The Low-Hanging Fruit

My birthday is just around the corner. It’s not really important which one it is (once you’re over 40, it doesn’t seem to matter anymore). While driving a friend to work, he reminded me of the impending day, and I had to hear about how I’m “old.” It’s worth noting that he is only a year younger than me, and (as standard practice) dates women young enough to be his daughter. And it would be comforting to think that he was the only man who had this opinion, but he’s not. Far from it. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that older women weren’t desirable, sexy, attractive, or even valid. And to be fair, it was probably a man.

I don’t know that I ever saw myself as “pretty.” I have a lifetime of people telling me that I’m not, even after a short stint with modeling. It’s been 40+ years of people not just “making me aware,” but going out of their way to “notify” me of how “not pretty” they think I am. As if it was their moral and social obligation to let me know, and not go through life blissfully unaware. Dating websites were the absolute worst. It’s a free-for-all of jilted men who have this burning need to insult and berate women they do not know, in sad attempts to make them feel better about themselves. Through it, I’ve heard some horrible things from people. Things that shock some, and would amaze others that they had even been uttered.I have family members who feel it is now their obligation to go against what these people have said, and try to tell me daily that I am “beautiful.” With over four decades of random and unsolicited opinions to the contrary, the encouraging words sting more than comfort. They anger, they don’t encourage. 

In never thinking I was “pretty,” I also never thought that I was “ugly,” either. I never saw myself as some sort of mutant or otherwise. About a decade ago, I was in an unhappy relationship and had gained a notable amount of weight. Once I left that situation, I got to work at being healthier. I lost over 30 pounds at one point, and felt so good about myself. The comments were almost immediate . . . “You’re too skinny,” “you look sick,” so on. I had a coworker say, “You need to stop losing weight, because it’s hard for everyone else to.” Wow. Just . . . Wow. The backlash was immediate, and big. And I didn’t understand it, because I was happy, and I felt good. Healthy. I was a lot more confident. Then, I gained two-thirds of it back. That seemed to comfort people, oddly enough. So now, I’m not skinny, I’m not healthy, I don’t feel good, and I’m still not pretty. At least, a few years ago, I was skinny and confident.

On top of all of that, now age has caught up with me. I would like to note that I don’t really look my age. Good, bad, or indifferent, I don’t look my age. Most people guess me to be in my thirties. And that’s okay, but it serves no purpose. I’m still, well . . . My age. And when that comes to the opinions of others (especially men) in society, looking young means nothing. In today’s world, men may say that they lust after women like Jennifer Anniston, but in reality, what would their peers think when they find out she’s almost 50? It wouldn’t matter if a woman is a great catch, if she’s smart, sexy, funny, warm . . . She’s old, and that just doesn’t “look” good.

So what is to become of these “old crones?” We would be foolish to ever expect a man to step in. And why would they? We’re not children. We’re not living “sex toys,” who drive their friends green with envy. Women who are older, more independent, and more settled in who they are, are much more intimidating anyway. They aren’t impressed by a man’s clean apartment, or the sports care they don’t know how to drive. After all, they have their own clean home, and their own sports car that they’ve mastered. They’ve impressed themselves beyond what a man can do. It’s much easier to reach for the low-hanging fruit of youth, instead of the blooms that grew higher for the sun. That said, it never fails that the man doing the reaching is likely to be angered by the fruit just out of arm’s length, so he tries to knock it to the ground where he thinks it “belongs.” I mean, everything in the world should “know its place,” right? 

