Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Jessica Bennett (00:00):

Hey everyone, this is part two of our Newsweek marriage episode. If you haven’t listened to part one yet, I recommend starting there. Susie, I feel like we need to pause for a moment and spend a little time talking about us because I couldn’t help but wonder, are we desperate single women

Susie Banikarim (00:19):

Good Carry Bradshaw reference.

Jessica Bennett (00:26):

That’s us in part one where we unraveled the lasting panic over a 1986 Newsweek cover story that claimed a woman over 40 was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married. But guess what? We kind of are those women. So we thought we’d spend a bit more time talking about us, our views on marriage, some of its history, and how the way we define modern day partnership has changed. I am Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:59):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:01):

This is In Retrospect where each week, we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (01:07):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (01:09):

Today we’re talking about that sensational 1980s cover story from Newsweek, but we’re also talking about the enduring myth it tapped into, that of the desperate, single woman. This is part two. Okay, so here we are, Susie. I’m now married at 40. You, of course, are partnered but not married.

Susie Banikarim (01:33):

Yeah. It’s so funny because I never really know how to describe Mike, who is, I guess, my boyfriend, but feels like a little silly at my age to be like, “This is my boyfriend.” But when I say partnered, I feel like people are also very confused by that because that’s not really, I don’t know, it’s not very common vernacular, so I guess I’ll just refer to him as my lover from now on.

Jessica Bennett (01:58):

Oh my God. Yeah. I mean, honestly, there’s not a great word. Husband is also a disgusting word that I refuse to use. I say spouse.

Susie Banikarim (02:05):

Oh, okay.

Jessica Bennett (02:05):

Or I sometimes say partner, which is what I said before we were married.

Susie Banikarim (02:10):

It doesn’t say I have a partner, but I don’t know, but partnered feels weird. Like, I’m partnered, you know?

Jessica Bennett (02:14):

Oh, right. I’m partnered. Anyhow. Yes. But do you feel pressure to marry?

Susie Banikarim (02:20):

Me? No. No. I mean, I think there are a couple things is that for me, first of all I don’t like weddings, which people find very weird. But I was in so many weddings, and I remember saying that once to someone and they were like, “That’s such a humble brag.” I’m like, it’s not a humble brag. I spent all my money in my twenties.

Jessica Bennett (02:36):

It’s like, no one wants to be in that.

Susie Banikarim (02:37):

Yeah, no one wants to be in a wedding. All the dresses are ugly.

Jessica Bennett (02:40):

You spend tens of thousands of dollars.

Susie Banikarim (02:41):

It’s like a forced fun event. You’re like, “Here we are spending thousands of dollars on this weekend with people I generally don’t know.” So I’m not that into weddings to start with. I never dreamed of some big wedding. But also, I’m not planning on having kids, so for me, I really struggled to figure out what the difference is between us living together and getting married. I guess tax breaks is what everyone says to me, but that just feels like a weird reason to do something that we don’t feel super compelled either of us to do. Did you feel pressured to get married?

Jessica Bennett (03:14):

No. And in fact, for a long time I was really anti-marriage. I mean, honestly, I still am, I just happened to have done it at some point. I mean, I really don’t think that I or we felt this pressure, and to some degree, I would argue it was the opposite. In our worlds, being partnered too early was really looked down upon and it was like, “Well, don’t you want to establish your career first? Don’t you want to be an independent first? Don’t you want to think for yourself? Why would you want to attach yourself to someone else so young?” Which, in New York, [inaudible 00:03:47] is like 40.

Susie Banikarim (03:47):


Jessica Bennett (03:52):

So I was engaged for 45 minutes in my late twenties.

Susie Banikarim (03:55):

That’s so weird. I don’t think I knew that.

Jessica Bennett (03:57):

Yes. I mean, basically I ended up breaking it off after the 45 minutes because I had a total panic attack and my ring finger swelled up so that I couldn’t get to the ring off of it to give it back.

Susie Banikarim (04:10):


Jessica Bennett (04:12):

Yes. So I wrote a modern love column about this.

Susie Banikarim (04:15):

Wait, how do I not know about any of this? Now I’m going to have to go find your modern love column.

