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The World’s Bitterest Single Woman June 23, 2013

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Just Saying., Marital Status Discrimination, Profiles.
Tags: , ,

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.

Adriaen_Brouwer_-_The_Bitter_Draught_-_WGA3303We 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.

Note that these interactions happened long before Lisa and I started Onely–so this would be before I knew about singlism, about stereotyping singles, and about marital status discrimination.

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.)


1. Onely - June 23, 2013

PS. Bitterest *is* a word. I declare it.

2. LizzS - June 23, 2013

I feel like people make up excuses for why they aren’t succeeding in different parts of their lives, and the easiest excuses are those that dwell in our “abnormalities” or “off the beaten path” characteristics.

Maybe its harder, but its not a good excuse nor is it something the person their self should internalize or believe.

Rather it must be proven wrong!

3. tehomet - June 23, 2013

Firstly, there is such a stigma about being single and not having children that it is enough to make anyone tetchy. And secondly, that lady (or anyone) could have six spouses and eighteen children, and still have that attitude o’ bitterness. I know plenty of folks who are much married and knee deep in little blighters, and they are bitter as the bitterest lemon that ever grudgingly grew in a vast dry bitter plain.

Kara - August 18, 2013

I was about to write almost exactly the same words, but then I saw you already did.

4. fsmichelle - June 23, 2013

I am a fifty six year old never married childless woman who can relate to this story. I hope that I dont have aura cooties but after many years of people finding it strange that I have never married who knows. Society places never married in there own category and it isnt a category anyone wants to be in. I thought that hardest part of my life was when my friends were marrying and I didnt and then going thru the phase of them having kids but I have found the hardest stage is watching my friends who are married or single having grandchildren. Its a wonderful thing for them but is another reminder of what I have missed in my life. I always thought I would marry and have children but it didnt happen for various reasons. As I am getting ready to retire I wonder what my place in the world will be and how I will be remembered. Its one thing to be an onley at thirty but its a whole different experience while your in your late fifties if you havent married. I have had some wonderful life experiences and have great friends but in the end they naturally have allegiance to there families and I am left on the side looking in.

5. healb - June 24, 2013

Chilling story story, Christina! That poor woman must struggle so much! She could bring her aura up if she only knew she owns everything in her life and nothing, esp self worth, has to do with status or accomplishments. She thinks happiness would depend on writing success or a man but if she had those things would she be happy and care more about others? I don’t think so. She believes everything her thoughts tell her and created quite an illusion. And the illusion meant she had to keep comparing parts of her to others but of course picking the desirable from others and focusing on her lack.

I don’t think you were being judgmental – only intuitive and observational. I think it’s a good reminder to set on a path unlike hers. Imagine being a vibrant, funloving, confident silver haired 50-60 yr old single and offering humor and encouragement to a younger student, versus sucking their energy dry and putting unfounded fears and beliefs in their head. I know a positive, vibrant one – super attractive energy. In fact, she got me out of my head and out of my bitterness when I was younger.

But this unfortunate lady above just feasts on young energy and wonders why people cringe and flee. There is no words or logic that would help Debbie Downer snap out of it. I’ve tried as you have. She will have to reach a bottom after she decides she wants more connection to herself and others and a better life regardless of what she doesn’t have.

Yogagurl - June 24, 2013

I was just thinking how this “woe is me” attitude is unattractive at any age. I think it’s OK to feel sad, to worry about yourself but maybe the key here is to not wear it on your sleeve to strangers and only express it in a safe environment. Maybe the focus is to be a fun, enjoyable person as fun creates bonds much better than sadness or stress. This woman needs someone to talk to to air her negative feelings (possibly a therapist or a support group) so she can go out into the world and be more positive. She probably saw the writing group as a safe place to vent her fear, being around other creative types, maybe not realizing that they will not react perfectly either. People have to be ready to hear/listen to this stuff and it has to be the right people. For many who have their own fears it’s just too much. I feel for her and wish her healing.