In a just world, older women would be heralded as the bigger prize. They are much more difficult to obtain, after all. It would take someone very special, very accomplished, and very dedicated to hold onto a woman who doesn’t need him. And realistically, that’s just to hard for most men. That lower fruit is just so much easier. Not as sweet, but easier.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

When I was five years old, my mother and I boarded a plane to see my grandfather. Not long into the flight, we were detoured to another city, due to landing gear sticking. I vividly remember my mother being gracefully calm through the entire experience. I don’t think I worried, until the stewardess showed up with a brown paper bag, and asked my mother to remove all of her jewelry. Once my Mom removed her gold charm bracelet, I knew it was serious. She always wore it when traveling. When she tells the story, she notes that I never panicked until we were told that we may have to use the emergency slide to exit the plane. In such an event, I would have to go down the slide first, with my mother to follow. The thought of leaving the plane without her terrified me. A passenger who had been speaking with me, throughout the flight, assured me that he would wait at the bottom and my mother would be right behind me. In the end, everything was fine. The plane landed without incident, and we eventually boarded another plane, and continued on our way. 

Stories like these are likely not all that uncommon, from the over-40 crowd. Every happening was not broadcast onto the nightly news, and the airline did not even blink. What stays with me is how my mother behaved through the entire event. She never even seemed worried to me. She was poised, confident, and comforting. Looking back, I’m sure that her only concern was keeping me calm. Even with the potential for disaster, I didn’t feel scared. 

My mother has always seemed to approach negative things in that way, shielding others from it. Over the years, she has absorbed endless amounts of worry, discord, scandal, grief, and protected her loved ones from all of it that she could. It’s a measure of responsibility that I could not ever weigh. However, all of that strength also comes with an unintentional seclusion. People have always relied on her being strong, and making everyone else feel safe. So much so, that they tend to forget that she is taking on all of that burden herself. It’s almost too commonplace. My mother may be the strongest person I know, and may ever know. She is mother to not just her own children, but cousins, friends, extended relatives . . . almost everyone she meets.

In some ways, I am “my mother’s daughter.” I grieve mostly in silence, but I grieve. I weep alone, but I do weep. When I ask for help, few people notice, or I am told to “handle it (myself).” I think this predisposes women to be alone. Even if just emotionally. 

It has been my experience that men do not usually wed emotionally strong women. They count on them, they need them, but they don’t typically marry them. My mother married in another era. One of hot rods, poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and wedding bells. She raised strong daughters, who she made certain went to college, and would never “need” to count on anyone else. She was successful. We (so far) have been able to survive fairly well on our own. The unforeseeable downside was that men tend to like women who need “saving.” Men are supposed to be strong. The knights on the galant horses. The heroes in the old love stories. 

In 2017, women are supposed to be equal to men. Partnerships are supposed to be exactly that, a partnership. Women and men should be strong, they should be mutual contributors, there to support each other. My mother has always been ahead of her time, and she continues to be strong, for hopefully many, many, many years to come. Because you see, I don’t think I’m quite as strong as she is; and as independent and and strong as I am (thanks to her), I’m just quite as much as she is. 

The Storm Cloud of Spinsterhood

Most little girls grow up with fairy tales. Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, they all end up with the epitome of happiness in the end . . . The man, the marriage, and the “happily ever after.” There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Mirror Has Two Faces, that addresses just this thing (https://youtu.be/EcuhMYVjY_Q). The point of it is, they never tell you the “after.” 

I was once in a long-term relationship that lasted over a decade. Seven years of which, we lived together. There was never a proposal, and rarely a word or conversation about going down to the courthouse and filing those important papers; let alone, anything culminating in a grand display of his “love and devotion” to me. Somehow, the absence of this grandiose celebration rendered my long-term relationship invalid in the eyes of almost everyone. It didn’t matter that we functioned as a married couple. It didn’t matter that, when we parted ways, we had to divide things and suffer the emptiness left behind from the other. It didn’t matter that we were more devoted to one another than most joyous young couples who are currently planning to walk down the aisle. None of it mattered, because I didn’t have that ring around my finger. He never “loved me enough” to “seal the deal.” It’s always amazed me that, in order for others to take a relationship seriously, a couple has to plunge themselves into enormous debt and unimaginable amounts of stress, in order for anyone to consider their coupledom worth, well, considering.I recently had the honor of attending the nuptials of my cousin’s daughter They had a gorgeous wedding, it was a great party, and they deserve every happiness that the world affords them. The family could not be happier for them, and has been happy for them for their entire journey. Those same family members didn’t seem to be able to muster the same happiness for my sister, who became engaged for the first time at 51 years old. The whispers of “desperation” floated through the air, as the judgement on her fiancé bounced alongside of them. People just couldn’t find the same happiness for her that they had bestowed upon my cousin’s daughter. 

