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All the Single Ladies
For Julia, the TikTok girl
“Hi, I’m 29, I live alone, I work from home, and I don’t see people all day.” This is a typical intro script for TikToker Julia Mazur, who recently went viral with a short video about life as a childless single woman. In the brief clip, she smiles at the camera and says that whenever she’s hard on herself for not being married with kids yet, she thinks about all the fun things she could do with her weekend instead—like staying out late and getting drunk at a Beyoncé concert, watching reality TV reruns, and learning how to make shakshuka.
The video blew up after being shared by conservative influencer Matt Walsh, who bluntly noted that in the absence of a family, this woman’s life appears to revolve around pop celebrities and TV instead. “Worst of all,” he added, “she’s too stupid to realize how depressing this is.”
I agree that it’s depressing, but I disagree that Julia is too stupid to realize it. I think this is already clear from the clip itself, and it only becomes clearer on browsing the rest of her channel (called “pmdpod,” where “pmd” is short for “pretty much done”). Indeed, her whole brand seems predicated on the fact that she does know how depressing it is, and she’s making half-serious, half-satirical content out of her attempts to not be depressed. Most of her recent videos begin with an allusion to a recent breakup, apparently initiated by her, but clearly still a source of depression. So, “In an attempt to feel good about myself today, I will…” and then she fills in the blank with whatever makes her feel good that day, which could be something as banal as wearing cute tennies and ankle socks, or walking to the coffeeshop and buying an $8 latte—which she will count as filling her “meeting people” quota for the day.
I said she “smiles” at the camera, but this doesn’t feel quite accurate. Smiles generally involve the eyes as well as the mouth. And Julia’s eyes are not smiling.
After going viral, Julia recorded a follow-up video reporting that some of Walsh’s fans had spammed her with various nasty, harassing messages. She also explained that Walsh and his fans aren’t her target audience. Her target audience is other young women like her who are burned out on the dating market and need to “figure out who they are.” Citing divorce statistics, she says she believes this work of self-discovery can play a key role in reducing said statistics. “We’re all going to find our people,” she encourages her followers. Just not until they’re ready.
As tends to happen with viral moments that echo deep cultural pathologies, people have quickly lined up on one side or the other. I was particularly interested in the response from Mary Harrington. Mary is one of my favorite new social critics, a self-described “reactionary feminist” who regularly eviscerates what third-wave feminism has wrought. Mary does not suffer fools gladly, which is why I love her. Like me, she is not a writer prone to regularly handing out warm fuzzies and hugs. But after watching the viral bit, Mary said she wanted to give Julia a hug, because Julia is “so obviously lonely and conflicted.”
Going further back in time on Julia’s channel reveals more short videos focused obsessively on her disappointments in the dating market. Often, she blames the men, but sometimes she blames herself. These videos are less polished, less emotionally guarded. In the comments under one of them, she admits to a fan that she “cries at the drop of a hat these days.”
Julia Past thus sheds light on Julia Present, who describes herself as “healing” by being alone. This in and of itself may not be an unhealthy thing, as indeed it may not be an unhealthy thing for a great many Julias. I personally happen to have the quaint idea that men and women shouldn’t sleep together before getting married, but I’m sure this idea isn’t shared by Julia and her many dates. If by “focusing on herself,” Julia means she’s no longer going to bed with the first man who messages her back on Tinder, then honestly, good for Julia.
On the other hand, it’s been noted that Julia surely knew the sort of reaction her snarky tone could elicit, particularly when she expresses the relief of not having “a kid running around,” or repeatedly blames “society” for pressuring women her age to marry and have children. It’s not clear what she means by “society.” Indeed, most of “society’s” popular media and opinion-makers tell young women quite the opposite. They would look at Julia and say, “Yas, queen! Go girl! Get that hangover! Make that shakshuka! You deserve it!”
