I would like to tell you that Jillian Dunham told us the real reason why women freeze their eggs in her article thus entitled, but unless she wants us to believe that women do it in order to become totally independent of men, I am still not sure what the real reason is.
Either way, Dunham’s article offers a picture of the women who are choosing egg freezing.
The women who wish to undergo the procedure are, Dunham says, attractive, professional, successful and self-possessed. They do not, in other words need men for anything more than a small donation:
A week later, instead of walking into a room full of couples, I arrived at the information session and saw only myself. Myself, nine ways. There were no men. We all appeared to be in our 30s or early 40s. Most of us were white, but not all. I noticed that every woman in the room was attractive, dressed for work in the way that successful, self-possessed New York women dress for work: appropriately, but with some signal to the world about who we were — a worn leather jacket, an unusual ring. I caught myself wanting to be friends with all of them. But we barely spoke to each other, aware of the delicacy of our decision to be there, the probable reasons why, and the privacy we were entitled to.
How did Dunham find herself at this impasse? When, at age 32 she received a marriage proposal from her long term boyfriend, she turned him down. Undoubtedly she loved him, but she wanted more out of life:
Matt asked me to marry him not long after my mother’s death. I had pressured him to propose while she was still alive, but with her gone, the ring stayed in my jewelry box. Everything I thought I knew about my life had changed. Sometimes I think about an alternate universe in which I marry the guy I met at 25 and have children in my early 30s. But what I realized in the wake of my mother’s death was that my sense of what the right relationship for me was — or wasn’t — lacked the normal range of experience. My sense of who I was lacked the normal range of experience. We broke up, when I was 32, because of what I didn’t know as much as what I did.
Excuse me for sounding churlish about a deeply moving emotional experience, but did you notice that the two penultimate sentences in the paragraph are syntactically and semantically askew.
The first: “my sense of what the right relationship for me was-or wasn’t—lacked the normal range of experience.”
The second, repeating the preceding sentence, almost as an echo: “My sense of who I was lacked the normal range of experience.”
And, why repeat exactly the same phrasing twice? It does not get any better in the repetition.
Dunham might have said that she lacked the normal range of experience, and that would lead us to ask what that could possibly mean. Does she mean that she had not had enough men in her life, that she was short a few hookups?
What experiences was she missing?
She doesn’t tell us. She does say that her sense of who she was lacked experience. Unfortunately, your “sense” of who you are cannot lack experience. Not in the English language, it can’t.
The sentences are poorly written. This tells me that she had no good reason or no reason that she wants to tell us. Or else, that she is unwilling to admit to herself that she made a grievous error based on culturally approved psychobabble.
Later in her article she offers a therapeutically correct explanation. She rejected Todd because she wanted more for herself. She set out in search of her desire:
….the decision I made at 32 — to take a risk, to know that I was okay, to believe in my right to desire more for myself, to desire anything at all.
She does not say that she wanted to find a better man or a more suitable husband. She wants to have experiences. She is in it for herself. In the end she will discover that self-actualization does not bring her the love that she wants. It does not bring her a marriage proposal, either.
In her quest for experience Dunham found herself making mistake after mistake. One assumes that she suffered repeated relationship traumas. Why she or anyone else thinks this is valuable is beyond me.
Here is what she found:
I flirted heavily with someone I had dated in my early 20s, only to remember how futile that time had been. I went out with the guy I always had a crush on and had the assumptions of my fantasy scrubbed away. I did everything the hard way: moving in too soon, dating a co-worker, getting involved with a cheater. The mistakes I made were obvious and absurd. The bullshit that some of the guys pulled was ridiculous. But like a child who climbs recklessly in an attempt to understand risk, I couldn’t stop myself. And while it was true that with each new person and relationship, and with each new parting, I learned something, it felt a little like learning a dying language. Was there a point?
Of course, there wasn’t a point. The notion that a woman should experience a variety of sexual experience and a passel of failed relationships before getting married has damaged a significant number of women. It’s a bad idea, worthy of a misogynist.
