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‘Stories From The City-A Berlin Anthology’ Book Launch

4 Jul

STB anthology

kop oldkop new

On Sunday July 19th 2015, Slow Travel Berlin will launch a new book- ‘Stories From The City-A Berlin Anthology’. My article about the history of my street in Prenzlauer Berg- Kopenhagenerstrasse- will be included in the book. I talk about how my street changed over the decade I lived there from 2004-2014 as well as some of the fascinating history of some of the buildings on the street. Above are two photos of the building I lived in for that tumultuous decade. The old- photographed in 2009 and the newly-renovated- in 2014.

2014 in review

1 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Goodbye to Berlin

12 Jul

Rainbow Berlin

by Rhea H. Boyden

Last December a friend of mine offered me a beautiful secondhand pink couch from IKEA, delivered to my door. Did I want it? Yes, please. My old couch had been in my family for at least 15 years. My mother had gotten it secondhand delivered to her apartment in Prenzlauer Berg probably in 1997 or 98. Where it had been before that and how old it actually was is a mystery to me. ‘We need to carry the old couch downstairs and chuck it out’ I announced to my lovely Swedish flatmate. She looked at the couch and then looked at me and said ‘I think we need to tear it into little tiny pieces first. It will make things easier.’ I looked at her and said ‘Ok, but how?’ She showed me how: by upending the couch and pulling off the thousands of staples and layers of cardboard that were holding it together. I was amazed at how shoddy the interior was. Cardboard? How the heck had the thing held up through all the years of my family and friends sitting, jumping and sleeping on it. It had actually been a fairly comfortable couch. ‘It’s definitely an old GDR couch.’ my roommate said.

GDR Couch 

 The old couch-Christmas 2000- with some of my siblings sitting on it

Now six months later, I have decided to leave Berlin after 14 years and am in the thick of preparations to vacate my apartment and move back to Ireland. I certainly can’t stay in Berlin much longer than the lifespan of the cardboard GDR couch, can I? When my flatmate was ripping the couch apart however, I had no such plans to leave. It was only after I got back from my trip to New York after Christmas that the idea started creeping into my subconscience that leaving might, maybe be a good idea. But it was a scary thought and definitely not one that I was comfortable with yet or even decided upon. Berlin is my home. Why go anywhere else? I have a good life here.

donkey bridge lights

In the middle of January I met up with an Australian friend of mine who was visiting. I took him to a bar I like in Prenzlauer Berg called Eselsbrücke. I like it because it has managed, over the years, to retain a vibe I liked about Prenzlauer Berg before it became gentrified, and so going there puts me in a nostalgic mood. We were sitting at the bar and I told him that I was considering moving back to Ireland. He looked at me and casually said: ‘It sounds like you have already made up your mind.’ This scared me because I most definitely had not made up my mind and was very unsure about whether this was a good idea or not. But it proved one thing to me: sometimes others understand things about you sooner than you understand them yourself.

The choice of the bar we were in was also very significant to me making big plans. One main reason to leave Berlin is to begin a new job, learn new skills and start fresh. And as fullfilling as English teaching has been for me, I am ready to quit it and do other things. The bar was called ‘Eselsbrücke’ and the direct translation into English is ‘donkey bridge’. An ‘Eselsbrücke’ in linguistics is a mnemonic or a memory hook: something to help a student commit something to memory by comparing it to something else. I think I have been a fairly good English teacher showing compassion and patience for my many hundreds of students over the years, but the one question that has been asked of me repeatedly by so many German students is this: ‘Gibt es dafür eine Eselsbrücke?’ which means ‘Is there some easy way for me to remember this vocabulary, some memory hook?’ and usually I have no clue how to answer this. I generally just say that I am sorry and they will have to just make the effort and learn the vocabulary without any ‘Eselsbrücke’ to guide them. I really don’t have the heart to tell them the true meaning and origin of the word which is Pons Asinorum in Latin (the bridge of donkeys) which is the name given to Euclid’s fifth proposition in the Elements of geometry. The term comes from the fact that learning the fifth proposition was a bridge to learning all the others that come after it and it was a test to see who was intelligent enough to master it, or who was too stubborn (as is a donkey) and slow to get it. I am afraid I cannot provide a ‘donkey bridge’ for my students. I am a freelance English teacher. The students have to learn the vocabulary themselves and that is where my patience runs out. My suggestion to them: read as much English as possible and then you will get the words in context. I want to push myself over the bridge at this point and learn new things and move onto a new job. I am ready and I am determined to not be stubborn and closed-minded.

Flag vines

A little later in January I was sitting on the beautiful, secondhand pink IKEA couch wrapped in my pink and purple quilt reading ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed. It was minus ten degrees outside and I read how Strayed sometimes froze at night while camping and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington and is the more challenging and lesser known sister trail to the Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. ‘Wild’ is a delightful and inspiring memoir and Strayed is a smart and sassy lady. Her story was hugely inspiring to me and really pushed it home to me how a long, long hike spent mainly alone in the wilderness is a great metaphor for life. The uphills and the downhills, the bears and rattlesnakes, the people she meets who feed her, guide her and nourish her. But ultimately, she is alone and she has chosen this. She has sold and given away all her things and she is out on a hike to find herself. I sat on my couch both afraid and inspired. I was warm and snuggly on the couch. I had hot tea, nice snacks, my notebooks. Everything was cozy and comfortable, but I was wracked with indecision. ‘It sounds like you have already made up your mind.’ I couldn’t forget what my Australian friend had said to me at the bar. I had not made up my mind yet but a voice was growing stronger and stronger inside me: ‘You need to leave Berlin and shake things up a bit. It is time.’ I battled with this voice, fought it bitterly, told it it was being irrational and to please just go away and leave me alone. A few days later my Australian friend came back to visit me and as he was sitting next to me on the pink IKEA couch I made up my mind. All at once it was crystal clear: I had to leave Berlin and move back to Ireland. I am sure that his presence aided me in making the decision. It seemed he really had sensed my decision before I had made it. I told him at the time that he was one of my ‘angel people’ as writer Natalie Goldberg likes to call them: people who come into your life and guide you, inspire you and nourish you right at a time when you need them most. In ‘Wild’ Cheryl Strayed also writes of ‘trail angels’: the people who come and camp for the summer right along the Pacific Crest Trail. They are there to greet the hikers who emerge from the woods after weeks alone in the wilderness, who having eaten nothing more than oatmeal, rice and trail mix, are ravenous. Strayed says how she really tried to eat in a civilised manner when one such trail angel put a plate of potato salad, green beans and a big juicy burger in front of her. After she had wolfed down the entire plate of food her host wordlessly placed another burger and another helping of potato salad onto her plate. He knew she needed it and appreciated it fully. He had come into her life when she desperately needed nourishment.

When I read the last sentence of ‘Wild’ I put the book down and thought: ‘Wow! What an incredibly brave woman and what a crazy adventure she had’. I glanced around my living room and looked at all the junk that me, my family and my friends had managed to amass in my apartment over the past decade. ‘Where did all this crap come from?’ I gasped, and I knew what I had to do: start sorting through it all and getting rid of it, and I knew it was going to take awhile. Strayed got rid of all her stuff and went on an adventure and that is what I want to do.

Within a few days I realised that I had not one, but two copies of Christopher Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ on my bookshelf. I have two copies but I have only read the book once. I love the book and so I flung open the first page of one of the copies and started reading it again. This is why I knew it would take time for me to say goodbye to Berlin: I have multiple copies of the same book in my library and I won’t be able to get rid of them until I read at least parts of them again. A sentence on the first page of ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ conveyed a powerful message to me. Isherwood writes this: ‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all of this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.’ It occured to me that no matter how much I take my life in Prenzlauer Berg for granted, and no matter how much it has all become daily routine involving me walking down the street with my eyes shut, as is the habit when you have lived somewhere a long time, it is now imperative that I wake up to my surroundings and pay attention to the details. I must, as Isherwood wrote, be a camera with its shutter open, really absorbing the details, taking notes and photographs for my future writings about Berlin, for if I don’t really pay attention now, I will regret it later.

mauer park

middle of street

One afternoon when I finished work early, I consciously took about half an hour to walk from the train station to my apartment. I photographed the buildings and the plants, the skies and the shadows. I walked down the middle of the street to get a new perspective. I stopped and scrutinised things I hadn’t seen before. I tried to really take in my whole street with all my senses open and alive. When I got home, I made a cup of hot peppermint tea and I sat on my balcony and took in the fantastic view. I really do have a great balcony and a great view. I can, just as Isherwood did, observe my neighbours and the activities of the street. It is a colourful and interesting view. The swifts fly and chirp and hunt bugs on a summer evening and the sun reflects back onto me from the windows on the opposite buildings. I can look over the old border and see former West Berlin from my former East Berlin apartment and I can reflect on what that view has meant to so many people over the decades.


‘But you can’t leave Berlin, you ARE Berlin!’ one of my long term American friends in Berlin said in dismay when I announced to him that I was leaving. Yet another said ‘But your place is an institution! Are you SURE you want to leave?’ I have been fielding comments like this for months and as flattering as it is for people to say that ‘I am Berlin’ I am choosing to really listen to the people who have faith in my plan which is slowly taking shape: Find a room and a job in Dublin and move there with about twenty percent of what I currently own and start over. My fear of change is slowly turning into excitement and anticipation. I feel very strongly that radical change is essential for further growth right now, and it seems that as I continue to pull books off my shelf and read excerpts from them before either giving them away or packing them into a box to be shipped to Ireland, that every book is conveying some powerful message to me. In the wake of Maya Angelou’s death I grabbed my copy of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ and reread the whole book. Angelou writes: ‘The need for change bulldozed a road down through the centre of my mind.’ I can most certainly relate to this. She also writes: ‘There is a time in every man’s life when he must push off from the wharf of safety into the sea of chance.’ This adventure through my library is proving inspiring indeed for my upcoming leap into the unknown.

dappled light

I realise now what the problem was last January: I really was cozy and comfortable sitting on the pink IKEA couch wrapped in my pink and purple quilt. In fact, I was way too comfortable. It was the sort of comfort that is stifling and blinding. It is the sort of security that terrifies me. This is not the first time I found myself sitting on a comfortable IKEA couch in Berlin and realised strongly the the comfort and security of it half scared me to death with suffocation and that I simply had to escape and live on the edge again. Exactly five years earlier on a cold January night I was sitting on a more expensive white IKEA couch in the lovely, clutter free living room of my then German boyfriend. He had a great job and was willing to spend a lot of money on me and on him for all sorts of material comforts to make us happy. My English teaching job was merely a hobby in his eyes, one that I would naturally quit once I had his baby. And as much as I am ready to quit English teaching and change careers now, it was an insult to me that he considered my job merely a fun kind of pastime until I get married and become a German housewife. I left that lovely comfortable white couch and I left that boyfriend and returned to my old cardboard GDR couch and continued to support myself alone on my English teaching job which has been my very real career for the past 14 years and not just some fun hobby. I felt alive again, like I had shaken things up and had returned to my life and who I really was. Has the loss of the cardboard GDR couch somehow really been instrumental in me wanting to shake things up yet again? What is it about the comfort of IKEA couches that makes me want to run away, give everything up and start a new adventure?

