1. You’re a Bitch
Or, How Anger and Fear Are Keeping You Single
1. Do people walk on eggshells around you—and you kind of like it?
2. Does the idea that you should be nice to a man make you angry?
3. Have past boyfriends felt that you were defensive or hard to get close to?
The deal is this: most men just want to marry someone who is nice to them. Nice includes sex, laughing, and occasionally—but not to the point of oppression or anything—cooking a meal, folding the laundry, or doing something else he’s too lazy to do for himself. Just because you love him. That’s what nice is.
Is this you? If my asking makes you mad, the answer is probably not.
But that alone doesn’t make you a bitch. What makes you a bitch is that you’re mad at a guy for even wanting that stuff. Being a bitch is about feeling superior to men (and the women who want them), rolling your eyes without even knowing you’re doing it, and having a lot of tension around your mouth all the time. It’s about radiating something that makes people feel just a little bit scared of you. And not only do you not care, but if you get really, really honest you would have to admit that you like it. Just a little.
That’s being a bitch.
Bitch is less a personality characteristic than it is an energy. There’s nothing wrong with it per se. We all have an inner bitch, and she is a powerful ally who protects us and keeps us from being exploited. But most of the time in relationships, as in life, you gotta keep your gun in your purse. Which is to say, there is a time and a place for your bitch—in a tough business negotiation, say, or when being threatened, but not on a dinner date. And not just because it’s Thursday.
Unfortunately, bitch energy is distressingly common among single women. Maybe it’s because somewhere along the way, being a bitch became synonymous with being modern. When I was coming of age, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was something to be proud of. There were even jokes that the word was an acronym for cute phrases like “babe in total control, honey” and “because I take charge here.” Being a bitch was about claiming a place in the boardroom as well as the bedroom. It was a settling of old scores from all the years of male oppression. It was righteous. It was empowering.
But when it comes to dating and getting married (and, for that matter, being a mother), being in total control, honey, is an enormous liability. In fact, for most men—and women, too—it is an absolute deal breaker. Who in his or her right mind wants a mate who demands total control?
What It’s Really About
So when I say you’re a bitch, I mean you’re angry. Now, you probably don’t think you’re angry. You think you’re super smart, or—if you’ve been to a lot of therapy—that you’re setting boundaries, or maybe that you’re intellectually curious and like to debate a lot. But the truth is you’re pissed. At your mom. At the pharmaceutical-industrial complex. At Sarah Palin. But perhaps most of all, you’re mad at men. You’re mad that they can hurt you, that they have the power to reject you, that they seem to want twenty-three-year-old ninnies over powerful and fabulous women such as yourself.
At least that’s what you tell yourself. But my experience is, men don’t mind powerful, and they don’t mind fabulous. What they mind is emotionally unstable, annoying, scary, bitter, cold, and above all, unloving.
Female anger terrifies men. They won’t come right out and tell you that, because half the time they don’t even know it, at least not consciously. But after having a son, I now clearly see how much power a woman has in a man’s life, and how our anger (and I’m not talking about pick-up-your-socks anger; I’m talking about baked-in, this-is-how-I-am-so-deal-with-it anger) affects them on a very deep level. To start with, every man has a mother, right? The same way we women have to deal with the template our fathers laid down for us in relationships, men have to deal with their mothers. Except times ten, because for the first several years of his life, that woman was the source of everything to him: love, frustration, scolding, cookies. There is no possible way to overestimate the impact of a man’s mother on his psyche. Never mind his particular mother; I’m talking about the fact that he has one at all. And how about the fact that he lived inside her body at one time? Really. When you think about it, it’s pretty crazy.
For this reason, we ladies need to be very conscious about how we express our anger. (Just as men should be conscious and caring about how they express theirs.) I know it seems unfair that you have to work around a man’s fear and insecurity in order to get married—but actually it’s perfect, since working around a man’s fear and insecurity is a big part of what you’ll be doing as a wife. And I don’t mean this in a belittling way. It’s the same thing if you want to be a mother—you’re going to have to work around your children’s fears and insecurities. If you want to be an employee, you’re going to have to work around your boss’s fear and insecurities. If you want to be a friend, you’re going to have to . . .
Well, you get the picture. You’re going to have to get a grip on your anger.
Notes from My Life as a Wife
At twenty, I was a young married bitch. People often say they know bitchy women who are married, and I can vouch for this, because I was one of them. But in my experience good marriages have a loving warmth and adoration between partners that is missing from the marriages of bitchy women. (As I’m sure it’s also missing from the marriages of douchey men.)
It’s not that I was all bad. I was a fun conversationalist, and I had a sense of adventure that generally kept things interesting. But I was also a person who didn’t put a lot of boundaries around my own behavior. I disrespected other people while pretending to myself that I wasn’t doing exactly that. I indulged the part of me that felt like she should be able to have the world look the way she wanted it to, even if it was at the (emotional) expense of other people.
