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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.

The Surprise Christmas Reunion

13 Jan

by Rhea H.Boyden

I am standing very close to my fantasy dream man and we are looking at each other. ‘It would be all warm and wet’ he says with a cheeky grin. ‘Yes it would’ I respond with a coy smile. My imagination is running wild and he looks even better in real life than he looks in his online photos. I can hardly believe that we are here together in the real w…orld and no longer in our online chat world that I built into such a fantasy. The real reason for everything being warm and wet, however, is not some kind of sexual dream we would find ourselves in, but rather a commentary on the possible temperature and composition of the puke that the drunk guy may hurl onto us as he is being escorted past us with great difficulty and out the door of the bar. It is pretty remarkable that we find ourselves practically pinned up against each other within two minutes of my entering the bar. I would love to have his strong arms around me, but this is a dream that will sadly never be fulfilled. Just being in the same space as him and carrying on this conversation is a fantasy I have harboured for months upon months after our extensive online correspondence, so I am quite fixated on him despite the fact that he has already rejected me online after I admitted my feelings for him. The tension between us now leaves me with utter disbelief that my feelings could not be reciprocated. Oh there are worse horrors in the world than unrequited love, but I am currently unable to recall such horrors. When I went out the pub with my brother and some friends that evening, I had a secret hope that I would run into Mister Fantasy Online man now that I was home in our mutual hometown for Christmas, but I did not think that the second I walked into the bar our eyes would lock in surprise and shock and I would be drawn right towards him nervously and, my voice shaking slightly as he and I try to compose ourselves to greet each other. ‘Hi lads, how are you doing?’ I manage to stammer. Thankfully his drinking buddy for the evening was another of my old classmates who I also got on well with back in the day. ‘I saw your article in the magazine’ my fantasy man informs me. ‘Oh, did you see that?’ I respond. ‘I was very happy it made cover story’. I am of course very happy too that he went to the trouble to get a copy of the magazine and read it and I take this as a compliment too. ‘I am writing for a Berlin magazine now’ I happily inform him. ‘Oh really, how long have you been doing that?’he asks. ‘About six weeks’ I smile ecstatically at him that he is taking an interest in my writing. ‘How is the running going?’ I quiz him on an aspect of his life that I highly admire and find an inspiration. ‘Really well, I ran the Dublin marathon recently’ he tells me. ‘Wow, you did that, amazing? He is fit too, it is a hard fact to overlook. At this point I then turn my attention to his friend-my old classmate- who does seem to be wondering how we seem to know so much about each other after such a long time not seeing each other. Is it obvious to outsiders who observe such a tension filled conversation that they have had an online correspondence that ended weirdly? I do wonder. He tells me about his life and then he asks me ‘So, what about you, Rhea, are you married with kids?’ ‘Um, no I am not’ I respond with a slight laugh, aware that the man who has rejected me is observing this conversation. ‘I am writing Sex and the City style articles, I would hardly be married’, I say dismissively with a wave trying to act blasé and laugh it off in my obvious tense state. ‘Well, I will leave you gentlemen to your pint.’ I announce , not wanting to leave at all, but trying to play it cool. ‘I am insulted that you want to leave us already, you just arrived!’ my Fantasy man’s friend announces. ‘Tell me more about your writing and work’ he says. ‘Um, ok, here is my card if you are interested, my blog is on it’. I hand it to him and then say ‘Oh, it’s my last one’. This happens to be a stroke of luck because I don’t want to give one to my Fantasy dream man anyway because a) he has rejected me and b) he is in many of the stories and poems that I wrote over the past months in any case being my principal muse and I would rather not go out of my way to give him access to my blog. He already knows that he was the muse of one of my most inspired poems that I am very proud of because I wrote it for him and sent it to him and told him which was likely all too much for him and the reason I scared him off and he rejected me in the first place. Eventually I make my excuses and make a point of leaving the bar before him so I can take my pride with me in tact. ‘We are now heading down to that other old bar the one that never changes over the decades.’ I tell him. ‘It has been renovated a bit’, he tells me. ‘Oh, really, you mean the owner has actually allowed the place to be dusted?’ I enquire. ‘Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he allowed that’ he says. ‘Well, I guess I will go down and wipe off a layer of dust’ I tell him with a seductive smile that I can hardly suppress. The dust had settled on this issue between me and him and I had gotten over it and now the dust that was the cloud of an online correspondence has been wiped away and the months I had of getting over him have been polished clear and I am left bare and shining and fully alert to what I always intuited; that I really did have a serious crush on this guy despite that fact that I had not seen him in 18 years. ‘Have a nice Christmas’ he says, as I exit the bar. ‘ You too’ I respond, as I hasten to leave against my will and my heart but my pride demanding it.

Back to Online Dating

23 Sep

Rhea H. Boyden

another delightful summer of travelling, writing, socialising and
doing lots of sports draws to a close, I realise with a pang that I
face yet another long Berlin winter living alone. I choose to live
alone and that is fine, but there are moments where it gets dark and
lonely. I have, therefore, reactivated my online dating profile and
we will see where it leads. My experiences with online dating have
been pretty negative in the past, but I am trying to approach it with
a much altered attitude this time around.

am fully aware that many people have met their partners online and
have gotten happily married and started families with people they
have met on the internet. My main problem with internet dating so
far, has been the fact that it seems quite contrived on many levels,
and many people certainly lack a neccessary subtle and casual
attitude that I think is essential for a date to be a success.

have moaned in the past that I always find myself attracted to shy
and quiet guys who end up leaving me bitterly disappointed with their
silence and leave me staring into a hanging void of no words and no
response when I pour my heart out to them about my feelings and
philosophy of life. Clearly this does not work and scares the poor
men away. I should learn my lesson. I pine over these guys for weeks
when they choose to ignore me. I am left with an acute sense of
regret and pain at how I acted with them and how I could have acted
differently. I want them to reciprocate my feelings and send me long
responses back about their hopes and dreams. But, wait! Is that
really what I want?

a guy who I do not know sends me a long message about how interested
he is in me and how interesting he finds my profile, I am immediately
turned off. I then leave him staring into a void of no response. It
goes both ways. There is however a difference to what I am doing and
to what they are doing. When I pour my heart out to a guy I like, it
happens after a prolonged exchange and chat on the internet and I
want to know where I stand with him finally. I then get my response
from the man in one short message followed by nothing else which
leaves me in do doubt that he is not interested in more than chat and
friendship. This is why Facebook is more subtle than online dating,
you can just be friends, and it could lead to more, potentially and
it has for many people.