flower pots

Ernest Hemingway once said that you can only really write about a place when you have left it behind you and have some perspective on it. Some friends of mine say: ‘Oh but won’t you really miss Berlin, you have been here so long?’ and I tell them that of course I will miss Berlin, and there will be nostalgia and I will have moments of regret and uncertainty about the choices I have made, but it has been said over and over that the happiest and most successful people seem to be the ones who listen to and follow that inner voice. It does seem very true that you will always regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did do, so I will follow the inner voice as well as the voices of the many writers I admire who provide me with constant wisdom and guidance every time I pull a book off my shelf and look for the guidance. I trust the voice of Ernest Hemingway when he tells me I will write better about Berlin when I am removed from Berlin and have some perspective on it. And so I continue, day by day, to sort through my books: taking them off the shelf, flinging them open and finding solace and guidance in them before deciding whether to put them into a box to ship to Ireland or a box to donate to charity or give to friends. One book that is definitely going into a box to ship home is my Norton Anthology of Poetry, for it is the book that provides me the most comfort when I am overcome with fear or insecurity. Moving is stressful and it is taxing emotionally and physically, but I am reminded in the poetry of W.H. Auden that all will work out and my moments of distress will pass, as time passes:

In headaches and in worry

Vaguely life leaks away

And Time will have his fancy

Tomorrow or today

O look, look in the mirror

O look in your distress;

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless

If I have any distress about leaving Berlin for the unknown, I remind myself that my choice to leave is purely my own and no one is forcing me to do it. I have my support network and I have faith that it will work out. W.H. Auden also had a close friend and mentor, none other than Christopher Isherwood. They set sail for the United States in 1939, on the eve of war, on temporary visas, which was a controversial move. I think of the adventures and trials they must have faced, but knowing that they had their literary muses and writing to keep them going. I will also write my way though my adventure and embrace uncertainty. As for the two copies of ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ that I posess? Well, one is going in my hand luggage the day I leave, and the other is going to the flea market.

Rhea Balcony

And so, in my last weeks in Berlin, I continue to do as Isherwood says: ‘be a camera with its shutter open’. My neighbourhood is so familiar and only fails to be interesting to me when my eyes are closed. Last week I took a leisurely walk over to my mother’s old street in Prenzlauer Berg. It was a beautiful, hot day and along the way I stopped at one of my favourite ice cream shops. I usually just say ‘Oh, I will have a scoop of raspberry sherbet please’ because that is my favourite flavour and I order it on autopilot, just as I walk down my street on autopilot. This time, however, I paused and I ordered a flavour I had never sampled before: Waldmeister, which is the German for sweet woodruff. It is the same flavour that they put in the popular Berliner Weisse beer. As I strolled along my mother’s old street to go and stand in front of and photograph the apartment that she and my sisters lived in from 1990 to 2001, a very drunk old German man approached me and said with despair ‘Everything used to be better here, you have no idea how things have changed here, no idea.’ I looked at him and said ‘In fact, I do know how things have changed here, some things are better and some things are worse. I have been here a long time too.’ I stood and chatted to the drunk for a few moments discussing life and change in Prenzlauer Berg. We were bonded, momentarily, by nostalgia. I will never know exactly what he was thinking and what he missed about the past, but I do know where my thoughts were: they were on the time I first walked up the stairs to my mother and sisters’ apartment when I first came to Berlin to visit them in 1991 with my younger brother from our father’s home in Ireland when I was 16.

I said goodbye to the drunk man, wished him a nice day and walked away, not looking back, knowing that this was a final goodbye to my mother’s place. I see no reason to return there again. I would like to honour the rituals of departure: once you have taken your leave from something or someone it is unpleasant to have to do it again. And to the people who say I can always return to Berlin if I am not happy elsewhere, I can only say that is highly unlikely to happen. Why would I come back to a city that I have spent half a year taking my leave from? There are endings and there are new beginnings. With my departure I am very aware that I am closing not only my own sojourn in Berlin, but also that of my family’s: when I leave I am ending nearly a quarter of a century of my family living in Prenzlauer Berg. It will truly be the end of an era.

Donkey bridge Ayse

 Die Brücke by Ayse Domeniconi

When I arrived home, I made a cup of black tea and sat on the pink IKEA couch once more. As I sat there, deep in reverie, my eyes settled on a painting that I have on my wall that is the work of one of my mother’s oldest friends in Berlin who she met nearly a quarter of a century ago. The painting is acrylic with deep shades of blues, reds, black and forest green. It is a rather unreal painting with the colours fading together. In it you can see a bridge with a donkey halfway across it, pulling its load in a cart behind it. Hovering over the bridge and the donkey there is an angel. I suddenly sat bolt upright on the couch in amazement. ‘A donkey, a bridge and an angel? Wow! How crazy is that?’ I was going to give away all my paintings, but suddenly this painting has too much meaning for me. I think I am going to have to splurge and have it shipped back to Ireland. It truly is amazing, this phase of living, as Christopher Isherwood says, like a camera with its shutter open. I wonder if I can continue to live like this as I start the next chapter of my life. It certainly makes all of life more rich, vibrant and whole.

Link to Essay in Multicoolty Mag

3 Jun

Rhea Balcony

Written by Rhea

Editing and Layout by Eve

Photos by Johanna and Euan


In Memory of Taidhg Burke-Neff

25 Oct

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of the frequent weekend trips my dad would take my brother and me on up the beautiful Mealagh Valley to spend glorious weekends with the Burke-Neff and the Wieler families. We would spend wonderful hours romping through the fields, walking up the mountain and going down to the river with all the kids. West Cork, Ireland was truly such a wonderful place to grow up. I am deeply saddened by the events of the past days and of the tragic death of Taidhg Burke-Neff, but I also see what a strong and supportive community we have in Bantry and how much love is shown and shared at this difficult time. My thoughts are with Taidhg’s amazing parents Sandie and Noel and his sisters Niamh and Roisin, and also with the Wieler family: Fred, Janny, Flora, Frank, Sunny and Myrthe. Love and hugs to you all from Berlin. May Taidhg’s beautiful soul and music carry everyone through this difficult time. Love and condolences to all. RIP Taidhg. xxxxx


24 Jun

woods path angels

By Rhea H. Boyden

In her memoir ‘Long Quiet Highway’, author and teacher of creative writing, Natalie Goldberg reminds us to think of our angels when we are writing. She tells us to write about our special ‘angel people’ and ‘angel places’ and think about the importance both play in shaping our lives, inspiration and creativity.

My first thought when I read this is ‘Well, I am not religious and I do not believe in angels, so what is she talking about?’ Upon further reflection, however, I realize that what she advises makes sense. The word ‘angel’ on the simplest level means ‘messenger’ and as a writer I try and stay open to all kinds of messages that might be useful in my stories and in my life in general.

So what does she mean by ‘angel places’ anyway?  Does she simply mean the places that always come back to you in your dreams or thoughts that make you feel at peace or inspire you? Perhaps. There is a path down to the river near my family’s house in Ireland that I always think about for some reason, when I write any memories of childhood. The memory of walking this path with my childhood friends in my neighbourhood brings back further happy memories of spending our summers at the river swimming. This path is one of my ‘angel places’ and I can’t quite pinpoint why I always think of it, but thoughts of walking along it always inspire me to write. I can only presume that this what Natalie Goldberg is getting at when she talks of ‘angel places’.

Now her concept of ‘angel people’ is one I find more intriguing. I definitely have my angels in my life who have guided me at very important points and not only regarding writing and creativity, but regarding much bigger and important life issues. There is one man in my life who I have always thought of as a guardian angel. He is an old family friend, and over the years he has always given me the best snippets of advice on what decision I should make at a certain juncture. His well-timed pearls of wisdom have guided and helped me and I have never quite understood why I have this connection to him necessarily. Is he some sort of ‘angel person’? He has even appeared in my dreams at times giving me extremely valuable pieces of information. There are some things that people say to you that you simply never forget.

I recently saw a humorous photo on Facebook of a marble statue of an angel with its head in its hands, full of despair. The quote under it said ‘I think my guardian angel must look like this a lot’. This made me chuckle, but I also related to it immediately. When I was partying and drinking a lot in Berlin (and acting less than angelic at times) before I finally completely quit the decadent lifestyle, I imagine that my guardian angel must have had some serious doubts and fears at times. I suppose I had a guardian angel ultimately protecting me against the demon, devil drink and I came through that episode relatively unscathed and with a great many stories to tell of Berlin nightlife.

Not to say that I did not have a few dark moments before quitting drinking where I pleaded to certain angels for guidance. There is a poem by the American poet, essayist and feminist, Adrienne Rich that I particularly relate to called ‘Gabriel’. (Gabriel being the archangel who visited Mary to foretell of the birth of Christ).  I am not sure what Rich meant, or what she was experiencing when she wrote the following lines, but they speak to me of a certain leveling with a higher guardian power that is there to warn, admonish and level with you for your own good: ‘The Angel is barely speaking to me, he isn’t giving or taking any shit, we glance miserably across the room at each other.’ Was Rich having a real conversation with an ‘angel person’ or was she speaking to a celestial being? It doesn’t really seem to matter. The whole poem appears to convey that she was given some special message by someone or something to help her work out one of life’s great challenges or turning points.

About the same time I quit drinking, another dear old family friend who makes angel necklaces, gave me one of her beautiful necklaces. It is shining silver with angel wings and has lovely glistening opals inlaid in it. Inside the box that the necklace came in is the following quote: ‘Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.’ This is a wonderfully guiding quote and has indeed proven useful. My attitude changed completely after the negative haze of alcohol induced depression lifted. I have a new found optimism in life, and things are not as dark as they once were at all, even though the daily particulars of my life have hardly changed.

I like to think of angels as being more metaphorical and poetic, but according to several polls conducted in the United States in 2009, a staggering 55% of Americans actually truly believe in angels. So according to studies, more Americans believe in angels than in climate change. A poll at the same time revealed that a mere 36% percent of Americans believed in global warming, a trend I surely hope is changing as more and more evidence comes to light as to the devastating effects of climate change. Or do these people pray to a guardian angel when a hurricane strikes or a flash flood occurs? I am not going to delve too much into climate change politics or religion because I fear the backlash that may cause. Instead I will just quote another line of poetry about angels by one of my favourite poets, William Blake: ‘I heard an angel singing, when the day was springing.’ A simple line of simple joy.

I like to think that my ‘angel people’ are the ones who come into my life and guide me at a time when I need them. In this sense, a lot of interesting and uncanny coincidences can be tied into a lot of my deepest experiences. After my fast paced partying Berlin life came to a close, I then started writing for the online magazine ‘Slow Travel Berlin’. This has turned out to be a tremendous thing for me as I have slowed things down and started to take my life and my writing more seriously. The editor of this magazine is truly one of my angels. He is an angel in the form of a mentor who believes in my work and gives me tonnes of advice, encouragement and feedback all the time. When he invited me to the magazine’s Christmas dinner party last year, I felt right at home. When I met him, his wife, and some of the other journalists, I had a strong feeling somehow that I recognized and knew these people already. This must be what Natalie Goldberg means when she talks of ‘angel people’ in your life. To close, I will quote a few more lines of Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Gabriel’ which also speak to me as I sit in solitude in my apartment on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon surrounded by my books, my notes and my angel people who are (as cheesy as it sounds) all around me all the time: ‘I sit in the bare apartment reading, words stream past me, poetry, twentieth century rivers, disturbed surfaces reflecting clouds, salutations in gold leaf, ribboning from his lips.’

