Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Badness of Bitterness

If I am asked who the Single's worst enemy is--overbearing mothers, Bridezilla, PUAs*---I will say, without a second of hesitation, "Bitterness."

Bitterness is a killer. People talk about the stench of desperation coming off some Single people at social events, but it is nothing compared to bitterness. Whereas desperation merely frightens others away, bitterness gets into a person's heart and warps it. It can turn you into Gollum.

Since most women love the Anne books, one common female example of bitterness is Katherine Brooke, a senior teacher at the school in Summerside of which Anne is principal (Anne of Windy Poplars). Katherine is an effective teacher, but people look down on her because she is frumpy. She lives in a dingy boardinghouse. She is nasty to Anne, even though Anne is, after all, her supervisor. She loathes Anne's air of perpetual happiness, and thinks Anne is flaunting her pearl engagement ring. Bitter, bitter, bitter.

Well, Anne (being Anne) invites the nasty (but, to Anne, intriguing) Katherine to Green Gables for Christmas and even gives her a becoming red velvet HAT which improves her appearance no end. And then the truth comes out: Katherine's parents hated each other; when they died she was made beholden to her uncle; she dresses and lives dingily because she is paying him back every cent he had spent on her education. She hates teaching; she'd rather travel. We discover that Katherine is a sympathetic character after all.

But Anne is not only a secular saint, she's a fictional character. Any real life Katherine would be supernaturally lucky to be invited back to the charming boss's country farmhouse for Christmas after making the boss's life a pain for months.

A real-life example of male bitterness appears occasionally in the advice (agony) columns. This is basically what the Bitter Male Single writes:

Dear Abby (Ann or Ellie),

I am a nice guy. I always treat women well, but I'm starting to think I shouldn't. Women only like bastards who treat them badly. I'm starting to think that I should start treating women badly, too, since that is what works. The problem is, though, that I don't have the kind of things that women are impressed by. For example, as an environmentalist, I think personal car ownership is wrong. But when a woman discovers I don't have a car at all, she immediately rejects me....Etc. Etc. Etc.

The most extreme example of Bitter Male Single was the Health Club Shooter, a man I dubbed Psychopathic Single. After twenty years of no girlfriend, Psychopathic Single went to his health club and shot 12 women, killing three. But P.S.'s testimony about his lack of success with women was inconsistent. Women actually did talk to him; one woman seems to have shown a friendly interest. But by then P.S. was so absorbed by his bitter thirst for revenge, that he blocked her out. By then he just wanted to kill women.

Bitterness is a constant temptation for Singles; when I was Single, I fought it back every time I went to a bridal shower, a wedding, a baby shower or a christening. (One christening almost wiped me out; I wanted to die.) But practise made perfect. I got good at remaining cheery and gracious at such times, inside and out. (Showers and weddings are not about us but about them, and sour faces do much to ruin people's special days.)

Seeing ultrasound pictures of unborn babies in my email inbox was another story, though. And, even now, because still childless, I curse and wallow in hate when some acquaintance (not family) includes me in a mass mailing of their latest baby's ultrasound. "Yes, I very glad you're happy," I mutter. "Now f--- off." But as tempting as it may be, I do not write this in reply. Instead I bin the photos and erase the episode from my mind. It is not nice to sneer at the happy; they don't like it. It feels like a slap. And it is not an effective means to one's own happiness.

Bitterness is incredibly self-defeating. Only bitter people really enjoy hanging with bitter people, and that for the same reason alcoholics love drinking with other alcoholics: tacit permission to indulge in the beloved destructive behaviour ("My pre-ciousssssssssss!!).

Bitter remarks are sometimes refered to as "being hilarious." I used to be hilarious at my spiritual director, back around 2003, and informed him that there were no good Single men. He thought about that and said, "Well, X was Single once."

That stopped me in my bitter snail tracks because X--let me tell you about X--X was a stellar, cheerful, great-hearted, enthusiastic grad student up from the American South. He was brimming over with the love of God. Both he and his wife lit up rooms. So I grudgingly had to admit if X existed, similar men might exist and some of them might be Single.

That was one of the great moments that turned me from the road of bitterness to the path of seraphic singleness. An earlier one--and I am not making this up--came from watching a Victoria's Secret lingerie show with a boyfriend. I am sure I tell this story in The Book, but here it is again because I am convinced it is a total revelation about the Male Psyche in General.

Okay, so we were watching this ridiculous fashion show, and the girls were striding down the runway in their undies, wings flapping, and the boyfriend said, "There's Heidi Klum. I like Heidi Klum. She's smiling."

