As a single, thirty-something woman with no children, living in downtown Chicago as I do, I am careful about the stories I tell about myself and the stories I tell to myself.
There’s a tired narrative about my demographic that really makes the rounds. This socially-constructed, media-fabricated archetype of women “like me” shows up a lot in TV shows, movies, advertisements, and general popular culture. The narrative tells us that the typical single, thirty-something, childless (some prefer “child-free”) city gal is sad about her (obviously sad) situation. Sure, she’s got a nice handbag, but she’s lonely. She’s got a cute haircut, but she’s hapless. She’s a woman in a perpetual state of longing and dissatisfaction. This is the trope of the single woman. She gets gum in her hair; her boss is a jerk; she and her girlfriends talk about men, pinot grigio, and the Bahamas; she and her friends go to the Bahamas to drink pinot grigio and meet men; she makes terrible choices with every man she meets, in the Bahamas or otherwise; her life is one long string of bad dates and pizza delivery, etc., etc., etc.
The problem with this character sketch is that parts of it are true. And when they are — bad dates, gum in hair, etc. — a person can start to believe that all of the narrative is true. This is dangerous. Stereotypes are pretty much always unhelpful stories people tell about other people because we’re all trying to understand and navigate the complicated world and stereotype are simple and fast. But 2-d stories flatten our experience and cheat everyone out of connection. People are always more complicated than a stereotype. People are more fascinating and more worthy of consideration than stereotypes, even if there are truths somewhere in there.
But that’s not even the worst thing about these prevailing narratives. The really dangerous thing is when stereotypes become stories we tell ourselves, e.g., “I’m single, so I’m lonely and sad.” Or, “I’m from the bad part of town, so I’m a bad kid.” Or, “I’ve been divorced twice and my business went bankrupt, so I’m a total disaster of a human being.”
Once you start internalizing such things, it feels terrible and you start to act not like yourself but like the stereotype! And the shift can be really sneaky. You can start to “be” something you really aren’t, simply because that’s the story other people keep telling about you, as if they know.
So with me and being single, I have to be careful to not do this. Yes, I have gone on bad dates — but so what? It’s not because the world is hopeless and all men are scum. Because of the stereotype that I can fall into, it would be acceptable were I to have that attitude, but it’s not true for me. The exasperated-single-gal narrative is not the narrative I want to own. I just went on a bad date. And as for making bad choices with men, I reject that, too. I’m proud of my fearlessness in love and life and just because I’m single after having a number of great relationships isn’t because I’m crazy, my past loves were idiots, I’m unlovable, or because dating is a nightmare. Dating is really hard. But it’s also fun.
Do you see what I’m saying? Is this making sense? That whoever you are — mom, teenager, writer, lawyer, senior citizen, ex-convict, prodigal son, etc. — you have to fight against absorbing those brutal narratives?
And now are you ready for the kicker?
This whole misty-eyed cri de coeur is a set up. Something so totally, stereotypically single-gal-in-the-city, so stereotypically rom-com-sitcom-thirty-something-lonely-chick pathetic happened, I became depressed enough to open a bottle of pinot grigio and watch “When Harry Met Sally” three times in a row. Basically.
I signed up a food box delivery thing. Not a Blue Apron meal-making kit, though. (Like I have time to sauteé pre-chopped broccoli florets?) No, I did a thing that delivers fresh food on a weekly basis, ready to eat. Why, for a busy gal like me, that sounded great: organic, interesting food, delivered right to my door! I did the subscription form online, selected things like the Southwestern Veggie Bowl and the Garden Penne.
I got my meals. And I knew they were frozen dinners? But I didn’t understand that they would be frozen dinners? I mean, I ordered frozen dinners. But I didn’t process how the “frozen dinner” part of all this would make me feel. Think Schwann Man. Think Cold War. Think poke the plastic in two places, pop it in the microwave, and take it out three minutes later and have a plastic dish of (unevenly-heated) food. Organic or not, nutrient-rich or no, this is some frozen food, honey. And I’m eatin’ alone.
What’s worse is that I signed up for this thing a couple weeks ago and swear I was on the every-other-week plan, but nope. I got another delivery today and I haven’t gotten through last week’s meals, yet, because it feels kinda sad to make and eat these things. So my freezer is jammed up with frozen meals and I am trying very hard to not succumb to feeling like a block of frozen peas.
With freezer burn. In a plastic tray.
Throw a ‘frozen dinner’ party. Make them all at once, serve with some ‘boxed’wine and have a ‘giggle’. (By the way, Your posts are a great way to start the day….!!)
Chris that is a fantastic idea and such a positive spin. Great suggestion.
You should throw a ‘frozen dinner party’ to use up the meals, cancel the subscription, and sign up for one of the fresh food services. There are several good ones. I have been using one that sends three meals per week, and often there are leftovers for other meals. Far fewer trips to the market. Don’t have to think about what to cook, which frees up time for sewing. (Yay!). Good food is like good medicine!
