never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: anger

the raw deal

Anyway, all the aside, I could never quite comprehend just why these women complained so much, I was told time and time again that I was lucky that I had such freedom (luck has nothing to do with it – it’s a personal choice to have children or not, and I chose ‘not!’) I was also told that motherhood is by far the most difficult thing that any women would do, and that I had no comprehension on the difficulties of juggling motherhood, keeping house and working.

To the woman I was 2 years ago, these comments sounded patronising and way off the mark. I was 25, single, working full time hours in my chosen career, and also working two extra jobs (in a pub at weekends and data inputting on the evenings) just to keep my own head above water – and still I was struggling. Being told ‘I had no idea about real life’ from women who were only working part time hours, had husbands to help them (and bring in a second pay-packet), and who got to spend much more time at home than me was something I resented greatly. I wondered how they thought my essentials (housework, washing etc) got done as I sure as hell could not afford a cleaner and trust me when your struggling with day to day life with no support the last thing worth spending worrying about is the last time you watered your flower boxes (couldn’t afford somewhere with a garden!). But, the core base of their argument was that motherhood is a hard job, and one of which I could not comment on. And as I had never spent a whole day with a baby or young child on my own I kept my silence.


A common experience among women posting to the online bulletin board was a sense of isolation from the “fertile world” and the feeling that they were somehow “different” to other women. Many women talked about how not having children of their own meant that they were forever “on the outside looking in” on their peers becoming mothers and raising families. The knowledge that they would never be admitted into this “mum’s club” evoked a range of strong negative emotions in members of the online community. Emotions commonly expressed in the postings included intense feelings of grief and anguish at the loss of their opportunity to become biological parents, as well as anger that this role had been denied to them.

“I constantly feel like an outsider in this world. Wherever I go or whatever I do, I feel like the odd one out. I work in a female dominated environment with either younger girls having babies or the older women becoming grandparents. There are always happy family photos being passed around, so I do feel ‘different’ to everyone else.”

Several women also described how being unable to conceive a child of their own, appeared to have changed their outlook on life in general, which served to further separate them from other women around them. For example:

“One of the things I find hardest to deal with is people with a child talking about the next or one planning their first as if they are going to order one and the universe will deliver, at particular age gap, what sex they want and that be most convenient after their holiday so they can enjoy a drink!! But the reason it bothers me so much is that I’ve had to learn that life isn’t like that when it appears others don’t have that lesson taught. It can make me feel singled out for some hardship and it’s so unfair.”

Hearing about other people’s pregnancies appeared to be a particularly painful experience for women in the online community and served as a poignant reminder that they were unable to conceive themselves. For many women, receiving news that a friend, colleague or family member was pregnant resulted in a mixture of joy, despair and feelings of jealousy. Such news often prompted members to access the online community, in order to vent their frustration and express these conflicting emotions to people who could empathize with their experiences. In this context, the online community served as a unique environment in which women could alleviate their sense of isolation and connect with other women in similar situations.

“I went over to see a friend yesterday to ‘mourn’ the breakup of my relationship and she announced that she is pregnant. I wouldn’t wish this feeling of isolation and hopelessness on anyone, especially a close friend but it felt like a kick in the gut non-the-less….”

Some women also described feelings of distress when they heard stories in the media about motherhood or attended family gatherings, where there were young children present. These experiences heightened their feeling of being “the odd one out” and once again brought home the realization that they would never experience motherhood.

“TV personalities seem to get pregnant at the drop of a hat or they have fertility treatment and it just seems to work first time for them. Reading these stories makes me really upset and angry”.

To protect themselves against reminders of their infertility and feeling like an outsider in social situations, several women reported avoiding certain family gatherings or cutting themselves off from friends who were pregnant or had children. Although this coping strategy was effective in avoiding painful feelings in the short-term, in the long-term it appeared to create a vicious cycle with members feeling more isolated and alienated from society as time went by:

“I have had an in built safety mechanism for years in which I distance myself from any friends/work colleagues/family of child bearing age, hence I was left with very few friends of my own age and have gradually felt more and more isolated.”

“I always dreaded family gatherings and made excuses not to go because i hated feeling like the odd one out whilst everyone around me had children or were expecting them. I tried to protect myself because i found it all too painful but at the same time i have found the feeling of isolation really painful and difficult too”.


I considered having a little goodbye gathering at my home before leaving town, but now I think, “Why bother?” My time here never really gelled; it feels more like a “passing through.”

Part of my reluctance to throw a party is that I’m also coming to terms with the fact that someone–maybe more than one person– stabbed me in the back when it came to finding a job at my old org here. I’m also realizing that the people who said they would help me find a job at their companies did so halfheartedly, if at all.

Without getting into specifics, I think there were several possible motivations: the desire to get their own friend or relative in a position; the fear of competition; the feeling that it would be uncomfortable to work with a former supervisor; the feeling of dislike for me for one reason or another. These people are my former co-workers, supervisors, or employees, and I had, in the past, hired them or helped them out as a reference or as a source of guidance. It’s been a tough lesson to learn that they wouldn’t do the same for me. When it came down to it, they opted instead to protect their own hides.

One or two did try to help, but when their efforts failed, they lapsed into silence, which hurt. Only one or two friendships here have remained untainted from this debacle.

I’ve met a lot of lovely new acquaintances, but I didn’t have the time to get to know them enough to invite them to a goodbye party.

In the end, I saved myself. I scored a top position elsewhere– still in the process of confirmation– based on my work history and excellent references from my former job.

