Two years ago, filmmakers Michelle Cove and Kerry David began making a feature-length documentary called Seeking Happily Ever After, about why there are more single 30-something women in the U.S. than ever before and whether women are redefining the words “happily ever after.” While the film is still being edited, the movie has received major attention already: the trailer was voted “top rated” trailer at Sundance; the film was featured on EXTRA TV; the project has been written about on more than 15 blogs. Seeking Happily Ever After is premiering at the California Independent Film Festival on April 25th and below is an interview with Boston-based Director Michelle Cove.
1. America is obsessed with portraying single women as the characters of Sex and the City™, but your upcoming film delves a little bit deeper into the psyche of real 30-something year olds. What is the biggest inconsistency between the two?
The women on Sex and the City™, who I adored, all play types. There’s Charlotte, who craves a husband and babies; Samantha, who craves mind-blowing sex; Miranda, who craves self-reliance; and then Carrie, who craves true love.
In real life, most single 30-something women are a little bit of each one of these women and it changes depending on the day. It might be financial independence on some days, and on other days it might be sex, or committing to a partner or making all their own choices without a partner’s opinion. One of the reasons I wanted to make Seeking Happily Ever After is because I got tired of the media portraying single women as a type. Women are complex and nuanced and experience a whole range of feelings, and it’s time to reflect that.
2. The film hones in on 30-something single women. Do you think the attitudes towards being single shift among women once they hit a different age group?
Yes I definitely think attitudes shift. By the time a single woman hits her 30s, there is major pressure from the outside world to find a man and settle down. Whether she wants a baby or not, she becomes aware of her biological clock and starts to see the deadline. On the plus side, single women over 30 tend to have a much better idea at this point of who they are and what matters to them in a partner.
3. From kissing frogs to counting daisies as little girls, many of us were taught that a man and marriage were the keys to long term happiness. Based on all of the interviews you’ve conducted, how are the women of today defining “happily ever after?”
They are not really redefining it right now—at least not consciously. That’s the problem! Most of the women I interviewed hadn’t really given themselves permission to change their old definition of “happily ever after” or even thought about it. What my producer Kerry David and I wanted to do with Seeking Happily Ever After is say, “Hey, maybe the fairytale ending has changed since you were a young girl” and encourage women to explore what happiness looks like now. When I asked women to redefine it during interviews, the answers were varied: For some women, it is still marrying Mr. Right and having two babies and a house. Other women said it was paying back their law school loans, or finding Mr. Right but not getting married, or traveling around the world; others aren’t sure. To me, what’s important is not the answer, but giving intentional thought to the question.
4. Happily single and childfree. Apart from marriage, many women today do not wish to have children. Why do you think this has become a growing trend?
I completely understand why a woman would opt to be child-free. I love being a mom but it’s a hell of a lot of work and involves constantly thinking about whether you are doing everything possible to nurture your child and prepare him or her for life. If the choice is putting energy and resources there OR putting it towards other priorities, it makes sense that many women would choose the latter. Plus, several of my single friends say they just don’t have the calling to be a mom. The more comfortable—and less guilty–women feel about opting to be childfree, the more the stigma will lift and it will continue to become a more valid option.
5. Clearly you’ve seen it all during the course of the movie’s filming. If you could name one story or take away from this experience that shocked, amused or inspired you what would it be?
Honestly, there were so many! One of my favorite opinions came from a straight, male hair-salon owner. When I asked him about “happily ever after,” he said: “The problem is that girls are raised to be princesses but boys aren’t raised to be princes. Boys are raised to be kings. And princesses and kings don’t really mix.” I thought it was brilliant!
6. The media and marketers fail to focus on the single consumer segment. How do you think your film will impact their impression of this demographic?
It’s ridiculous. It makes no sense that marketers don’t focus on singles. This doc will definitely make it clear that there are millions of single women who are highly educated and make good money and are making all the decisions in their lives. Many of these women love travel and are buying their own homes and are serious about learning to invest their money. They may have to scale back in this economy, but they are making sure their needs get met. We hope, of course, singles will also come out in droves for this film—and prove that they want to be taken seriously.
7. We find it interesting that there are real women who would agree to appear on reality television shows like The Bachelor. If you could, what message would you send to those reality show contestants?
I guess I would tell them that having a hot stranger pick you to potentially be his bride is not really a win. A more satisfying and sustaining prize is getting to a place where you feel good about whom you are and the choices you make. If you can get to that, then you know you’re okay if you’re single, and you’re also more likely to find a fulfilling relationship with someone who celebrates you—and not just because you don a smokin’ bikini in a hot tub.
8. Even the most successful, smart and independent women struggle to quiet the voices and messages that have been ingrained in them since childhood. Is there hope for overcoming them?
I don’t know if the goal is to block out all the voices and completely overcome feelings of doubt. It’s a nice thought but not realistic. I think a better goal is to find ways to feel good about you and stay grounded in spite of doubts popping up. It’s about knowing the doubts can’t undo you. For instance, maybe you wake up feeling sad that there is no one to bring home for Thanksgiving this year. That’s normal–you get to feel sad about it. And, you can intentionally make time to appreciate the good things in your life as well. As a shameless plug, I should mention that I am writing a self-help book for singles right now to be published by Penguin publishers that is all about how to stay grounded and nourish your sense of well-being when others are judging and challenging your choices.
9. When, where and how can our readers check out the film?
We’re currently in postproduction with plans to begin submitting Seeking Happily Ever After to festivals starting this winter. Right now we’re working on finishing the film and building a following. This is a film that supports single people, and we hope singles will show their enthusiasm for this project by going to our website www.seekinghappilyeverafter.com and joining our mailing list. We promise not to spam and only send updates on the progression of our doc.
10. Any other words of wisdom you care to share?
This film is about exploring our choices. It doesn’t come with an agenda and we don’t tell viewers what to do. We ask questions and let women and men tell their stories and share their insights so viewers can better formulate their own ideas and opinions. What I want for everyone—and myself included—is to be able to recognize our choices, know they might not be perfect but pick them with intention.
For a sneak preview, check out the trailer: Seeking Happily Ever After
*Sex and the City™ is a registered trademark of the Home Box Office.