All of this begs the question . . . Where is the line? When does the view of joy turn to a view of disdain? When does the happiness turn sour? When does elation turn to pity? Is it in your thirties? Maybe so. Somewhere around 32 or 33, I think. That notion that, if you were worth “getting,” you would’ve been “gotten.” 

The storm cloud that hovers over the unmarried-and-childless-over-35 woman is that no one “wanted her.” No one found her “good enough.” And it prevails in everything from career to personal life to family life. Everywhere. These are sometimes accompanied by the whispers of lesbianism, but ultimately, the onlooker’s conclusion is that this woman must be so defective that, even the lowest of the low, didn’t find her worthy. 

The irony is that the same is not true for men. Unmarried and childless men are heralded as “players,” “don juans,” and “confirmed bachelors.” Men are never branded with something as heinous as, “spinster.” They are high-fived and congratulated for “dodging bullets,” and not making “bad choices.” For not succumbing to the wiles of an unworthy woman. No company or professional organization would even think to consider a man’s personal life, when they are being considered for a job or promotion. They would never weigh the absence of marriage and children, as a commentary on their value. No one would even make the connection. However, for women, if that part is missing, there must be something horribly wrong with their makeup, their character, their person. Was it their looks? Their constitution? Their personality? Why would anyone take the chance?

This is not to imply that women should never marry. I do think that marriage should be a mutual agreement, or pact, of working together to survive this world. A partnership that means you always have someone on your side, someone in your corner. I never aimed to be unmarried or childless. It’s just what life offered me. I wouldn’t compromise. I didn’t want to marry for the sake of marrying. I just never received the memo telling me that the world would hold such condemnation of me in doing so. I honestly thought that people would consider me wise, and of good judgement. I thought that I would be applauded for knowing myself. My wonderful sister should be commended for waiting until she found someone she considered the perfect match for her, and not taking any lesser offers. Alas, people think she is just jumping on the first life boat in the shipwreck of age and spinsterhood. 

I would like to note that, women who are divorced, are exempt from all of the notions carried by unmarried women. Divorced women get a societal “pass,” because they were “chosen” by someone at some point in time. Someone found them “worthy,” it just didn’t work out. Someone found them “good enough” to bestow a ring upon their delicate finger, it just unraveled later. 

Most women live their lives dreaming of their wedding day. The end-all-be-all of existence, when a man has declared his love for you, and rendered your existence valid. I was honestly no different. Growing up, I had the magazine clippings from Bride magazine, and the daydreams of what a reception would look like, who would be in my wedding party. After all, nothing, and I mean nothing, is as important as getting married (so society told us). You could have a PhD in Physics, but you are “broken,” if you are not married. You could be the President of the United States, but it wouldn’t matter. It’s sad, and terribly unfortunate. Even in today’s world, women are valued and judged by the salutation before their name, and the jewelry on their hands.