Jessica Bennett (04:18):

You can Google it. When I started dating my current spouse, I was like, “Just so you know, I wrote this modern love column. You might want to Google it. Everything you need to know is there so just spare me having to explain it.”

Susie Banikarim (04:32):

See, that’s why Sam is great, because he was like, “This does not scare me.”

Jessica Bennett (04:36):

Yeah. I’ve had a long time to unpack that and why I panicked and why my finger swelled up, because honestly, it wasn’t that I didn’t love him, it was that suddenly flashing before my eyes were these images of being a domestic and being chained to the kitchen and I don’t know, somehow this antiquated notion of being a wife and giving up this career that I barely just gotten my footing in. None of which were things that he would’ve expected nor I would have done, but there is so much baggage when it comes to that for women.

Susie Banikarim (05:16):

Especially with hetero marriage.

Jessica Bennett (05:17):

Exactly, and that’s the thing. We all know no matter how progressive you are, no matter how much effort you put into it, heterosexual marriage is not good for women.

Susie Banikarim (05:27):


Jessica Bennett (05:28):

Especially if you have children.

Susie Banikarim (05:29):

It’s when salaries dip, it’s when women start pulling the backbreaking double shift of working inside and outside the home, and then eventually they care for their parents. We just expect so much of women and marriage feels like a part of that. I mean, it’s interesting because I remember in my twenties, I had a guy friend say to me, you think of being married as taking something away, but it’s adding something. And I was like, yeah, for you. But is that true for me? I don’t know. It will take away from some of the things I want to do in my twenties, in my thirties. So not only did I not get married, I also didn’t find a really serious partner until I was in my forties because I think I just only saw it as a distraction and it I wasn’t because I was this hard bitten career woman, it was because I just didn’t prioritize that.


I remember one day waking up and looking around and being like, oh, everybody got married and that didn’t occur to me as a necessity in my life, which I do think makes us fairly unusual. I mean, you were kind of an anti-marriage [inaudible 00:06:33], it sounds like.

Jessica Bennett (06:34):

Yeah. So after that happened, it was like I really, really dug my heels in. And this was also right around the time that the Defense of Marriage Act was being challenged and I was covering gay marriage for Newsweek, and I really felt like I didn’t want to take this right that I didn’t even really want when so many others couldn’t have it. And so I ended up… So this goes back to my Newsweek days, but I ended up with a friend and colleague writing this cover story for Newsweek called I Don’t; The Case Against Marriage. Now, you can imagine that my recently broken off engagement, but still boyfriend…

Susie Banikarim (07:12):

Yeah, he must’ve loved this.

Jessica Bennett (07:13):

Did not love this at the time.

Susie Banikarim (07:15):

Awkward on a lot of levels.

Jessica Bennett (07:19):

But that article basically made the case that aside from yes, maybe tax benefits and of course some things that come with parenting or end of life decisions, arguably with enough money and lawyers and privilege, you could figure those things out without a marriage certificate. And so what, for women, was the actual reason to want to get married. There are all of these things working against you, and if you really start digging into the history of marriage, which I did, and I’m obsessed with Stephanie Coontz, she’s a professor, she’s the preeminent historian of marriage, she’s written all these books on it through a feminist lens, you start to realize just how sexist an institution it is. Marriage literally began as an economic contract because women didn’t have rights or money.

Susie Banikarim (08:09):

Right. Well, I mean in a lot of ways, it was also the only way to secure your financial future. You literally had to have a husband to have your own credit card until what? The seventies?

Jessica Bennett (08:18):


Susie Banikarim (08:19):


Jessica Bennett (08:19):

Yes. And so really, marriage was how women, yes, they had financial security, it was like how they got the fathers of their children to stick around. In some cases, it was how they gain access to all sorts of legal rights, including, yes, getting something as simple as getting a credit card. So there was that side of it, but culturally too, for a long time, and I think this still persists in some circles today, the worst thing a woman could be was a spinster. That was the term for an unmarried woman that has been used against single women since the dawn of time, and I think back to the Newsweek article, not mine, but the one about the terrorism and marriage line, was part of the fear that that was tapping into.

