In the movie The Holiday, the two leading ladies of this film, Iris from England and Amanda from L.A., switch houses for a few weeks at Christmas. I really only like about half of it, Iris’s half, partially because of an old man whom Iris befriends. Arthur was an Academy Award-winning screenwriter during Hollywood’s golden age, and he says something to Iris that stuck with me. As Iris tells him a little about her life and her unrequited love, Arthur says:
Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.
If you watch movies, especially romantic comedies, you’ll see the truth of Arthur’s division. All of the leading ladies have their best friend. The best friend can be any type of character, except she can’t be as wonderful as the leading lady. You’re supposed to like her, laugh at her, sometimes be embarrassed by her, but not love her. She’s usually weird, bitter, geeky, sarcastic, or ditzy, and typically unattractive. You’re not supposed to care if she finds love or is successful; she’s just comic relief, or someone to whom the leading lady goes for advice or sympathy. She’s likable enough, but who wants to be her?
“You’re so right!” Iris responds to Arthur. “You are supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake!” And then the viewer watches Iris become a leading lady over the course of the film. It’s good advice that Arthur gives her, however slanted it is, to behave like the leading lady in her own life. It’s advice that I would give to young women readily. But there’s one problem: it’s just not that simple. The leading ladies we watch on the screen are always in the midst of a love story, and that’s not reality for a lot of women. So the question is, how does one become a leading lady in her own life when her story isn’t a love story? What does that even look like? Ever heard of a story in which the leading lady watches all her friends get married but doesn’t fall in love herself? I haven’t. Ever seen a movie in which a woman, leading or otherwise, was single but not bitter or lonely or desperate? Me neither.
I wish that there were some model for that. Some story in which a single woman isn’t weird or unattractive or bitter or sad and lives her life boldly, and that didn’t end with her finding love. It’s not that I don’t like love stories, or that I think single women shouldn’t hope to find love; neither of those is true. It’s just that I think there must surely be stories worth telling about women aside from love stories. Becauase here’s the thing: this life I’m living is my story, current and ongoing, and it’s not a love story now, but I think it’s still got some moments worth telling.