6. Yogagurl - June 24, 2013

Not being there it’s hard to know what you “felt” from her, what her vibes were. They could be coming from many places. However, from what you say about her life, I feel sad for her and fearful. I think others feeling “cooties” from a person is simply fear. Fear you will have to face what they face, fear of not having an easy answer to their problems, fear of the situation they are in.
It’s rough. I would suggest to anyone who is dealing with this stuff is dive into spiritual stuff. Practice affirmations to stress that you are OK and nothing is wrong with you. Perhaps find a church that focuses on healing, growth and God (like New Thought, or Science of Mind). Get involved in something meaningful. I would also find other women in similar situations that appear to be grounded and at peace.
I admit this woman makes me fearful. I could be her. But when I meet people like that, in need of love, I always try to give it to them whether it’s friendliness, support, what have you.

7. Beth O'Donnell - June 24, 2013

I have three single nephews. But I know them and I wouldn’t fix them up with anyone. That would be mean.

I was at the wedding of the Son of a Friend yesterday. Son is 26. Bride is 19, 6 months pregnant with her second child (not Son’s). Son broke up with Bride on Thursday. Friend talked him “down” and prayed all weekend he would go through the marriage. Acknowledging he would very very likely be divorced but saying I just want him to be happy.

So why did you talk him into getting married when he clearly does not want to? It was as if he was going to a prom, not becoming a parent (to a child that isn’t his as well as one we assume is his).

I’m 53 and stories like my Friend and Son make me bitter. Being single doesn’t.

8. RylanG - June 24, 2013

I’m married with kids, but I got married later (in my 40’s) and I still think that single people are the most discriminated against group in this country. I also think that the idea that marriage and kids somehow confers ‘responsibility’ upon anyone is completely misguided…and sadly widely accepted.

Frankly, being married and having kids is pretty much as I thought it would be…well, having kids is different but had I previously been a prison guard I might have been better prepared for that. The whole thing of single or married is an even sum game. You are no better off personally/internally with one or the other.
Someone on here mentioned being remembered and being single. My kids are little right now but I already see the seeds of forgetfulness in them. I might, just might, have some regular contact with the youngest who is our only girl but she is still a baby really and no doubt life will fill her and carry her away. That’s as it should be. I am raising them to be productive and to find their fulfillment, I don’t want them tethered to me or my memory all their life. Even if they do remember me and hold me in their heart, so what? in another generation I will be completely gone from all memory and that is how it is. It’s not sad or unnatural; the world moves on and it should and if anyone remembers me three or four or more generations from now it will be a memory of their making that suits them. It won’t be me. My own kids don’t have any real knowledge of the first half (in my case 2/3) of my life and I will have little knowledge of the last half of theirs except what they allow me to see. It’s odd when you think about it given the closeness you feel to them when they are little but they need to become their own just as I and my wife have our own lives and histories from before their existence.

9. Stella - July 1, 2013

Oh Cristina,
She was just so sad. What could you do? What can anyone do? I agree with all that Yogagurl and Healb say.
Gertie was her own worst enemy- I think your situation is what you make of it, how you see it. She could have seen herself as a free spirit, independent of anyone, and able to please herself instead of stepped on and dismissed.
And who regards a man (or a partner) as the beginning of life?
Perhaps I’ll feel the same at 56 (48 now) but I never wanted kids, I was married but am now relishing being single. I think you have to go out and make your own life -and most definitely not put yourself down.

10. Kara - August 18, 2013

There are two problems with this article, and your perception of this woman. First problem is that this is not about her marital status, though you’re imagining it is. Bitter people are all around us: married, single, divorced, and widowed. I think you’re just choosing not to see their bitterness as a result of their marital status as you did with this woman. Think of it this way. If you meet a guy who’s 25 and he’s very negative about his job, his boss, his roommate, etc…, do you attribute it to his being single? Of course not.
So, I’d say watch out for your own single-phobia.
The 2nd problem with this article is the picture that goes with it. I realize it’s an old picture from probably the 1700’s, AND it’s a picture of a man, not a woman, but there’s an uncomfortable implication that this is a picture of that woman.

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