Different women have different reasons for freezing their eggs. After summarizing them Dunham arrives at the unpleasant conclusion that these women, attractive, successful, professional and self-contained… had not found suitable mates:
Then there were the stories of women who were perhaps not desperate enough for a baby — not yet!— women who postponed pregnancy out of a desire for what was called “social freezing,” as if the reason to spend a week injecting thousands of dollars of hormones into your belly was so that you could have a few more Thursday night martinis. Less offensive on the surface were the professional freezers, personified by the “willowy 35-year-old media-company executive” who stood out because she had risen “so high professionally at her age.” While some women certainly encounter job discrimination when they get pregnant, none of my single friends were delaying childbearing because of work. My bosses were universally supportive of employees who became pregnant. I suspected that, for many, careers were a socially acceptable excuse; if you froze your eggs because you simply hadn’t found a partner to have kids with, well, that was embarrassing.
They didn’t need a man for anything more than a sperm donation, and men, perhaps not strangely, did not react well to being thus demeaned and diminished.
Such men were, regrettably or not, more than willing to exploit the desperation of the late-thirtysomething independent professional women:
The dude was cagey. He acted erratically, pursuing and then retreating. He was evasive when confronted with our wants and needs, or agitated, or defensive. Sometimes he simply disappeared. Of course, not all of the men we met and dated were commitment-phobes. But the numbers were significant enough to present a serious problem for those of us who wanted a partnership and children.
But why shuld these men, such as they are, be attracted to women who refuse to take any responsibility for their predicaments?
None of us were responsible for the fact that so many men see relationships as a giant albatross.
Even my single male friends, who I knew respected me and other women they were close to, seem to have absorbed cultural tropes about needy, pathetic women and the ever-alluring, ever-evasive single male.
Of course, the man who wanted to marry her several years previously did not see a relationship as an albatross. Dunham should have mentioned that men see relationships with certain types of women as a burden.
Naturally, women who refuse to take responsibility find physicians who are happy to tell them what they want to hear. That is, that it’s all the fault of men.
He [Dr. Keefe] leaned forward and paused. “There’s something wrong with the men in your generation,” he said. I was stunned. Here was a doctor who had just been talking about the importance of considering statistical significance, and now he was chalking my dating problems up to the broadest of generalizations. But he was articulating two forms of truth: the mathematical and the personal.
“It isn’t you,” he said. “All day long, I see patients like you. You’re smart, beautiful, accomplished, nice. It makes no sense. I go home to my wife and I say, ‘There’s something wrong with the men in this generation. They won’t grow up.’”
Women make independent decisions about their own lives and their own reproductive potential and when men are unwilling to play their appointed roles, these women blame men.
The doctor notwithstanding, it makes perfect sense.
Naturally, Dunham attributes it to misogyny, that is, to men’s refusal to play within the drama that these women have been living. One suspects that such thinking does not make her more attractive to the eligible men out there.
Freezing my eggs did not change my dating life. What it did do was expose me, again and directly, to the ways we treat women when there is a decision to be made about their bodies: We judge, pressure, and publicly debate a woman’s ability to direct her own life. We fret about women’s susceptibility to “false hope,” about their being manipulated by the egg freeze industrial complex, rather than believing women to be capable of assessing information and understanding risk. We judge women who pay thousands of dollars to freeze their eggs, rather than spending that energy advocating for those who can’t. We criticize women for not being able to control variables that are necessarily out of their control, something that is insulting to everyone involved.
A friend’s husband comes up with a perfect solution, the one that was perhaps underlying Dunham’s quest. It sounds like a vote of confidence in her independence. It might also be read as a negative judgment about her prospects:
The other day, Brian and I were talking in my kitchen. His little girl, not yet a year old, lay across his arms. “I think you should just do it,” he said. “Have a kid.”
“You do?” I asked. I wasn’t that resolute, and assumed he had his doubts, too.
“You can do it. You want to do it, and you can't rely on men,” he said. He was smiling mischievously, liberated too, at the prospect of a desire at least partially met. “Forget them,” he said. “You should wait for no one.”
Next stop, parthenogenesis.
[Addendum: For some comic, or perhaps not so comic relief on this topic, try the blog, called Crazy Jewish Mom, reported by The Daily Mail.]