Intellectually and cosmetically, Jocelyn’s at least a nine. But she lives alone, and her deepest relationship with a male is with her dog. Worse yet, when we meet her, that dog has died, and she is marking the event with both a funeral and a tear-stained reception.
Even among the cast of The Jane Austen Book Club—the new film that burdens the genre of chick flicks with actual ideas—Jocelyn is an extreme case. Which makes her an ideal role for Maria Bello, the actress who, in her real life, is addicted both to reading and her independence.
For women who aspire to be brainy beauties, Bello could be the ultimate. She’s best remembered for highstakes dramatic roles in World Trade Center, The Cooler, and A History of Violence, and one satiric turn, in Thank You for Smoking. But her career is not all-consuming.
A self-described “novel whore,” she not only reads three books a week, she writes; between movies, she’s revising her first novel. Then there are her personal commitments. She has motherhood covered via Jackson, her 6-year-old son with a former boyfriend. And although there’s not a lot of time left over for romance, she’s exuberant about her new flame, Bryn Mooser, “a musician and a writer and an unbelievable person.”
Like her character in the Austen book club, Bello does not lack for opinions. Unlike Jocelyn, she’s clear eyed about herself and her situation. And she has long thought—in a way that Jocelyn wouldn’t quite understand— that long-term commitment may not be for her.
In past interviews, she has delivered eye-openers that now strike her as inoperative. For example, “I never want to get married. I’m like a guy that way.” And nothing against monogamy, but she has wondered how fidelity makes sense when modern medicine keeps us alive two or three lifetimes longer than our ancestors?
And then there are her myriad interests and obligations. Acting, parenting, reading, writing, spiritual exploration—so, isn’t even the most compelling guy doomed to get this woman’s leftovers?
Now that bar may be lowering. “My friends sometimes tell me, ‘Learn to love yourself first,’” she says. “Bullshit! You learn in a relationship. It brings up all of your stuff, the good and the bad. I find that in every relationship I grow more and more, become more and more, become someone I didn’t know I was. I’ve been in this relationship for just five months, but I’m already opening up, questioning what I think.”
Then comes a flash of classic Bello: “I’m not saying I want to marry and have five kids.”
And, softening, a return to the new: “I feel the mix of security and longing, and I hope for that to continue.”
In this back-and-forth, we see the tension that surrounds the woman who’s single and okay with it—even if she didn’t quite plan it that way. As Anne Marie O’Connor notes in “Portrait of a 21st Century Spinster," the idea that single women are losers is a media conceit; in real life, more women are getting comfy with the reality of living alone and having the occasional casual relationship to add spice. Marketers tiptoe around this attitudinal shift—a high-placed female executive told me she recently saw research about a category called “women on their own.” Seems condescending. And odd. Single men are offered a neutral descriptor: “bachelor.”
Why is the only one-word noun for single women of a certain age...spinster? “We need to come up with another word,” Bello suggests.
But two language mavens come up blank. “Maybe,” she says at last, “let’s reclaim ‘spinster.’”
But Bello hasn’t wasted her time worrying about labels or status. “I grew up in a family without money,” she says, matter-of-factly. “My dad broke his back on a construction site when I was young. He was never able to work, and we lived on the edge financially. I realized early on that I could survive.” After high school outside of Philadelphia, she moved on to Villanova University, where she studied political science and set her sights on law. But you know the story: All it took was one acting class. And then, as soon as the ink was dry on her diploma, she hurried off to New York. Her worldly goods were in a trash bag. Her bankroll was $300.
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