Fruity Pebbles Forever

27 Apr

By Rhea H. Boyden

 Yesterday, as I was teaching my very beginning German students the English words for the colours of the rainbow, I was reminded of that multi-coloured  cereal that was made so popular in the U.S. in the 80’s by the Flintstones cartoon. When I was a young child living in Ireland, we had an abundance of rainbows but no Fruity Pebbles were to be had in the shops. This was a good thing, because, despite their claim in huge letters that they are gluten free, they have little nutritional value.  My dad made us eat heart-healthy porridge, which I hated.

When I was about 10, my brother and I were visiting my grandparents in Massachusetts and we were in a large supermarket stocking up on supplies for a sailing trip with them.  I was standing in the canyon of a cereal aisle gazing up at the multitude of colourful cereals. My grandfather had given me the joyous task of choosing a cereal for our trip. ‘I want that one’ I said, pointing up to the box of Fruity Pebbles. ‘Are you sure?’ my grandfather asked, knowing very well that I was choosing about the unhealthiest item in the store. ‘Oh, yes!’ I said with big eyes.  He must have seen the joy and delight in my eyes and not had the heart to contradict me.

‘Why did you pick out this disgusting cereal?’ my brother demanded of me the next morning as we were breakfasting on the bow of the boat. The Fruity Pebbles tasted awful. My brother and I spent a lot of time holding up bits of bread and other tasty morsels for the seagulls to eat right out of our hands as they flew by. We tried feeding the Fruity Pebbles to the seagulls, but they turned up their beaks in contempt.

There are some things, that once you have committed them in your childhood, your family never, ever let you forget about them. This story is one of mine. (I have way worse stories, but I won’t divulge them here). My grandfather has brought this story up dozens of times over the years and for some reason it has become a family joke. Last summer we had a family reunion in Massachusetts and my grandfather came back from the store and presented me with a big box of Fruity Pebbles. I laughed heartily and so did everyone else. They were put in the living room on display for everyone to admire.  A few months later, my aunt took the accompanying photo and tagged me and my brother in it and posted in on Facebook. I asked her if she was going to finally eat them or let them fossilize. ‘They are for the family time capsule’ she said. ‘They have enough preservatives in them to last that long!’ Well, I have no idea how long my blog will endure in cyberspace, but as long as it does, the Fruity Pebbles story can have its nook there too.

On Writing Autobiography

10 Mar


By Rhea H. Boyden

 How much should one reveal of oneself in one’s writing? This is a good question to pose. Those of you who have been following my writing, will no doubt have noticed that I enjoy revealing who I am, and what I have experienced in life. I love to write about my love life, my drinking and partying years, and I enjoy putting on paper the many ideas that race through my skull, some of which can be contentious at times. I enjoy teasing myself and exposing my weaknesses in the hopes that people can relate in some measure to it all. This is all fine and grand when I am writing about myself, but what about writing about my family? How do I write about them safely without hurting them or provoking family arguments? Obviously, more caution must be exercised here if I want to keep my family relationships intact. I have a large and wonderful family spread across the world and there are so many stories to tell about our adventures, good and bad personality traits, our individual tastes, and views of the world. Thus far, in writing my autobiographical cookbook, I have kept it very safe and have mainly touched on funny and silly family anecdotes, and I suppose I need to keep it like that in order to maintain a happy emotional life.

There is, of course, the temptation to delve deeper into darker family anecdotes as many other memoirists have done regarding their own families. In the past months, I have read several memoirs by renowned authors about their own family lives and have been paying special attention to how they treat this subject.

In his internationally bestselling memoir ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ David Sedaris does an excellent job of teasing himself and his family in laugh-out-loud anecdotes. He clearly has a great relationship with his sister Amy Sedaris, who has also made a name for herself in show business and entertainment, and I suppose his family have just learned to laugh at his great sense of humour and are proud that he and his sister are both earning a living from it. On the other hand, however, I find it quite intriguing when I see what some other memoirists are willing to reveal and how they possibly get away with it. In her memoir ‘The Liar’s Club’ that was published in 1995 and stayed at the top of The New York Times bestseller list for a year, Mary Karr writes some quite revealing things about her family. She talks in detail, especially, about her mother and her grandmother. I have an eccentric mother and two eccentric grandmothers of my own about whom I have a whole trove of stories I could share. Mary Karr makes no secret of the fact that she hated it when her grandmother came home to live with them when she was dying of cancer.  She writes of how she just could not understand how some Christian kids in her neighbourhood could sit all saintly reading the Bible to their rotting grandparents. She says quite simply that ‘grandma lived way too long and made mother cry too much’.  Of course, Mary Karr’s book is hilarious too and very well written and it is meant in jest, but if I had talked about my own grandma as ‘rotting’ in the last few months of her life, I would have likely insulted some older relatives of mine for being so callous and uncaring. Could I get away with saying ‘oh, but it was meant as a joke.’

 Mary Karr also makes no secret of her various family members copious drinking. On a road trip with her sister and her parents she talks of both her parents as being ‘plagued with the Smirnoff flu’. Or that her father, as far as she could recall, drank every day and he also kept a fifth of whiskey ‘ratholed’ in his truck in the garage and he consistently said he had to go out and ‘check on the truck’ which was his euphemism for needing a good swig of whiskey to help him deal with his family. My own grandma (who was an incredible woman and highly educated) also liked her martinis and her wine and when sitting at the family dinner table at my grandparents’ house in North Carolina, she would insist -whilst tapping on the brim of her glass- that we fill it right to the top. ‘But grandma’, we would say, ‘the glass will overflow and it is not meant to be filled to the brim, you can have a second glass.’ She did not like being told how to act in her own house by her younger relatives, so as a matter of principal she would pick up the large bottle of white wine, would fill her glass to the top and occasionally the wine would slosh over the top causing some eye rolling. To me, this is comedy, and I still see her struggling with the weight of the bottle and not giving a damn what anybody else thought of her. She was a tough nut.

When I graduated from university we had a party at my grandparents’ and were up late drinking beer on the porch, when suddenly my grandma appeared in her nightie at the screen door insisting that we save her a beer. We promised we would save her one. When she went back into the kitchen, however, we saw her struggle to open the heavy fridge door that had a tendency to stick. She took a beer from the fridge, wrapped it in her white nightie, and went back to bed. Clearly, she wasn’t going to take any risks. Who, in their right mind, would trust drunk college graduates to save them a beer?

 Mary Karr talks all about how her mother used to go ‘Away’ to drink, and she eventually went so crazy that she was taken ‘Away’ to a mental asylum for being ‘Nervous’. Karr goes into great detail about how her mother goes insane and burns all her and her sister’s clothes before appearing at their bedroom door with a knife with the intention of murdering them both before she finally gets distracted and then calls her doctor for help.

 I thankfully never experienced such a degree of domestic violence and madness in my own childhood, but I have many a story of my mother’s own eccentricities and neglect at times. She loved us in her own way, but as a teenager I resented her for many things in my grumpy teenage manner. In my late twenties, I remember my mother coming to visit me in Berlin and there was the moment where I was suddenly the adult and she was having more problems than me. It was at this moment that I managed to let a lot of my resentments go and just attempt to treat her as a friend and not my mother. I naturally still have resentments against my mother, but now that she has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I have realized even more that I have to be mature in dealing with her and her disease. Just as a ‘rotting’ grandparent is no joke, neither is a mother with a neuro degenerative disease, but even here I see comedy and a tree ripe for picking to fill my storybasket with anecdotes about her. I can’t help myself.  

I was recently on skype to my mother and my sister who are in California and the three of us were having a pleasant chat when my mother then announced how awful it was how all those poor school children were murdered by their classmate in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. ‘Yes, it is awful’ my sister and I concurred. ‘I was there and I saw it happen’ our mother elaborated. ‘You weren’t there, you saw it on the news.’ My sister said. ‘I was there, what do you know?!’ our mother responded in an irritated manner. My sister then quickly typed into the skype chat and wrote: ‘She’s confabulating’. ‘She’s what?’ I wrote back. I have yet to open my book on Alzheimer’s in preparation for my trip to California to see my mother. I guess I will read the whole book on the plane. In psychiatry confabulation is defined as: ‘the replacement of a gap in a person’s memory by a falsification that he or she believes to be true.’ Ahh, yes, good to be aware of this, especially as in a subsequent skype call my mother then told me that ‘People keep coming into the house and stealing things, they stole all my mother’s jewelry and lots of clothes too’ she informed me. ‘No, mom, in fact it was my flat that was burgled, not your house’ I told her. Again her response was: ‘What do you know? You weren’t even here.’ Fair enough. I am not going to argue with it. But, I will keep on writing about it, as it helps me process it.

In his memoir about his mother ‘Everywhere’ Richard Russo also talks in detail about his crazy mother and her struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. He goes into detail about what a complicated woman she was. The title ‘Everywhere’ implies all the places he moved with her throughout his childhood and then even as an adult how he had to continue looking after her and how incredibly high-maintenance she was and how always having her there put a strain on his career, his marriage and his sanity. He even talks about how the Christmas after she died, he, his wife, his daughters and his two sons-in-law were able to really enjoy Christmas with late nights of board games and red wine and decadent snacks, none of them mentioning the whole time that the obvious reason it was so enjoyable is that his mother was no longer there to interfere. Now, I ask myself, would my family ever forgive me, if I wrote a whole book about my mother and my relationship with her? I would at least attempt to make it lighthearted comedy, if I were ever to write such a book. There is not much light-hearted about Russo’s book.

Another area of autobiography that I find intriguing is when authors start to talk about illegal or illicit activities that they have engaged in. It is one thing to talk about drinking stories, as drinking, as bad as it is for your health, is legal. I have written in detail about my own struggles with beating the drink and how I am now a year sober and I have managed to stay dry. I find it fascinating to read and write about alcoholism and it is such a broad topic and discussing alcohol abuse is very important in our society. Drinking stories are entertaining, and beating the drink is a struggle, and both of these topics are definitely of interest to the reader. I am not a drug addict and neither would I talk about drug addiction all over Facebook if I were. I wouldn’t dare go there, but many writers do broach the topic of illicit drug use in a public forum and in their autobiographies. In his memoir ‘On Writing’ Stephen King says the following: ‘In the spring and summer of 1986 I wrote ‘The Tommyknockers’ often working until midnight with my heart running at one hundred and thirty beats a minute and cotton swabs stuck up my nose to stem the coke-induced bleeding.’ Mary Karr also talks of tripping on acid with her high school friends and David Sedaris speaks of his time on speed when he fancied himself a wonderful artist. Do these writers not worry about getting in trouble with the law admitting this? It is no secret that many writers and artists have drink and drug problems. Before I completely quit drinking I had a real penchant for vodka cocktails and I wrote some pretty crazy stories under the influence of these delicious cocktails. I have discovered, however that it really is a myth that you have to be drunk to tap into your creative juices. I can write just as well or better after a nice run in the park and a cup of coffee. Continuing to write sober is not my biggest issue at the moment, but rather how far I can push the boundaries in autobiography without harming myself or others. So far, I seem to be striking a good balance and I certainly don’t want to fall on my nose by making some grave mistake with it. I love autobiography and memoir writing and I have an awful lot more I want to share with the world, but not at the risk of causing too much scandal or hurting anybody. It’s a fine balance I continue to explore on a daily basis.  