The Myth of Eliza Jane Wilder


When I was in high school, I would get home at the end of every school day, with enough time to turn on Little House on the Prairie reruns. I would curl up on the sofa with my pint of ice cream and a blanket, in anticipation of whatever episode would be on that day. I would watch each episode, as if I had not watched them hundreds of times before. It fostered a life-long love of the show. I know more about the show than anyone else I’ve ever met. Each of the characters hold special places in my heart, but none so much as Eliza Jane Wilder (played by the wonderful Lucy Lee Flippin). Eliza Jane was Almanzo’s unwed, older, inexperienced sister. We watched her sad trials, as no men noticed her existence, and as the other characters would look at her with smug pity. She was the only sister, surrounded by brothers, who became a teacher. Although, seemingly independent, Almanzo insisted upon taking over her care and guardianship, until she lied about getting married and moving away, to get away and out on her own.
I remember feeling such sadness for her. They made her character very avian in nature, shrill, and frail, with a sapling-like build. Her homeliness exemplified by her wire-frame glasses. Viewers couldn’t help but feel unbelievably sorry for her. You would start off the new Eliza Jane episodes just hoping she would find love and happiness. It seemed, for her, the two went hand-in-hand.

I’m now an adult, and still a “bonnet head.” Looking back at the episodes, how I felt about them then, and how I feel about them now, my attitude has changed a bit. Eliza Jane existed in an era where a woman’s worth lay in the acceptance and acquired desire of a man. Women almost needed men in order to survive. I can’t fathom how helpless and desperate some women felt, if they weren’t married by the time they were 25 years old. How would they make money? How would they make large purchases? How would they make legal and financial decisions, if they even could? Men didn’t just make them seem irrelevant, they rendered them so, via culture, laws, and society.

My attitude has also changed in the realization that, those pitiful and disparaging glances that Eliza Jane seemed to receive now occasionally land on me, as well. Almost automatically, I will receive an expression of, “You poor unwanted soul,” from strangers and family, alike, when the topic of marriage comes up. There is never a discussion of if I wanted to be married, if I had the opportunity (and turned it down), or even about my thoughts about marriage as a whole. Why? Because a woman’s worth, to a large degree, still lies in whether or not a “man wants” her.

You see, when you’re over 35 and unmarried, you become Percy the Puny Poinsettia. You are now the last, straggly plant on the shelf, the night before Christmas, with your sad, wilted leaves hanging in despair. Or, at least, that’s what people think. The assumption is always that you WANTED to be married, and no one must have wanted you. And what’s worse, is the question then becomes, “What is wrong with her, that no one wanted her?” People figure that the acceptance and love of a man, must mean that a woman is a good person, worthy of getting to know. If there is no man, she must not be “worthy.” Or she is damaged and broken.

What was wrong with Eliza Jane? We could assume that she was prudish, peckish, and conservative. She certainly seemed to be played that way, feeding into the stereotypes of a “spinster.” Building on the foundation of the viewing audience already having pity and sympathy for the character. “That poor soul,” so on, so on.

As it turns out, the real Eliza Jane Wilder was a claim owner/operator, a teacher, a “government girl,” a wife, a mother, and a guardian to her niece, while she was finishing up her schooling. Eliza Jane was much more than a pathetic stereotype. She even pushed boundaries further by marrying at 42 years old, and entering motherhood at 44. That is certainly not to imply that her existence was validated by marrying and having children. If that mode of validation was true, this blog would not exist. It would seem more likely that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about Eliza Jane in such a way, as to make her look bad. Because really, what’s more offensive than a mean, bitter spinster who was never “wanted?”

Even more interesting, the real-life “spinster” of the Ingalls/Wilder clan was Mary Ingalls. The real Mary did lose her vision at age 14, but she never married, and never had children. She was a contributing member to the family income, but she did live with immediate family members for all of her life. It’s interesting that the show chose to change the story for the attractive portrayal of Mary, in exchange for the homelier portrayal of Eliza Jane. 

It’s worth noting that Lucy Lee Flippin is an accomplished actress who is seemingly nothing like her most famous role, Eliza Jane Wilder. Especially so, because her real mannerisms, speech patterns, and even carriage, is so different than Eliza Jane’s. Lucy plays the part to stereotypically perfection, making Eliza Jane the ideal example of what society’s image of a “spinster” was, and oftentimes still is.