Susie Banikarim (09:07):

Yeah. It’s interesting because I feel like the concept of being a spinster, at least for me, evokes an old timey kind of aunt. So what’s interesting is they took this thing that was already considered not great, but they made it more sad and pathetic. It was like suddenly it was a woman with a lot of cats knitting in her room by herself. Which, if you think of someone like Emily Dickinson, she was, I guess, technically a spinster, but she’s not described as this sad, lonely, pathetic person. I mean, she was one of the greatest poets of our time.

Jessica Bennett (09:40):

Well, and I think a lot of the great women in history were in fact spinster because they couldn’t be married because they had to focus on their art or their career or fighting for the right to vote, and they couldn’t have a husband getting in the way of that, which literally would get in the way in that time. I don’t want to get us too off track here, but I just need to, for the record, give a little history lesson on spinsters.

Susie Banikarim (10:06):

Please. I love a little history lesson.

Jessica Bennett (10:09):

Okay. Spinster, a word that actually comes from women who spun wool in the Middle ages, which was one of the only jobs or one of few jobs, and a low paying job, that was available for unmarried women. So that’s where the unmarried…

Susie Banikarim (10:24):

Totally unsurprising

Jessica Bennett (10:25):

From spinning wool.

Susie Banikarim (10:26):

Women’s work is not valued or well paid.

Jessica Bennett (10:30):

Exactly. And so because of that, the term came to be shorthand and then ultimately a real legal term for an unmarried woman, which eventually morphed into a pejorative. And so, if you look back when women were fighting for the right to vote, and you look at all of the suffrage posters and the anti suffrage posters, those who were arguing against suffrage, against the right to vote, would put out all this propaganda basically painting the suffragists as these old, ugly man hating, unfuckable spinsters essentially. And so it was like, “Oh, you women, you don’t want to be one of those spinsters, so stick with us. Don’t gain any rights.”

Susie Banikarim (11:08):

I mean, it’s interesting, right? Because it makes me think of all the sort of Pride and Prejudice, like that whole genre, which is, the reason you’re ugly and unfuckable if you’re a spinster is because so much of your currency is literally how you physically look and whether or not you’re going to be able to land a man based on that because it’s not like you get to know each other. In a lot of cases, you’re basically like, you meet a few times and then you get married. So there’s just this common idea that if you’re at all attractive, you’re not going to be sitting home by yourself, which is also just an interesting and fascinating way to think about why women choose to be single.

Jessica Bennett (11:44):

And actually to bring it back to that Newsweek article, I think that’s what this is tapping into. This is really where you start to see this enduring persistent tension between having a career and having a family, and this idea that you have to choose. And all the way up until 2009 or whatever year it was that I was briefly engaged to this person, still in my mind, that was the tension. I couldn’t do both.

Susie Banikarim (12:10):

And things have changed somewhat though, right?

Jessica Bennett (12:12):

Yeah. I mean there’s been huge change since the 1980s. So in 1986 when the article came out, the average age of marriage was about 24 years old in the United States, now it’s 30, which still seems young to those of us in urban areas like New York. I think something like 7% of adults in the United States identify as queer. That number is higher among Gen Z. And the average age of marriage for non-hetero couples is older, it’s 33 for women, 38 for men. So this is all happening, things are shifting, less people are getting married overall, and I think this is why you have books. I don’t know if you read Rebecca Tracer’s All The Single Ladies. It was about the political power of single women, which is huge because there are many.

Susie Banikarim (13:02):

And I think also now, there’s a slightly different version of being single, which is the auntie, the fun aunt who has some money to spare. That sort of thing about being an auntie, which is I am very much, as you know, committed aunt or aunt. I don’t know how you’re supposed to say that word. But I think that’s become kind of a fun alternative to this idea of the spinster, which we didn’t really have before. That’s really emerged in the last 10 years.

Jessica Bennett (13:31):

That’s so true. That’s an alternative to the spinster. But the amount of discussion and ink spill to the question of having it all is absurd at this point. And I even remember in subtle ways… I mean, okay, how long ago was this? This might’ve been a decade ago, but I was reporting a story for Cosmo, specifically about women who hid their achievements in online dating because they worried that they wouldn’t get dates. These were heterosexual women, straight women, and they basically were like, “I’m fun and flirty, and I like to go to the beach. I love travel and Coca-Cola,” Rather than, “I’m an executive at a law firm,” Or whatever, which was their real title because they just weren’t getting as many matches. And then since then, there’s been all this data and research into it, and yes, that’s true, they weren’t crazy to be worried.

