Have you ever re-watched a movie and seen something completely different than the last time you viewed it? I know a lot of people have problems watching Disney movies as adults because of the gender issues/racism (Aladdin is a very hard, Orientalist pill to swallow), but I always find myself sucker-punched by innocuous romantic comedies that I loved when I was younger. First off, I can’t imagine why my parents let me watch Pretty Woman when I was seven, and second off, how did they explain it to me? It might have gone something like: “The lesson is that you don’t have to have sex for money on a street corner. A rich dude with daddy issues can just buy you instead and make you a princess! You can have it all!” Boggles the mind.
Last week, I sat down to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding with my roommate, who wanted something to put on in the background while she was packing. For those who haven’t (or have) seen it, the film features a weird mixed message. MBFGW starts with Toula (Nia Vardalos) as a sad, 30-year-old probable virgin working in her father’s Greek food restaurant — which made me want some baklava real bad. Her parents often pester her about her frumpy appearance, rapidly decaying middle-aged body and lack of a love life, constantly reminding her that a woman is nothing without kids and a husband. She has got to settle down before she gets… old.
Toula shrugs off her family’s criticism until she meets Ian (Aidan from Sex and the City) whose sexy long hair and habit of repeating his sentences twice — but with a sexy emphasis the second time — makes her ladyparts ache with Greek lust. So, she decides to do something with her life to make herself attractive to a mate. To improve herself, Toula starts taking computer classes at the local community college and ditches her glasses for contacts. Because it’s Hollywood, removing her glasses and putting on a little makeup shows us that Toula was a regulation hottie the whole time. To reward her conformity, the blond girls (reminiscent of the girls at Greek school who rejected Toula as a kid) let her sit with them. This shows that all you need to do to get friends is to change your appearance to fit their standards. Gotcha.
After her computer classes allow her to quit her restaurant job and get work in her aunt’s travel agency, she will then meet Ian again, but this time without glasses. Because she’s hot now, they can start dating — to the initial disapproval of her family. However, they come around when they see how happy Toula is to have a boyfriend and not have to wear glasses anymore (aka the single person’s Star of David). Toula and Ian then get married (see: the title of the movie), move into the house her parents bought them next door and Toula becomes her own half-Greek baby factory — but not before some hilarious hi-jinks ensue!
If it sounds like I hated this movie, it’s because I’m a snarky synopsizer. I actually like this movie a lot, because it reminds me of my family, which makes the implicit message more troubling. The overall lesson is that if you’re single, unmarried and thirty, you are weird and pathetic and must be some sort of homeschooled jungle freak, Nell (from the movie Nell) or a future crazy cat lady of the Grey Gardens variety. Meaning that Louisa May Alcott, Janet Reno, Jane Austen, Coco Chanel and Oprah, all of whom never married, are losers. Queen Elizabeth the First. You’re a loser. Joan of Arc. Loser. Maureen Dowd. BIG FUCKING FIRECROTCH LOSER. Who has even heard of the New York Times, anyway?
Even though Toula improves herself through education, that progress was motivated by her desire not to be a sad single anymore. Sure, you can argue that her travel agency job is just as important to her self-worth, but look at the screen time: that takes up maybe five minutes. The movie doesn’t solve Toula’s early onset midlife crisis when she’s happy and fulfilled in her career, because it’s not about that. It’s not called My Big Fat Greek Travel Agency, My Big Fat Greek Independence or Tyler’s Perry’s Madea’s My Big Fat Greek I Don’t Need No Man. By putting wedding right in the title, we know it’s all about settling down before you’re fat and old, which are the very things that her parents guilted her for not being earlier in the movie. The movie even ends with Toula sending her own daughter off to Greek school, thus completing Elton John’s circle of shame.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with those things, wanting children and a family, as so many of my queer friends would kill for the right to stand in the driveway of the house they co-signed with their partner (who they share tax returns with) and send their legally adopted Asian daughter to her first day of elementary school. Marriage and kids is not the issue here. The problem is that anyone needs to be shamed into it by telling them that they are ugly and worthless without a relationship, and that being married is the only way you can be fulfilled. Toula can’t be a happy, healthy and successful woman of her own accord — one who gains self-actualization through her job, friends, social activities or (que shock!) non-monogamous sex life. Marriage is the narrative, and all roads must lead to makin’ babies. Mike Huckabee and Todd Akin said so.
I wouldn’t find it so repugnant if this message weren’t indicative of a wider culture that tells us we always need to be looking for “the one” (who has descended from a cloud or some shit) and this is the only destiny for our lives, so you need to put on your heels and get all up on that marriage pony ASAP. My roommate is 24, and already he gets bombarded with text messages from his mother asking when he’s going to make her a grandmother. They come at least once a week and are often accompanied by pictures of their cat, for some reason.
We get this message our whole lives. It’s healthier to be in a relationship, because being single is unhealthy and destructive, a soulless half-life in which you must be eating food out of dumpsters and crying into your Cheetos. Even Liz Lemon (my forever hero and life model) is kind of an example of this. But as someone who has now celebrated two almost-consecutive years of singledom, I find it offensive that my life is somehow meaningless right now, and I’m just waiting for my real life to begin. As they say in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I’ll “come alive” when I might that right person I’ve been waiting for. So, zombie single people out there, don’t worry. Someone will come to make you a human finally. Just wait.
Before the singledom, I was in a committed relationship for two years, and we were those people everyone expected to get married, that couple that everyone looked up to. We were best friends and did everything together. We even shared clothes a lot of the time, which is why same-gender relationships kick butt. (Double the wardrobe!) However, my life now is no different than it was then. I’m happy sometimes, perfectly whelmed sometimes, depressed other times and none of those have to do with my relationship status. Being single doesn’t define who I am, no more than being on the marriage track did, and I have just as many meaningful relationships in my life — with my friends, my parents and the pizza delivery guy who always remembers to put in extra cheesy bread. My nose hasn’t yet fallen off from loneliness.
In the past two years of singledom, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be “alone,” and with no disrespect to the marrieds in the audience, I think we all need to be by ourselves at some point. Being single is the time when you get to focus on yourself and find out who you are, to experiment socially and sexually and to enjoy dating for the glorious clustercuss it can be sometimes. Dating can be awful sometimes, and I’m sure we all feel like a leper every once in awhile, after another OKCupid date goes to put. However, it’s all about enjoying the process and taking what comes at you, whether that’s marriage or being Gloria the Wonderslut. We shouldn’t shame anyone’s relationship status choices, or we risk devaluing the purpose of relationships in the first place. It’s about finding the right person at the right time, when you’re ready to make that leap. Love shouldn’t be My Big Fat Stockholm Syndrome. It should be doing what’s best for you.