dating, however, is right in your face. People are looking for love
and sex and that is that. That is fine, we are looking for love and
sex, great, but can we not approach it in a more casual manner to
begin with? I really do not want to be hounded by men in the first
message about my life’s dreams and how lovely and sexy they find my
pictures and how they cannot believe what an amazingly high amount of
matching points we have in the dating website’s match making system,
or how the guy is longing to meet me and is dreaming of me and so on
and so forth. This is nothing short of terrifying after after one
message has been exchanged. I am sure the guy means well, but to me,
this kills all subtletly and any chance that we will meet again even
if we do have things in common. I went on a date with a guy last year
and after the date he sent me a message saying: ‘That was a really
successful date, don’t you think??’ I could not reciprocate this
sentiment simply because he forced it so badly and needed it so

be sure, it is flattering to be given all these compliments on how
lovely my photos are, and what a beautiful smile I have. Thank you,
they are professional photos taken for a magazine article I wrote,
and I am quite fond of them myself, but honestly, I am not on online
dating for an ego boost. I genuinely want to make an effort to
subtlely make connections with a man who I may, after getting to know
him slowly have something in common with, and can build a lasting
relationship. That is my goal.

live in a world increasingly ruled by macbooks, apps, iphones, blogs
and countless other ways to connect online and this is never going to
go away, but using this huge array of networks to try and find a
partner is a daunting task. I literally get dozens of messages a day
of potential matches and men I should be compatible with. It can be
quite overwhelming. We hope fate will bring us to the right person
and we will fall in love and everything will be rosy and lovely.

rcently read the following article in the Atlantic Monthly with
horror: ‘Messing with Fate- New social discovery apps try and
engineer chance encounters.Could they spoil true serendipidy?’ The
article talks all about how a new app links you to people who are
near you, say in a bar or at a conference who you may have things in
common with. It is based on whether you have similar job entries in
your linked in profile, or if you have liked enough of the same
things on Facebook. I do not necessarily have something in common
with someone just because I have liked the same things on Facebook.
Neither is a huge amount of matching points on a dating profile a
guarantee that we will be compatible. I dated a guy for 2 years here
in Berlin who I joyously met in a very serendipidous manner and I am
sure we would have had about 5 matching points on a scale of 1-100 on
a dating website, but man could you slice the air between us when we
were in the same room. Talk about chemistry! Does this mean we should
go on dates with guys who we apparently have nothing in common with
on these sites? Maybe. You never know who you might meet. Having such
overblown expectations of a date is unhealthy anyway and ultimately
leads to disappointment.

recently read a very practical article in AlterNet by a savvy woman
named Emily Hoist-Moss who proudly labels herself an online dater.
She goes on dates all the time, and instead of being overwhelmed or
upset by the many number of failed dates she has been on she tries to
not take herself so seriously and enjoy herself. She gives advice on
how to online date successfully. First she warns you that this man
you are meeting is not your soulmate. So do not even have such high
expectations as you will only end up sitting back on your couch
glumly eating a tub of ice-cream alone, depressed. She also advises
us girls to just dress comfortably and be ourselves. Why doll
yourself up and waste a whole lot of effort to go on a blind date? I
happen to agree with her on this. Most of us singles with full time
jobs and a large social network of friends don’t even have much free
time to date and meet a partner even if that is what we want. I am
sorry, but I most certainly am not going to waste a whole Saturday
night to go on a blind date. I do not want to go to a fancy
restaurant with a man I don’t know and have a long date. I am willing
to meet for a coffee or some other alcohol free beverage during my
work week with men in Berlin who also have busy work schedules. We
can meet, see if we like each other and if we don’t, politely say
goodbye and move on. You usually know within 5 minutes whether you
like someone or not, and whether you want to invest more time in
getting to know them better. This may sound harsh, but it’s realistic
for busy people with busy lives. Being honest with the person you are
with and not playing games or using online dating as some sort of ego
boost to make yourself feel better is the best policy. Treating the
other person with respect and hoping they will reciprocate it, is
plain and decent advice. It’s the best that can be hoped for. Online
dating is simply one more of the thousands of online apps that are at
our disposal today and if used wisely may lead to success and happy
adventures. I am hoping for an adventure-filled Berlin winter. I feel
hopeful and positive. We will see.


Link to teaser of article in The Gloss Magazine

11 Sep

Link to teaser of article in The Gloss Magazine

What’s the Alternative? (Published in Gloss Magazine- Cover Story-Single Sex-Playing the Field)