Susie Banikarim (14:25):

What’s funny is it reminds me that around that time, there was a little bit of a moment where they were doing a lot of these stories about what to do if you made more money, how to deal with that when you were dating. And I remember reading in something, it might’ve been furnished to Robbie’s book, When She Makes More, that there was a woman who would literally buy tickets to go to the movies but pretend she’d been given them for free at work so as not to intimidate her boyfriend. And I remember just being like, that is the saddest, weirdest thing. And this also kind of reminds me of that Steve Harvey book that became a movie, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, the movie was called Think Like a Man, I remember there’s a character in that who is a CEO, I think, and she’s dating a chef, which is sort of ironic because I’m actually with a baker.


And it’s this whole thing where people are like, “Don’t freak him out. Let him be the man.” And it’s like… I don’t know. I have to be honest, that’s never been an issue in my relationship with Mike. He just doesn’t care. It’s not that he doesn’t care about my career or doesn’t support it, but he’s not intimidated by it because he’s just happy for me, and that’s what your partner should be. It shouldn’t be that you have to hide your achievements so that you can cater to some man’s ego. That’s not going to work long-term anyway. That’s not a relationship that’s going to work.

Jessica Bennett (15:45):

I remember interviewing this friend of mine who is now married to someone entirely different, but she got this big promotion at work, and she was making much more money than her male partner, and she said to me, “I’ve started giving more blow jobs since I started making more money.” And he didn’t ask for that, but some sort of internal thing that was like, I don’t know, I have to make up for this in some way.

Susie Banikarim (16:09):

Yeah, like I owe him.

Jessica Bennett (16:11):

Anyway, so this is tapping into real things, but I also think that even from 10 years ago, the culture has really, really shifted.

Susie Banikarim (16:19):

I mean, I think to some degree, when you look at something like Sex in the City, I feel like it’s kind of a good example of something that started as one thing, which was very much a show about four women desperately trying to land men and really focused on their dating, and over time, has kind of morphed into a series about the value of female friendship and its enduring presence in your life, and how whether or not your relationships come and go, you always have each other. And that’s definitely not what the series was initially intended to be. It was meant to sort of glamorize the sort of 20 something Manhattan single and that it was okay to want to have sex and to want it to be good.

Jessica Bennett (16:58):

Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right. To a large extent, Sex in the City was a show about friendship, and it did a lot for making singledom chic. But I do think about how even in that show, at the end of the series, they all end up partnered. Samantha then breaks up with that hot younger guy whose name I’m forgetting and has that amazing line, “I love you, but I love me more.” So it’s nuance, but…

Susie Banikarim (17:23):

That’s in the movie. So I think it’s interesting also that the series kind of ends with them all partnered, and then the movies actually kind of unravel that…

Jessica Bennett (17:31):

Which is a few years later. So I mean, maybe that does show something for the times.

Susie Banikarim (17:37):

Like a little bit of progress. I mean obviously now the Cynthia Nixon character, Miranda, is queer, which is the whole…

Jessica Bennett (17:45):

Finally. Obviously we knew that.

Susie Banikarim (17:45):

And they’ve added women of color. It’s a whole new world in this new version, which is called And Just Like That, I think, on HBO. Which, I’m saying I didn’t watch it, but to be clear, I watched it and I will be watching the next season. So I guess the real question, Jess, is you who were so against marriage, how did you end up getting married in the end?

Jessica Bennett (18:07):

Great question, Susie, and I will answer that question after the break. We’ll be right back. Okay, so going back to my modern love column, not to be hiding my modern love column.

Susie Banikarim (18:28):

No, I’m very excited to read it.

Jessica Bennett (18:31):

But part of the whole thing was, so I broke off this engagement, we stayed together. I thought we were happy. Turned out he could never get over the broken engagement. And so, when we finally did break up, he just dumped me, it was on New Year’s Eve.

Susie Banikarim (18:47):

Oh God.

Jessica Bennett (18:48):

Anyway. I’ve worked through it in therapy. But after eight years, it was just like, I’m done, I’m out. We had just thrown away all of our suitcases because we lived in a tiny studio apartment in the East Village, so we had no suitcases anymore. So he was like, “This is over.” And then I couldn’t pack up any of his stuff.

