Single Women: Bitter and Lonely?

Miss Havisham has a lot to answer for.  Ever since the 1860s-and probably before-the stereotype of an unmarried woman of a certain age has been one of pity, scorn and the assumption of a certain type of jealous bitterness.

How this relates to my son having a tantrum may at present be unclear.  However, as anyone in possession of a toddler will undoubtedly recognise, meltdowns are a familiar part of life; especially when in a public place.

My son had one such meltdown today.

Naturally, this occurred in a public place.  The local pub to be exact, where my mother and I had taken him for lunch.

It was nothing out of the ordinary.  Piglet has eaten in this pub many times before, and many times before he has decided that he is not interested in sitting in a high chair, eating food or any such trifling matters, but would instead prefer to run like a maniac around the building pointing and yelling at the fruit machines.  And every time, the staff and patrons of the pub are remarkably magnanimous towards his infantile foibles, and respond with phrases such as “aww, isn’t he sweet,” and “would you like a crisp?” (I had to rein in my middle class outrage at the latter, but the gesture was well-intentioned).

Therefore, when Piglet decided he would not sit down-either in the high chair or the full-size “big boy chair” that was offered as a tempting alternative and eat his carrots, I expected the response to be similar.

I was not entirely happy myself with his decision to stand in the middle of the pub (at the top of a flight of stairs, all the better for everyone to view his distress) and bawl his eyes out rather than sit placidly in his high chair and eat broccoli like the child I always imagined I’d have, but it appeared, somewhat to my surprise given our previous positive experiences with patient fellow pub-goers, that others were even less impressed.

“People are getting annoyed,” my mother hissed (translation: don’t you even think about sitting down now.  Sort your child out and calm him down like a proper mother).  I was about to tell her that they couldn’t give a monkey’s, and were happily carrying on eating their Sunday lunches and playing cards the same way they always did, when I spotted a woman a few metres away waving a walking stick angrily, and yelling “shut up!” at my precious offspring in a way which was, frankly, completely ineffective (had she never met a toddler?) before turning to the couple next to her and muttering about how are children even allowed in pubs these days, it’s a disgrace, they should be seen and not heard, or preferably not even seen, but stored away in the East wing with a nanny and a selection of disused furniture.

Fortunately, I recognised the woman as a well known local (these are my mother’s words) “miserable cow,” who always had something negative to say, so I wasn’t too bothered, but it was my mother’s later assessment of the situation that I found interesting.

Half an hour later we were sitting in self-imposed exile in the beer garden, where Piglet had suddenly discovered that he was more amenable to sitting in a high chair if he could get a bit of sun on his face and ice cream in his mouth, and I mentioned the “miserable cow” to my mother.

“Oh well,” was her response.  “She’s known for it.  She’s always having a go at the staff as well, and don’t get me started on her attitude in Waitrose…….Then again, she is a single woman.”

I pointed out that actually, so was I, and I didn’t go around waving walking sticks at small children and shouting ineffectual curses from some distance away.

However, I knew the comparison was a ridiculous one.  To my mother, and probably to everyone else, the agitator with the walking stick and I couldn’t be more different.  I had a child, she had none, I was young(ish), or at least still passably in the prime of life, and she was elderly.  But that was exactly the point.  She had, in the eyes of the world, passed into the realm of Miss Havisham Bitter Old Spinster Territory, whereas I, arguably, can still hold out hope that some man will take pity on me and rescue me from my single state, despite my obvious disadvantages in the marriage market at being both a single mother and rapidly heading towards the end of my childbearing years.

The point of this is not whatever combination of character and life experience caused our friend with the walking stick to behave in such a sociopathic way, but what everyone assumed was her reason for doing so.

She is old, she is unmarried, and she is childless, therefore, ergo, she is lonely, bitter and angry at the world.

Is this what we think of women who don’t marry or have children?  Is this what we think of Oprah Winfrey, Coco Chanel and Jane Austen?  I certainly hope not.

I don’t know what caused the woman in the pub to be so angry at life.  Clearly whatever it is, it’s bigger than me, bigger than my bawling toddler and bigger than the mere fact of not being married, so let’s stop stereotyping women as “bitter old spinsters.”