11 Sep

imageYears ago, when I still believed that marriage was something I should strive for, I was told a joke by an older woman who had more experience than me. “A woman needs a man who is good in bed, is good with kids, has a good job, is cultured, is a good cook, and who is a good handyman,” she counselled. “And she must also make sure that none of these men ever meet each other.” In the sweet naiveté of youth, I failed to get the joke. I now understand it completely, as it has turned out to be my life. I was born in Ireland in the mid-1970s to free-spirited American parents who never married. By the time I was five, they were separated and my brother and I lived in Ireland with our father, visiting our mother in the various countries she lived in, including the United States, Turkey and Germany. Despite this anything-but-conventional upbringing, I still somehow became conditioned to believe that I should be in a marriage-track relationship by my mid-20s. I met a lovely man at university in the United States when I was 22 and, as many of our friends were getting married right out of college, we moved to Berlin to practise our language skills and teach English. We were very compatible, and he is the man I probably should have stayed with and married, but there was one problem. He did not feel the pull and pulse of the city as much as I did. I was yearning for adventure. As I was terminating our four-year relationship at the age of 26, he sobbed and pleaded with me. “I have a fantasy of your lovely curly hair flowing down over your pregnant belly,” he implored. My decision was made, however. I wanted out, and nothing was going to change my mind. Ten years later, he is happily married, and has beautiful twin daughters. I am single living in Berlin. My adventures in Berlin in the years following our break-up were intense, to say the least. I became well acquainted with the nightlife and culture of this fantastic city, meeting people of different ages, races and sexual orientation. I also enjoyed a very successful teaching career, and I was full of vibrant, youthful energy. But when I hit 30, I began to feel a little weary of such a whirlwind life, and it was then that I made my first attempt at engaging with what I now like to call “the pretense of security”, and I began dating a wealthy German engineer. It failed quickly, however, and as I was breaking up with him due to the lack of chemistry, he said to me by way of warning: “In ten years, you have to have found a relationship that works because, by then, all your friends will be gone.” By “gone” he meant married and leading insular lives but, while inwardly the thought unnerved me, I was unwilling to settle with him. Next, I joined an online dating website. Within a few weeks, I met wealthy German engineer number two. I made more valiant an effort to make this relationship work, but it too failed after two years. I felt strongly that he did not appreciate my true merits, and that I was just an accessory in his life. It seemed that he just wanted any pretty woman at his side to play the role of wife. I felt that my creativity and sensuality were being hindered by him. It turned out too, that we had different ideas of what constituted a healthy sex life, and once, as I was diplomatically trying to improve things with him in the bedroom, he made it clear how little it mattered to him. “Look,” he said grumpily, “sex, is just something I want to get done, and move onto the next thing.” “What, like a mundane task like changing a tyre on a car?” I retorted in horror. “Time for me to change boyfriends then.” Some of my friends and family deemed me mad to terminate such a materially rich relationship with a seemingly caring and stable man – “Think of your security,” they warned – but I took this as an insult. Did people not think I could continue to support myself as I had been doing for years? I have since learned that he found another girl on the internet to replace me a few months later and they are now married. I can’t help but wonder what sort of a relationship they have. Is it a sexless marriage? Is it one where she is happy to be an accessory and spend his money all day? Who knows – maybe they really are compatible. In recent years, finding myself back in the adventure that is dating in Berlin, I have often thought about that joke I was told years ago. I have met a lot of different men, men who have fulfilled my various needs in different ways and I have come to realise that being independent and having my freedom suits me far better than being married. My wealth of experience has shown me that you truly cannot have it all with one man. For a while, I dated a Canadian guy, with whom I could discuss literature and poetry for hours, and although we shared a bed, it was not because we were having hot sex, but rather because we shared a mutual affection and respected each other greatly. I also have a dear German male friend who comes to my aid whenever I am having a computer or a domestically themed meltdown, which happens frequently enough with me. I have a good American male friend with whom I play sports and go to the Berlin Philharmonic. He wows me with his great sense of humour and his knowledge of classical music. We occasionally end up in bed together too, because we both admit we miss the intimacy. For a spell of about two years, through no design or manipulation of my own, I actually found myself in two relationships simultaneously. They both knew of each other but never met. One of them was a Scottish musician whom I considered to be my soul mate and best friend (he cooked the best chilli con carne in the world … ). We did not have a sexual relationship, but were very close on every other level, offering each other constant moral support. We were like an old married couple, complete with arguments over how to best solve a problem. And while he was out playing music and dating other women, I was seeing an Irish entrepreneur with whom I had a lot of great sex. He had told me on our third date, however, that he had no intention of engaging emotionally with me and that he intended to spend his 30s playing the field, sleeping with me and lots of other people besides. He hurt me deeply, and drove me halfway to insanity, but it is an experience I would not have wanted to go without. The combination of these two men in my life for such an extended period of time truly provided more than I could have dreamed of in one stable relationship. They were both completely different to each other and I cared for them both dearly. But am I not worried about being all alone if I don’t settle by the time I’m 40, as my first German engineer boyfriend warned? Not really, to be honest. I am certainly less afraid of it now than I was a few years ago, because I see more and more women my age who are also remaining childless and unmarried, and I hear about the interesting ways that single, childless people are choosing to live communally as we get older. Berlin, especially, is known as a “single city” and many people are here to work on interesting art, music, language and writing projects and to enjoy the excellent nightlife and culture that the city has to offer. I recently heard about an apartment block here where single people choose to live their separate lives in individual apartments but have a communal living room where the can meet – and they are slowly buying the building together. I truly believe things are changing and we do not have to live with the fear of growing old alone. I have a wonderful family who are spread across Ireland and the United States and I usually spend a Christmas with them but, this year, I decided to stay in Berlin and host Christmas dinner myself. I love cooking and I had eight for dinner: two gay guys, four single ladies in their 30s (including me) and one married couple. I keep my online social network in place too: one of my New York-based aunts reunited with her old college boyfriend on Facebook and they have been dating the past three years, and meeting people through Facebook has been a more positive experience for me than online dating. As a single woman who lives alone, Facebook is my faithful friend: I get all my music, entertainment and news about my friends there on a daily basis. Recently I admitted what a huge amount of time I spend on Facebook to a friend who is a married mother. “Oh,” she retorted, smugly, “I cancelled my Facebook account. I think it’s a silly waste of time.” Well, I can’t live without Facebook. Yes, I would still like to meet someone to share my life with and I continue to go on dates and there are, admittedly, moments of desperation, especially as I am acutely aware that a large percentage of my still-single male peers, men that I used to consider my dating pool, are starting to set their sights on women five or six years younger than me. But what can I do about it? I am following my path and simply trying to lead an honest life that makes me happy. I have a friend who used to live in Berlin and, when she was 26, she started going out with her boss. They both worked and earned good money and then they got married and moved to LA together to earn even more money. When she was 37 she gave birth to their only child, a beautiful blonde son, who is spoilt, but lovely too. She visits Berlin every year and I meet up with her for coffee but I’m not sure whether I will bother the next time she is in town because some of the things she said last time put me off. Things like: “Are youstill 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 was, “Once you have a baby, all these other things you had been filling your time with seem so meaningless.” I guess she doesn’t understand my life at all. I am confident that if I remain true to myself and to the people I love, I have a pretty good chance of continuing to lead a satisfying life – with or without a stable partner. I know from experience that settling for the wrong relationship out of fear is a bad idea. And I have filled my life with people who share my opinion on these matters, so that gives me courage. Together, we discuss the possibilities of forming those communities and networks as we age and consciously decide not to marry and settle for passionless existences that stifle freedom and creativity. Single women have never had it better in all of history, and there is every reason to be optimistic for the future if we remain single, which no doubt a lot of us will.