Susie Banikarim (19:07):

I’m just picturing him with garbage bags slung over his shoulder.

Jessica Bennett (19:10):

Yeah. I mean, that’s basically what happened, but part of the modern love column was like… At the time, my friend Jesse Ellison and I were writing this anti-marriage article. We remember her mom saying to us, “Well, one thing about marriage is it makes it harder for the person to leave.” And we were like, “Oh, that’s so pathetic.” We were like, “I can’t believe that.”

Susie Banikarim (19:30):

Like, if he wants to go, let him. Yeah.

Jessica Bennett (19:33):

Exactly. But then when this was happening to me, I was like, wow, so after eight years, you can just overnight walk out, no attempt at couples therapy, no anything. And I remember thinking to myself, I guess if we were married, we maybe would’ve had a conversation about it, maybe we would’ve separated. I don’t know. That’s where this…

Susie Banikarim (19:54):

Would be legal entanglement.

Jessica Bennett (19:56):

So that’s sort of where this modern love column ends. So I don’t know. At a certain point, I felt like I was established in my career, I had written a book, all of these things, and I felt much more comfortable in my independent self that I felt ready to get married to this person who is a very progressive human, who wasn’t going to buy into so much of the around weddings.

Susie Banikarim (20:21):

You didn’t really have a super traditional wedding.

Jessica Bennett (20:24):

I went to great lengths to plan an epic party that had none of the trappings of utterly sexist wedding institutions, which, by the way, let me just name, the father gives away his daughter. That’s because he was literally giving ownership.

Susie Banikarim (20:42):

Right. So you didn’t do that.

Jessica Bennett (20:45):

I have a great relationship with my dad. He did not walk me down the aisle. We walked ourselves down. It wasn’t really an aisle. The brides family typically pays for the wedding, that’s sort of like a dowry…

Susie Banikarim (20:54):

A version of a dowry.

Jessica Bennett (20:55):

No, we were established in our careers, we split the cost. We had one of my best friends, Amanda, officiate our wedding, and she quoted Gloria Steinem in it. But you typically declare someone man and wife, man always comes first, first of all, and then it’s wife. So the man is still a human, independent person, and the woman is now just a wife. Is she in service of him?

Susie Banikarim (21:17):

There’s that line about honoring and obeying, and I always found that so weird. Like, I’m not obeying anybody.

Jessica Bennett (21:21):

It’s also weird. And even the wearing of white, that’s literally to represent purity. Why do people still do that?

Susie Banikarim (21:28):

Yeah, like, “I’m a virgin,” Which they never are anymore. Let’s just be honest. It’s crazy.

Jessica Bennett (21:33):

Obviously I didn’t take my husband’s last name. So I didn’t do any of this stuff.

Susie Banikarim (21:36):

Didn’t you also go down the aisle to a Smashing Pumpkin song.

Jessica Bennett (21:40):

Yes, we did. We walked ourselves together down to a Smashing Pumpkin song. It was a grunge wedding. We also, instead of, I don’t know if this is cheesy at this point now because everyone’s California sober and doing microdosing, but instead of choosing chicken or fish or whatever you do at normal weddings, we had people choose their drug of choice and we provided it in the gift bags.

Susie Banikarim (22:02):

What was the primary drug of choice, just out of curiosity?

Jessica Bennett (22:05):

Microdosing mushrooms.

Susie Banikarim (22:06):

Nice. Yeah, that makes sense to me.

Jessica Bennett (22:08):

Oh, basically everyone did it. My parents…

Susie Banikarim (22:09):

Oh, really? I love that. And also, that would not be my family.

Jessica Bennett (22:14):

It was a desert wedding. It was a desert wedding. It was all very hippie. But as we were planning this, it was just so interesting and funny to come across all of the little origin stories for these things that most people I know still do, even the throwing of the bouquet. So my big plan was that I was going to get a poisonous cactus bouquet. Our wedding was in the desert in Joshua Tree. And so I was going to be like, “Don’t you dare tell me to throw this.” Anyway, I didn’t have a bouquet at all.

Susie Banikarim (22:45):

The thing about me was that when I was single, I refused to participate in that ritual. I found it so degrading.

