The Urban Myth of the City Girl and the Country Cowboy

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A quarter of the cover of The New York Post is devoted to the kind of story that pops up regularly as a warning screed, or perhaps a reminder, to the women of New York. It's sort of a post Sex and the City story, though of course this was a subplot, at least, of one or more episodes—leaving the city and meeting "a nice guy" (a farmer, perhaps?) somewhere else. Somewhere where you can raise chickens.

Jessie Knadler is our latest memoirist writing of her departure from big city life (she was a magazine writer and editor in New York City with an apartment in Chelsea; she partied hard and dated immature men, and despite all the trappings of success felt aimless and alone) to move out West with a "real-life cowboy" she'd met on assignment, marry him, and embrace the ranching life herself. Her book, should you choose to read it, is called Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid with the Cowboy I Love. But you don't really have to read it (unless, of course you, want to) because she's told her story to Sara Stewart of the New York Post. It has everything you'd expect of these stories:

I was very much a Condé Nast girl. I had worked for all the women’s magazines — Cosmo, Glamour, Jane. I lived on West 20th, between Ninth and 10th. My style was like a mixture of H&M and sample sales. I had some Prada pieces, some Miu Miu, a mix of high and low. I loved going out dancing at clubs. But then the big clubs, like Twilo, went away, and I just started going out drinking, like everyone here does, and to little tiny clubs on the Lower East Side.

Meanwhile, I was dating a man who was emotionally retarded. It was one of those things where we kept breaking up and getting back together, for like a year and a half. He was so gross. I still have nightmares about him. My friends were like, “Break up with him! What is wrong with you?” over and over.

What, indeed? (Seriously, break up with any guy you dub "emotionally retarded." Don't date him in the first place.) Knadler thought about leaving, but she didn't, partly because she was something of a snob (turning up her nose at the Wild West and instead dabbling with the idea of moving to L.A.). Finally an assignment sent her to cover a rodeo in in Montana, and that's where the magic happened. She met a man in chaps. 

Then I noticed one guy in particular. He was wearing these really stylish chaps. Most of the cowboys were wearing very garish chaps, like neon green and orange. This guy’s chaps were brown with gold overlays, very classy. My first impression was, “Wow, he has good taste.” The second thing I noticed about him was his Wranglers. I’m not the kind of person who looks at people’s butts, but his was insane. And then I saw his face. This guy is gorgeous!

Pro tip: Chaps say a lot about a guy. Revealing the rest of what happens is not a spoiler, exactly; it's already there for you on the cover of the Post. And in the book description on Amazon, which includes these insights about Mr. Jessie:

He voted Republican and read Truck Trader. He listened to Garth Brooks. He owned guns. And Jessie suddenly found herself blindsided by something with which she was painfully unfamiliar: a genuinely lovable disposition. In fact, Jake radiated such optimism and old-school gentlemanliness that Jessie impulsively ditched Manhattan for an authentic existence, and an authentic man. Almost overnight, she was canning and sewing, making jerky, chopping firewood, and raising chickens.

True spoiler: Jake (his name is Jake) turns out to be from Baltimore. But he says "Golly dang" all the same. And suffice it to say, down the long, dusty, winding road of romance, the fancy East Coast magazine editor and the rough and tumble cowboy with the heart of dang gold and the really sweet chaps traveled together. Along the way it was rocky, at times, but he reached out his muscled arm and held her tight, and kept her safe and warm and with plenty of chickens, because he was a man. And so it goes. 

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It's not that this reverse-success myth, where the girl leaves the big city—where she'd fought so long not only to arrive but also to find happiness—to find it elsewhere, somewhere simpler, without really trying, is so bad, exactly. If you want to leave New York, or whatever city you live in, and move to the country and marry a cowboy, or an insurance salesman, or whatever it is you are looking for, so be it. But it perpetuates so many stereotypes, like: There are no good men in the city. East Coast women are snobs and forward and aggressive. Cowboys wear chaps (maybe the last one is true) and are kinda not that smart, but goodhearted ole lugs who don't use technology and are rather from another time. The problem—and no offense to the author, we're happy she's happy—is that these kinds of stories make less of everyone involved. Maybe that's why they continue to be published: They're easy. It's a Cinderella story, but wrapped differently. The women are shallow and making bad choices and dating terrible "city" men. The cowboys represent a time now gone, when men were MEN and lived on the land and didn't use computers and took care of their women. These stereotypes should offend both genders, honestly, as well as people who live in cities at all, because they set up a situation in which nothing is good here and we should all leave or face a doom worse than death—partying shallowly forever to our graves. Of course, that's not really the case, here, is it? People are living in Brooklyn and raising chickens, even. Why move out West when you can do it right here?

Beyond that, it's the same old trope, a kind of backwards Sex and the City, which sends your successful working woman out into the country to find her man. It's a retro mythology, and therefore, of course, includes the underlying theme that women need to marry and have children to be truly fulfilled. Of course, it helps if later those women write books about it, too. There's more to life than raising chickens, after all.

Image via Shutterstock by Sascha Burkard.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.