I grew up with a lot of idols, and examples of strong, independent women. Eliza Jane on the show, Little House on the Prairie, was not one of them. In fact, it was almost a touch terrifying to imagine life as a single, “unwanted” woman. As I’ve grown older, I now realize that the meaning of “spinster” is what we make of it. There is no “unwanted” in my life, there is no desperation to keep a man around (or to have one trying to control me, or make my decisions, as would’ve been necessary in the Old West days). And in reality, the real-life Eliza Jane should be an ideal idol for independent women, who go out, seek a good life, gain experiences, and then (if they so choose) settle down and enter motherhood. Now, if the rest of society would “get on the same page,” we’d really be on to something.

What Is a “Spinster?” Welcome…


What is a “spinster?” There are a lot of varied opinions, amongst the people I ask. The opinions range from “prude,” “inexperienced with men,” “unwanted,” “defective,” and all the way around. According to a Google search, it’s, “an unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage.” a quick look at the online Urban Dictionary states, “Old unmarried woman. Not necessarily a virgin.” Then there’s this gem from vocabulary.com:

Spinster originally meant “a spinner of thread,” and as that was a job typically done by unmarried women, it came to have the meaning — even in legal documents — of “single woman.” Another term for spinster is the equally old-fashioned sounding old maid. Either way, it means a woman who never got married. Spinster is not a word you should call anyone: it reduces single women to one detail about their lives.

We can all agree that the main definition would be an older, unmarried, and childless woman. This is not to include a divorced woman, as she would be a “divorcee.” The definition is not of much concern, and would typically go into the “who cares” category. Unfortunately, it’s the implicit bias that causes the rub. Literature and society are at no shortage of older, unmarried women who are independent, inspiring, and strong. Just do a search of any of those women, and you’ll see that the rumors and theories of them being homosexual are not far behind in those searches (simply because society needs an explanation as to why a woman would be a spinster). It’s worth noting that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being homosexual. It’s no different than someone being a brunette or being tall. However, you wouldn’t look at someone and say, “Look at that unmarried, childless, older woman…she must be a brunette.” See how utterly ridiculous that sounds? 

What is implicit bias? According to the Kirwan Institute (http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/)

 …Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

How does this translate into every day life? You may not think you’re discriminating, but sometimes…It just happens without you even realizing. I have a friend who is a Jack Daniels Squire. In order to become a squire, you have to be nominated by another squire. He was randomly pulled from a tour of the distillery and nominated by our tour guide. In the two years since his own induction, my friend has nominated numerous male friends (some who are not even really fans), but no female friends. One might explain this by saying that he doesn’t know that many women who are fans of Jack Daniels. However, I am actually a stockholder, I own various bottles of Jack Daniels, have repeatedly gone on the tour (even with him), own more JD swag, and I am just as big of a fan as he is. That said, he has never even asked if I even wanted the nomination. When I mentioned it to him, he said, “I didn’t know you wanted to be one.” And there it is, that nasty little implicit bias where, my being a “chick” supposedly eliminated my desire to be a part of the organization, where his non-fan male friends would want to be. It wasn’t a malicious judgement, but it was a judgment. He did not leave me out to be nasty or intentionally exclusionary, but that assumption that I would be disinterested in something considered “male,” was an example of preconceived notions about me, based on my gender. 

How does this parlay into being a spinster? Well, being an older, childless, unmarried woman carries with it the “joy” of A LOT of preconceived notions and biases. Many are subconscious, many are blatant. What is certain is that it is one of the last remaining types discrimination that society deems to be “okay.” Much like “dumb blonde” jokes (come on, they’re “just jokes,” right?), these notions, media promotions, and attitudes bleed into everyday life.

And this is what Spinister is all about. It is an abolishment of those preconceived notions and implicit biases. It’s a discussion about what life is like to be older, unmarried, and childless in this generation. It’s a redefinition of the term, spinster, to show that it truly should mean strong, independent, and free-willed. Welcome to the conversation.