Musings on Modern Gender Relations

17 Feb


by Rhea H. Boyden

A dear friend of mine recently posted an article from the magazine ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ on my Facebook wall. It was an article by a woman by the name of Kate Bolick, and it was entitled ‘All the Single Ladies.’ In this 20-page article, Bolick spells out the modern state of gender relations in the United States. She points out very candidly exactly why there are so many single woman in America today. The increasing number of deadbeats is due in large part to the many jobs lost to men during the recession, especially in manufacturing and the auto industry. There is also an increasing number of players out there too, who refuse to commit, and there are so many single ladies for them to play around with. These two facts in particular, Bolick contends, make it a lot harder for a women wanting to get married to find an appropriate mate. Even though I live in Berlin, I believe a lot of the ideas she points out in her article about the U.S. hold true for the West in general. The article rang especially true with me, and I read it with great interest, as I saw how freakishly my life parallels that of Bolick’s.

She says that she broke up with her intelligent, loyal, kind and good looking boyfriend in the summer of 2001 right around her 28th birthday. The only reasons she cites for having done this is that ‘something was missing and she wasn’t ready to settle down’. She had been in the relationship for 3 years and wanted more from life. I did EXACTLY the same thing in the same month of the same year right around my 26th birthday. I broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years because I wasn’t ready to settle down. I wanted to explore Berlin, have my freedom (including sexual freedom) meet people, have adventures, work, travel and do more things for me. He was a very good, honest and loyal man with a wonderful sense of humour. Really we were pretty compatible. He was devastated. In the week we were breaking up he tried to convince me otherwise. ‘I have a fantasy of your lovely curly hair growing down over your pregnant belly with our child inside’ he sobbed, as he pleaded with me. I was unmoved. I wanted out, and nothing was going to change my mind. Later that afternoon, I left the apartment and went to my mother’s empty apartment in Berlin. She was on holiday in Turkey with my younger sisters and her place was free so I went and slept in her bed. I left him in our apartment to give him enough time to figure out what he was going to do now that I had broken up with him. While I was riding the train to my mom’s, a man approached me with a big pink rose and handed it to me. As he did he said ‘Don’t become a nun’. I was stunned. I just sat there with the rose in hand and watched the man as he gave me a wink and exited the train. ‘Well, talk about an omen’ I thought. ‘Who WAS that guy?’ ‘And did he just pick up on my vibes, or what?’ The man had sized me up well enough: I had no intention of taking a vow of chastity, that was for sure. I spent two weeks at my mother’s and then returned to my empty apartment. My now ex had packed his bags and flown back to North Carolina where he was from. I had told him to go and he did. He had even left me our good pepper grinder, and that was the only thing he had said he wanted out of the break up. I still have it, and it works to this day. A decade later, he is now happily married with beautiful twin daughters and I am still single living in Berlin. I have had a whole string of boyfriends, lovers, dates and sexual adventures in the past decade and to recount it all would be impossible (and unwise). I regret very little of it and I am fairly happy. I do, however, still find myself single at age 36 and wondering where I will end up. I have my ups and downs. I enjoy my freedom immensely, but there are also lonely and desperate days. Days where I freak out over having to deal with every little aspect of life, the cooking, cleaning, bills, repair work, shopping and so on and so forth ALONE.

When I was 17, I lived in Ireland with my father and went to secondary school there. I had my first real boyfriend at age 17. He was 23 and I adored him. He was a local Irish guy and he had a car. None of my friends had cars back then in rural Ireland. I was not with him for the car, but it was a big plus. I was so proud to be seen with him and he really was my first love. We had a lot of fun together. It was a decent relationship and we used to go out to the pub on weekends and then he would drive me home and we would make out in his car until I snuck into my bed. We didn’t have sex until two months into the relationship, and then a month later it ended and I was in tears. The relationship lasted three months in total, but it seemed like an eternity at that age. After he and I broke up, I graduated from Secondary school and went to Berlin in the following Autumn of 1993. I was 18 and looking forward to the adventure, but also still devastated that the relationship was over. My mother showed little sympathy. ‘But you don’t want to spend your life with him in Ireland, surely’ she said. ‘You are only 18, there is so much more to discover in the big wide world. You need more experience’. At the time, I remember being shocked. I had genuinely loved him, and I had a young and broken heart. How could my mother be so dismissive about the ending of my relationship? Bolick too, recalls her teenage love life. She says her first boyfriend used to go on holidays with the family and that once, her mother had turned around to her and her boyfriend who were cuddling in the back seat of the car and had said: ‘Isn’t it time you both started seeing other people?’ I can imagine that she might have been just as surprised at this as I was when my mother showed little sympathy to my break up with my first boyfriend. And of course, our mothers are right. We would have been mad to settle down forever with the teenage boyfriend. There is so much more to experience in life and this is what we have moved on to do. I would suppose that Bolick is as thankful as I am that she has such an open-minded mother. We know as well, that there is a section of American society that highly values getting married at 18 and hopefully staying that way. (yes, THAT America, of heartlanders, conservative right wingers, beauty pagents and the military) But this is not the world we come from. Bolick states that middle class, educated American society seems to deem 30 as the ideal age for marriage, and she is not the only one who says this.

In her book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Elizabeth Gilbert also talks about reaching the golden age of 30 and then feeling pressured to have a family. She had been married for 6 years and she and her husband were well off, owned a big house together, and were on track to have babies, but she did not want a baby. She claims she kept hoping she would feel like having a baby, but the feeling never came. She tried to convince herself it was just nerves, and of course she should want a baby, but eventually she sums it up in this funny way in her book and I totally relate to it: ‘I was trying to convince myself that my feelings (of dread) were customary despite all evidence to the contrary’ Gilbert says. ‘Such as the acquaintance I’d run into last week who’d just discovered she was pregnant’ she continues, ‘after spending a king’s ransom on fertility treatments. She was ecstatic. I saw the joy in her face and I recognised it. It was the exact same joy my own face had radiated last spring, the day the magazine I worked for was going to send me on an assignment to New Zealand to write an article about the search for a giant squid’ Gilbert goes on to say that until she felt as ecstatic about having a baby as about going to New Zealand to search for a giant squid she could not have a baby.

Of course 30 is the ideal age to have a baby when you are well-educated, want to have a career, travel, have fun and have all these adventures before you settle, but clearly, trying to force this and plan it too exactly is not the path to genuine happiness. You can only plan so much in life and people who try and overdo it on the planning, as far as I can see, are leading, in many cases, contrived lives full of lies and deceit. I really don’t know how these people can convince themselves that they will be happy if they follow society’s exact expectations and follow this strict timeline. Bolick says ‘We took for granted that we would spend our 20’s finding ourselves, whatever that meant and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which would of course happen at the magical age of 30.’ A dear friend of mine from New York also talks about this pressure in New York to get married by 30 and a lot of her friends there have done this, and are planning pregnancies around sitting the bar exam. I listen to these stories with a mixture of horror and admiration. I do suppose some of them are happily married and doing well. I am not that cynical, but I also have a deep feeling that a lot of them are doing it out of following societal and family expectations. And I suppose many of them have just settled for someone because they were reaching the age of 30 and getting worried about being alone and felt the need to settle down. I know this because I myself found myself in a marriage track relationship at age 31 and I am glad I got out of it before I got pregnant.

I met a handsome German engineer on an online dating site when I was 31. He earned a high salary and spent a lot of money on me flying me all over the place to be with him while he was travelling on business. We got settled into a very serious relationship very fast, and I did love the man, but we had our problems. He talked about marriage and babies pretty quickly and he took for granted that I would quit my English teaching job and follow him whereever his job took him and he would pay for everything. I suppose that I had the relationship that a lot of women are looking for: a wealthy man who was willing to spend his money on me and provide for me. We had a lot of fun together and he was caring and silly, but I was living a lie. I did try and make the relationship work, really I did, but I finally realised that we were not truly compatible. In any case, I just always felt that he did not really appreciate my true merits, and that I was just an accessory for him. I had the hunch that he just wanted some pretty woman at his side, it didn’t really matter who. I am a very sensual woman and I also felt that something was really lacking in the passion department. I tried hard to improve things with him in that field too, but he was very grumpy, and seemingly had a very low sex drive. Some nights I would come out of the bathtub, hoping to make love to the man who was supposed to be my boyfriend, and find him sound asleep snoring. To say the least, I became sexually frustrated very fast. To make matters worse, the couple 2 floors up from us were having great sex and the whole courtyard could hear it. I lay in bed next to my snoring boyfriend and thought to myself’ ‘Wow, I am never going to have sex like that couple in THIS relationship’. He kept bringing me wonderful gifts back from all his exotic business trips from all over the world. I suppose he thought the material things would make up for the lack of passion and soothe my frustration. It didn’t work.

The crisis came one Sunday in February 2009 when I was 33. We had had sex that morning and it had been bad. Later that evening, I was lying in the bathtub enjoying a nice soak. He came into the bathroom and was cleaning as usual. He was very fastidious in this German house-wifely way about cleaning, dusting and ironing. It used to drive me nuts, and was a total turn off too. As he was dusting the window sill I ventured to talk to him about our epic fail in bed that morning and how I would like things to improve in the bed department. He turned to me and said grumpily: ‘Look, sex is just something I want to get done and move onto the next thing’ and he marched out of the bathroom. I held my nose, closed my eyes ,and immersed myself fully under the water and had the following thought: ’ I am dumping him, he has no idea how he just nailed the last nail in the coffin of relationship destruction’. I felt relieved. I knew exactly what I wanted and that was out of this relationship with no turning back.

I had done a lot of thinking about my relationship with him in the bathtub. It is a good place to think and read. About a month before this February bathtub crisis, I had attempted to read ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ in the bathtub but I had to throw it aside after a couple chapters, because Gilbert was basically talking about exactly what I was about to do myself. Namely, end very materially rich relationship with a man who wanted kids, stabilty and family, and go in search of my own freedom. Gilbert was excited by the hunt for a squid in New Zealand, I was excited about going for a beer with a charming Scottish musician who had very little money.

A week later, I dumped my rich German engineer boyfriend and ran off with the Scottish musician. I was finally back with someone who shared my soul, ideas and moral values. I was broke, but I didn’t care. Gilbert quotes a New Yorker cartoon in her book, where one lady says to another ‘If you really want to get to know your husband, you have to divorce him’. Well, I got to know a side of my ex that I had always had a hunch was there anyway: complete and utter pettiness, and an awful judgemental manner in which he took the break up. He took absolutely no responsibility for the fact that the relationship had failed. I really do not want to talk badly of any of my exes, but this was the worst break up of my life. He acted like the biggest child. He sent me the nastiest emails saying the basest stuff to me. This only confirmed to me even more that I had made the right decision. Even two months after the split he wrote to me saying that he wanted the flavoured olive oils that we had bought in Milan. Well, what could I say? The oils were long gone at that point, obviously! I let him keep everything apart from the laptop I am writing this story with. He had hoped, I suppose, that his financial power would keep me, but it didn’t work, because I am not that kind of girl. I am fiercely proud and independent. I am good friends with, or at least on civil terms with all my ex boyfriends, but not with him, because he made it an impossibility. To lessen my guilt even more, I discovered that he found another girl on the internet two months later to replace me and they have since gotten married. Rather her than me, I say. I can’t help but wonder what kind of relationship they have. Is it a sexless marriage? Is it one where she is just happy to be an accessory? Who knows, maybe they really are compatible. He wants the traditional marriage, and I suppose that is what he has gotten. I wish them the best with it.