Jessica Bennett (22:52):

A disgusting ritual.

Susie Banikarim (22:53):

I was like, I do not want to catch this bouquet, and people would always, “Go, go.” And I was like, “Get the fuck away from me.”

Jessica Bennett (22:58):

No, it’s so weird. I wrote a story about this once, I don’t know, in the 2010s or something, about how the new thing that I was noticing, this was the time I was going to 2 million weddings, was they would do the bouquet toss and everyone would run away.

Susie Banikarim (23:10):

Yes, exactly.

Jessica Bennett (23:12):

And it would just thud on the floor. No one wanted to catch the fucking bouquet.

Susie Banikarim (23:16):

Don’t stand in the middle of the room and be like, look at these…

Jessica Bennett (23:18):

And also, one wanted to get married. A few years ago, I was doing a piece about Helen Fisher. She’s an anthropologist who studies love. She’s written a bunch of books. And part of her research has found that monogamy is not natural, essentially, and that couples and partnerships often tend to go in stages of seven, I think it’s around seven years.

Susie Banikarim (23:41):

Seven years. It’s like the seven year itch, right?

Jessica Bennett (23:44):

Yeah. I guess that’s probably where that comes from. And so it’s us who’ve created this necessity, this idea of together forever. And she was married at the time and actually lived next door to her husband.

Susie Banikarim (24:02):

This is actually one of my dreams, honestly.

Jessica Bennett (24:04):

Me too.

Susie Banikarim (24:05):

I always wanted this. I mean, I think Mike thinks this is crazy, so we’re definitely not going to do this, but my dream is to live in apartments either next door to each other or across from each other because I feel like then you just both get to have your own space. And also, I think it’s a New York fantasy, right? Because if you have a big house, fine, but in New York, in an apartment, it’s tight, so you do kind of wish you had this way to own your own little piece of the world and that’s definitely something that’s complicated for me. I mean, even with getting married, I own my apartment, this apartment is probably my greatest achievement if we’re just being honest. What it took for me to be able to buy this apartment was a lot of work and sacrifice, so it’s hard for me to imagine leaving this apartment, even though that’s a choice I might have to make to be in a relationship.

Jessica Bennett (24:55):

Or maybe you don’t. I think that’s the thing. You can really create your own version of family today, and it’s like, choose your own adventure and go forth.

Susie Banikarim (25:07):

Yeah, it just does feel like there are lots of ways to have family now.

Jessica Bennett (25:10):

There are lots of ways to have family and chosen family.

Susie Banikarim (25:13):

Yes. Chosen family.

Jessica Bennett (25:14):

Actually, Susie, I thought it would be interesting to bring Sharon on, Sharon Attia, one of our producers on this podcast slash our friend, because she has a pretty interesting domestic arrangement that we can let her talk about. Hi, Sharon.

Sharon Attia (25:42):


Susie Banikarim (25:43):

Hi, Sharon.

Sharon Attia (25:45):

Hello. Hello. It’s so nice to be unmuted.

Jessica Bennett (25:50):

Amazing. So you have a, I think what you would call life partner slash chosen family in M.

Sharon Attia (25:59):


Jessica Bennett (25:59):

Your roommate.

Sharon Attia (26:00):


Jessica Bennett (26:00):

Could you talk to us a little bit about that?

Sharon Attia (26:02):

Absolutely. So Susie, I don’t think you’ve met Em yet, but we were randomly assigned freshman year roommates, so we owe a lot of credit to the NYU housing department, and we have never lived with anyone else ever since. We’re hitting our 10 year anniversary this August.

Susie Banikarim (26:20):

I got the invite for the party.

Sharon Attia (26:22):

Yeah, it’s going to be lit. I can’t believe I said lit. We are very much treating this kind of like a wedding, but not a wedding. There’s going to be merch. If people want to give us gifts, I would prefer money so we could go on a trip.

Jessica Bennett (26:38):

I’ve offered to officiate just in case you decide you want to.

Sharon Attia (26:44):

No, but I really do think that that kind of speaks to our relationship in that over the last 10 years, even our closest friends and family are sort of confused as to what the relationship is. They’re like, “Okay, you’re roommates and your best friends, but are you more than that? Is there an asterisk or a plus there?” And I think part of that is because we both came out in college, and so then people are like, “Oh, you actually could be really together.” But then we confuse them more because we’re not. And I always joke that if we were actually together, why would we be paying rent for a two bedroom in New York? Why wouldn’t we just do a one bedroom?

