What convinces her that she's gaining strength and going forward after these "bizarre" relationships end?
Well, I'm successful, for one thing. And I feel better after each guy. I have more fun, incrementally. I constantly shed old stuff and feel cleaner, leaner, clearer. Even if I feel punched in the stomach for a few days and take to my bed over a weekend or two, I'm not devastated, not at my core. I feel like those cartoon characters who fall head first into the pavement, get smashed flat, then jump right up, shake themselves off, and go zooming into the next adventure.
Look: I just bought a house! I love it and I'm proud of myself and I love my weird life and I don't care that I'm house poor and without a guy. I don't see myself as failing, you see, but as succeeding. I don't see the end of a relationship as some moral deficiency on my part. I'm getting the hang of love's ... temporariness. I've grown big time in terms of how I relate to men. In college, in the dorms, I mothered the guys and picked up their stupid socks and tried to help them grow up. Now I don't. If I decide to see a guy, I take him as he is. And if he lives like a slob or behaves like a child, I don't go there. And if he's altogether horrible, I let him go.
What you're hearing here is a cosmic change in women's attitudes toward relationships. If I had heard one woman speak the way Maureen, Tracy, and Anabel do when I was researching my last book, I would have thought I was in another country. Back then, in the mid-1990s, I heard women tell stories of the unassailable centrality of their intimate relationships, an importance that dwarfed everything else in their lives. I did not hear anyone say she believed that moving through a succession of temporary, imperfect relationships might be a good thing. Women spoke of turning themselves inside out to make even the least satisfying pairings function, obsessing over loves that often limped painfully toward the elusive "forever" they swore to attain -- because to not reach it would have left them with a sense of failure, despair, and loneliness. They sometimes spent their entire adult lives in unions in which they felt afraid to speak honestly, dissembling for years, for lifetimes, because their deepest feelings did not fit what they were told they "should" be.
In the mid-'90s, I listened to women who struggled to bring their true selves with them into intimate relationships; who were unable to negotiate the desperate impasses they experienced with their men but nevertheless clung to relationships to avoid the loneliness and stigma of being alone. The last thing I could then imagine was women feeling sanguine about impermanence; upbeat about being plunged into a bewildering and chaotic mating climate; buoyant when giving up on a guy or even being "dumped" by him; increasingly finding strength and joy within themselves and in their friendships, their homes, and their careers -- and not dependent on an intimate relationship for those qualities.