My life, on the other hand has been a big colourful, dramatic adventure since I dumped him 3 years ago. I have never regretted it once. Fine, I have been a little broke at times, but I have had lots of different kinds of relationships with different people and I have been free to do what I want and I have a decent job too. Do I want babies? The truth is: I don’t really know. But it has not been a priority for me at all, and at age 36 I look around me and see more and more women my age who don’t have children either. You can have a full life without children, this is becoming clearer and clearer. As Bolick says in her article: ‘Motherhood is no longer compulsory. Since 1976, the percentage of women in their early 40’s who have not given birth has nearly doubled. A childless, single woman of a certain age is no longer automatically perceived as a barren spinster’.

As women rise and rise to power and earn more money and gain more confidence we are increasingly in command of our own destinies and this should be a reason for joy and optimism for the future and not despair at being alone. I am trying to see my future in a more positive light even though I remain single. As Bolick states, we women are increasingly having to deal with men who are deadbeats with little or no job prospects and players who play the field. The good men are taken and kept under control and if they get divorced it seems they are snatched up again pretty quickly as was the case with my eligible-but-not-compatible-with-me German ex. So, striving for single happiness and independence is a necesssity these days.

I personally have had more trouble with the players than with the deadbeats. I have dated plenty of ‘deadbeat’ men. I would never say this to their faces, but I guess what this essentially means is that they would not be able to support a family and earn a good income if that is what I wanted. Regardless, some of them have treated me very well. I know plenty of underpaid struggling musicians and bohemian types in Berlin who are by no means ‘marriage material’ in the traditional sense, but they have big hearts, are fascinating people, and they enrich my life immensely.

The players are a bigger source of rage and frustation for me than any ‘deadbeat’ I have ever met. These players are men with status and high testosterone levels. It has been surmised time and time again that high testosterone levels go hand in hand with male ambition. These guys can have any girl they want and they know it. Bolick talks about how all the girls want these guys and usually they can have the guy they want- for one night. I dated the biggest narcissstic player here in Berlin and he drove me absolutely nuts. Bolick tells of a guy she dated who did not want to get involved emotionally, but was very interested in a physical relationship. Or the guy who ended things with her because he couldn’t fend off all the other offers of sex he was getting. Or the guy who claimed on a date with her that he wanted to spend his 30’s playing the field. Bolick states that the more successful a man is, the less interested he is in commitment. This leaves us girls feeling pretty upset in many cases. Indeed, it seems you can’t win as a woman when dealing with a successful man. Many successful men will have a steady girlfriend or wife, to be sure. And she may be the lucky one who has managed to keep him, but in many cases he is still dating lots of other women as well, because he can.

Here again, my experience closely parallels that of Bolick’s. My guy told me once when we were on a date that he wanted to move to New York because there he could ‘fuck around until he was 60’. Or another time when we were in bed he told me of the two 18 -year -old girls he had recently invited into his bed and while one of them lay behind him he fucked the other one.And after we had had mind-blowing sex for at least the twentieth time, he tells me that he ‘refuses to engage emotionally.’ Or when I sent him a text message thanking him for a nice date he responded with ‘Glad you enjoyed the fun.’ which of course made me feel as if he was doing me a favour. This man has inspired such rage in me that even though I have not slept with him for a year, my memories of the sex with him do not fade, as it was the best of my life. Unfortunately my feelings of rage have not quite dissipated either, and when I get drunk and emotional I still phone him up and freak out at him for treating me with such disrespect and outright misogyny.

Recently I was talking to my downstairs neighbour who is an artist and a teacher. She is is 33 and single aswell. We were enjoying a cocktail and some snacks in my kitchen and I asked her how it was going with the guy she was seeing. ‘Oh, God’ she said. ‘Bad. What is wrong with men? He keeps giving me mixed messages and he seems so confused about his own life and his own job prospects. Basically he is a coward and I don’t know what to make of it or whether he is going to dump me or what. Actually he is a pig and he treats me badly.’ This friend of mine is not the only one who complains of men being pigs. Plenty of other friends of mine are in the same boat.

In his aptly titled article ‘The Return of the Pig’ in ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ David Brooks talks about these pig-like men and how blatant sexism and chauvinism seem to be on the rise in America. More and more men are subscribing to pornography, men’s trashy sexist magazines, and watching MTV. In the 80’s MTV actually had decent music videos, now it is all babes in bikinis dancing to trashy music on the beach and rubbing themselves up against horny men.

Brooks and other progressive thinkers note with horror that numbers of these shallow men seems to be rising dramatically. He says that ‘their world has been vacuumed free of empathy, sensitivity and sophistication. It is as if millions of American men -many of them well educated- took a look at the lifestyle proscribed by modern feminism and decided, No, thanks, we’d rather be pigs’. Brooks says that many believe this to be a result of masculinity in crisis. Men are threatened by the rise of women and their ever increasing financial power, education and independence and they don’t know how to deal with it. How are we supposed to make men out of these men? I once dated another German engineer and he was also one of these kinds of guys. My dad, who IS a real man advised me to ‘make a man out of him’. It didn’t work. I dumped him too. So, as a result, millions of women who would like to get married are completely frustrated. But, must we marry at all? Why are we so fixated on marriage anyway in our culture? There are many other ways to lead life apart from being married. To quote Bolick again: ‘Our cultural fixation on the couple is actually a relatively recent development’ Indeed, in the grand scheme of things marriagelike relationships came into being at around the same time farming arose around12,000 years ago. Couples had to function to make a farm work. But, women’s power diminished at around this point too. In many other societies prior to this (and after it) women had power and authority (think Amazon).

Marriage, monogamy, and the male dominated society have been the institutions that have stripped women of power. Why then, do so many educated women with good jobs still strive towards marriage as the highest ideal? Bolick speaks of a ‘sea change’ in gender relations, a shift in people’s attitudes. Many more people are finally waking up to the fact that marriage may not be the thing we need to strive for. A recent survey in Japan, for example, showed that 61% of unmarried men aged 18-34 do not have a girlfriend, nor do half of unmarried women the same age. Many young Japanese claimed they were not even looking for partners, and a shocking quarter of Japanese men and women between ages 34 and 39 claim never to have even had sex! Many Japanese women are shunning marriage altogether, saying they deem single life to be far more fulfilling than their imagination of married life.

In her article entitled ‘Marry Him!’ Lori Gottlieb says that women who claim they are happy to be single at age 30 are kidding themselves and there is no way they could be truly be happy to be single. She puts forth the case for settling for Mister Not So Perfect. She claims that we should just lower our standards a bit if we want to get married and stop holding out for Mister Perfect, because given divorce rates, he likely doesn’t exist. Fine, if you really want to get married and that is your goal in life then read on, but she is American, and we all know how big the marriage industry is in the United States, and how much pressure there is to conform in many parts of American society. The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and it prices, packages and pushes weddings down our throats. I have nothing against getting married, but if I ever do, I want a small, inexpensive and sacred ceremony with the chosen friends and family who I love and I certainly won’t sign up to a wedding registry and dictate to my friends what gifts they must buy me and how much money they should spend on me. Gift giving is supposed to be a sacred thing, not something that you should be told you have to do. The whole concept of bridal showers, wedding registries and baby showers seems so contrived and materialistic. The bride shouts: ‘Come celebrate me and buy me exactly what I want you to buy me’. I have heard the most ludicrous stories from New York about what brides-to-be expect their bridesmaids to do for them in the time leading up to their weddings. One thing that has become especially popular in New York in recent years are so-called ‘Botox parties’ where brides spend fortunes for themselves and all their bridesmaids to get botox before the wedding. I also once read an article about an Asian-American girl who was complaining that her friend who was getting married expected her and all her friends who were to be bridesmaids to have their boobs enlarged (Asian women typically have small breasts) for the wedding so it would look better in the wedding pics.

I have felt pressured a lot for being single and not settling, and I find it intensely annoying. I have a friend who used to live in Berlin, and at the age of 26 she fell in love with her boss.(She got the status guy for herself). They both worked and earned good money and then they got married, moved to L.A. together to earn even more money. When she was 37 she gave birth to their one and only beautiful blonde son. He is spoilt, but lovely too. She visits Berlin every year and I meet up with her for coffee. I am not so sure whether I will be bothered the next time she is in town, because some of the things she has said to me have kind of put me off her. Things like: ‘Are you STILL not settled?’ and: ‘Why do you spend so much time out at night in Berlin, don’t you want a steady boyfriend?’ and the clincher of course was ‘Once you have a baby, all these other things you have been filling your time with seem so meaningless’. I guess she doesn’t understand my life at all. I have a really full life with a wonderful array of friends of all races, ages, and sexual orientation. I have a good job and a lot of fun hobbies including my latest hobby: writing! My dad understands me and never puts me under any pressure to conform. He is very supportive of my new found passion for writing and he said recently in a very excited tone: ‘you can give birth to books!’ Yes, maybe I can. Who knows? If I had a baby now, I certainly couldn’t write anymore and that would be a tragedy.

A decade ago we were all reading ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ by Helen Fielding and laughing ourselves silly over it. And it is funny. A neurotic woman in her early 30’s desperately seeking Mister Right. She makes a note of all the things she eats every day, the number of cigarettes she smokes, and the units of alcohol she intakes. It is silly and quirky, but essentially she is still being discriminated against by her family, society, and as she calls them:the ‘smug married’ because she is not married by age 32! The entire book again pushes for marriage as the goal of a happy life.

It seems things have changed in the past decade. ‘Eat, Pray Love’ urges us to do the exact opposite! Leave our stable homes and husbands and go out and have adventure. Of course the biggest criticism of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, is that this is really only possible for women of solid middle to upper class with a good income to do. She divorces her husband and travels the world finding herself, and clearly not on a tight budget. But she can afford it. She had a great job and earned a lot of money. Good for her, but not possible for everyone by any means. Many women are stuck in unfulfilling marriages for financial reasons. The more money a woman earns, the more likely she is to leave her husband. This is true the world over. And then if you have no money at all, marriage isn’t even worth anything, as Bolick points out in her article. She looks at African-American women in her case study and she writes the following: ‘an astonishing 70 percent of black women in America are unmarried and are more than twice as likely than white women to remain that way. This is often chalked up to high incarceration rates- in 2009, of the nearly 1.5 million men in prison, 39 percent were black.’ She also goes on to cite that black women are doing a lot better financially and education wise than black men in America. Bolick interviews a group of black single mothers in a Pittsburgh suburb and they admit themselves they are a just another typical group of single black moms struggling to get by and raise their kids alone. Today, 40 percent of children are born to single mothers.

