Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Case of the Unhappy Spinster

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.

She writes:

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.

And also:

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….


Dennis said...

If one cannot learn the lessons of losing then one will never learn the lessons of winning. Life is meant to be experienced in all its challenges and failures. As a male, and I believe I am no different that other males, I never desired to live my life without a female partner. Yes, I know that I can survive on my own, but why would I want to live without a woman in my life.
Feminism is a disease that completely misses the point of why we are of two sexes with strengths and weaknesses that make life worth living. This woman drank the feminist cup of anger and now does not understand her misery.

sestamibi said...

4000 first dates over a period, let's say, from 16 to 35 works out to one every 1.73 days. So how does she wind up eating alone at the bar more often than that?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Spinster is such a great word.

Trigger Warning said...

I understand that it's politically incorrect to suggest, but maybe the Unhappy Spinster is just, well, ugly.

I kow she says she's "attractive", but as a single man for 40 years, when I hear women describe themselves, sight unseen, as "attractive", I've found that's code for someone who dresses well, uses expensive "products" from a makeup counter clerked by hot women, and has a reliable job.

I also found during those single years that meeting women in bars gets you women who hang out in bars looking to meet men. My most successful pick-up venue was a Sunday afternoon chamber music event held at the Isabella Gardener Museum in Boston. I got to see the women in daylight and I figured we had at least one interest in common. Gyms were good too, for obvious reasons, but the Museum was a gold mine.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Trigger Warning @January 10, 2017 at 11:54 AM:

After all, ugly is forever.

Trigger Warning said...

@IAC: True dat, bro.

Anonymous said...

What does she look like?

Is she fat, gross, and ugly?

That may explain it.

Anonymous said...

But then, being ugly can be an advantage.


Ares Olympus said...

Trigger Warning said... I understand that it's politically incorrect to suggest, but maybe the Unhappy Spinster is just, well, ugly.

I wondered the same thing. Ugly is certainly not a PC word, maybe "plain" is better. But she has to consider that there is something about her in-person presentation that isn't working, possibly something within her power to change, or possibly not.

On "plainness", I remember one 40-something woman janitor I knew from work over a decade ago when I'd work evenings, and she lived alone and was independent, and the few times she talked about men, she expressed some bitterness, and had one story when she was a bit younger where she was at a bar and a man was SURE she was a man, and I could sort of see the confusion, at least she wore loose clothing, and had short hair, and an angular face, and overall athletic looking from her physical work. I'd not say she was ugly, but just not stereotypically feminine in personality either.

So I interpolated from her statements that she had tried dating when she was younger, and nothing ever went anywhere, and she gave up, and rationalized relationships were not for her. I mean I'd presume it, but only later wondered if her attitude was a result of failure rather than of a lack of interest. I just recall that because its easy to assume someone who "is not looking" is because they're not interested, while that's clearly not true.

They say a majority of women have children, while proportionally more men do not, both by genetic history, and the fact men in general have to work harder to attract a mate, while women are supposed to be passive, receptive and just make themselves available until interest is expressed.

I recall another women I knew from the 90s actually tried "The rules" to try to keep her man, while she had good looks to attract men, but not the personality to keep them, too shy perhaps, and she did find someone and perhaps used some coersion to get a proposal and marriage but still didn't last, no children, and she was the one who initiated the divorce when she didn't feel in love any more. I don't think she learned the right lessons, and at least for a while was saying she wasn't going settle next time, and wanted someone who made her heart flutter.

And having kids is one of those troubled things too. Some women are not meant to become mothers, perhaps some intuition or fear of being a bad mother or something.

And as uncomfortable as it may be to date a woman who is TOO excited talking about having kids soon, the opposite maybe is more troublesome, if a woman gives signs of uncertainty over parenthood. That is, a man might marry "plain" woman who had useful skills and want kids, but if she's "plain" AND doesn't know if she wants kids, she loses attractiveness twice for someone who wants a family.

Since I have lots of cousins, I can compare other cases, and all my female cousins who didn't want kids did get married, but some of them not until their later 40's where kids were no longer an option, and some married divorced men with adult kids, so there's still hope, at least if companionship is the goal.

Overall, I think men have it easier, and the term "bachelor" is not demeaning like "spinster". But there's still the predicament that spinsters, even if sometimes by the aid of cats, can live well into their 90s, while divorced, widowed, or never married men who live alone do much more poorly in general and don't live as long.

IVYOWL said...

Hi I am a spinster ( an actual real childless never married lived alone all my life and older person) and I have a comment on what the last person implied about cats. He said:

"But there's still the predicament that spinsters, even if sometimes by the aid of cats, can live well into their 90s, while divorced, widowed, or never married men who live alone do much more poorly in general and don't live as long"

OK I DO have a lot of cats because I do animal rescue. But I just want to clear up something I KNOW is a myth (at least when it comes to me). THat is WHY I have the cats because I really think a lot of people are projecting their motives onto me. I don't have these cats because I am lonely and I do not have cats because they replace a man or a family for me. SERIOUSLY I DONt

I have all these cats for THE VERY SAME REASON the very happily married president of our rescue group has all these cats, and for the VERY SAME REASON my 80-year-old friend with lots of loving children and grandchildren has all these cats and my sister who has a great marriage to a very handsome devoted husband has all her cats. We like cats and have a lot of compassion for those cats who have been abandoned through no fault of their own. Not having childern might give us more time and resources to do this --but that is a good thing. And if you don't see the good in that then you might have less compassion than some do. A lot of animal lovers think it is GREAT what I am doing.

I am also a vegan and animal rights activist and I am passionate about that. I even try to treat insects humanely I'd probably be happier if I had no cats at times(especially since merely having them makes me fit the derided stereotype). But I can't have no cats because I can't just harden my heart that much--even if the world is laughing at me( and I know they are)

I don't think I am going to live well into my 90's but if I do, maybe it would be because of my attitude of valuing life..ALL life, including mine.

IVYOWL said...

PS Excuse all my typos and errors. They are regretful. This wireless keyboard needs replacing TODAY.