In short, I was a bitch. And here’s how I did it:
1. I was controlling. This is the number one weapon in the bitch arsenal. It’s where you make sure nobody ever does anything that you don’t like by preventing it in advance. And the way you prevent it in advance is by making everyone walk on eggshells. I would tense up my body the second anyone got near a topic I didn’t like or started to do something I didn’t like, then make faces (and sounds, if necessary) to communicate my displeasure. Anyone who stayed in my life past the first six months knew what this meant and backed off. Pretty soon the only people left were people who were going along with my program—which led me to assume that I was a perfectly agreeable young lady when, indeed, I was not.
2. I was manipulative. Being manipulative is the stealth way of making people do what you want while leaving no physical evidence behind. It involves things like talking “casually” to your mate about other people . . . while making it clear which of their behaviors you find reprehensible. Behaviors that, coincidentally, you have been badgering your mate about for the last day, week, or month, and would like him to stop doing immediately. If that doesn’t work, there’s also guilt and threats, where you just tell the other person that if they keep doing whatever they’re doing that you don’t like, you’re going to either get cancer or leave them.
3. I was judgmental. My attitude was, “No one is doing anything right around here. Period.” Also, I thought I was better than other people, which practically goes without saying. If you’re like this, you know who you are.
4. I was spiteful. If you did something to me—or if I perceived that you did something to me—I wouldn’t hesitate to retaliate. Getting back at you might come in the form of relentlessly pointing things out to you that you said yesterday, or cutting you down so you don’t feel so confident, or (my personal favorite) teaching you a lesson. Ugh.
If that’s not a list of traits someone would want in a wife, I don’t know what is! Most of all, I had to be right. Because what I wanted more than anything else—even more than I wanted to be a loving person—was to dominate my husband. Which might sound irrational, but not really. I was afraid to be vulnerable. There was something about letting that one person, that man, have the power over me that goes along with being a husband that I just couldn’t handle. Or, more accurately, I was going to handle it by donning a big pair of tall, shiny black boots and carry a long dominatrix whip that I could snap whenever I felt like it. And when you think about how scared I was, it makes perfect sense that I behaved the way I did.
Why Leanne’s Not Married
My friend Leanne has another form of the bitch problem, which manifests mainly through her extremely sharp tongue. She doesn’t seem to understand that men are creatures who have feelings. I sometimes wish I could videotape Leanne and play it back to her, because Leanne’s talking is more like another woman’s ranting. Watching it, she might feel sick to her stomach for a while, but at least she would start to understand what’s going on in her relationships with men and how they’re experiencing her.
I’ll never forget watching Leanne strike up a conversation in a restaurant once, with a very nice commercial director named Eric. I have an eye for guys who are willing to commit, and Eric was one of those guys. A little bit short, maybe, but so cute and nice. The fact that commercial directors make Mom-can-stay-at-home money is totally incidental as far as I am concerned, but it’s the kind of thing Leanne cares about, so I was excited a cool guy seemed into her.
At the time, Leanne was really desperate to have a boyfriend, and really loath to admit it. She didn’t want to be desperate. But at that point she’d been single so long, she’d begun to suspect there was something very wrong with her—something that was really obvious to other people, especially men. Most of the time this suspicion was too painful to confront head-on, so as an alternative, she convinced herself that she was too “intimidating” and “fabulous.”
Anyway, Eric the director was telling us how he had recently directed a major beer spot and was editing it again on his own, because he didn’t feel the client’s version of the commercial represented his best work. “You mean,” Leanne quipped cuttingly, “ ‘Miller Lite: The Director’s Cut’?” The smile evaporated from his face, the pleasure of sharing his work with her gone. She thought she was so smart.
What she was was dateless. Eric, who was obviously so interested at the beginning of the conversation, never even asked for her phone number.
Leanne doesn’t know it, but her (all too common) defense is to reject men before they have a chance to reject her. Bitchiness is a mask for that fear—of being hurt, of intimacy. Leanne blames men for not liking her. “Men don’t like me,” she says. I can tell she enjoys the dubious look on people’s faces. After all, she is a tall, striking brunette with a successful career as a corporate lawyer. Supposedly she’s the dream—which just makes her doubly mad that she can’t seem to get a second date.
It’s as if Leanne is completely committed to a life where she is terribly misunderstood by men. What she doesn’t grasp is that there is nothing wrong with her, but there is a lot wrong with the way she is behaving. It’s unreasonable to expect to be a know-it-all, tell men all the stuff they’re wrong about, snort derisively at their simplistic love of South Park and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, be competitive with them, and then think that they are going to want to partner with you. Men are people first.