but wasn’t willing to do so herself). Read The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. . . a quirkyalone classic on living the questions and living patience for romantic love. Read Letters to a Young Poet.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow. . . Charles Blow is an editorial writer for the New York Times. This exquisite book is an extremely gutsy memoir about his experiences of growing up in the South. How experiences of secret sexual abuse by an older cousin shaped him, how his experiences of bisexuality shaped him, and how he rose from poverty to become a designer and columnist. The honesty and the writing will blow you away. Read Fire Shut Up in My Bones.
Now for some books from our community . . .
From Your Vision Board to Your Bedroom: Using the Law of Attraction to Find True Love by Susan Vittner. . . Sue has been a friend of mine since seventh grade and we taught the Quirkytogether 101 course together, a class we designed specifically for quirkyalones who want to get over their fear of losing themselves in relationship. She has written a fun and inspirational guide about falling in love with ourselves so we can become a match to what we desire in a partnership. The book is based on Sue’s experience of using Law of Attraction principles to manifest her partner. You can download the first chapter of Sue’s book here.
Being Single, with Cancer by Tracy Maxwell . . . Tracy is a quirkyalone woman who came to see me when I spoke in Boulder at the University of Colorado earlier this year. We connected on the topic of “single shame,” and what a heavy weight this can be on our quirkyalone spirits. Not only has Tracy survived single shame, she has survived cancer. She interviewed 100 single cancer patients and wrote this guide to surviving cancer when you’re single. This book is a great resource for anyone who is facing major health challenges as a single person. Read Being Single, with Cancer.
International Quirkyalone Day is coming up in just two weeks!
Save the date: Saturday, February 14. . .
International Quirkyalone Day just happens to fall on the same day as Valentine’s Day. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it!
I started International Quirkyalone Day back in 2003 and it’s an alternative holiday that has been celebrated in more than 40 cities around the world.
For those who are new to this holiday . . .
International Quirkyalone Day is a do-it-yourself celebration of romance, friendship, and independent spirit. It’s a celebration of all kinds of love: romantic, platonic, familial, and yes, self-love.
International Quirkyalone Day is not anti-Valentine’s Day.
It’s NOT a pity party for single people. It’s an alternative–a feel-good alternative to the marketing barrage of Valentine’s Day and an antidote to the silicone version of love presented in shows such as The Bachelor.
Above all, IQD is a celebration of romance, freedom and individuality. It celebrates true romance, independence, interdependence, creativity, friendship, and all kinds of love–including love for yourself.
IQD is a holiday you can celebrate whether you’re quirkyalone or quirkytogether.
Since this year I’m in Buenos Aires, I’m going to host a virtual IQD gathering on February 14 so everyone can come. I will be in touch with more details about the theme, when, where, etc. early this week.
But I want to alert you now because you may want to host your own celebration: solo, with friends, your partner, or the general public at a student center, cafe, bar, karaoke bar, whatever you want.
Here are some resources to get you going with your own grassroots celebration:
So stay tuned for the information about this year’s virtual party.
In the meantime, let us know as a comment on this post if you are planning a party.
With love. . . and more soon on the virtual party I’ll be hosting. . .
P.S. A thought! You could also celebrate Quirkyalone Day 2015 by coming to Buenos Aires to learn tango with other quirkyalones! There is just one more space in each trip February 21-28 and March 14-21. If that idea is calling to your quirky heart, go here!
“Do what you love, and the partner will follow.” I wish someone had drilled that into my brain six years ago when I was stuck in a swamp of self-doubt, and I thought I needed to stay put in a life I did not enjoy, do the online dating treadmill, and meet a man before my expiration date made me unattractive (read: “unfertile.”)
That is why I want everyone who is single (or coupled) and questioning the best way to live their lives to listen to this podcast. My friend Amy Scott, the creator of Nomadtopia, interviewed me. Whether you have dreams of a location-independent lifestyle or not, listen in. We are talking about living the life you really want to lead and trusting that vitality and confidence will attract the people you are meant to meet. As opposed to sitting around and waiting to meet the “right partner” and then going off to live the life you want to lead.
Amy Scott is a writer and coach who helps people to create lives of freedom and adventure they really want. Amy has been on the location-independent path for over ten years. Amy and I first met when I was about to move to Buenos Aires. We have supported each other along the location-independent and quirkyalone paths. (Amy is married and I’m not, but we are both quirkyalones.)
