She is in a state of lament at the moment. She describes in a recent column how last year a female neighbour harassed her to the point that she fled her apartment to a local park:
It had all gone wrong. At long last, I had found myself vulnerable to the worst of New York City, because at 44 my life was not so different from the way it was at 24. Stubbornly and proudly, emphatically and pathetically, I had refused to grow up...I was alone in a lonely apartment with only a stalker to show for my accomplishments and my years.
...I am harsh and defeated, and I never thought I would describe myself in either way. The list of things I can’t be bothered with goes on forever.
It's not that she didn't have chances:
When I was still in my twenties, for several years I had this wonderful boyfriend; I'll call him Gregg—he's the one we're all waiting for: tall, blue-eyed, with this thick black hair, all smart and sensitive...It was young and romantic. You'd have thought we were happy. I think really we were happy. He was good for me...I could have and probably should have spent the rest of my life with him....
But she wanted open-endedness:
But something went wrong—terribly wrong...I became seasick with contentment...I needed a sense that this wasn't the end of the story...Every day would be the same, forever: The body, the conversation, it would never change—isn't that the rhythm of prison?But it's now too late to change her mind:
My imagination, my ability to understand the way love and people grow over time, how passion can surprise and renew, utterly failed me. I was temporarily credentialed with this delicate, yummy thing—youth, beauty, whatever—and my window of opportunity for making the most of it was so small, so brief. I wanted to smash through that glass pane and enjoy it, make it last, feel released.
And so, I cheated on him. With everyone I could...
Oh, to be 25 again and get it right...there are some mistakes that one is eventually too old—either literally or spiritually—to correct. I can't go back.So what went wrong? She gives lots of clues. She freely admits that she is stuck in adolescence:
I live in the chaos of adolescence, even wearing the same pair of 501s.
...I have no ability to compromise...in my case, it is about feeling trapped when I am doing something I don’t like, and it is probably more childish than anything else...it has also meant that I have not disciplined myself into the kinds of commitments that make life beyond the wild of youth into a haven of calm.
She seems to have picked up on the liberal ideal of autonomy, in which what matters is that choices are your own, rather than that your choices are oriented to the good:
It had never occurred to me before that any of the choices I made, which I prized, I guess because at least they were mine, were crazy or risky; but I was becoming convinced.Likewise, she believes, as a feminist, that women should be autonomous in the sense of being self-sufficient and independent of men:
I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain.
Think about what that last paragraph means. She obviously doesn't see men and women as having complementary social roles, with men being providers and women nurturers. To her that's not an equal relationship and it's a cash transaction, rather than an expression of love and a realisation of our distinct being as men and women.
But if men and women can't connect through those drives and instincts, what is left to connect them? Well, one answer is what feminists used to call "free love" - men and women pursuing sex and romantic feeling with each other, but leaving as soon as the impulse fades. And Elizabeth Wurtzel seems to have lived her life on the principle of free love, seeing it as more pure and principled:
I am proud that I have never so much as kissed a man for any reason besides absolute desire... I believe in true love and artistic integrity
....For a while after my first book came out, I went home with a different man every night and did heroin every day...Even now, I am always in love—or else I am getting over the last person or getting started with the next one.
If you want to cling forever to an adolescent mindset of not choosing but keeping things open-ended; if you believe that the primary good is choice itself; and if you reject complementary social roles for men and women in favour of a floating sexual and emotional connection, then you might well end up with a lifestyle like the one pursued by Elizabeth Wurtzel.
Perhaps there were times when she had some fun with it, but by her own account it has left her lonely and insecure and fearful of the life ahead of her.
And, obviously, it is no basis for a society to reproduce itself. She was only ever willing to commit to a dog, so there's been no marriage and children. If everyone lived on the same basis, a society wouldn't endure for more than a single generation.
One final thought. Elizabeth Wurtzel sees herself as a free spirit; in particular, she likes the youthful feeling of endless, open-ended possibilities in life. But what that misses are other aspects of the human spirit, such as the benefits of "connectedness", such as to family, home, community, people and place. A person who focuses solely on being a free spirit in Elizabeth Wurtzel's sense risks bringing upon themselves a demoralising sense of alienation.