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Reflections From Me

36 Comments Add yours

  1. I live next door to an old, bitter woman. She doesn’t like my dog, she doesn’t seem to like us as a family either. We barely make noise so it can’t be that. We have no idea why we’re a thorn in her side. We just try to avoid her when possible. I hope I never become bitter in old age. #TribalLove

    1. Min says:

      Me too. I think some people are just grumpy at everything!

  2. Sarah says:

    Some people are nasty some people aren’t – I can’t see how marital status has a great deal to do with it to be honest! Thankfully I never had anyone give me any disapproving looks re the boy – though to be fair I am pretty oblivious! 😀

    1. Min says:

      Me too-it was just the fact that my mother saw fit to mention it (although she is now denying it after this post) that got me thinking! Thanks for commenting.

  3. Pen says:

    When I don’t have Cygnet with me, I like to stare at other people’s children and watch as the tantrums flare and the embarrassment paralyses them. I like to stare because then I don’t feel quite so bad when Cygnet puts me through the same torture. My stares are of sisterhood and sympathy though.

    I have to say though Min, there is something quite appealing about being a bitter old spinster. I quite like being able to please myself. I would lose myself in art and books and wine and cats and get properly into music, not just the stuff that I can sing along to. All of this time wasted trying to keep a man happy. There are much better pursuits.

    1. Min says:

      Oh there’s definitely a lot that’s appealing about being a spinster. I just don’t like the stereotype that all spinsters are bitter and miserable-because it seems that the opposite is true.

  4. Pen says:

    #KCACOLS Sorry, I forgot…again

  5. Michelle G says:

    Before I met my husband, I was single and lived on my own for a number of years. I wasn’t bitter or nasty, I was quite happy because I’d rather have been on my own that with someone who wasn’t right for me. There is no correlation between being a miserable sod and being single – some people are grumpy buggers, others are not 😉 #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Absolutely! I’m single, and I like to think I’m not grumpy!

  6. Beta Mummy says:

    I have a slight fear of becoming a bitter old hag, but at least having been married I can’t get lumbered with the “spinster” title!
    I try to turn a blind eye to miserable fuckers, figuring that they clearly can’t be happy with their own lot in life if they spend their days complaining about how other people spend theirs.

    1. Min says:

      Absolutely true! Thanks for commenting.

  7. What an interesting post. At first I nodded along and chuckled to myself over your familiar carrot-rejecting predicament (sorry, but we’ve all been there!). I didn’t foresee where it was going. It is very arrogant of people with partners and children to assume that a life lived without them is one of bitterness and anger. Especially given the amount of moaning that we collectively do about them 😉 Who amongst us hasn’t wanted to wave a stick at our own screaming child and shout “shut up”, even if we haven’t actually done it?
    I agree with Pen that on the very rare occasion when I am out without my kids and I see or hear a tantrum, my first thought is “Thank f*%k I don’t have to deal with that, and thank even more f*%ks that it’s not just me.”
    x Alice

    1. Min says:

      That’s exactly what I think too! And yes, always good to ear that it’s not just me on the food-rejection front!

  8. Kerry says:

    I’ve experienced several cringeworthy meals out at our local pub, fortunately our village’s miserable cow was there at the time, and just to clarify she is not single or childless or elderly, just miserable?

    1. Min says:

      Haha! Thanks for commenting.

  9. Kerry says:

    PS via #KCACOLS

  10. Emma says:

    Oh such a fantastic post. Why is it that a grumpy person always appears when your child is having an epic meltdown? On the cruise that we went on a couple of weeks ago, an elderly man came up and spoke to my two on the first night. They were being as good as gold but he said to them “now I hope that you two are going to be good on this cruise otherwise I am going to have to have a word with Father Christmas”. I stood in stunned silence until my mum ranted at him “excuse me, they are very good children because they are MY grandchildren” As for the spinster thing it really is from Victorian fiction when they believed sexual desire in a woman meant you were nuts and you were sent to live in the attic a la mad woman in Jane Eyre or you were called a spinster like Havisham. In some ways our supposedly modern society hasn’t really moved on from the victorian one.

    1. Min says:

      Thank you! Totally agree about the spinster thing. As for Father Christmas man….! Whatever possessed him? Some people seem to assume that children are just there to spoil their peace and quiet.

