Glynnis MacNicol on Marriage, Pleasure, and Orgasmic Narratives

In Glynnis MacNicol’s second memoir, I’m Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself, pleasure is political. The narrative follows the weeks MacNicol spent in Paris in late summer 2021 giving herself over to the enjoyment and excesses of sex, food, art, and friendship. In her first memoir, No One Tells You This, MacNicol grapples with turning 40 as an unmarried and childfree woman. This time, she emphatically embraces that identity while subverting the well-worn self-discovery narratives that pervade memoirs authored by women. What instead follows is an exploration of the sublime told through an inventive structure, a reminder of the possibilities for women’s lives beyond just those passed down to us, and an important addition to the archive of women’s liberation.

I talked with MacNicol about women’s pleasure, the importance of community, and the book’s unconventional narrative structure.

Marisa Wright: Near the beginning of the book, you ask, “What does enjoyment mean? Not just temporary enjoyment, like a massage. But as a thesis. How does one give themselves over to pleasure? How does a woman do so?” How would you answer those questions now? 

Glynnis MacNicol: It comes down to time and rest. That sounds so simple, but the ability to rest without having to justify it or feel ashamed about it or keep it a secret is very new for women outside of very extreme wealth. Leisure, agency over one’s body, agency over one’s time—which I think encompasses decisions not to partner and not to parent—all ties into it. Enjoyment as a thesis is really determining how you spend your time. It’s the luxury of having a Saturday morning to yourself or being able to determine your schedule. All of that has been inaccessible to most women for most of history.

MW: Yeah, there’s the gender part of it, but talking about time and rest and leisure, it also has an anti-capitalist connection to it.

GM: I was born and raised in Canada and have spent a lot of time in France, two places that have social infrastructure that is very alien to America. I’m a little hesitant to idealize those systems because there are problems in every country, but being able to go to the doctor without risking bankruptcy or having infrastructure that respects quality of life is extraordinary. There’s no sense in a capitalist society that enjoying your life should be the basis for anything.

MW: The most striking part of the book for me was your discussion of how the traditional three-act narrative structure mirrors the male orgasm. With this book, you asked what a story arc based on the female orgasm could look like. How did you come to the structure of the book?

GM: With this book, I encountered real hesitation. Editors asked, “What’s the arc of the story? What’s the solution? What’s the instigating incident?” And I asked, “Why does it have to be that?” That’s not compelling to me. What does it mean to live a life that does not reflect that? What would it look like for a woman just to convey her own experience?

I spent the weeks I write about in this book having sex and contemplating how my own body was working and how other people could facilitate my pleasure even more, after having not been touched for quite a long time [during the early pandemic]. Both of those things provided a sense of what if the story doesn’t look like a three-act structure and the experiences are more like waves, which I think is a better way to talk about enjoyment. I was thinking of my life as a continuation as opposed to the way we usually talk about women’s lives, which is a pursuit of marriage and children and that’s it. How do you try and capture that? An orgasm. And also, orgasms are wonderful.

MW: Speaking of that sort of pleasure, in some ways it sits in contrast to a certain kind of loneliness, which has the effect of making the decadence even more vibrant. How do those two themes intersect for you?

GM: After my first book, I heard from a lot of older women who said, “Oh, do you think you’re the first woman to not have kids or not be married?” I said, “Point me in the direction of the movie or book where I can see my life reflected back to me.” There was such an absence of that in my life, so I’m sensitive to how lonely it can feel to not have that community in the greater world. It means constantly teaching someone else the language of your life.

MW: I love that your narrative acknowledges the need for community but that it doesn’t necessarily require marriage and kids. There are other ways to have fulfillment and community.

GM:  Absolutely. There is a lot to criticize about the way marriage is structured, but I’m certainly not anti-marriage. Something you realize as you get older, though, is that you see some of the loneliest people you know in marriages—not at the wedding but 10 years in. The loneliness of being in an unsupported partnership or having a family that does not celebrate you is devastating.

MW: Some of the main “characters” in this book are an incredible group of unmarried women friends you’ve assembled in Paris over the years. What role does that kind of support and connection play in this narrative?

GM: I think this has to do with age. After 40, the women who can move more freely in the world are oftentimes women who are not married or don’t have children. One of the great pleasures of life is being able to land in a different place and have a community there. I take those friendships enormously seriously. And that’s what happened in Paris. There’s a group of women there who have similar lives or value systems, and it’s been such a joy. They were very involved in the book’s development and thinking through what ended up on the page.

MW: Both Virginia Woolf and money come up a lot in this book. It made me think about the long tradition of ambitious women writers, many of whom were unmarried. What role, if any, do those kinds of models play for you?

cover Glynnis MacNicolcover Glynnis MacNicolGM: Deborah Levy’s The Cost Of Living was impactful in increasingly understanding the value of older women and telling a compelling story outside of the arc we spoke about earlier. Annie Ernaux’s Simple Passion really shifted my thinking in terms of valuing how I operate in the world. The reason Virginia Woolf continues to resonate again and again is because she taps into the trade-offs you’re making. I traded off the security of direct deposit and health benefits to maintain voluminous amounts of agency over how I lived my life. But I shirk a little bit at the suggestion that I traded it off so I could write. Writing is a job as much as anything is. I don’t tend to mystify it. It’s not rarefied in a way I think it sometimes gets talked about.

One of the reasons I wanted to write the book was how rare it is in the scope of history. Women in America could only have credit cards and bank accounts in their own name since 1974. I was born in 1974, so I sometimes see my life as a manifestation of having bodily autonomy and financial autonomy. That freedom is terrifying to people in power. I wanted to write down what I had experienced as a record of it being possible because with Roe being overturned, for example, it feels like it might not be possible for a while. I want there to be a record that this existed. I want you to know that it was possible.

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