And, behold, there was Heidi Klum, and unlike the other models, who were all pouting and sneering, Heidi was grinning. She grinned at the camera and sashayed off.

But then she was back. Stride, stride, stride, grin.

"There's Heidi Klum," said the boyfriend again. "I like Heidi Klum. She's smiling."

He sounded like a robot-zombie. He was transfixed by the power of Heidi Klum. But, you know, Heidi was just one of a dozen equally beautiful women. What Heidi had that set her apart was her big, white, smile.

Healthy men love happy women. Repeat this every morning when you brush your teeth. Healthy men love happy women. And men, women love happy men.

If you're not happy, and you're a Searching Single, fake happiness. Fake it! Fake it until you've tricked your little reptile brain into thinking it really is happy. Because bitterness is your biggest, baddest enemy, believe me.

*PUAs=Pick-Up Artists aka horny men too cheap to spring for prostitutes, so rely on dirty psychological tricks to seduce any woman they can get their hands on for free.


Dominic Mary said...

I think you have hit the nail very firmly on the head; bitterness is probably the ultimate killer for everyone, but it is so particularly for Singles - and the only cure is, ultimately, learning to love and trust that God will always do what is best for us; and then teaching ourselves to BELIEVE that.

I strongly suspect that you got there; which is why you're no longer single - because you stopped wanting, and started being grateful for what you had.

(Before you ask, I'm hopeless at it; I suppose my only good point is that I KNOW that I'm hopeless !)

Seraphic said...

Oh well, it's a work in progress for almost everybody in this life!

Here a list of my "grass is greener" things:

1. a snazzy career in academia or diplomacy or lobbying

2. children

3. a house of our own

4. dogs and cats and ponies

5. massive advances from Doubleday or similar

6. glowing pearl-like skin of a 22 year old just past acne. Sigh!

Dominic Mary said...

Hhmmm . . .

For what they're worth, my comments on your 'greener grass' things :

2 and 5 you leave to God; He knows what He is doing.

3 and 4 - give it a little time; you'll get there (but get the house first; otherwise the pony might prove a problem when you try to find somewhere !)

1 - you don't really want that, 'cos if you did you'd have gone hell for leather for it, not for writing books . . . and you wouldn't have found B.A. either !

6 - OK; more difficult, because understandable - but actually reality is more attractive to most men; women are meant to be women, not girls.

That said, the homeless girl with nice eyes who asked me for money in Oxford on Christmas eve had nice skin; but I bet she'd have swapped it for a roof and a fire . . . Abraham Maslow wrote of a 'hierarchy of needs', with food & drink, and shelter, as the broad base; and as you go up, things get less essential, and yet apparently more crucial.

Being honest, I think you're very well aware how lucky you are . . . and I believe that recognizing that, and thanking God for it, is about the most important thing we can do in life. Just keep on giving your unsolicited, but valuable, advice !

theobromophile said...

Bitterness is a constant temptation for Singles; when I was Single, I fought it back every time I went to a bridal shower, a wedding, a baby shower or a christening.

Just to be contrarian: over the past few years, I've learned that I have limits. I've been to over a dozen weddings since I even had a date with a man - and I don't mean a date to a wedding, I mean like a date with dinner. That I can handle; weddings are for the bride and groom but they are inherently community events, in which a group of family and friends gathers to celebrate, affirm, and support a marriage.

Bridal showers, though? I can barely afford to attend weddings, let alone purchase a wedding gift for the actual event... and then add on to that a bridal shower gift, an engagement gift, and the bachelorette party. Seraphic, I have limits, both personal and financial. There's only so much time I can spend "celebrating" someone else's happiness.

But bring on the baby gifts (because new parents need baby items in a way that they don't need new cookware) and the christenings and all that! That's a celebration and a cause to help out with.

For everything else... "know thy limits" is my motto.

Seraphic said...

No adult ever has to go to a party they don't want to attend.

One of my very own sisters did not go to my bridal shower, and we're still on speaking terms!

Dominic Mary said...

theobromophile . . . there's a solution : move to the UK - we don't do showers, or bachelorette parties . . . and it's usually only family who give engagement gifts : it's a lot cheaper here !

Seraphic said...

DM, in Britain a bachelorette = a "hen party." Germany has them, too, only in Germany the bride has to pay for all her friends.

Dominic Mary said...

Sorry; quite true - it's rather along time since I got married, and my wife didn't have one anyway !

. . . but at least we're spared showers !

Jennifer said...

I just discovered your blog (via a link from the Anchoress to Crescat to you) and I love it! I'm going through the older posts to catch up. This post on bitterness rings true. Thank you for the encouragement!