Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story gave the wrong date for the Washington, D.C., screening of the documentary. The film can be seen at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Oct. 27, 2010.
LITERATURE

Single women, their dating adventures are subjects of new documentary, book

Ridin' solo: Michelle Cove directed the movie
Ridin' solo: Michelle Cove directed the movie "Seeking Happily Ever After." (Courtesy of Michelle Cove)
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By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Three years ago, Michelle Cove was struck by the headlines regarding the state of single women in America. There were more single women in the United States than ever before, according to the Census, and for the first time, more women were living without a spouse than with one.

But reports on these trends always seemed to divide women into two camps: the "desperately seeking" types who were frantically searching for a husband, and the workaholics -- "these career-driven automaton women who have no time for relationships," recalls Cove. To her, neither archetype rang true.

Cove, a writer who married at age 32, was discussing the media coverage with a single friend over coffee. "We were like, 'Who are these women? We know a lot of single women . . . and between us we couldn't come up with one woman who fit either category," she says.

She began to think that none of the news coverage got to the heart of the matter. "No one was really looking at why, or how women feel about it," she says. "That was the most interesting part of the story to me."

With no experience as a filmmaker, she picked up a camera and began approaching ringless women on the streets of Boston. Cove asked them about the best and worst parts of being single, the pressure unmarried women felt from parents and friends, and the role Cinderella-style fairytales played in shaping their outlook on what it meant to live a full, happy life.

The result is a new documentary titled "Seeking Happily Ever After: One Generation's Struggle to Redefine the Fairytale." The film is a collection of interviews with single women, plus academics who speak to the economics and sociology of the trend and insights from famous relationship pundits such as Greg Behrendt, co-author of "He's Just Not That Into You," and Patti Stanger, star of the Bravo show "The Millionaire Matchmaker."

Woven throughout the interviews are scenes from the dating adventures of one 30-something woman, Jackie, who is brutally honest about the emotional rollercoaster of single life. Her arc is at the heart of the film, pulling viewers along as she navigates bad setups and tough conversations with her parents.

Cove, 41, says reaction to the film, which can be seen at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Oct. 27, has been highly personal and very mixed. On more than one occasion audiences have been kicked out of theaters because post-screening discussions have run on too long.

"It's not a documentary about some topic that people are learning and don't know anything about," she says. "It actually brought up really complicated feelings for women."

Cove intends for the film to "provoke women and men and open up conversations" without forcing "an agenda down anyone's throat."

But after nearly three years of interviewing single women and immersing herself in research about their lives, Cove realized she'd gained some crucial insights of her own. "The advocate side of me was frustrated after finishing the film," she says, "because I wanted to be able to provide some answers to things I'd learned along the way."

She culled the anecdotes and bits of wisdom accrued throughout the filmmaking process into a book, "Seeking Happily Ever After: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind (And Finding Lasting Love Along the Way)," which was released last month by Tarcher/Penguin.

She hopes the book will serve mainly as a guide to help women block out societal noise telling them how best to live their own lives.

"There's so much pressure, so many people breathing down their necks saying, 'Here's what you need to do.' It's really hard to figure out what's right for yourself," she says. "And if I can help people do that, fantastic."

Michelle Cove will host an online chat about her new book and documentary on Wednesday, Oct. 6 at noon. To join the discussion, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/onlove.


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