The World’s Bitterest Single Woman June 23, 2013Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Just Saying., Marital Status Discrimination, Profiles.
Tags: prejudice against older women, single and bitter, single and happy blog
This post is a sort-of sequel to a previous post about bitterness. It’s a long one, but we hope you bear with us.
The World’s Bitterest Single Woman.
We here at Onely feel conflicted in writing about this woman. Too often Non-Bitter single people who advocate for single’s rights get accused of being Bitter. And we hate to encourage that logical fallacy. But the thing is, I (Christina) have met this woman in person. And so I must tell.
Copious Readers, hear her story and tell me if you think her bitterness is justified, or self-perpetuating, or creepy, or sad, or whatever jumps to your mind. Also, please skim our conversations and tell me if I could have–or should have–done or said anything more supportive (or chastizing) than what I had to offer at the time.
I met The World’s Bitterest Single Woman during my grad school period. We had a fiction-writing course together. I also sat across the aisle from her at a reading given by some other graduate students. Upon reflection, perhaps she could also be the World’s Bitterest Single Writer.
In the classroom: It was the first day of class and I’d arrived early. Empty seats stretched to the right and left of me, arranged in a semi-circle. As soon as she walked in I felt her toxic aura. The back of my neck and my torso squeezed into themselves and I clenched my arms to my sides and held my breath. Please please don’t sit near me was my first instinct. I’m not sure why.
Fortunately as she entered the room she followed the toilet stall/urinal/elevator rule: if there are several open spots, don’t sit/stand right next to the single occupied spot. She wedged herself into a desk several seats away from me and shook out her short hair, white and trimmed in chunky layers that looked self-cut.
The latecomers had to sit next to her. I wondered if they sensed her off-kilterness. My classmates didn’t seem to be leaning over the sides of their desks away from her, as I would have been. Perhaps they did not have my sensitivity, or perhaps I did not have their maturity. Perhaps I was judgmental, or perhaps I unconsiously smelled on her just a tinge of something that bothered me in childhood (Tang, perhaps).
I will call her Gertie. Gertie was 56 (I discovered later), older than most of us by a couple of decades. She accused (unfairly) my friend Sam of not doing enough historical research. She insisted her own story was funny, even though none of us got the jokes . She wasn’t mean, but she was mean. I couldn’t get a handle on exactly what was wrong with her until the graduate reading, where we both showed up early.
I really must stop showing up to places early.
The cafeteria doubles as a waiting room and it was just me and Gertie. She was in the right-hand booth so I sat in the left-hand booth across the aisle.
“So, are you reading tonight?” I asked. I felt as if I should make conversation. (Why? Why must I?)
“Yes,” she said. “Near the end of the program. But no one will hear it. It’s the story of my life, people leaving before my reading. Or wanting me to finish up early so they can go home.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I’m 56. Other people my age, they have husbands and children and kids,” said Gertie.
“Now you,” she said, “You don’t have to worry about not having kids. You’re young enough that you can become an author and people will look at you and think, ‘It’s ok that she’s single, because she’s an author.'”
My stomach clenched: would I ever publish a book and become an author so that I could avoid having children? (Though some writers might argue that writing a book is a lot more painful than pushing out a baby.)
“Well, there are other things in life other than a husband and kids,” I said, mostly to convince myself, now that she had scared me.
“I don’t get any recognition for my writing,” she said, “So I really have to believe in myself”.
Yes,” I said. ‘”It’s like that with writing.”
She stared straight ahead at the empty podium, as if lecturing it. She did not look at if she believed in herself. But she did look stubborn.
Sometimes you just realize, that you’ll be dead before anyone reads your stuff.
“I guess,” I said, thinking: What if I’m dead and still no one reads my stuff?
“Plus everyone has stigmas against older, unattractive women,” she said.
“That’s true,” I said. “I mean, true in a general sense. I mean, not that you’re old. Or unattractive. You just have a really unhappy aura that is rotting around you.” No, of course I didn’t say that last part.
“My itinerancy threatens people.” Gertie stuck her chin up.
Yes, people feel threatened if you don’t fit into a certain structure,
I said, because I thought that was what she wanted to hear.
By now the cafeteria was more populated and I looked around for familiar faces, hoping she would too.
“So here I am without a health plan, wandering from state to state alone looking for somewhere to call a home,” said Gertie.
I felt a mix of pity and the desire to smack a hot damp handcloth over her eyes and shout well first you better realign your f&cked up chakras.
“Although Arizona is becoming home.” She paused. (We were in Virginia.) “You’re sweet for listening to me.”
I wasn’t sweet.
When she read her piece at the podium, it wasn’t good. The reason she’s unpublished, I thought, is because she can’t write. And the reason she doesn’t have that husband and kids, I continued in my judgmental little head, is because she has aura cooties.
The worst part of the whole experience was that I worried all the same might apply to me, especially if I lost my drive to write or date, especially if I grew older (I was at that age where one still thinks of aging as an “if”).
Copious Readers, how do you think family (nuclear or otherwise), age, the drive for success (or perceived success) combine to make people either bitter or joyful? How could I have avoided being dragged down into her bitterness and fear?
I only saw her once more. We had a workshop together. I didn’t recognize her because I was distracted by my poorly-organized essay which the professor had just torn apart. Then at the break a white-haired woman with a familiar face cornered me. “Are you single?” she asked. When I nodded (I tried not to roll my eyes), she said, “I want you to meet my nephew. He’s single too.”
“Oh, that’s ok, I’m not really–” I stepped backward. Now I knew who she was.
“I’ll have him email you,” she said. (We had a class email list. I would not be safe.)
“No, really, I–“
Gertie shook her head.
“I need to set you up with him,” she said. She looked into my eyes, her greys into my hazel.
What she said next sent chills down my spine:
We have to get you started on your life.
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, Adriaen Brouwer, The Bitter Draught (Male subject chosen to represent the patriarchal infrastucture largely responsible for our dubious heroine’s outlook on life.)