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by Jennifer L. Holberg

The Spinster's Story

Is marriage the only happy ending we can imagine for our stories?

Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.
   —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

So Ross and Rachel finally got together on Friends? Now there's an unexpected narrative turn. After ten years of supposedly celebrating singleness, NBC's popular comedy finally concluded with the equivalent of "they all lived happily ever after"—in pairs. Even the highly idiosyncratic Phoebe found a suitable mate in the last season, joining Monica and Chandler, who had already enjoyed a few seasons of marital bliss. Only Joey finished the series unattached. Why? The character is slated for a spinoff come fall, and a committed relationship would severely limit his narrative possibilities.

And Friends wasn't alone. On the comics page, cartoon Cathy, after over 20 years of making single people appear pathetic, will do the same for married folks by tying the knot with her longtime boyfriend, Irving, this coming Valentine's Day. And over on HBO, the women of the often edgy Sex and the City ended their run no differently than the heroines of a standard romance novel: married or clearly committed to a longterm relationship. As on Friends, even the most extreme character, Samantha, whose sexual adventures rivaled Wilt Chamberlain's, completed the series tamed by love. As for the show's main character, Carrie: after years of emotional kerfuffle, she and her erstwhile lover, Mr. Big, finally find true love in (you guessed it) Paris. And it gets worse: the series, which openly questioned the notion of a soulmate, ends with our heroine standing on a bridge in Paris, hearing the fateful words, "Carrie, you're 'The One.' " So much for edgy. Cue the violins.

I know I should be upset about all of this. After all, not only am I single, but I've written elsewhere about the importance of articulating a theologically grounded, mature appreciation for singleness. By all rights, these endings should simply irritate me. Despite feminism and ...

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