Jessica Bennett (27:23):

I mean, the way you’ve described…. It’s more than platonic.

Sharon Attia (27:28):

Right. Yeah, I think absolutely it’s more than that. I think we go on dates, we factor each other into life plans, we plan these big trips together, we’re always invited together to things, not even as a plus one, both people, even if it’s only one of our friends.

Susie Banikarim (27:44):

Do you guys go on dates with other people too, or do you consider this the primary relationship in your life?

Sharon Attia (27:50):

Oh, like do we romantically date people outside of the two of us?

Susie Banikarim (27:54):


Sharon Attia (27:55):

Yes but no. We famously don’t really care about dating. Occasionally I go on dates, not really. I think the way I think about it is, either I go on a shitty date where maybe there’s sparks, but it’s probably awkward and the small talk’s mediocre, or I get to hang out with my favorite person and do life. They’re an amazing chef, we might go to a restaurant we’ve been wanting to, go see a play. I think I have the ideal setup.

Susie Banikarim (28:27):

Em’s an amazing cook, by the way.

Sharon Attia (28:29):


Susie Banikarim (28:30):

I have a question we don’t have to use if it’s too personal, but…

Sharon Attia (28:32):

No, go for it.

Susie Banikarim (28:34):

Don’t you miss sex?

Sharon Attia (28:36):

Oh, I mean, I have sex. No, I definitely date and stuff, but the idea of looking for someone where it’s like, and that person’s going to be my best friend and my lover, and we’re going to live together, I just don’t really view relationships in that sort of hierarchy, and so I don’t put romance as the top of it, and I just haven’t found my person yet. I actually feel really fulfilled by my relationships. And when I date people, they absolutely feel intimidated and threatened by them.

Jessica Bennett (29:06):

Yeah, I was going to say. Right.

Sharon Attia (29:08):

Oh, big time. And I don’t even do anything to appease that person. I’m like, “Yeah, absolutely.”

Susie Banikarim (29:14):

You’re like, “This is the setup.”

Jessica Bennett (29:15):

This is my primary person. It’s interesting you say that though about not putting all your eggs in one… Like, you can get different things from different people because if you actually look at the history of marriage, this idea of a soulmate, an all encompassing soulmate, is a relatively new invention.

Sharon Attia (29:35):


Jessica Bennett (29:36):

It didn’t used to be that you were supposed to find one all fulfilling person for every aspect of your life, sexually, romantically, friendship, intellectual stimulation.

Susie Banikarim (29:48):

On some level, for women, you weren’t supposed to get those things. It was like nobody gave a shit whether or not you felt romantically.

Jessica Bennett (29:52):

You didn’t get those things at all.

Susie Banikarim (29:54):

You had a soulmate, they were like, “This is what you do to pay your bills.”

Jessica Bennett (29:57):

But there was some time in between when it became like you are looking for everything. I mean, think from…

Susie Banikarim (30:05):

It’s not realistic.

Jessica Bennett (30:06):

The time of my broken off, long-term relationship to the time of my present relationship and marriage, I sort of got more comfortable with the idea that my girlfriends are my intellectual stimulation, they’re who I… My husband doesn’t need to fulfill all of that, and that’s okay.

Susie Banikarim (30:24):

I didn’t even want that. I mean, I think for me, also, I was single for a long time before I found a partner, and I just wouldn’t want to have the kind of partner who wanted to go with me to everything and be with me. That wouldn’t be appealing to me because so much of my friendships are about the relationship I have with that person on my own. I don’t want someone else to be inserted in every single aspect of my life.

Jessica Bennett (30:48):

Sharon, do you feel pressure to Mary at any point and explain how you explain your relationship with Em to your immigrant parents?