I second the “frozen dinner” party idea! AND the comment that your posts are a great way to start the day!
this idea is GENIUS
Gotta “third” it! I loved waking up to tp this tale .
I agree with Chris, about your posts and about the party. Your posts always give me something to think about and this morning when I finished the first word that popped into my head was “marketing.” Marketing in the way that people use and fuel those stereotypes to make money and on the other side of the coin, literally, isn’t there some enterprising soul that can come up with a better idea than frozen meals. I’m thinking of a call ahead, call down, pick-up or deliver, to-go kitchen in the building next to yours. I would of course make hat more complicated, not wanting to bring home styrofoam etc.
For a thirty something single gal, you are really smart!! Thank you for your words of wisdom. This from a 76 year old grandma!
Love the Frozen Dinner Party. I use Home Chef which delivers fresh ingredients. I choose the easy prep ones as they usually take a 1/2 hr to prep and cook. I hate to cook, the menu plan, the shopping. I like the eating part. I can split a “for 2” meal to cover 2 night/lunches. I also discovered I am worthy of a home cooked meal. My BHC (before home chef) meals were cold cereal, frozen entrees and fast food.
I’m single, child-free and much older than 30. Yes there are things I’d like to share with a mate but I also realize that if you want to be happy and want to have fun you have the control to make it happen. I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it does.
This is a question for Lynn: I don’t know what you mean by “fresh food service”. I keep thinking it must be one like Blue Apron, or others similar – there are many out there. I am 82 years old, widowed now for about 5 years, have a developmentally disabled son of 52 that I finally had to concede it best for him to be placed in what is called “shared living”, by which he lives with a family (not a group home) during the week but comes home to me on weekends. So, I have to work hard to even think of feeding myself nutritionally and find I double up on recipes for the weekends my boy is home with me so I can have repeat performances for myself, but that is getting very old. I want fresh stuff but the cost of some like Blue Apron is prohibitive and none of them offer meal kits for one solo person.
Therefore, I can easily sympathize with the intent by Mary to want these prepared meals … but frozen dinners are frozen diners, no getting around it. The party idea is great, clear the freezer of that and start fresh, spend a day each week on marathon cooking and load it with your own home-made meals. Or, get Lynn to tell us what a fresh food service is.
I am new to your posts Mary and I enjoy you very much. I so wish I could see more of you on PBS. You are a lovely and talented young woman, a joy to see and now to read. Thanks so much … I am still quilting even with my knarled old hands and sometimes must resort to tying rather than quilting, which I don’t feel too bad about because I think tied quilts have a personality all their own.
Happy sewing, happy eating to you and all your followers.
Amen to this marketing truth! Make them feel lonely and without and “WE” will sale them what they must need and have. I agree with the first comment—Frozen Dinner Party with Pinot Grigio!
Karen Morrell Johnson
Stereotype?! You, Mar???!!! Never!
Okay, I have to ask. Which service did you sign up for?
I tried the “fresh” kits and found they really were not worth the money. I want fresh produce, not something that spent time in a truck. Fresh produce is fresh – not packed in bags and shipped farther than it took to get it to the distribution point. Granted, the meat was better quality than I could get in my local market, but even that wasn’t worth the cost of what had to be tossed.
I also agree with the frozen dinner party – great way to empty the freezer, try a load of interesting meals and clear the decks.
Oh Mary, you are just the best!!!! I would love to come to a FDP party & drink boxed wine and laugh and laugh and laugh.
But alas, I am 750 miles away. Love you!
I absolutely love your stories every day! Keep ’em coming!
Chin up my dear! You are worth so much more! Don’t watch when Harry met Sally watch You’ve Got Mail. It’s more positive. When do you graduate? What are your plans for after graduation? Coming back to Iowa? Staying in Chicago? Moving somewhere else??? More fuel for your blog!(Which I thoroughly enjoy since I found it a short while back.)
Just give the dinners away and mark that choice a mistake. Some of us never really liked to cook. We are on our 3rd dinner plan and it is an improvement!
It’s frozen, cancel the subscription and eventually you will eat these dinners. All those times you have had to scrounge for something and you would have been happy to find a frozen dinner. Yeah, it’s not like a home cooked meal, but it beats the granola bar and pinot for a meal.
Mary, Mary, Mary,
Reading your blog always makes me smile and never gets old. Also reading everyone’s comments opens a new world to me – Hello Annie! A sweet story!
We just finished our delicious pizza fresh out of the box it was put in straight from the brick oven. Delicious!
Hmm : The PaperGirl Persona - Mary Fons
[…] is fun. Yes, she’s vulnerable and open. We know that. I talk about sad stuff and bad stuff and gross stuff. But she bounces back. […]