Disconcerted by Dyscalculia

19 Aug

by Rhea H.Boyden

‘Rhea, can you please tell me what time it is, we don’t want you to miss your school bus.’ my mother calls down the stairs to me. I always dreaded this question from her because at age 10, I had still not learned how to decipher the anolog clock that would stare at me menacingly from the wall. ‘Um’, I answered back with uncertainty. ‘The little hand is just past the seven and the big hand is just past the five. ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rhea, when are you going to learn to tell the time?’ my mother responds, trying to be patient with me. I remember some mornings going to my bus in tears and the clock was the least of my problems. I didn’t want to go to school because, again, I had failed to do my math homework. My poor mother had been up with me half the night trying to help me understand my multiplication tables. ‘You just have to try and memorize it. Six times six is thirty-six, can you remember that?’ My mother says gently. ‘No, I cannot’, I retort defiantly, on the verge of tears, yet again. ‘Well you must get some sleep now, we can try and deal with this in the morning.’ my mother says as she kisses me and tucks me into bed. I am unconsoled, however and I devise a crazy plan to try and get at least a part of my homework done so as to avoid another scolding at school. I have a flashlight and reams of paper in my bed with me and I set about drawing groups of little lines in rows, as a prisoner does to mark off the days he has spent in prison. ‘If I can draw eight rows of twelve lines and then count them all dilligently and exactly, I will know what twelve times eight is. I am a genius!’ I smile to myself. At midnight my mother comes in to check on me and she sees in amazement what it is I am attempting to do. It then dawns on her that I definitely need extra help with learning my multiplication tables and she sees the torture I am going through. The half hour of extra help a week at school achieved little that year. That was one of the joys of 4th grade in Massschusetts. My woes of learning math may have been lessened had I been able to learn it using one system in one country and in one school, but the following year was even worse when I was back in Ireland with my father, trying to learn long division. Now it is his turn to sit up with me late at night and try and help me understand the exhiliariating idea of how many times one-hundred and twenty eight can be divided by six. ‘But we learned it in a different way in Massachusetts.’ I wailed at him in desperation. ‘This is totally different here in Ireland. I hate math!’ I moaned. The next day I failed the math test miserably in my Irish primary school. You hear about dyslexia all the time at schools, but interestingly enough you don’t hear much about dyscalculia which is essentially the math equivalent of dyslexia. Many school children these days are actually diagnosed with dyslexia and given extra help, special training, and special therapy sessions to help them deal with their disability. I was never diagnosed with dyscalculia but I am sure I had it. It is defined as ‘a specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic. It includes difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning maths facts, and a number of other related symptoms (although there is no exact form of the disability).Maths disabilities can also occur as the result of some types of brain injury, in which case the proper term is acalculia, to distinguish it from dyscalculia which is of innate, genetic or developmental origin.’ I am, thankfully, pretty sure that I am not brain damaged, and I have since learned how to tell the time and learn most of my basic multiplication tables and I have a wonderful life (although I still avoid long division if I can). I have a fantastic calculator on my desk which I use often, more often than I care to admit. The word dyscalculia has a fantastic etymology that makes me chuckle: ‘dys’ is Greek and Latin for ‘badly’ and ‘calc’ meaning to count, comes from ‘calx’ which means stones or pebbles, which are, I discover with delight, the stones on an ancient abacus. I wish now, that I had had one of those stone abacuses in my bed those late nights when I was counting lines furiously. This ‘disabilty’ has, thankfully, not had a very negative impact on my life, as I have either avoided all mathematical and mental arithmetic as much as humanly possible, or if I do need help I just ask people who are more talented in such fields than I am. I happily discovered in my early teens where my talents lay and that was in languages and I have always followed that instead. I excelled at French at school and was actually given the option of dropping out of my accounting class at age 15 to concentrate on my French. My teacher saw that I was a hopeless case, and that there was no way in hell that I would ever comprehend the uses of a general ledger. ‘Go to the study and learn your French vocabulary instead’ she said through gritted teeth. Looking back, I see that I was essentially expelled from the accounting class. I moved to Germany for one main reason: I wanted to learn the language fluently. Life in Berlin is fantastic and many people move here to do all sorts of things, and you can get by without the language as it is a very international city. I, however, was determined to master German and I learned the language at great speed, great joy, and with little difficulty. In my first few years here I did not befriend many other English native speakers as I wanted to immerse myself in the language as much as possible. I was welcomed into a clique of East Germans in their 20’s like me, who spoke very little English and they took me under their wing and taught me their language. Research has shown that two age groups of people learn language the fastest: babies and small children through pure imitation, and people in their mid 20’s. It is only in more recent years that I have a much more expanded and international group of friends with whom I rarely speak German. Now that I have mastered the language, I can branch out and not focus on German as intensely, as speaking the language is now second nature to me. Other symptoms of dyscalculia include an inability to tell the difference between left and right, difficulty grasping mathematical formulae, rules or sequences, difficulty perceiving measurements and distances, and an inability to comprehend financial planning and budgeting. Some sufferers can’t even balance a check book. I can balance a check book, but I do it with great hesitation and doubt. Had I been allowed to attend my accounting class longer, I may be equipped with a higher level of self-confidence when performing this task. Fortunately, in Germany I do not have a check book as I did when I lived in the U.S., so it is a delightful task I don’t have to deal with anymore. I have a bank account with bank statements and that is enough for me. About the same time I finally learnt to tell the time on an analog clock at age 11, I was also taught a clever trick for telling the difference between left and right. A classmate of mine in Massachusetts said ‘Look, when you put up your left hand and spread your thumb out horizontally it forms an ‘L’ shape. And ‘L’ is for left so that is your left hand!’ What a clever girl she was! I have never forgotten this very valuable lesson. I used it for a couple years until the difference between left and right also became second nature to me. Statistics also show that people with dyscalculia are very likely to do exceptionally well in a writing related field- many talented journalists, poets and writers are hopeless at doing long division, so they happily avoid it as best they can. Who needs long division anyway? I have never found any practical use for it since I left school, and its only use then was to torture and challenge my brain which is little use at all. Naturally, I cannot completely avoid logical tasks and challenging technical activities that one comes face to face with on a day to day basis. And I have my lovely struggles with daily mundane duties that require me to use my brain in a rational way that I don’t enjoy. I would much rather be steeped in fantasy and dream world and lost in a writing project, but then I have to do something like put together my new vacuum cleaner. If there is one thing that I fear more than long division, it is the user’s manual of any new technical gadget I purchase. Why would anyone even need to consult a user’s manual for a vacuum cleaner? Just put the appropriate nozzle on the end- either the one for the carpet or for a wooden floor- plug it in and start sucking dust. Simple! No, unfortunately, not so simple. I spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out how to connect the first part of the hose to the vacuum cleaner. In frustration, I then consulted the manual. The manual then basically pointed out to me that I was indeed, a retard. It said: ‘This appliance may be used by children over the age of 8 and by persons of reduced physical, sensory or or mental capacity or by persons with a lack of experience or knowledge if they are supervised and have been instructed on the safe use of the appliance and have understood the potential dangers of using the appliance.’ Well’, I thought. ‘There is no one here to instruct me, so I will have to deal with this alone.’ My frustration was soothed slightly by seeing the comedy in the unflattering euphemism ‘persons with reduced mental capacity’, which is a retard no matter how you put it. Oh, how happy I am that I shine in other fields, because I am indeed a retard when it comes to assembling appliances. The manual also usefully went on to instruct me that I may not use this vacuum cleaner for cleaning animals. ‘Well, it’s a good thing I have no pets, otherwise I may end up doing something really dumb.’ I giggled to myself. I managed after quite some time to get my shiny new vacuum cleaner working without assistance and I happily hoovered my whole flat. Some of my closer friends have not only noticed my inability to perform basic calculations without a calculator, but also that I seem to have a special ‘Rhea-effect’ on electronic gadgets. I was walking through a flea-market in Berlin with a friend recently and I spotted an old style radio that was merrily playing German classical music. ‘Oh, look at the lovely old radio’ I said happily. I reached out and touched it and the music turned to static. I let go and the static continued. My friend laughed at me and he teased me by warning me not to touch electronic devises unnecessarily otherwise they go crazy. When other friends are visiting me, I sometimes ask them why a certain thing isn’t working, or why it won’t do what I want it to do. ‘Did you plug it in or turn it on or do this or that?’ they helpfully advise. As soon as they hit the magical button or switch, the gadget works. I always swear that I had done the same as that before and it didn’t work for me. It’s the ‘Rhea-effect’ on electronic devices, they tease. Now I am not so dumb that I would use my disk holder in my computer as a large coffee cup holder, but I also am very afraid of ever having to call up any technical support hotline for help if a phone line or internet connection is down, or if something fails to do what it is supposed to do. The following conversation between a tech support hotline and a really dumb caller is apparently not a hoax and is really true. And no, it was not me calling for help. I may not know the many uses of a pair of pliers, but I love to cook, and I do know the proper uses of a turkey baster: Customer: “I got this problem. You people sent me this install disk, and now my A drive won’t work.” Tech Support: “Your A drive won’t work?” Customer: “That’s what I said. You sent me a bad disk, it got stuck in my drive, now it won’t work at all.” Tech Support: “Did it not install properly? What kind of error messages did you get?” Customer: “I didn’t get any error message. The disk got stuck in the drive and wouldn’t come out. So I got these pliers and tried to get it out and that didn’t work either.” Tech Support: “You did what sir?” Customer: “I got these pliers, and tried to get the disk out, but it wouldn’t budge. I just ended up cracking the plastic stuff a bit.” Tech Support: “I don’t understand sir, did you push the eject button?” Customer: “No, so then I got a stick of butter and melted it and used a turkey baster and put the butter in the drive, around the disk, and that got it loose. Then I used the pliers and it came out fine. I can’t believe you would send me a disk that was broke and defective.” Tech Support: “Let me get this clear. You put melted butter in your A drive and used pliers to pull the disk out?” (At this point, the tech guy put the call on the speaker phone and motioned at the other techs to listen in.) Tech Support: “Just so I am absolutely clear on this, can you repeat what you just said?” Customer: “I said I put butter in my A drive to get your crappy disk out, then I had to use pliers to pull it out.” Tech Support: “Did you push that little button that was sticking out when the disk was in the drive, you know, the thing called the disk eject button?” ( Silence. ) Tech Support: “Sir?” Customer: “Yes.” Tech Support: “Sir, did you push the eject button?” Customer: “No, but you people are going to fix my computer, or I am going to sue you for breaking my computer!” Tech Support: “Let me get this straight. You are going to sue our company because you put the disk in the A drive, didn’t follow the instructions we sent you, didn’t actually seek professional advice, didn’t consult your user’s manual on how to use your computer properly, but instead proceeded to pour butter into the drive and physically rip the disk out?” Customer: “Ummmm.” Tech Support: “Do you really think you stand a chance, since we do record every call and have it on tape?” Customer: (now rather humbled) “But you’re supposed to help!” Tech Support: “I am sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do for you. Have a nice day!” Quite apart from showing an unbelievable incompetence in technical matters, sufferers of dyscalculia have also been shown in many cases to have a very active imagination, which is of course, very useful for writers. An over-active imagination has been shown to possibly be a cognitive compensation for mathematical-numeric deficits. Now this, I can most definitely relate to. I do tend to live in a bit of fantasy world at times, especially when writing, but also when it comes to my dealings with romantic relationhips. I have had very functional relationships with men in the past, but more recently I have experienced the following: A certain man fullfills some fantasy need of mine that I blow into a big fairy tale that will never be fullfilled for several reasons. First of all, we do not live in the same country, and all I saw were his pictures on the internet and the messages he left me. And second of all, we are absolutely and completely different and have different lifestyles. I do tend to focus on wanting what is not available and not near me. Is this a symptom of dyscalculia? I also find myself attracted to men who are very competent at technical, mathematical and computer issues. Women, in general are attracted to competent men, but it doesn’t take a lot to see that I am looking for a man who can do well what I can’t and to complete and complement my wide reperatoire of non-technical and non-mathematical skills. The last few guys I have fallen for have been computer geeks who I am in fact, incompatible with, but my over-active imagination helps me build a nice romantic fantasy that leaves me dissapointed when it amounts to nothing in the end. Am I attracted to the computer geek, the same way a person suffering from hypochondria may be attracted to doctors in the hope that they can solve their problems? Maybe so. I only end up disappointed when the computer geek I am attracted to fails to appreciate my poetry and writing, this being more proof that we are incompatible. I recently wrote a poem for the computer guy I liked and he said: ‘I read your poem and it’s good, but I am nicely ignorant to poetry in general.’ I am surprised that the computer geeks don’t need our writing and poetry as a balance in their lives, as much as we seem to need their tech support. ‘Forget about him, Rhea.’ a good friend of mine who also knew him advised. ‘If he can’t appreciate your poetic genius then he is not worth your time.’ I would not call myself a poetic genius, and I appreciate that my friend was trying to make me feel better, but the fantasy world I live in is only bubbly and nice until I get rejected by the man I desire or I am faced with some mind boggling technical or mathematical puzzle I am unable to solve alone. Then I get rather gloomy for a spell. I get over it fast enough though and return to my world of fantasy and writing which is probably, I concede, over compensation for my other deficits. I keep on writing and keep on dreaming that I will find a man who will appreciate my love poetry and fix my computer without the aid of a turkey baster. I can use that well enough to prepare a nice meal for us. And I know that is a dream of perfect cliched and stereotyped gender role task division, but I am a girl who dreams that blissful domestic moments like this await me still and are indeed possible.

