Second Class Citizens
November 14, 2011 § 30 Comments
A wise and brilliant friend stayed last night and was talking about how differently people are treated when they do not have a job (and cannot get one) to those who are in work. We all know many of them feel they are regarded as second-class citizens. We compared his experiences of being out of work with mine of being a plankton.
He felt that old friends tend not to ask him to things, not because they don’t love him or because they no longer wish to see him, but because they are nervous of the possibility that he will be asked by some other guest what work he is doing and the assembled company would feel embarrassed when he told them he had none. Amongst those who didn’t know him, he said, he is aware of a complete disregard of his talent and intellect and the blanket lack of interest in someone who is not working and poor. Amongst close friends, it is not that, but embarrassment which comes between them. Their embarrassment and their inability to deal with his change of circumstances.
When I became a plankton, many a time and oft was I warned that invitations would dry up and I would be forgotten about. I have to say, I have found this to be far from the case. I think there are two reasons. First, it was and remains patently obvious that I am not the sort of person ever to make a play for another person’s husband. If such a thing as a desperation vibe exists (and I don’t think there does, but that’s another story), then so also must the, I-fuck-anything-that-moves-including-my-friends’-husbands vibe – and its opposite. I give off its opposite in spades, but if the vibe doesn’t actually exist (which I suspect it doesn’t) and so that’s all bollocks, it matters not a jot, because more often than not I tell people I am not ever in the business of stalking other people’s husbands and I behave in such a way as to make it absolutely clear. Anyway, even if I was the kind of amoral cunt who specifically sets out to score someone else’s husband and sabotage another woman’s marriage, I wouldn’t be very good at it. I simply don’t have enough erotic capital at my disposal or, put another way, I am just not attractive enough.
Second, I refuse to believe that people no longer wish to see me just because I am on my own. It has absolutely never occurred to me. If in the past people enjoyed my company and enjoyed seeing me then enough to make friends, they presumably still do regardless of the fact I no longer have a husband. I do not believe I am less good company than I once was, so I do not engender negative treatment. Sometimes, it might come at you unawares and you have to be on your guard and strong enough to bat it off, but most of the time, it just doesn’t arise.
But that is not to negate what I wrote early on in this blog, that plankton are second class citizens and it is humiliating to be one. We may not be treated differently, but we are looked upon differently. There always lurks the pity and the faint whiff (sometimes massive stench) of, “There but for the grace of God…” Always the sense, even if one is still amusing at dinner, that somehow, deep down, one is a failure for not having a man – just as my brilliant friend feels people think he’s a failure for no longer having a job.
I went out on both Friday and Saturday night to supper with lots of friends.
“I’m sorry we haven’t got a handsome man for you,” said one of the hostesses, kindly. As it happened, seven of us – do the maths, surprise, surprise: three couples and me – sat round the table and laughed (about bringing up teenagers) till there were tears rolling down all of our cheeks. It was one of the funnest – as my children would say – evenings I have ever had.
Same as I am not made to feel I am a woman, I just am one, I was not made to feel like a second class citizen – a plankton – I just am one.