  11. Ellen says:

    Ohh another interesting one, Min. You’re right, I think, that there’s an assumption that a woman who is child free and unmarried must be sad, lonely or bitter. It’s ridiculous in 2016. Obviously she’s a grumpy or angry person but as you say I doubt that’s because of her marital status! My dad made a comment recently about how he bet his peers who didn’t have children regretted it – he was paying us as a family a compliment but we were all saying it’s actually best if people don’t have children unless they are sure they want them!! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Not a random comment at all (just got your Twitter message!) Totally agree. x

  12. Some people have these moments where they are suddenly nasty and so angry – what a mean woman to shout at Piglet. But you have a point, I’m often shocked at some people’s reaction to the fact that me and OH are not married. One girl even followed it up with “but you are engaged?” Err no, and that’s perfectly fine by me! The assumption that you need to be married and with children is crazy. Fab post xx #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      It is! To be honest, her shouting at Piglet was just funny because it was so ineffective. He didn’t even notice her!

  13. laura dove says:

    Oh some people are just plain nasty!! I do think people become quite bitter in their old age, we live next door to one and she is just plain evil! If my children so much as laugh she screams at them, and if the dog barks, god help us!!! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Oh dear! Some people do become less tolerant in their old age I think! Thanks for commenting.

  14. I think it is so easy to stereotype isn’t it, yet it’s all a load of rubbish really. Not all elderly women without husbands or children are mean or bitter and not all teen girls are boy crazy etc. it’s too easy to place people into categories to explain or rationalise the behaviour of some. It is sad really that some people are so miserable that they take it out on others #mg Great post!

    1. Min says:

      It is. I wonder what has happened to her to make her so miserable. Thanks for commenting.

  15. Madeline says:

    I think you’re right, some people are just destined to be miserable old people, regardless of their marital status! x #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      I agree! Thanks for commenting.

  16. It’s so easy to stereotype and there are some typical stereotypical assumptions that seem to be made by people of an older generation (like our parents) – or am I stereotyping even saying that??

    I think we have all known of an older, unmarried, childless woman who is also bitter, angry and miserable….I guess the question is really – is she that way because she is unmarried without children and therefore has not had the joy of a close love? Or has she always been that way and hence this is why she has been unable to find a man to marry her?

    I realise I am treading in dangerous ground here making these kind of generalisations, or asking these kind of questions – so I would like to be clear for anyone reading that I am not suggesting at all that women need a man and a child in order to be happy! I have to admit though, I am definitely happier for having both, but that’s me and we are all different!
    Such a shame that some people don’t have patience for children. I find myself torn when in public, between parenting and disciplining for the benefit of spectators and just letting a child be a child and understanding that this is just a way of expressing emotions when there is no other known way at that age and stage. I am usually quite laid back because I get it – but it is hard when people are watching and commenting. #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      I think some people are bitter or unpleasant for reasons that are complex and probably include a variety of factors including a combination of character and life experience. I am totally with you on the disciplining for the benefit of spectators thing-I think this is a really interesting one. I have definitely found myself admonishing Piglet (lightly) in public for things he would have probably got away with at home, and I find myself asking whether I am genuinely trying to prevent him from behaving a certain way, or if i am just trying to save face by telling him off because I think people will disapprove if I don’t. It can be hard to strike a balance sometimes.

  17. Some people are just grumpy! It is just part of their nature. I don’t think there is any correlation or at least it shouldn’t be one between being a grumpy, sad and nasty soul with the fact that you are single woman. There are a lot of women out there that are completely happy just being on their own with no man around to deal with! lol And yes how hard it is when you are out and about and your kids decide to have the biggest tantrum ever! Bloody difficult! We deserve a medal! Thanks so much for also sharing this at #KCACOLS, 🙂 x

    1. Min says:

      Thanks for hosting and commenting! Yes, I am one of those women. I’m happily single. The tantrums are coming thick and fast now, though. Must be the terrible twos!

  18. I’d say she’s single because she’s a total cow, not a cow because she’s single. I don’t think you need to worry!!

    1. Min says:

      Haha, thanks!

  19. There are so many grumpy and bitter merried people too…

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