Helen Gurley Brown’s book Having It All opens with 17 bullet points. She says that if the reader identifies with as few as five, the book’s advice might be helpful.
These are my five:
- You’re smart.
- You’re eccentric and not un-proud of being “different.”
- You can keep a lot of things going at once.
- You sometimes hurt.
- Peculiar (to put it mildly!) as you are, you can’t think of anybody you’d rather be.
Having It All, pages 3-6.
My mother gave me my copy of Having It All. I was very young, somewhere between tenth grade and the end of college, and I’m not sure she read it – it describes how to give a blow job in a level of detail one might not expect from a gift from one’s mother. (It’s possible my mom did read it, though. She is sui generis.) I’m not sure what I expected from Ms. Brown when I began reading, but when I finished reading the 17 bullet points, I knew she was talking to me. Not to the go-getting, overachieving, good girl everyone preferred to think was me. She was talking to the girl who felt awkward and out of place all the time. The girl who wondered if she’d ever escape being typecast as “Most Intellectual.” The girl who was afraid that she was headed for a predictable, boring life, without boyfriends or fancy clothes or an exciting job.
I was the mouseburger, a girl for whom the biggest obstacle to having it all was her own belief that she couldn’t have it. Looking back from here, it’s hard to believe that was ever true about me. But years ago, I was absolutely standing on the outside, looking in – and not understanding that the door was open.
I knew I could have a top-notch education, an impressive career, all the stuff that goes in the alumni magazines, but when I found out I was a mouseburger, I learned that I could have the rest, too: men, sex, the career of my choosing, money, excitement, and a world free of boredom. I have to thank Helen Gurley Brown for that by itself.
I also have to thank Ms. Brown for helping me build the stage where my stories play out.
I once thought the whole romance genre was comprised of what I call Polly Perfect romances. Polly was younger than 30 and devastated that she wasn’t married. Polly didn’t date all that much. Polly had an “appropriate” job in a nurturing profession. Polly fell instantly in love with the first person she had sex with, never made any relationship mistakes, married Peter Perfect and was perfectly pregnant by the end of the book.
A lot of people loved Polly Perfect. A lot of people still do. I hated her. What about those of us who chose the wrong men first? What if we wanted to be reporters and secret agents and cowgirls? What if we didn’t fall in love with the first people we fell into bed with? Was romance not for us?
Until I read Having It All, I thought the problem was with me. After I read it, I started writing romance my way. I was a mouseburger on the rise, and I wanted that new world to be the backdrop for my stories.
It wasn’t just okay to be single. It was awesome to be single.
Single women didn’t have the same opportunities as coupled women. They had more opportunities. Different opportunities. Exciting opportunities.
Sex before marriage wasn’t something to hide beneath layers of shame. It became a playground. A laboratory. An adventure.
This is the world my romances live in. This is where my heroines live. They’ve got the world on a string, until The Day Everything Changes. That’s where the fun starts. Who knows where it’ll end – and where we’ll all go before we get to our particular brand of Happily Ever After?
Helen Gurley Brown was my first guide into this world. I think she’d be happy to know that I’ve been having a blast here. I’m not the only writer working in this world by a long shot, but I’m so, so grateful to have found my way here, and I owe Ms. Brown so very much for showing me that this is my world, too.
I don’t have it all yet. In the meantime, I’m living by the advice on page 358.
“Don’t miss what’s offered.”
Hi, Alexa! Great post. I think I’ll have to read Having It All. I only know Ms. Brown through Cosmo. It’s marvelous how you’ve claimed your life and your writing reflects that independence and self-assurance. Some of us paddle around for a long time without reaching that shore, if ever. The myth of traditional romance heroine has shifted over time and I’m delighted to see more of them striking out, like your characters, to move beyond the restrictions of “the norm.” And today’s women are doing the same, defining themselves by their own expectations, not by the expectations of others. Thanks for another thoughtful and thought-provoking post.
Energetically recommend Having It All. So much of it is timeless!
I look forward to the day that there really is no such thing as the traditional romance heroine. I love that our genre really does have something for everyone, even if we sometimes have to convince everyone of that.
Thanks for coming by!
I never read the book either, but I did read Cosmo, a lot, when I was a in my teens and early 20s, although half of it probably went over my head (and probably still would!). After all, my dream job (at age 8) was to be a cowgirl! 🙂 Great post. I’m so glad you’ve found your way to your world of mouseburgers, too.
I had really just started to get into Cosmo when HGB left the helm, and the difference in editorial styles was very noticeable.
I actually got to be a reporter for a while, for four awesome years, but riding the range and working for the U.N.C.L.E. are still just daydreams. For now. 🙂
Being a mouseburger’s too cool for words. A little scary sometimes, but the fun more than makes up for it!
Wonderful post, Lexi. I wish we knew each other when we were younger. It would have been nice to know there was another one out there feeling like I was.
You know, that’s such a wonderful thing to hear, thank you! At least now we can be making up for lost time, right?