Mr. DSO told me that there was a book frequently encountered on nightstands of wives that overall appeared unhappy in their relationships. We jokingly started exploring whether this book “Untamed” was some sort of cult that talked women into leaving their husbands or just puts a magical spell of crazy on them.
I decided to find out for myself. Disclaimer: there was a similar episode we all remember: the years in which women were glued to their copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I read passages of the book and found it to be one of the dumbest pieces of so-called literature that I had ever encountered. Therefore, I may not represent the majority of women, but I do like Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls, and shopping. I do overlap with many women in many ways. My brain is female-hormone laced, after all.
That is why I spent the evening hours of last week reading the book that has so many husbands wondering…
What is “Untamed” about?
In a nutshell, it is a collection of memories, in no particular order, written almost like Bible passages, filled with meme-worthy and Facebook-post worthy wisdoms about life. Knowing that the author grew up very in a very Christian home, I do wonder if the purpose of her writing was indeed to write some sort of Bible for women. It is highly redundant, spiritually heavy, and frankly quite annoying.
But I digress.
From what I gather after reading the ca. 320 pages and my Google search on the author, this is a woman who, since her pre-teens, has been struggling with anxiety and depression within the very rigid environment of a Virginia suburban life with a controlling narcissistic mother, an emotionally unavailable father and an unforgiving Catholic school system. As an anxious 10-year-old girl, she was sent to therapy and was told that something was wrong with her. She was therapized but still spiraled into bulimia and later alcohol addiction. She got knocked up by a man she was not in love with but decided to turn her life around for her pregnancy to do “the things she was supposed to do.” So, she married the father of her child, got sober and raised her first child in what sounds like a very unpassionate marriage. However, there was enough passion to add two more children to the mix. She then found out that her husband had been unfaithful to her since the wedding. They tried couples’ counseling and it did not help. She felt sex with her cheating husband revolting (can you blame her?). She claims her therapist recommended she try blowjobs instead of regular sex because it is less intimate. (That actually had me laugh out loud). Leaving her husband did not seem to be an option she found viable. Because, you know…. the kids.
But then she fell in love with a former female soccer star and it was like lightning struck her. She had never been in love, but it hit her so hard, she divorced her husband and married her girlfriend. Now she is living a truly fulfilled happy life full of love and passion and laughter. The end.
She and her husband actually got along better after the divorce and the author states that everything in her life just fell into place after and everyone is just happier and more at peace because she finally found her “truth” in life.
And this is where the message of the book seems to lie: Women (and men as well) are caged by societal pressures into conforming to traditional gender roles and expectations. As women, we are tricked into thinking we have to be thin, sexy and maternal. We have to get married, have children and be happy and content with that choice. Men, likewise, are given their own set of rules. But the author points out it is just like putting a cheetah in a cage: these wild cats are meant to be running free and hunting their prey, rather than napping in a zoo cage with a pink plastic rabbit kick-toy. The metaphor has a slight problem as one of my animal psychologist friends point out: cheetahs are stupid and couldn’t find their prey if it were shoved in their face. But let’s just run with the author’s metaphor.
So, now we know what the book is about. Is it worth a read? Is it the reason why women question their marriage and realize that they have been gay all long?
I don’t think this book tells us anything new. It reiterates the feminist narrative we all have been hearing for decades. Apparently, some people are still too numb or deaf to hear it, maybe because of their upbringing (like the author). I have a very hard time relating to someone who is my age and missed the message for all these years. But she was busy binging, purging, and drinking, lost in her mental illness for about 17 years.
Is it true that society cages us all? Isn’t that the whole point of socializing humans? To shape them so they can all live together in harmony? Make them conform to rules? That is not the equivalent to raise them all as androids. I, too, grew up with pink barbies, feeding my baby dolls, changing their diapers, but it did not “cage” me. I still decided to become a surgeon. I never thought I needed motherhood to be fulfilled or had to please men to be accepted as a woman. Yes, I did hear the message about how only thin-yet busomy women are pretty and attractive, but I also knew it was MY responsibility to eat right and exercise and live healthy to be pretty and attractive and that some people were just born prettier than me, but also dumber than me. That’s nature, I accepted it. No one fed me a belief that everyone had to be equally pretty, equally happy and free of discomfort. That is the part where I cannot relate to the author because it seems like she just lacked the self-esteem, critical thinking, and mental sanity to see through all that. So, one could stop the book right there and say: Oh, well, she’s crazy.
A lot of people keep reading on, though, maybe because they find themselves in her. (Red Flag number one…if you relate to the crazy, maybe that’s a reflection on you?)
Regardless of her mental state, there is a lot of truth in what she writes. Yes, our society is rigid, restrictive, biased, harsh. Yes, it is materialistic. Yes, people can be assholes. No, we cannot be happy every day and every moment of our lives. And yes, we do deserve love and should not marry someone we do not love.
But we kind of figure that out in puberty and early adulthood, BEFORE we marry and have children. Only, the author was distracted by her mental health issues and drowning in her alcohol addiction, so her wake up call did not happen until later.
The message I take away from this is not that women need to be untamed or uncaged. It is not a message of feminist awakening. It is a message of: If you have mental health problems, get help before you pull other people into your life. Do not get married and have three children.
I believe a lot of women are in a similar headspace. Looking at the anxiety and depression numbers in adults in 2020. Over 15% of adults have anxiety or depression or both, with the most common onset in their 20s, women being twice as likely as men to have depression or anxiety. It is easy and probably not wrong to blame society for that in parts, as well as hormones and individual biographic and personality factors. I also think that our world is harder to live in as a depressed or anxious person. Depressed and anxious people just have a harder time “functioning” in a society that is all about giving 100% and then posting it on social media for everyone to see.
So here is a book that tells women who feel inadequate, unhappy, uninspired, overwhelmed or just trapped in their lives, that they just need to be untamed, find their true inner cheetah and go wild.
Of course, they are attracted to that. They have been told by too many people (especially other women) that they just need to ‘fake it til they make it’ and try harder to be happy in their cage. And here is a woman that tells them, no, you are just meant to do whatever it is that tickles your inner cheetah and break free from the chains and love and live wildly. The book does not make women leave their husbands, but it attracts women that are unhappy or lost, just like the author was. We find ourselves in others often and look for their guidance. We are social beings, some of us having so much empathy, the boundaries between what we feel and what others feel become blurred. I can therefore see, how an unhappy woman with poor boundaries and mental health issues might identify with the author and believe she herself could be lesbian.
The book is not a cult. It is not a Bible. But it is a sign. A sign that your woman is thinking about her life and how she got there and if you see that book on your wife’s nightstand, you could ask her what she likes about it the most. Have her pick her favorite “verse” from it, as if it was a Bible. Talk about it. There is some truth in the book, there is a lot of repetitive rambling of a woman who lives with depression and anxiety, but in between the lines, that woman is not wrong about some things that are profoundly troubling about the way many people live their lives: Being numb, following a herd of sheep, never questioning the rules they are given.
Untamed is a terribly written book and it felt like a waste of time. But it is a true story and it reminds us to stop existing and start living. A little reminder we all could use, maybe even you. After all, that is what brought you to the DSO.