But perhaps there’s a tell in Julia’s passing comment that she’s watched most of her friends get married ahead of her. For all the third-wave feminist hype about Strong Independent Womanhood, the heart tends to want what it wants, including Julia’s heart. I suspect Julia Present looks back at Julia Past and feels more than a little embarrassed at the ways Julia Past sometimes named that desire a little too loudly. And so as she reinvents herself in the Content market (because it’s all about Content, baby), Julia Present must create a narrative where “Society” is the major villain instead. Which, of course, only decreases Julia’s chances that her heart will find what it actually wants. And so it goes, and so it goes.
The truth is, when I watch Julia’s videos, there’s an uncomfortable degree to which I can identify with the general shape of her life. Not the details so much. I make much less money than she does. I don’t have cute clothes, or a face for TikTok. I’m not one for drunk-dancing the night away to Beyoncé or watching reality TV. But I do live alone, I do work from home, and I generally don’t see people all day. When Julia talks about her irregular sleep patterns and fractured attention span, I relate better than I’d like to admit.
On the positive side, I confess that I also take some comfort from the little pleasures my own single life affords. Julia tells us she slept in until 10:15 on Saturday. These days, I can one-up her by at least an hour. I didn’t make shakshuka yesterday, but I did order a medium specialty pizza and am now happily eating it all by myself. (It was topped with bacon, onions, tomatoes and feta cheese, with a garlic sauce crust, if you’d like to know.) Yesterday, I brought home a box of mini-swirls—a happy new discovery—and am now steadily making them disappear at random intervals. Sometimes I chug milk straight from the half-carton. After all, why not? I’m not sharing it with anyone.
For anyone alarmed about my health, no, I’m not gaining weight (I seem physically incapable of it), and yes, I do cook—pretty competently too, when I have the energy for it. I don’t mind leftovers, so I tend to just make as much as a recipe normally serves, then live off it for days. Though I will admit, that does get old somewhere around day five. Woman shall not live by leftover chicken and rice alone.
Scrolling Facebook in bed, I browse through long-distance friends’ timelines and compare the growth of all their babies. I linger over every picture, every short video of random silliness and giggles. I normally play each video a few times in a row.
When I was a small-town high school teacher, there was a towheaded little boy from the grammar school next door who randomly decided that at lunch hour every day, I would be the recipient of a hug. This became our little ritual. One day he started climbing me. “Are you a monkey?” I asked. “Am I a tree? Do I look like a tree?” He gave me a big grin. “No! You’re a love tree.”
I’ve often thought about a line in The Sound of Music, where Maria is agonizing between the choice to enter a convent or return to the widowered Captain and his seven children. It’s a much-romanticized spin on the real Maria von Trapp, who once matter-of-factly said that she “liked” her husband but had never “fallen in love” in the conventional sense. This would have made for terrible cinema, so naturally, movie Maria is deeply in love with Captain von Trapp. As she pours out her angst to her wise Mother Superior, the old nun gently tells her, “You have a great capacity to love. What you must find out is how God wants you to spend your love.”
Maria’s choice is simple, of course. Her family is waiting for her, quite literally. For others, it’s not so simple. Sometimes by choice, and sometimes not. Sometimes both, at different times, in different ways.
Still, it does help, to put it mildly, if one believes in a God who cares how we spend our love. I would not be doing well if this wasn’t true in my own case. The same is true for other single friends of mine, both men and women. A young man who for reasons beyond his control anticipates never marrying once said to me, valiantly mustering a certain eagerness in his voice, that at least he has his whole life to plan out as a single person. Because he’s a Christian, this will take the form of planning his life around devotion to God and neighbor.
This is what Christianity offers. It doesn’t promise happiness, at least in this life. But it does promise that even if you can’t find happiness, you can at least make a plan. And this, I sense, is precisely what Julia finds herself unable to do.
I’m sad for Julia. Both Julia in particular and Julias in general. I’m sad that she’s convinced herself she isn’t allowed to give her sadness a name in public, to admit that it isn’t Society telling her what she so desperately, desperately wants. It’s Julia. It was always Julia.