So, sayonara to this city…it’s been real.

the sum total

But I would look elsewhere, away from how we might want to define ourselves in opposition to Amy and more in terms of how we’re all like her. We are all the sum totals of our failures, the times that our hearts broke or our lives crumbled or our worlds fell apart. We look at other people with envy and bitterness. We want what we don’t have and when we get it, we want something else. We’re often not very nice to the people who most count on us to be so, and we sometimes don’t understand just how much we hurt those around us. Just like people scatter from Amy, there are those who simply don’t want to be around us, who run when they see us coming. What Enlightened got right, particularly in its second season, when it was the best show on TV, was that the act of simply being alive, of sitting in your home or standing on a street corner or driving through the night, can hurt so much. Every second is another opportunity to feel alone or useless or washed up. Every day is a new chance to wash up on the island of your own lost opportunities.


Hmmm… I will have to get to this one soon, as Henry James, Emily Dickinson, and Edie Sedgwick have all been mentioned in this blog:

How much of Nora’s fantasy is true — and to what degree the Shahids must share blame where it is false — is at the core of Messud’s novel. Though she invokes Ellison, the writer Messud brings to mind is Henry James — with his involuted prose, often unreliable narrators and focus on the disconnect between American innocence and European experience.

It becomes increasingly clear that we can’t always rely on Nora’s view of events. Even as she pointedly tells us that she is the woman upstairs, rather than the mad woman in the attic, her art commemorates suicidal figures such as Alice Neel, Edie Sedgwick and Virginia Woolf. Nora herself suffers a breakdown of sorts in the aptly named Galerie Werther.

But like Emily Dickinson — the predecessor that Nora’s art most fully honors — Nora’s heightened state lets her see things others miss: how postmodernism reduces meaning to pastiche and art to easily consumed images; how women continually “glimpse freedom too late, at too high a price”; and, in an exquisitely rendered nod to that most Jamesian of themes, how she has failed to fully live because she has been overly afraid of dying.


We’re the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound. In our lives of quiet desperation, the woman upstairs is who we are, with or without a goddamn tabby or pesky lolloping Labrador, and not a soul registers that we are furious. We’re completely invisible. I thought it wasn’t true, or not true of me, but I’ve learned I am no different at all. P. 6


The Woman Upstairs is a curious and compelling book—a contemporary Jean Brodie on steroids. Nora’s passion and onslaught of emotions for these people will strike some as peculiar or frightening. It feels as if nothing good can come of it but where will the fabric tear and who will cross the line? What makes a life fulfilling, and if what you think is not real, what do you do with what is left? Messud brings these questions to the forefront with her intense prose simultaneously creating sympathy for Nora in her loneliness but unease at the need that suffuses her every thought. With a surgeon’s precision she lifts the top of the collective cranium of an entire subset of women who, in having been given so much, feel left with so little. The Woman Upstairs is fiction that will resonate. There is what, to many, will be an unseemly rage but out of it comes an empowering sense of triumph.

ranty women

“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know.” Those are the opening lines of Claire Messud’s new novel, The Woman Upstairs. The novel is about a single woman, Nora, who hasn’t fulfilled her dreams of being an artist and having children. Nora’s plight is complicated when she befriends a woman who has done both.

The book explores deeper themes about what it means to sacrifice everything for one’s art and the inner life of a person whose dreams have been thwarted in relation to external realities. Part of that inner life, says Messud, is anger and she has long been interested in how anger manifests itself in the form of a rant.

“As a reader since very early I have found myself drawn to rants,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I was in my senior year of high school when I read Notes From Underground by Dostoyevksy and it was an exhilarating discovery. I hadn’t known up until that moment that fiction could be like that. Fiction could say these things, could be unseemly, could be unsettling and distressing in that particular way, that immediate and urgent way. And in the many years since I have read and loved a number of ranting narrators, and it struck me eventually that they were all men and that I didn’t know of a book in which a woman expressed her anger and I thought perhaps I should write one.”


And yet single people, of all ages, say they feel ignored as voters and taken for granted as employees.

In our recent Mind & Mood report, there was a lot of complaining from participants who were single and who didn’t have children about how they felt penalised for their “life decisions”.

double whammies


Unfortunately, when joblessness drags on it creates casualties, and mine are mounting. To wit:

My mother. Her emails and phone messages offering (perhaps) well-intentioned but ill-informed, condescending, and downright clueless job-hunting advice may well cause me to have a rage-induced stroke someday. She is bored and lonely, and I moved here partly to ameliorate that, but right now this plane is going down and I have to get my oxygen mask on first before I can think about helping someone else. I have refused her recent suggestions of a visit as I think it would not be healthy for either of us right now.

My fling. Given that he is in a position to help me in my job search but hasn’t done so and hasn’t even invited me to parties and events that would help me network within my area of interest, I cannot bring myself to respond to his sexting. The fact that he has shown zero concern over my job search and, rather than bolster my confidence as other friends have done, has instead questioned my skills, makes me feel about as amorous towards him as a dying sloth.

My friend in similar circumstances. I have a friend here who is in similar circumstances in all aspects of her life, but her approach to them is so diametrically opposed to mine that I think it’s better for both of us to avoid conversation. We’ve always gotten along, but there’s an edge, as it’s obvious we disagree so heartily on the issues plaguing us.

My former co-workers. Awkward. Enough said.

The “positive thinker.” I have a friend here in his early sixties who I like very much, but he was out of work for years and years and then scored a job when he wanted one because his best friend runs a major organization in town. He keeps telling me I’m being way too negative and I have no way of knowing that I won’t find a job here. It is hard for me to bite my tongue, but I’ve been doing so because I like him and don’t want yet another casualty.