Rod Dreher reflects on the confession of the sad and pitiable Elizabeth Wurtzel, who described her One-Night Stand of a Life in the January 14th issue of New York magazine. She begins, as Rod notes, writing what seems to be a confession but ends with (unless she’s being very subtly ironic, but I don’t think she is) a proud affirmation of the life she’s lived, which is as she’s described it better called the complete mess she’s made, because “this is it for me. I am a free spirit. I do not know any other way to be. No one else seems to live as I do. In a world gone wrong, a pure heart is dangerous.”
She laments that she has no intimate in her life, no husband or husband-figure, and for that matter few if any close friends. “The people to pity are those who desperately wanted marriage, but never found it, or had it taken from them by death or divorce,” Rod writes in Elizabeth Wurtzel Has Only Been To Me.
But to pity or admire someone like Wurtzel? Forget it. It’s not everyone’s desire to marry or settle down with a partner, but if that’s the choice you make, then own it. Regretting that you took the wrong path is a way of taking responsibility for your own freedom. I suppose you could say that Wurtzel is taking a kind of responsibility for her choices by writing an essay in which she concedes that she’s pretty much ruined her life, but doesn’t regret it because she has been true to herself. I don’t buy it.
He contrasts her choices with the choices for commitment, responsibility, and bourgeois domesticity others of us have chosen, telling charming stories of his own family and with proper indignation responding to Wurtzel’s description of the life his wife (and mine) chose as a kind of prostitution.
Prostitute. What does Elizabeth Wurtzel know about prostitution? It seems to me that one who makes money, status, and power relations the measure of the integrity of love between a man and a woman is a lot closer to having a prostitute’s mindset than she may think.
I think he’s right about this and everything else, but that he’s a little too hard on Wurtzel. Her beliefs about herself and the world are intensely stupid, not just foolish but stupid, but she is her stupidity’s main victim — and more to the point, we don’t know why she is as she is and whether with the same temptations we wouldn’t have wound up much the same as she did. The conviction that one must satisfy the self, whatever the consequences, and no matter what the evidence that this does not work, is never very far away from any of us. One can imagine one’s own face at the top of the article, or one like it expressing one’s own particular brand of self-deception, had things worked out differently.
The reality’s hidden for her and from her by the ideas behind that stale cliche about the purity of her heart. The “pure heart” Wurtzel thinks she has heroically served and for protecting whose integrity she’s suffered — the “pure heart” of contemporary Romanticism, also known as “authenticity” and the like — is just the expression of ego and desire and want, pure only in the sense that the self’s drive to assert itself remains unmixed with caution or prudence or concern for the needs of others or submission to any external authority.
That’s purity of a sort, but not the sort by which the pure of heart see God, and not the sort that makes you happy.