Sharon Attia (30:58):

Yeah. I think it was really helpful that they sort of met Em as my roommate, you know what I mean? And so for the very first year, they were just like, we’re so happy that she’s far away in New York, but that she has a best friend and has created a family. And I call Em’s family my in-laws, and they live on the East coast so I actually go visit them often, more sometimes than flying out to LA and I have a really close relationship with them. But yeah, how do I describe it to my friends and family? I think sometimes I think it’s hilarious, the murkiness. So every year on our anniversary, I post something and my sister will get a call from an aunt or an uncle or a message from a cousin every year like clockwork, and they’ll be like, “Okay, but are they…” Because I mean, I’ll post a very romantic caption photo. I’ll be like, “I love our life together, the life we’ve built,” Things that I think straight people, straight girls maybe aren’t posting about their friendships.


But yeah, I think there’s murkiness and I find a lot of humor in the confusion and confusing people. In terms of feeling pressure to have a wedding. I am, to my core, a middle child, and I mean that in that it has seeped into every part of my personality. And so my older sister has been with her partner and has been now for 15 years, and they were high school sweethearts, and when they were getting married, I very much kind of looked at my parents, and maybe also said something where I was like, get this out of your system. This is the wedding where you invite the uncles and that guy who was a lawyer for you on that one deal because even if I get married someday, which I’m not closed off to, but I have no goals to get married. I’m not like, by 30 or 40… But I’m also the only out queer person in my ginormous family, and so people just don’t ask me questions about marriage.

Jessica Bennett (32:55):

They’re afraid to ask questions.

Sharon Attia (32:58):

If anything, I think if I said yes, they’d be like, “Oh, fuck. We love her so much. What does that mean? Is it going to be a gay wedding?” And so I’m the fun aunt. I’m the fun cousin. I’m the fun granddaughter. And whether or not I have a big party, I don’t…

Jessica Bennett (33:14):

And you’re about to, it’s coming up. Yeah. I mean, okay. So to bring it back to the Newsweek story, I think probably a lot of us would just kind of shrug or roll our eyes if that headline were to come out today, but Sharon, what would your reaction be?

Sharon Attia (33:28):

I think I would just probably be deep in sharing all of the hilarious memes and following along on TikTok and Twitter. I also think it just feels like a really straight conversation, and so I think amongst my queer group chats, we would just be like, okay, this changes nothing.

Jessica Bennett (33:47):

Well, it’d be like, are the straights okay?

Sharon Attia (33:51):

Yeah, yeah. Literally, which we’re asking all the time. We’re like, are straights okay?

Susie Banikarim (33:54):

I mean, it’s really debatable whether or not we’re okay.

Sharon Attia (33:56):

I think the answer’s no.

Susie Banikarim (33:59):

Feels like no. I mean, generally speaking,

Jessica Bennett (34:01):

It just wouldn’t exist.

Susie Banikarim (34:02):

Wouldn’t exist in that way.

Jessica Bennett (34:04):

I’m sure you could find data to show that likelihood of women marrying was low, but it would not be framed in such a hetero way.

Susie Banikarim (34:12):

Or if it was, it would be on Fox News. So you’d be like, I don’t care what Fox News says anyway.

Jessica Bennett (34:17):

Right. So I think the reality is that this headline, in retrospect, it’s kind of funny and it wouldn’t exist today, however some of that tension around work and partnership, whatever the partnership you create for yourself is, does still exist.

Susie Banikarim (34:35):

Well, it’s interesting because Sharon, the way you’re describing your relationship, it doesn’t really exist for you, right? You don’t feel some kind of tension where you have to choose between having this relationship in your life and work. And maybe that’s just something that is generational, but I think it’s heartening to see Sharon feel like she can just… Because I think relationships like this have probably existed in the past, but they weren’t…

Jessica Bennett (34:59):

They weren’t represented.

Susie Banikarim (34:59):

They weren’t represented, and also people weren’t open…

Jessica Bennett (35:02):

Certainly not in the media, right?

Susie Banikarim (35:02):

They felt like they had to pretend to be best friends externally. But you get to decide what you want from your life, and nobody gets a say, and that’s great.

Jessica Bennett (35:11):

Honestly, Susie, maybe that’s a good place to end it. It’s like build the life that you want, lean into what your ambition is in whatever way that may play out, and screw the headlines, whether it’s coming from Newsweek or elsewhere.

Susie Banikarim (35:24):

Yeah, all the noise is just noise. Ignore it.


This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (35:46):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (35:56):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (36:05):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (36:17):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (36:36):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.