Image: Algebra Formula Math Quiz Clock

We Need to Talk

12 Aug

Talking_lips wikiroxor

By Rhea H. Boyden

‘What size toothbrush do you use?’ My dentist enquired of me as I sat in the dentist chair. ‘I suspect you are using one that is too big with too many bristles, you need a smaller brush’ he counselled. ‘Oh, really?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, he said, you have a very small mouth, you need to use this brush here’ he continued, as he handed me a shiny new toothbrush. ‘I have a small mouth?’ I asked incredulously. ‘Noone has ever said that to me before, I have always been told that I have a big mouth, and I never seem to be able to keep it shut. Whenever I fly back home to Ireland for the holidays from Berlin, I am always bubbling with energy and excitement about seeing my friends and family and telling them all my stories. My jaw is wagging constantly. My dear brother is often the first victim of my motor mouth, as he is often the one who picks me up from the airport. As soon as we set off on the bumpy country road home I am yakking away at a hundred miles an hour which only has the effect of making him drive faster on the dangerous Irish roads, presumably because he wants to get home quicker and have some peace away from me. ‘Rhea, you are full on, you never stop blathering, you are wrecking my head’ he says, or ‘Rhea, you have so many interesting things to say, why don’t you say them once and then move on to the next thing’. My brother and I care for each other dearly and we get on well, but more often than not, we have had a slight argument before we reach home, and usually it is due to the fact that I am blabbering too much, and not only am I blabbering, but I am repeating myself too, making my presence a double torture to him. He is very good for picking me up from the airport, and for that I am grateful. I always bring him a bottle of rum or something else nice to drink as a reward for putting up with me. Usually within a day or two of being home, I have a similar run in with my father. All I want to do is talk and talk to my family when I see them. ‘Why do you always want to read the paper when I want to talk to you? I grumble at my dad when we are sitting at the kitchen table. ‘Rhea’ he says, looking up from his paper, irritated. ‘Why do you always want to talk to me when I want to read the paper?’ Good point. I leave him alone and go and sulk and read my book, alone, and wait until someone else wants to talk to me. I love talking to my dad, but I have to learn that he doesn’t always want to talk. When he is in a talkative mood, he is great. I don’t have to be in Ireland visiting him to bug him with my chatter though. I make plenty of use of my phone to call him up and natter on and on about my latest writing project. I recently phoned him up to tell him about my idea for this very essay that I wanted to write about talking. I told him all about it in great detail. When we were ending the phone conversation he then teasingly said goodbye to me with the following sentence: ‘Great Rhea, now you can stop talking about writing and start writing about talking.’ My grandfather was once visiting Berlin and he made the effort to walk up the stairs to my fouth floor apartment to visit me and see where I lived. I would have suggested he stay with me, but a ground floor apartment much better suited him at his age. He was huffing and puffing from the effort and I proudly led him into my kitchen and offered him a glass of water to provide him some relief. I then proceeded to jabber on and on about my apartment and my life in Berlin. After quite some time he finally got a word in and said: ‘That’s the problem with you single people who live alone. As soon as you have company you need to talk endlessly.’ That shut me up for a few minutes. Presumably this was his way of saying he did not understand why so many of us were choosing to live alone in single households and shun marriage. Of course, what he doesn’t realise is that I don’t only talk when I have visitors, I also talk to myself on a regular basis, and no, I am not mad, at least not any madder than the next person. In movies and popular culture, people are portrayed as mad and eccentric for talking to themselves, but many studies have shown that most people talk to themselves and it is, in fact, perfectly natural and not a sign of insanity at all. Talking to yourself helps relief stress and solve problems with yourself when you have no one else to talk to. And, indeed even if you do have tonnes of friends and plenty of confidants, you don’t even want to share everything with people. Simply talking to yourself is a good way to process things on your own. Numerous studies have also shown that consciously articulating something out loud to yourself actually does help you find a solution to your question. The problem arises when you start answering your own questions out loud or responding to ‘voices in your head’ which could be a sign of a mental health issue or even schizophrenia, but for most of us young and healthy people, a normal dose of talking to ourselves is no reason for concern at all. While watching the Olympic Games too, you can see lots of athletes muttering to themselves in deep concentration right before they begin a race or a match or a run. In psychology, this type of self-talk is called ‘verbal persuasion’ and it is a very useful tool for gaining self-confidence. Recently, a good friend of mine was visiting me from Ireland and I read him one of my short stories aloud. When I had finished he said: ‘You have to lop off the first half of this story and start in the middle, that’s when it gets interesting. You must turn your writing into a pearl’, he advised. ‘It must be condensed beauty of the only thing that is necessary.’ As I was absorbing this lovely metaphor of the pearl, he then interrupted my reverie by adding: ‘It comes as no surprise that you are now writing all the time and churning out stories and articles like crazy, Rhea, you talk so darn much it is good for you to get it down on paper. I took this as a compliment. It also made me think of Mark Twain’s wonderful quotes on being concise in writing such as: ‘If I had had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.’ Yes, everything is in editing, that fine act of reducing what you have written to what is essential. I have a wonderful book entitled ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by a poet and teacher of creative writing named Natalie Goldberg. Her book is filled with lots of fantastic creative writing exercises and she claims in one chapter that chattering and gossiping are the true friends of good writers. We have to talk lots and tell stories and be sociable as much as possible to get our fuel for writing. Only then when we are alone are we able to use all this useful chatter to help us write glittering dialogues and compelling stories. There are wonderfully talented writers who talk little and who are hermits, but there are also authors who are taciturn and talk little, who write scientific journals and other such dry manuscripts that are more effective than sleeping tablets, and not the bubbling, chattering and humourous writings of people who have more active social lives. A friend of mine once gave me a book of short stories entitled ‘Why don’t you stop talking?’ by a woman named Jackie Kay. Was she trying to drop a hint or simply giving me a great book? Regardless, the book is fantastic and Jackie Kay has become one of my bigger influences in my writing. In her short story that bears the same name as the collection of stories, her character, a young woman talks all about how much her tongue gets her into trouble constantly. She says that she gets nervous when she finds herself with a silent person who merely nods and utters one well-chosen word every so often when she is chattering on and on. She also said that she lives alone since she drove her boyfriend mad with her constant talk, making him pack his bags and leave. This I can relate to completely. For some reason, I find myself attracted to really quiet, shy, guys and I have also done a great job of scaring them off. Why do I want to be with these reticent guys in the first place? I really do not want to be the one doing all the talking, as I also get nervous with long, silent pauses in the conversation and so I fill them with my chatter. I once dated a fairly quiet guy here in Berlin and I would send him novel-length e-mails telling him all about my feelings and my philosophy of life. Generally he would respond with one or two sentences to my one or two hundred sentences, which of course had the effect of making me feel as if he didn’t care. The shorter his messages got, the longer mine got, until I finally realised that I had, in fact, written him a good five emails filled with yakking and chatter and news and he hadn’t responded to any of them. I was left with a hanging void of no words, a virtual shaft of nothingness to stare into. He had disappeared without a trace. My talk and words had sent him running to another planet. I finally left him alone, but it left me unhappy and with the feeling that something was left unresolved. It was long assumed that women talked way more than men, but a 2007 study published in Science Magazine put an end to this legend. Researchers placed microphones on 396 college students to record the amount they talked. The result showed that women speak a little more than 16,000 words a day and men a little less than 16,000 words a day which is no significant difference. The three most talkative subjects in the study were indeed men. Women have gotten the reputation for talking more simply because they like and feel the need to talk about relationshipsmore than men. This can all be explained by hormones. Men do not generally like to hear these four words from their wives or girlfriends: ‘We need to talk.’ When a woman says this it is because talking a problem through with her partner produces the hormone oxytocin which helps her relieve stress. Women often want to talk first about a problem and then have intimate contact afterwards with their partners when resolving an issue. Men, on the other hand, are wired completely differently. When there is a problem, testosterone is what relieves stress for them, so having sex is their way of reconciling a problem. Therein lies the problem. The talking/ having sex ratio is often way out of balance and sadly, many relationships end because couples are victims of their hormones. Knowing this fact may indeed help couples save their relationships. Many marriage counsellors have encouraged the more silent men to really make an effort to talk more to their partners, before thinking about having sex. The pay off is then better sex, so a little more talking is worth it. Talking really has been proven effective stress relief for women. How often do you see a group of girls out on a girls night out on the town for drinks? They have fun, laugh, enjoy each others’ company and yes, they talk about their problems with their boyfriends/husbands. They rarely find any concrete solution to their problems, but just sharing their stories is immensely useful and helpful when processing relationship issues. Knowing that they all share the same problems and trials in relationships forms strong bonds and gives them strength and hope. Unfortunately, women have gotten the reputation of being loud-mouthed gossips because of this fact. But, most women are not evil gossips and it is not their intention to spread evilness. Men should not be too threatened by this at all. If anything, these girly nights out make relationships stronger in most cases. Men talk just as much, but they talk about different things and in different situations. Men talk more at the workplace, and they talk more about sports, gadgets, data and numbers. They don’t generally talk to their male friends about their relationships unless they really are having a crisis and need advice and support, a fact women find hard to understand, but what can you do? Men should be happy when their girlfriends are talking to them as it is a sign that the woman cares about the relationship. Men should worry when their previously talkative girlfriend stops talking and becomes withdrawn. This is often an alarm bell that the woman has given up and is thinking of terminating the relationship or considering cheating on her man. All a man can do in this situation is to talk to her. Talk is her stress relief. To go back to Jackie Kay’s short story again, her character talks about how she regrets having such a big mouth, because as she looks around her she perceives that it is the silent people who have the power in the world. They choose their words carefully and when they speak, people listen because they are not yakking constantly. Some of us who talk a lot watch these people with a mixture of admiration, envy and contempt. I realised at the end of my relationship with my quiet guy that I really didn’t know a whole lot about him at all, and it made me pretty angry. And it was not only because I was talking all the time, it was simply that he did not want me to know more about his life. I can only wonder what it was he was hiding from me. His silence was, I now surmise, a way of retaining power. It ended badly with us and I never got the level of communication from him that I desired. He is probably like this in other relationships too, so it’s not all my fault for talking all the time. I admired him greatly too though, for his calm, quiet and organised work ethic. He was an introvert and he got a lot of intense work done on his own. I recently read a short article in ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ by Susan Cain that proposed that introverts should be hired and left alone to work. She quotes research by Wharton management professor Adam Grant who claims that ‘Introverts are persistant-give them a puzzle and they will stick at it longer. They are careful risk-takers, and are less likely to get into car accidents, participate in extreme sports, or place out-sized financial bets than extroverts. Introverts are also comfortable with solitude-a crucial spur to creativity.’ I remember saying to my shy and quiet guy how I envied him being so comfortable with solitude. He certainly didn’t seem to get as lonely as I did, that much I could see. I need constant interaction and chatter with people. And as much as I enjoy my solitude at times, long stretches of it do not suit my extroverted, sociable and talkative nature. Recently another longer term online friendship with a shy and quiet I quite liked ended. Here again, when I review our chats I was the one using way more words than him. It was a nice correspondence while it lasted, but it ended when I told him my feelings for him-I am a girl driven by oxytocin, remember- and how I would have liked to meet him again in the real world. He was unable to reciprocate this and he said very little at the end which has left me disappointed, of course. Again, I am left staring into a void of nothingness and silence with no more response from him. I talked a lot to him, and I miss his presence now intensely. I know from my chats about relationships with my girlfriends- that’s what we talk about- that I am not the only girl who gets bitterly disappointed and frustrated by mens’ silence on emotional and relationship issues. Men do seem to communicate in some kind of unspoken language that we don’t often pick up on when we are nagging or talking to them. But can we always be expected to just understand what it is they are trying to say to us without words? Of course not! We can try, but it’s not easy to decipher silence. Silence can be more irritating than talk at times. There has to be some compromise between the sexes. I do want to learn to curb my tongue more, but I also hope the next guy I date will open up a bit more. I have experienced special moments with guys I have dated where I have kept my mouth shut and the whole moment was fused with goodness and understanding, and not the awkwardness of trying to fill a void with meaningless chatter. The same pearl that my friend proposed my writing must be condensed to, could also be used to good effect perhaps, when I am next sitting with a man I admire or hope to date. Maybe, just maybe, I could cherish that moment of silent communication and unspoken chemistry between us, as he had suggested when he spoke to me about the pearl. Talking, like writing ‘must be condensed beauty of the only thing that is neccessary.’

