For once New York Magazine’s advice columnist, Ask Polly, cannot tell the letter writer to go out and get some therapy. The woman, who calls herself “Unhappy Spinster” has already had enough therapy. Or perhaps she has had too much therapy.
What has she learned from it? Glad you asked.
Unhappy Spinster writes:
I have done enough therapy and read enough advice columns to understand that I need to be truly at peace with my single life before I can find happiness with someone else, and I have worked patiently toward this goal. And, truth be told, I am ferociously independent in many ways: I’ve built a solid career in an industry that’s notoriously difficult to break into. I exercise. I clean my apartment. I water my fucking plants. I try to “re-frame my spinsterhood” by doing things like getting manicures anytime I want or flying to Thailand on a whim.
Evidently, she has not done very much good therapy and she seems clearly to be reading the wrong advice columns.
What has she learned from therapy and advice columns? At 35 most of her friends are married with children. She is having dinner alone in bars and is feeling sorry for herself. She has learned that it’s all about having the right state of mind. And that once she has the right state of mind—which seems to involve loving being single— Prince Charming will magically appear and rescue her.
To her credit, Polly sees that the woman is living out a rescue fantasy. Apparently, her therapy has taught her how to be a character in a fiction. It’s not a good thing.
Besides, how did anyone ever get the idea that not needing a man, not wanting a man will be a state that the average man finds especially attractive and alluring? Clearly, something is wrong. And it is not just a state of mind. It might have something to do with the mantra that if women are independent and autonomous men would be flocking to their door. Whoever sold women that story was lying to them, but we do not want to say so.
Having done the wrong kind of therapy, Unhappy Spinster actually believes this:
Like many women, I really believed that if I diligently put on mascara and put myself out there and opened my heart, that elusive Mr. Right would come along. Why wouldn’t he? I am as smart, attractive, and self-aware as the next gal. People get married and live happily ever after every day — I just assumed my time would come.
Yes, indeed. It’s all about the mascara. Of course, most men do not even know what mascara is, and care less. As for opening her heart, this is, in her case, to quote the bard, “a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance.”
Since she has little else to offer than descriptions of her state of mind and solitude, we do not know very much about Unhappy Spinster. For her part Polly finds it bizarre that this women eats dinner alone at a bar every evening. I agree. Why would a man want to marry a woman who hangs out in bars and cannot be bothered to make dinner?
Unhappy Spinster offers us this quick apercu into her dating history:
But 4,000 first dates and countless directionless relationships later, I am still in the same holding pattern, waiting for my “real life” to begin. I am still lonely, defiantly eating dinner alone at the bar (for the third night this week) but secretly terrified that pasta-for-one will be on the menu for the rest of my life.
One hopes that the 4,000 number is an exaggeration. If it is not, if it contains even a glimpse of the truth, this woman seems never to have had an extended, not to say, long-term relationship.
She does not tell us whether she picks up anyone at the bar. She does not tell us whether she hooks up with any of them. But, clearly, she has no idea of how to conduct herself within a relationship. Unfortunately, her therapy and the advice columns have only taught her how to have a relationship with her mind.
If she does not feel very good about herself, then perhaps she ought to stop going out to pick up guys in bars. Failed first dates, aka hookups, are not very good for the old morale. Perhaps she should shut down her Tinder account. Perhaps she should stop being quite so sexually liberated and independent.
True enough, she does not say that she goes to bars to pick up guys, so we do not want to extrapolate too much. But Polly sees that there is something wrong with this. Precious few guys are going to want to develop a long term relationship with a woman who is crying in her beer at a bar three nights a week.
One suspects that she is sufficiently modest to hide her game, but still, 4,000 is a large number, by anyone’s standards. Even if we are merely talking about first dates, this woman obviously has no idea of how to conduct herself on a date. Why does she not get second dates?
Unhappy Spinster believes that she needs but to learn to love being alone. In truth, no one really loves being alone. Human beings are social animals. They function best in society, in conjunction with others. A 35 year old woman is also dealing with her biological clock. Naturally, she glosses over the point, but she wants to have a family and sees that time is running out.
Since Unhappy Spinster is a modern woman, she is looking for a partner, not a husband. She wants to share things with someone on an equal basis.
Polly, I don’t know how to move forward. I feel like I am already doing everything I can possibly do. I so badly want a partner to share things with, to lean on, to raise children with and help me take on all the wonderful and hard and lovely things about the world.
One assumes that it’s a generational hazard, but this woman does not seem to ask herself what it means to be a wife. Which is not the same as domestic partner. If she has had 4,000 first dates and countless directionless relationships I would suggest that she has been going at it in the wrong way. Perhaps she is desperate. Perhaps she thinks that these things happen by themselves. If she cannot get to the second date, she should ask herself what she is doing on the first date that turns one or both parties off. When you hit 4,000 you cannot blame it all on men.
Anyway, Unhappy Spinster is tired of faking it. She is tired of faking being happily single. She should be angry at all of those who gave her the advice to pretend to like being single.
If you must look at this in terms of state of mind, Unhappy Spinster might begin by getting angry at the therapists and advice columnists who have misled her. She should be angry that they have let her believe that it doesn’t matter how she conducts herself, as long as she has the right state of mind.
What does Polly have to say? I thought you’d never ask. Polly tells this woman to go out and become a shrew, a virago, a harridan… because that will certainly attract just the right kind of man.
I kid you not:
Faking Graceful Acceptance forever will crush your soul and block the path to your dreams. It’s bad for your state of mind. It’s bad for your hair and nails. It renders food tasteless. It renders a great pair of pants ill-fitting and a beautiful day oppressive and unbearable.
Stop faking happiness. Be a malevolent spinster tornado instead, one that’s spilling over with rage and frustration. Write angry poems with names like Your Third Wheel Is Flat and Witches’ Brew and Biological Clockwork Orange. Read books about people who are single and really fucking pissed off about it. Somehow most people who write books about celebrating the lives of single women seem to secure long-term partners before their books even hit the shelves.
I agree, in part. Unhappy Spinster should be angry. Not about men and not about her condition. She should be angry at everyone who ever told her that 4,000 first dates would be the way to find Mr. Right. Or who told her that it doesn’t matter how she behaves as long as she thinks the right thoughts and feels the right feelings.
Next, Polly suggests that the woman learn how to own her life. This is not bad advice. But note that Polly slyly suggests that the woman develop some homemaking skills. She does not put it in those terms, but the implication is clear:
But you have to own your life. If you can’t own the life you have right now, ask yourself what needs to change to make you feel like more of a conquistador. You need to transform everything around you so it makes you feel more capable. This bar-eating habit does not feel capable to me. It feels like an indulgent drink-and-eat-and-still-feel-shitty kind of a habit. You need to start behaving as if you are the hostess and the guest: Make elaborate meals for yourself. Buy yourself some fucking flowers and a bottle of desert wine. You need to work harder and treat yourself more, too.
To her credit, Polly is pointing Unhappy Spinster in the right direction. She tells her to make a home, if only for herself. She is telling her to develop skills that would be consonant with domesticity. And she is telling her, far more tactfully than I did, that hanging out in bars to pick up guys does not make her good marriage material.
Now, if only Unhappy Spinster could point her anger in the right direction….