Amy interviewed me for her Nomadtopia podcast, which is all about “real people living global lives,” sharing stories of inspiration so you can live and work wherever your heart desires. We talked about my the life churn I’m chronicling in my new book (in progress) Wet that led me to these realizations about doing what I love first, my Quirky Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires, the importance of leading the life you really want to lead and questioning societal packages–for example, getting married or buying a house doesn’t necessarily mean “settling down” and being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean being joined at the hip.
Reclaiming quirkyalone: it’s about being happy on your own firstSasha: “The limited idea of quirkyalone I was running away from was that it’s just about being happy single. There can be this overreaction about reclaiming singlehood where people then flatten out the concept and think it’s just about being happy single. There are people who are totally committed to being single and that’s wonderful and appropriate because that’s how they feel, maybe they change their minds or not, that’s great, but that’s never what quirkyalone was about.”
“The word alone has 2,000 meanings. For me ‘alone’ means an independence of spirit and you approve of yourself. Classically when I came up with ‘quirkyalone’ it was about being willing to going to a wedding alone as opposed to with a date because going with a date is social convention. You’re willing to live your life and it goes to the level of Nomadtopia. You’re willing to leave your life and go off on this adventure alone because that is what you really want to do.”Read More
Today I am interviewed over on the website sharpheels about how travel can be a laboratory for change in your life.
Here is an excerpt. . .
“For women in business, banishing the feelings and pressures associated with biological clocks, settling, and relationships or the lack thereof, can be challenging. Embracing their quirkyaloneness through travel and tango could make strong women even stronger.
Keeping high standards and insisting on the best life possible is something that inspires Cagen, and she helps people traverse that journey. Her desire to bring quirkyalone people together has birthed the travel program, Quirky Tango Adventure. Participants join Cagen in Buenos Aires where they “use tango as a metaphor for growth and connection.” The tango is a dance requiring the pairing of partners who know their own space first so that they might relate and share that space with another. It combines a strong sense of self, power, and sensuality to which many powerful women can relate, but which some find elusive in their relationships.
How has travel molded you into the person you are today? Has it had a major influence on your career and personal life choices?
A big part of my business now is curating Tango Adventures for self-discovery, and I found my passion of tango through traveling. Ironically, I first discovered tango in Cali, Colombia, the world capital of salsa. That’s what traveling is all about, unlikely discoveries!
Traveling through South America alone for 14 months in my mid-thirties really made me who I am today. I got more comfortable with following my intuition and taking risks (two qualities I needed to start my own business). When I came back home, I was bolder and had the courage to try things I never would have done before. I learned so much about pleasure, passion, and enjoying life from the people I met in Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. There is a different quality of presence in these countries, and a different way of expressing love in the everyday.
You are an expert on being single, and call it the quirkyalone movement, can you tell us more about that?
When I was 25, I created the word “quirkyalone” as a way to describe myself and friends. I noticed that I had spent a long time being single, and so had they. I was also noticing imagery and stories in pop culture (Ally McBeal and Sex in the City) that spoke of another reality, of a group of women (and men) who preferred to be single and enjoy the freedom and friendships of that life rather than settle for a less than meaningful or satisfactory relationship.
The concept has become a lot more mainstream now, as being single has become more acceptable in the last ten years and it seems like common sense to not settle. However, being quirkyalone makes people feel like they are outside the norm because they hold out longer than a lot of people do. The concept provides important validation. Ultimately, being quirkyalone is not about being alone or being single. It’s about making a commitment to yourself first to not settle in your life or relationships, to stay connected to yourself and to fully enjoy the time you do spend single.
How can travel help women get back in touch with themselves?
I learned about a concept called liminality in a college anthropology class. Liminal zones are where the structures of the everyday are suspended and we get to discover something new about ourselves and the world. Travel is a liminal zone. When you travel, you step outside your everyday expectations. You leave behind the people you know and their expectations of you. You get a fresh canvas in the liminal zone to try new things and be a new version of yourself. This is a huge opportunity to get back in touch with the things that truly bring you alive and rediscover what you really want in life, and then, to bring that back home to your life—to recreate and layer in new things and ideas in your life.
Many people take my online classes and find courage to travel. Then they wind up changing their lives—for example, leaving a job they didn’t like anymore to start a business, or to then go live abroad. Travel is this huge laboratory for change in your life.
Author of Quirkyalone and To-Do List, a life coach living in Buenos Aires working with women and men worldwide who identify with my quirkyalone concept of not settling in life or love. Representing the quirkyalones since 2000!
Best way to stay in touch? Sign up for my newsletter the Sasha Cagen Weeklyish.
Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands of women and men who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and a few self-aware men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through Solo Chica, Sasha is creating a whole new way for women to travel solo with confidence and local contacts to support them for transformative cultural experiences.
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