I have talked to a lot of women who claim they WANT to raise their children alone. I grew up in rural Ireland and there is a high birth rate amongst working class teenage girls there. A lot of them are girls I went to school with, and who are my good friends. Marriage is not something that was really ever discussed as an option for many of them. I probably would have ended up having a child in Ireland too as a teenager had I not been offered the chance to leave to the United States and get an education. An opportunity that was kindly offered to me by my educated, middle class American grandparents.

I studied, worked and dated in the United States for 4 years in my late teens and early 20’s and it was great. Now I have been working, dating, travelling and having fun based in Berlin for the past 12 years, and even though I am now 36, I STILL don’t feel like having a child! I have tons of good friends and a strong social network in Berlin and a very busy work and social calendar. And amazingly, even many of the couples I know here who have good, solid relationships are also delaying getting married and having children. I know a lovely couple who I go and have dinnner and play cards with occasionally. She is 36 and he is 37 and they both have great jobs and a fabulous apartment. They both keep talking about getting married and having kids, but it never happens. And I am sure they will stay together, as they are a good match. But when will they have the kid they keep saying they want? Next year? The year after?

I once dated yet ANOTHER German engineer (there are a lot of them) when I was 30 and he said to me: ‘in 10 years you have to have found a relationship that works because at that point all your friends are gone’. What he meant was, they are all married and living insular lives and not caring about the outside world. Bolick talks about ‘greedy marriages’ where a couple becomes so consumed in their own relationship that they do indeed forget the outside world.A lot of people have this fear too, that if they don’t find a mate and all their friends do, then they will find themselves ALONE. But does it have to be like this? Why couple off with just anyone out of fear? But what if this relationship does fail, or one of the two DIES? Then you find yourself more alone than any single person! Bolick also says that many single people, despite feeling a bit lonely and lacking intimacy at times, have many more friends than married people, and it’s true in many cases. She also says because they are single they put a lot more effort into maintining contact to, and visiting family and friends everywhere. I have a huge family and I visit them often. I love them dearly and they are very supportive. I know I will never truly be alone as I will always have them. I guess I am lucky. I will make one exception to this point however. The people who couple off because they don’t have any family. I do see that they feel alone and I can see why they would more desperately want the relationship. I have one friend who is living in this situation. Her mother died when she was 15, she has no contact to her father and she has one half brother whom she rarely sees. She has had a series of relationships with not the greatest of men, but then, I suppose she feels the need to have a family of some sort, so I do get her motivation, even though I could never settle for the kind of guys she picks.

You may be thinking at this point that I am incredibly complicated and picky. Well, I am quite picky, but I would settle for Mister Less Than Perfect, of course I would, but even he hasn’t come along yet. And there have been the men I really wanted to be with, but alas, they didn’t want me for very long, for whatever reasons.

Bolick says in her article that her father once pitied her for being so unlucky in love. She says she bristled at this because she did not think she had been unlucky in love despite the fact that she does not have a stable relationship She had met all kinds of interesting men over the years and had had all kinds of amazing experiences. She says that this is a certainly a form of luck.

I happen to agree with her on this, because since I broke up with my wealthy German engineer boyfriend I have also had a lot of different men in my life and they all fulfill my different needs in different ways. I suppose I would like ‘the one man’ but he doesn’t seem to be there so what can I do? There is an old joke that goes like this: ‘A woman needs a man who is good in bed, has a good job, is good with kids, is a good cook, who is cultured, and who is a good handyman. And she must also make sure none of these men ever meet each other!’

I used to just laugh at this joke, but now I respect it greatly because it has, ironically, turned out to be my life. I have a lot of different men in my life and I am proud of it. I have the occasional lover, (one who was longer term, the player whom I can’t forget). I also have the Scottish musician who was my rebound out of the stable relationship, but he has turned into one of my best friends, confidants, neighbours and colleagues and we offer each other moral and practical support constantly. I also have the guy who loves classical music and we go on dates to the Philharmonic together. (occasionally we end up in bed together too, because we both admit, we miss intimacy.) Then I have the guy who I give English lessons to in exchange for practical help with computers and household stuff. Then there are also several male of mine who both like occasionally to go to late night clubs. We have the same taste in music and we love to dance. They look after me on these late night sessions and especially when we are drinking, it’s nice to have someone to make sure you get home safely. Then there is the childhood friend who entered my life again after his 20 years of working and travelling the world. He is an amazing producer of house and dance music and he lives in Dublin. He visits me in Berlin a lot, and I go to Dublin to see him everytime I go back to Ireland to visit my family. People have started to wonder whether we are an item. ‘No’, I respond. ‘We are extremely good friends and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.’

I also have a lot of good gay friends who enrich my life immensely. Berlin has a large gay population because this is a city they feel good in and tolerated. Some of the gay men I have met here are of my closest friends and confidants and I love them dearly. Just last week, one of my gay friends posted on Facebook, Hillary Clinton’s historic speech in Geneva on gay rights which she delivered on Human Rights Day. Clinton herself has been a victim of extreme misogyny in the United States. If she were a man, she likely would be president now.

Clinton gave a powerful speech defending the rights of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people worldwide and how their basic human rights must be protected. My gay friends were unbelievably moved and choking up in tears while listening to her speech. She spoke loud and clear about her commitment to promoting rights for them, and I quote this powerful woman who has just gained a new found respect in my eyes. She says: ‘It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay or allow those people who harm gay people to go unpunished’.

Bolick says the following: ‘Perhaps true to conservative fears, the rise of gay marriage has helped heterosexuals think more creatively about their own conventions’. Yes, there are a whole lot of us out here who think completely outside the heternormative, marriage ideal lifestyle and our ideas must be respected. It’s the oldest cliche in the book, but I must state it: ‘Be true to yourself and you can’t go wrong’. It’s a plain and simple mantra and I try and live my life by it. I have been untrue to myself and stayed with ‘Mister Less Than Perfect’ and tried to make it work, but it didn’t and it had to end. Who knows, maybe I will never find the right man, or maybe I will have to wait until I am 60. Both my mother and my aunt are now with men they knew in their teens and 20’s. My mother is now married to her high school sweetheart and living in California with him the past 3 years. She is 63. One of my aunts reunited with her old college boyfriend on Facebook and they have been dating the past 3 years in New York. The dramatic rise of networking sites, gives us the opportunity to get in touch with all kinds of people from our past. My experiences with Facebook reunions has been an incredibly mind-boggling and for the most part, very positive adventure. (Facebook has been a more positive experience for me than online dating, but I may give that another shot at some point).

I have lots of good friends in Berlin, but one of my closest friends is a wonderful young woman from New York who has been living in Scotland and now London the past few years studying at university there. We spend many hours on skype webcam, and this allows us to be ‘virtual roommates’. She comes to Berlin frequently too and stays with me. We do both talk a lot about how to form a community in the future to help stave off loneliness for all of us who are consciously choosing to take the non-conformist path in life. And our numbers are growing so I am sure we are in good company. What is a possibly pensionless generation supposed to do? She recently posted an article on my Facebook wall about an apartment block here in Berlin where everyone lives their separate lives in their apartments, but they also have a communal living room and are slowly buying the building together. We all know how hard communal living can be. I am 36 and I have lived in my own rented apartment for years. I certainly don’t want to go back to college style crazy communal living where I have to wake up in the morning and get in a bad mood because somebody has drunk the rest of my milk for my coffee. Neither do I want to have to write my name in thick black ink on the things that belong to me in the fridge. But I would be open to forming closer community life with even more singles in my neighbourhood and in fact I am already doing it. But, I would like more of it. Bolick also says in her article that as soon as an apartment opened up in her building in Brooklyn heights, she urged another single girlfriend of hers to move in. They can now be close to each other without living college roommate style. She says that they take in each other’s mail when the other is away and bring each other oranges, medicines, love and support when they are sick. I have a very similar network in place and it’s wonderful and I dearly hope to increase it in the future.

Bolick goes on to talk about the possibilities of communal living. She discovered a woman on Facebook by the name of Ellen (which is also my mother’s name) who was living in the Begijnhof in Amsterdam. Bolick describes this as an ‘iconic bastion of single sex living’. ‘The Begijnhof’ she writes, ‘was founded in the mid twelfth century as a religious, all female collective devoted to taking care of the sick. The women were not nuns, but nor were they married, and they were free to cancel their vows and leave at any time’. Bolick interviewed this woman and it was clear that living here is a very popular thing to do for single aging women to this day. Forming healthy collective ways of living is definitely something that will see a rise in popularity in the future as the number of single women increases.

So, instead of moaning about being single and being worried about being lonely, I am trying very hard to change my attitude towards my life. Being single is actually pretty cool and trendy these days, and I sometimes actually really consider myself lucky to be single, especially when I see the kind of relationships some people have settled for. The word ‘spinster’ is a joke at this point and we do not have to be worried about being labled that anymore. I realise how very lucky and blessed I am and that actually I live in a very good era wihich offers all kinds of possibilities for single women. Single women sure had it a lot harder in the past in times when there was a shortage of marriageable men. Look at any time following major wars when thousands of men were killed off. Like right after the American Civil War for example. The 1870’s was not a great time to be a single woman and somehow those women survived too!

So, I am writing this article in December 2011 as I prepare for Christmas celebrations. I have a large family who are spread across Ireland and the United States and I usually spend a wonderful Christmas with them. My dad is a great cook and I sometimes go back to him, my stepmom, and some of my siblings for Christmas. My aunt is also a fantastic cook, and sometimes she and my other aunt (who are both childless too) and I go to North Carolina where my grandparents live. This year however, I have decided to stay in Berlin and host Christmas dinner. I am a passionate cook myself and I have been writing my own cookbook these past 6 months. There will be 8 of us for Christmas dinner and I can’t wait! My Christmas party will consist of the following: 2 gay guys, 4 single ladies in their 30’s (including me) and one married couple. A dear friend of mine who is exactly 30 (that golden age for getting married and pregnant) IS newly married and heavily pregnant! But she is one of the few people in my group of friends who just happened to find all this right at the age of 30 without forcing it or it being contrived; and in the New Year we look forward to welcoming her daughter into this wild new world. What kind of a world will SHE be living in when she reaches dating age? And so to conclude, I remain very hopeful and optimistic for the future. I see that there are many possibilites for me in the future and I plan on looking into them all. Ultimately, I want to be true to myself and all the wonderful people I love and the people who make my life special, and I hope we can all form communities to love and support each other and find solutions for everybody as we all grow older.

