Sara Eckel’s 2011 Modern Love essay, “Sometimes, It’s Not You,” for The New York Times urged single women everywhere to stop blaming themselves. It’s not you — really. The reaction to the piece inspired her 2014 release of “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single,” which further explores the idea of not just why we’re single, but why we feel the need to explain ourselves.
Q. What has been the reaction from readers?
A. Most of the time you write an article and you get paid, you put it on Facebook, and that’s the end of it. But with these two Modern Love pieces and the book, people come out of the woodwork and they write me letters that aren’t “Oh, you’re a wonderful writer, I really admire your prose style.” The tone of almost all of them is more “Thank you so much for saying this.”
Q. Who’s attending readings and reaching out to you?
A. Women in their 20s and 30s would be the primary people who come. I kind of forgot that you feel this stuff when you’re 26 or 23. When I first started working on this book, it was mostly about women who got married after 35, who had been single well into their 30s. But then I remembered, I was also feeling this when I was 26. It wasn’t like I was single and fine and then I turned 24 and went rogue. You can struggle with this even when you’re in college, when all your friends have boyfriends and you start to feel that pressure.
Q. To be honest, this pressure feels generational. Do you think we’ll eventually evolve from feeling this way?
A. I hope it’s going to go away but it doesn’t seem to me that it has yet. There’s a pressure to marry but there’s also the pressure to live up to these expectations if you’re not married or in a relationship. There’s this pressure to live up to being this perfect single woman: She has the career and the great apartment, and tons of friends and travels all over, and her life is just fabulous.
Q. Do you think that is almost like a defense for some women? Like, “My life is too great as a single, and that’s why I’m not in a committed relationship”?
A. I think that women are encouraged to sell themselves that way but I don’t think it’s ill intentioned. It’s like, you’re at a wedding and someone says, “Do you have a boyfriend?” And you say, “No” and then you want to fill in that gap. You don’t want to be like, “Yeah and I’m really sad about it.” You say, “No, but I have all these things going on for me.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying those things. I just think sometimes it becomes this thing where if you wake up on a Sunday morning feeling sad and kind of lonely, there’s something wrong with that. There’s this sense that, as a single person, you’re supposed to be loving this all the time and when you have those moments of not loving it, it’s like, “I can’t even pull off being single.”
Q. What is a common reason women believe they’re single that isn’t true?
A. When I interviewed women [for the book] and asked them what their friends told them about why they’re alone, it was usually, “You’re too picky.” But I always found that response to be very confusing. Of course you should be picky about the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. Most people don’t tell their friends, “You’re really a mess and no wonder you’re single.” Women might say that to themselves, but usually friends and family tell you something that has a complimentary side to it. Like, “You’re too intimidating.” And then “too intimidating” makes women think, “Why? Because I have a job and an apartment?”
Q. And that seems contradictory to the fabulous single woman front that develops as well. It’s almost like a Catch-22.
A. There’s a Catch-22 aspect of it for sure. No matter what you do, there’s always something you’re doing wrong. If you’re being told you’re too independent and you say, “No, but actually I’m quite lonely and would like to meet somebody,” it quickly evolves into needy or desperate. How do you find that perfect balance between being open but not too open and being independent but not too independent? It almost feels like you’ll never get there.
Q. You write a lot about empathy. Since we’re approaching Valentine’s Day, do you have advice for people who are paired up for approaching their single friends?
A. I think there’s an impulse that people in couples need to suppress and control. You need to realize, just because you’re in a couple, doesn’t mean you have any answers to their questions. It’s not your job to tell them, “Oh, it will happen,” or anything else. It’s your job to simply respect where they are and if they’re saying it’s hard, say, “Yeah, that’s a drag,” and if they’re saying it’s great, say, “That’s great, too.”