Talking Lips Image by Wiki Roxor

This Joyful Single Life

19 Jul

by Rhea H. Boyden

are so lucky to be single and have the freedom to go out and have
fun.’ one of my students here in Berlin said to me recently, trying
hard to conceal her envy of my lifestyle. ‘I am stuck at home with a
screaming 3 year old.’ she said. ‘But wait, I thought you were
happily married and had a nice house and an adoring husband who pays
half the bills?’. I inquired. ‘I envy that, and it looks more and
more like I will never have it.’I said. ‘I am happy with my husband,
and I love him and my kid, but I never get to go out and have fun. I
am so settled and boring’. she moaned. ‘Well, I am sorry if you
regret having settled. That is always something I have never been
willing to do, but then I may sorely regret that some day too, who
knows?’ This is one exchange I have had with a married mother, which
helps put my life into perspective, and another is the following
scenario: when I admitted once to a married mother what a huge amount
of time I spend on Facebook. ‘Oh’, she retorted, smugly, ‘I cancelled
my Facebook account. I think it’s a silly waste of time.’ ‘Oh
really?’, I responded. ‘Well, I can’t live without Facebook.’ It is a
big part of my life, and I get all my music, entertainment and news
about my friends there on a daily basis. As a single woman who lives
alone, Facebook is my faithful friend.’ I said. I did not say to her,
that maybe she did not need Facebook as much as me, because she might
be fullfilled enough with a husband, two kids, one cat, two dogs and
a goldfish, and that she seems to have somehow found that blissful
state, whereas lots of others of us are still searching for it. And
one more great thing about Facebook: It’s free. A fact that is really
great, considering that single life is indeed more of a financial
burden than coupled life. Singles may be envied by couples for having
autonomy on how to spend their money, and the fact that they don’t
have to discuss money matters with a partner, but they are under a
lot more strain financially than couples, as we still live in a world
that rewards couples and families despite the ever increasing number
of single households in the West.

I go food shopping as a single I get frustrated fast. ‘Why does this
store only sell a whole net of five zucchinis when all I want is
one?’ I wonder. I also notice that buying in bulk is way cheaper than
buying smaller single sized portions. Buying a ready made salad is
way more expensive than buying lots of fresh salad items which you
can feed a whole family with, but I do it anyway, because it’s
convenient and I would only end up wasting food and throwing it away
if I bought too much. The list is endless for how much more singles
have to pay. More rent, more electricity, more taxes, and a statistic
I found most shocking recently was from a travel brochure that
advertised package holidays to the Turkish Riviera. For a one week
package tour a couple has to pay 804 Euros. For the same deal,
however, a single person has to pay 1,072 Euros. You do the math.
This is pure discrimination against singles.

DePaulo, a Harvard trained psychologist coined the term ‘singlism’ in
2005 intended to parallel it with ‘sexism’ and ‘racism’. She says:
‘Singlism is the stimatising of adults who are single and includes
negative stereotyping of singles and descrimination against singles.’
There are so many of us choosing to stay single and live in single
households, you would think the discrimination would wane. I choose
to stay single and live in a single household too, but the drive to
mate, date and be on constant partner search is still deep within me,
despite enjoying most aspects of single life the majority of the
time. In light of this fact, another thing that has gotten very
expensive for me is online dating. There are savvy business people
who have really cashed in on all these singles who are looking for

couple years ago, as another lovely event filled Berlin summer was
drawing to a close, I suddenly felt a pang at the prospect of
spending another long Berlin winter alone. I then signed up to an
expensive dating website that claimed it had high standards of the
people it allowed to join. I guess I am really gullible, because how
do you monitor that? It was nothing but a disaster. I met the
weirdest guys and went on the strangest dates. When I told one guy I
came from Ireland, he snidely responded: ‘Oh, so you are from the
country we are bailing out’. I retorted with: ‘Oh, so you want to
talk politics, do you, and insult my country? How romantic, can’t
wait to go on a date with you.’ I sent another guy a sweet message
asking if he wanted to meet for a coffee and he wrote the following
back to me: ‘No thanks, I am not interested. You are not as slim as
you claim in your profile.’ I wisely ignored this comment, but
seriously, I am not fat. I may not be a beanpole, but I am slim and
athletic and I certainly wouldn’t lie in my profile. As far as I have
experienced, internet dating is a minefield that left me depressed,
and the worst part was that I stupidly failed to read the fine print
which instructed me to cancel my contract with them otherwise it
would be renewed automatically. This is the biggest scam, and I am
still paying for it. I am sure a lot of other singles are in the same
boat, and its a dismal one to sit in.

I joyfully return to good old Facebook for my free entertainment, of
which there are hours. As well as the great music that is posted by
my dear musician and producer friends on Facebook, there is the
wonderful scrabble app that keeps me entertained for hours. Last
winter, I noticed that an old school friend of mine in Ireland was
playing scrabble and so I sent him a request. We then played scrabble
and chatted for 6 months and it was quite a delight. I became quite
dependent on our chats and I also developed quite a crush on this
handsome man, whom I had not seen in 18 years. He sustained me
through a long winter, and he became my muse and inspired me to write
a lovely poem for him, which I then casually posted on his wall. I
also suggested that we skype at the same time and his response was:
‘I read your poem, and it’s good, but I am nicely ignorant to poetry
in general. I haven’t used my skype in years.’ he casually wrote. ‘I
was hurt, by this double rejection in one message, so I responded
with a knee jerk reaction: ‘Well, I know where I stand with you now,
anyway. I wrote the poem for you, by the way, after 6 months of
scrabble chat.’ I then went on to add: ‘Poetry is the beautiful and
subtle language of love, and I pity people who do not take the time
for it!’ He wrote back and said ‘I didn’t realise that the poem was
for me, sorry. I thought this was just scrabble chat.’. I then said
‘Well, fair enough’ you have a point, this is scrabble and not a love
poetry forum. Poetry has never been a favourite passtime and you
can’t expect people to love and appreciate your poetry, as is summed
up in a lovely New Yorker cartoon with the following scenario: A
hijacker is standing in the aisle of a plane with a gun in one hand
and a notebook in the other. ‘Ok’ he shouts. ‘No one will get hurt,
if you just allow me to read you a few of my poems.’

I bashfully realise that I projected too much onto a scrabble chat
with an old school friend and ruined it, but I can at least look back
and see that it sustained me for a long time, and it was free, which
is far better than online dating. I still have my games of scrabble
with my other friends. He and I have left it on civilised terms and
I have dealt maturly with the rejection. So my joyful single life
continues and I enjoy most of it, most of the time. I am not willing
to settle for a mediocre relationship and I have a full life with
lots of friends off Facebook too. So, now I just have to mustre the
courage to do that one big annoying thing with no emotional support
at my side, and that is the delightful task of filing my taxes. And
yes, I have to pay more taxes than married couples as a single
childless woman, but I deal with that too, somehow.