Facebook Feedback:

  • Rhea Boyden I just finished writing this article. Any feedback or criticism welcome!
  • Rhea Boyden (the title, as you see is the hardest part and I haven’t figured it out yet)
  • Samuel Dylan Clayton reading it now. its very honest, and clear, and has a message that i think many relate to.
  • Rhea Boyden Wow, thanks Sam, you got onto it fast!
  • Samuel Dylan Clayton well i’m procrastinating my own writing. but its a worthwhile break.
  • Rhea Boyden I write in spurts too. You can’t force it! This is the first piece I have actually finished in awhile. I have a LOT in progress!
  • Hannah Dare Very very well done Rhea, love it. Reminds me of being in uni…happy days, thanks for the reminder!!Shared with my sis Aoife who is also a good writer. Looking forward to your cookbook too!!xxxx
  • Rhea Boyden Thanks Hannah! I am thankful for the feeback! It has a positive ending!
  • Hannah Dare Just read that!!! Couldn’t leave it! Really well done, for being so honest, and open. Hats off.
  • Neil Collins Yes, I agree fully with the last comment. I started reading this Rhea and couldn’t stop. I can’t really say why, something very readable in your writing. It kind of flows and rambles at the same time in a very entertaining way. I mean this as an absolute compliment.
  • Andrea Ryan this is definitely publish material, you really write well rhea
  • Rachel von Hindman Impressive! I had to skim part of it, as it’s time for bed, but I’ll go back and read it in more depth when I get a chance. I love your mix of personal anecdotes and political opinion and gender theory, etc.
  • Claire Lambe Great work Rhea, and well and thoughtfully shaped and written. There is so much here I almost wish you had published it in serial form so as to comment on all of your points, but I’ll comment on a few anyway. 

    Re your friend who married her boss and visits her judgment on you once a year (the ghost of Christmas past, present and future all rolled into one): what she says about extraneous things becoming meaningless after having babies is, in fact, not untrue, but it is a temporary state and, I think, biologically necessary as small children are so demanding, but as temporary as the smallness of the child. A lot of women forget that or are unaware of it in the first place and make it a permanent state – then when their children turn away from them towards their own lives and destinies, they are often hurt and bereft. So do go out with this person one last time and be HER Christmas future – tell her how happy you are for her present state, how you understand why she must subsume herself in the role of mother, but warn her that, unless she goes on to have a child every year and eventually give herself over to minding grandchildren, her little boy will grow up and one day sooner than she can imagine, she will once again be childless. So she ought not to forget to nurture her own self, to keep her own interests outside of her child and home alive even if only to avoid becoming an overbearing mum, a boring wife and, last but not least, a former friend. 

    I like that one of your references – Bolick? Wish she’d change her name though – made the point that having children is something that women can forego if they so choose. When I think of all the times I’ve heard people who chose not to have children described as selfish – I always thought that surely the selfish thing was to have children. But if one felt a need to play a role in raising the next generation, there are lots of ways of “having” children without physically producing them out of one’s own body (which is painful) including becoming a support to a good friend, especially if she is a single mum – I met a woman when Zoe was tiny who really helped me to be a successful single parent – Miranda is still my best friend today and, I know, remains an important figure in Zoe’s life. Also simply volunteering at an after-school program for needy kids, helping with homework and becoming that adult who takes a real interest – that’s huge. 

    Perhaps it is true that a lot of guys today are feeling inadequate and we women can’t fix that – it is a man’s problem to solve. However, if having a man in one’s life and/or having a child became important, perhaps working with one of those sweet deadbeats could work, but that may mean letting go of one’s own conditioning and the expectation of being supported – it might mean letting go of being the primary care-giver too. But, first and foremost, it has to be discovered if this man of little means is likely to be a good Dad – someone who will continue to be available to his children even if the relationship fails – a deadbeat Dad who ignores and abandons his kids is worse than a dead Dad (I learned this from my daughter Zoe who is studying art therapy with an emphasis on children and it makes sense – the fatherless child knows that their dead Dad, in most cases, didn’t choose death over parenthood after all). However, no woman wants to be breadwinner and find that they are also the sole housekeeper and 90% responsible for childcare too + have the added expense of supporting a 6 foot, 160 lb infant. So if the guy with no ambition for work also has no ambition for creating a nice home life, he has to be left in the dust – but hopefully one can discover that before getting in too deep, i.e: having a child together. 

    Re the case of the long relationship that fails on marriage – is that possibly because it was already shaky? Often people, in an effort to avoid what is staring them in the face, rush to the next level only to find that they can’t outrun a crashing relationship. It is a shame when that next level is pregnancy.

    Having written the above and thinking of “The Return of the Pig”, I am also sad and wonder how the mothers of sons must feel. Then again, I have to ask myself and you – who and whose are these young men today? Surely they are the sons of feminism, the sons of the 60s generation? How did we come to grow these strong, independent women and fail to prepare our sons for them (BTW, I am writing as the mother of daughters – just thought I’d stick that in there…  But, seriously.

    Lastly, the community of women: I think this is such a wonderful idea. It is something I have discussed with women before as even us married ones have a good chance of being alone again since, statistically, we live longer. At the same time, it occurs to me that if there are all these single women out there, doesn’t that mean a high instance of single men too? Are they – especially the players – hoping to snare a lovely young thing to take care of them in their old ages? Some will but others will probably hear the legend “In your dreams you dirty old sod.”

  • Claire Lambe PS: am going to suggest this to Zoe – also a 30 something and single.
  • Samuel Dylan Clayton reah i was thinking as i was reading it that it is really a personal essay. i’ll have to let you borrow that anthology of mine. there is something similar to the essays in it, in the way you bring people into your private world, and at the same time you are presenting a history in the hope of making a point, of saying something about life.
  • Tanya Miri Browne very well written and researched ! i found this an inspirational piece of work ! you certainly have a gift for getting your thoughts and logic accross
  • Rhea Boyden Thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to read and for the feedback. It means a lot to me!
  • Laura Mac Carthy Brilliant Rhea, read the original article a few weeks ago.. but your Honest,clear and true writing encapsulates the true suitation of single modern women perfectly..Inspiring and enlightening..x x
  • Rhea Boyden thanks for the feedback Laura!
  • Rhea Boyden Interesting to note the the people who have given me the most posititve feedback so far are my girlfriends and my amazing gay friends! I have gotten some private messages from my male heterosexual friends who are not as impressed. I give every ‘deadbeat’ guy a chance! And I honour the men who earn little money too. This point is not to be missed, by the way!
  • Helena Chadderton Fascinating Rhea, and has filled in a few gaps in your life for me! Like others here, I appreciate the fact that you researched your subject well and incorporated others’ ideas into your own work. I love you for your open-mindedness and passion. You sum up the social pressures we suffer from perfectly. I can’t help thinking it would help us all not to see the divisions between men and women so starkly though. x
  • Lorna Riorden Good points made! Makes me feel a bit better about being single! But anyway I agree that there’s nothing better neccessarily than being in a partner relationship than being alone…Both are valuable learning experiences, but for sure our society emphasises being in a relationship…THere is much to learn about being alone…especially about our fear of being alone…what are we so afraid of anyway? Being with ourselves?
  • Phill Marshall Hi Rhea, seems like you got a touch of early mid age cri’sis, dont worry, in ten years it’le all feel diff’erent. Great writing!
  • Laura Kinsella Really enjoyed this Rhea- well done! It’s so interesting, whilst millions of women are unhappy because they want to get married; undoubtedly there are millions of women (and men) who are married and still unhappy. I reckon society’s empty promise of completeness from marriage has disappointed and disillusioned many. (It’s also worth noting that weddings are a massive commercial industry, ‘the dream’ is packaged, priced and forced down our throats)
    I think it’s really interesting what you say about collective living, relationships are important for happiness but the traditional prescriptions often don’t fit contemporary life. It feels like there is a repositioning of roles going on, which is wonderful but ambiguous. More honesty is needed and that’s why you’re writing is so valuable.
  • Rhea Boyden Thanks for the feedback, Laura! And you are very right about weddings being a huge industry. I actually wanted to talk about that too. Especially in the U.S. where people spend thousands on them and so many of them are hugely contrived. I hope you are well! Love to you.
  • Laura Kinsella Love to you too Rhea! I’m just back on fb temporarilly as Ive a kidney infection and am at home and bored. I really love your work. Keep writing and posting- really think you should start a blog, its a great way to get feedback and if you want to get published and already have a group of followers it would really stand to you, id say magazines etc would be really interested in it too. X x x
  • Bernadette Landy-Lovatt · 6 mutual friends

    Hey, Rhea, as far as a title goes, I think you should call it: Memoir of a Lioness… Actually, you raise a conundrum I’ve lived through myself, the consequence of which has proved to me that the problem with modern women, who can satisfy all their ‘wants and needs’ leads mostly to lonliness and sorrow. I fell victim to satisfying my own needs early in the game and since I’m way older than you, I can only recommend a lesser degree of self-concern and a greater degree of acceptance of others. Also, as a mother, may I recommend the joy of giving birth and the eternal joy of blood relations. There are not too many older single women who convince me that their lot was worth it! Just call me old-fashioned, but the idea of a commune of older single women sounds nothing short of scarey! Use your body for what it was meant to do, use your breasts for what they were meant to do, and use your apron strings to guide the ones you love. Bx
  • Rhea Boyden thanks for the feedback Bernie, fact is though, I would have a child if it worked out. In case that isn’t clear in this writing, it hasn’t worked out for me, the men I want chilren with want them with me and the men who want them with me I dont want them with at all! It’s the story of my life and very frustrating!
  • Bernadette Landy-Lovatt · 6 mutual friends

    That’s you being too fussy! There is no perfect in this world. Lesson number one.
  • Bernadette Landy-Lovatt · 6 mutual friends

    Most of us were accidents. Lesson number two.
  • Rhea Boyden I do not think I am too fussy actually! I really could not have a child with the men who have wanted it with me. Every feeling went against it.
  • Rhea Boyden (your son, by the way was not impressed with this piece at all, but he took the time to read it!)
  • Bernadette Landy-Lovatt · 6 mutual friends

    Men don’t want to read all about women’s thoughts and moanings. They have their own moaning to do!
  • Rhea Boyden yeah, and I love Mike!, but he is very grumpy, but I praise him in my article as you see!  xx
  • Bernadette Landy-Lovatt · 6 mutual friends

    It was too long for me to read on screen… I scanned the half of it but got the gist. Mike is impossible too. You young(er) folk should be hung out to dry :- )
  • Rhea Boyden You are just as grumpy as Mike! The article ends very positively if you take the time to read it!

  • Rhea Boyden P.S. Bernie: I had no idea you were so fervently anti-feminist. I’m schocked. And I totally disagreee with you, that I should ‘use my body and breasts for what they were made for’ Not every woman should have chilren by any means!

