WASHINGTON — I got a call from my friend Gina Barreca, who teaches feminism and literature in college. Gina wanted my help.
Gina: I just finished reading an essay in the Atlantic arguing that attractive, interesting, accomplished single women in their 30s should stop hunting for the perfect man and settle for some schlub so they can get married and have a staid, comfortable life with children. It may have been written by a woman, but it is the most regressively antifeminist tract I have read.
Me: So, ignore it.
Gina: I can't. My beautiful, young, accomplished 20-something grad students have been joyfully waving this article like oppressed peasants brandishing pamphlets by Voltaire outside the Bastille. They're almost delirious with happiness because, to them, this idiot tract is liberating.
Gina: It's telling them that the dating pressure is off and that they can opt for safety over romance, that they can settle for this old boyfriend who yells at waiters, who is never going to get his teeth fixed and who pronounces "ignominy" like it rhymes with hominy. This "settling" thing needs to be nipped in the bud.
Me: How can I be of assistance?
Gina: You can tell your male readers that they need to be outraged.
Me: Because . . .
Gina: Because they have self-esteem! Because they don't want to be patronized. Because they don't want women to sell themselves short.
Me: Let's clarify. Should it become an anthem for modern women, this article could increase the likelihood that ordinary guys, older guys, guys with big guts, small paychecks and underdeveloped social skills, guys who ordinarily might wind up married to career convenience store clerks — that these undeserving men might wake up one day to find hot, interesting, graduate-student types with high income potential standing on their doorsteps with their toothbrushes.
Gina: Well, yes, but . . .
Me: And these focused, fascinating, no doubt voluptuous young women would essentially be saying: "Hi, I've given up on finding someone more viable. I will share your bed and do your laundry." Then they will fling their heads back and say, "Take me."
Me: And you want me to tell my male readers that this should outrage them.
Me: Is there anything else I can help you with today? Because I'm kind of busy here.
Gina: I want you to talk to someone. She's right here. She's a beautiful graduate student of mine, and she is thinking of "settling." (hands phone to graduate student)
Me: Hi. Gina says you're beautiful.
Female voice: (giggles)
Me: Why are you ready to sell yourself short? Why would you settle for, say, some old guy like me?
Female voice: Oh, I wouldn't.
Me: Good, see, that's the right . . .
Female voice: Because that wouldn't be "settling." Old is fine.
Female voice: So.
Me: Could you put Gina back on the phone? (puts Gina back on the phone) What was that all about?
Gina: The playing field isn't even! That's the problem! There is a terrible age disparity in romance. Any man 15 years younger than I am considers himself my son. Any woman 30 years younger than you considers you a potential mate. Men have many more options. So, older women are settling for schlubs.
Me: So, what is the 30-year-old woman supposed to do? Do you have a solution?
Gina: I think so. I think she dates 17-year-olds. I'm thinking the only way we get the right men is to raise them ourselves.
Me: You should write that for the Atlantic.
Gina: I'm on it.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat with him online at noon Tuesdays at www.washingtonpost.com.