  • Rhea Boyden children* my ‘d’ key isn’t working properly!
  • Margie Johnson Ware Thank you for sharing this….as another comment said, it fills in some gaps. I’m sorry we can’t sit and have wine/beer and talk about it all evening.
  • Adrian Sanders Very interesting. In spent 2 years living in a 16 man/women/child WG in Hamburg where the building did belong to us and it really does work.
  • Claire Lambe @Bernadette – every choice has its pros and cons but the one thing young women today don’t have to be is a slave to their gender. As for women living together: my mother and most of her female friends were married all of their adult lives – but for the last 15 to 30 years of their lives, they were single again. They were each other’s support group but I think if they had found a way to pool resources – possibly in some kind of community apartment complex or co-housing community – things would have been a lot easier and less lonely. Here is a co-housing community near where I live:

    Send questions and comments to: or to Cantine’s Island Home Owners Association, Saugerties, NY 12477
  • Chantal Ailsby What an unfortunate second name that woman has! Especially considering her subject…  An interesting read Rhea. Certainly makes you think about conforming to society’s expectations and the stress of being single. I guess we all want to feel like we belong somewhere whether that means following the other sheep (marriage and children) or creating your own gang. Have a great Christmas and see you hopefully in a week or so for a few drinks! xx
  • Rhea Boyden @Chantal: yes, her name is unfortunate, but what can you do? She should get married and change it! lol!
  • Cathleen Camouflage I can follow your train of thoughts easily but I think less reference to the articles and books you read about this topic would give your article much more uniqueness and less review-style.  Just my POV. I can see that you really did a lot of research on this.
  • Rhea Boyden @Cathleen, there is quite enough of my personal life in this article, I think. My experiences are supposed to be backed up by research and statistics and compared to them That was the whole point.
  • Amelia Boyden havent gotton the whole thing finished but so far its pretty dame good!!!
  • Claire Lambe @Cathleen: What makes the article interesting, serious and, indeed, worthwhile, is precisely because it is referencing other thinkers and combining the author’s two cents worth from her own personal experience. Otherwise it might have been in danger of sounding like a long rant from one disgruntled female as opposed to a gathering together of experiences which can then, legitimately, ask the larger questions.
  • Aisha Tanner loved it ,i was in stitches you’re a natural ….cant wait to read the rest of your books! x
  • Rhea Boyden Just to hit’ like’ on your comments here would be an absolute understatement. Very beautifully expressed and well said Cordelia! Bravo! Thanks for the feedback sis! And yeah, ha ha, when I think about you turning 30 next year, how old does that make me? You are my kid sister! ha ha! xxxxx I love how you quote raw energy moving us forward and our ages being irrelevant.
  • Rhea Boyden I really want to edit this article. There is a lot more I want to add. I was going to talk about the sometimes empty promise and huge price of white weddings, and you and Laura make very valid points on that!
  • Rhea Boyden actually Cordelia you crack me up! I love what you wrote here. Very good espcially: ‘Being the bastard child that I am and coming from a family with one mum, 5 kids and 3 dads…..not to mention the countless boyfriends that always seemed to be floating around I never believed in marriage anyway. What’s the point? Do we really need the government to approve our relationships to believe that our love is real?’ Well, yes, I failed to mention enough about my background to provide some insight as to why I may be the way I am and have these conventional views!
  • Rhea Boyden sorry UNconventional views***** !!!!!!
  • Anke Illiger TX for the true comment! It is me too..still the loneley woman with a big heart, who needs freedom… Cosmopolitan! I`ll pay the next round for us
  • Michael Tanner Very nicely written, longest post I have seen here, not that length is so important, allegedly. As you quote,;Be true to yourself’ is the key. It does also appear that there is a move to more communal living, which I expect to take many forms, as we need the extra support to survive. Blessings
  • Rhea Boyden Another note on weddings: a friend of mine from New York mentioned recently how annoying she found (yet again at yet another wedding) the throwing of the bouquet to all the single girls out there. It is yet another way for the bride to say: ‘See how lucky I am, hopefully one of you lucky, poor sods out there will catch my bouquet on my special day and you just may get lucky one of these days. I actually caught the bouquet at a wedding once and I am still unmarried! ha ha! A good point though, it is a very degrading and smug act at a wedding!
  • Michael Tanner As with all superstitions it is possible to see them in many lights. By giving away a token to an eager/anxious single they may find some extra confidence or support. If you do not agree with it there is no need to take part. I do have a naughty side which came up with the possibility that you are annoyed that it did not work for you!! (Joke) I do not see it as being degrading, what is degrading is selling yourself short and not holding true to your standards/self in order to join the club.
  • Rhea Boyden @ Mike: good point: it is all about mutual support! ha ha!
  • Adam Bliss “So, instead of moaning about being single and being worried about being lonely, I am trying very hard to change my attitude towards my life. Being single is actually pretty cool and trendy these days…”


  • Rachel von Hindman Thanks to Adam Bliss re-posting this, I finally went back and finished reading it… getting sick while living alone was a new experience for me, and it was awful! Must get that network in place…
  • Rhea Boyden Thanks Rachel! Hope you are feeling better. Wanna party????? I love you, babe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Rhea Boyden p.s. I have lived alone for years!!!!
  • Rhea Boyden (some sort of stupid idea of mine that I thought would lead to ‘happiness’ and ‘indepenence’) …. blaaaaahhhh!!!!!
  • Rhea Boyden This is what my dad wrote and aske me to post: Rhea,

    What can I say? It is just a beautiful, honest, joyful, resourceful piece of writing.

    Clear, succinct; developing ideas in a structured manner towards a satisfying conclusion, quoting sources and statistics where relevant, building, building a compelling story. Magnifico!

    When I finished it I just wept. Wept with joy, with compassion, with empathy, with identification, with astonishment, at an extremely well expressed exposition on human (and woman) “condition”.

    Rhea, you are absolutely gifted at writing compelling essays, whether they involve cooking or relationship or………………? Stay the course, develop this, it’s well worth your pursuing.

    This isn’t the time for me to inquire (in this moment of absolute admiration and reverie about this document)…but do you want some editorial input?

    Can’t help this: Ignore the spelling mistakes for now; but do eliminate any use of the word “absolutely”.

    Because it’s absolutely redundant!

    Yr a star that shines brightly. Stay at it.



  • Rhea Boyden ha ha! This article is crazy: ‘A huge report was issued by the National Center for Health Statistics. It covered the topic of teenage oral sex more extensively than any previous study, and the news was devastating: A quarter of girls aged fifteen had engaged in it, and more than half aged seventeen. Obviously, there was no previous data to compare this with, but millions of suburban dads were quite adamant that they had been born too soon.’ – How nice girls became comfortable with oral sex’- Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic Monthly
  • Sandra Wochele brilliant. May I share the article?
  • Rhea Boyden Here is another anecdote I intended to include in this article regarding New York. When my high status high testosterone player sex god guy told me he wanted to move to New York because there he could ‘fuck around til he was 60’ he clearly knew what he was talking about and how many available women there are in NY. I have a beautiful Belgian friend who moved to New York about 5 years ago with her good looking and succesful German boyfriend. They are a beautiful, picture perfect couple and they both got good jobs at the U.N. When I was in New York about a year after they moved there I went to the U.N building and had lunch with them and a tour of the U.N. They certainly did seem to be having a great life there. Atfer lunch however, she and I went for a walk and she confided in me with desperation that EVERY time they went out in New York to any club, there were literally girls all over her boyfriend flirtiing with him and shamelessly trying to snatch him away right in front of her. HE was clearly enjoying all the female attention! I haven’t seen or spoken to them in a few years now, but I wonder of there relationship is still in tact.
  • Rhea Boyden I am aware that maybe some people think I am going a little overboard on how hard it is for women, but I am speaking from experience. Men do have more choice and more time, there is no denying that fact. I am painfully aware at age 36 how my male peer group have their eyes on women at least 6 years younger than me. This shift just started happening in the last year or so and I find it terrifying. I do see the numbers of eligible men dwindling before my eyes right as I am getting more hormonal and my biological clock is ticking ever louder. It’s really not a nice feeling at all. And I expect this feeling to get worse in the next years…..
  • Rhea Boyden this article pretty much sums hp how I feel:…/in-search-of-mr-right/6587/

    Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, the author of Why There Are No Good Men Left, discusse…See more
  • Rhea Boyden Oh and I had a heated argument with one of my male friends recently about this and he said: ‘The Atlantic Monthly is all a bunch of propaganda, you shouldn’t read it, it’s crap’. and I replied: ‘Oh really?, well, how come I can relate extremely well to the articles they write on relationships then and how painfully they ring true with me?’
  • Carolyn Turgeon I finally sat down to read this… wonderful, Rhea!!!
  • Rhea Boyden…/marriage-suits-educated-women…

    For women seeking a satisfying relationship and a secure economic future, there has never been a better time to be or become highly educated.
  • Tree Lewis so true Rhea.I particulary love the bit about your “german houswife” boyfriend,my last boyfriend was the exact same and it drove me nuts!
  • Rhea Boyden


Spam and its Consequences

2 Feb

By Rhea H. Boyden

‘Did you get some weird mail from Rhea this morning
too?’ my Scottish musician friend’s mum asked him upon receiving a weird link
from me. ‘Yes, I did’ he responded, ‘and don’t open it, it is spam. Rhea has
some strange magnetic field around her and she attracts spammers and con
artists. Everything electrical that she touches goes crazy,’ he explained to
his mother.

‘May I just use your computer to change my password
quickly on my email?’ I pleaded with my supervisor at work. ‘I keep getting
mails from all kinds of people telling me they have received spam from me and I
should change it urgently.’ I looked at him with begging eyes. ‘Absolutely not,
get out of here’, he said with an evil and mocking laugh. ‘Remember what
happened the last time you tried to use my fax machine? The thing gave up after
you so much as laid a finger on it,’ he scowled.

‘Thanks for the new offer of diet pills and porn, Rhea’
my old barman friend teased me. ‘Rhea, you have been spamjacked!’ wrote
another.  The best that happens of course,
is when the ex boyfriends chime in. ‘Thanks for the offer of Viagra, Rhea, but
you of all people should know that I have no use for it,’ wrote one. What can I
do but groan and laugh simultaneously at this. Worse still, is that I also know
that the guy who just rejected me also got the spam mail. ‘Oh dear’ I cringe. I
must write him a short mail explaining that it is spam and not to open it.

‘Look at it this way’, a friendly colleague of mine said
‘Lots of people are thinking of you today. Isn’t that nice? she consoled. ‘Yes,
I suppose it is, friends, enemies, ex lovers, magazine editors and yes, just
about everybody. How delightful!’ And it does truly seem that a lot of people were
thinking of me today. One guy who I went on three dates with a few months ago
even responded. ‘So, sorry I have not been in touch Rhea, I have been really busy
with work, but we should meet up again soon,’ he wrote. I had thought that
there was a reason we hadn’t met up again after date three, however, and my
thought was that there was simply a lack of interest and chemistry and now he
is writing this? Is he just being polite?

So, yet again my close friends are teasing me and
having a laugh at how crazy I am with gadgets, computers, printers and so
forth. I do seem to have some inborn lack of understanding for how they work
and I simply seem to terrify certain gadgets to death. ‘Remember when your
printer committed printicide?’ reminded another friend. ‘Or’ he continued to
tease, ‘when you touched that old radio and it turned to static and refused to
be retuned.’ Oh, how I remember all these things. And yes, I readily admit that
I have a fear of all things technical and mathematical. I do try to learn and
deal with these things, but sometimes it is just out of my control. I have
other talents that I am proud of. Statistics have shown that people who are
good at writing and languages tend to be hopeless at dealing with calculations,
logical thinking, reading clocks (which I didn’t learn until I was 10)
operating technical gadgets and other harrowing tasks such as long division. I
must have cried enough tears to fill a bucket while trying to learn long
division and my multiplication tables. It has also been shown that writers tend
to live in a bit of a fantasy world, which I will admit now, is very definitely
the case. I go deep into fantasy world while writing and also while thinking
about the fantasy dream man who I cannot have who also regrettably received my
spam mail. ‘Think of it this way,’ a girlfriend comforted. ‘At least he was
thinking about you for a few minutes when he received the mail. Isn’t that a
nice thought?’ she smiled. ‘Yes, I suppose it is’ I said returning the smile.