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.


§ 30 Responses to Second Class Citizens

  • Margaux says:

    Commiserations to your friend. If he feels it then he’s probably not imagining it. Doesn’t the world revolve around ‘what do you do’ and then the follow up ‘what are you working on at the moment?’

    P – I know your experience belies it, but I do think the single woman/hard to invite syndrome exists. I’ve encountered it many times and I am not a husband stealing predator either. After my ex and I split up – he went off with a mutual friend – I was the one from my circle who was ‘dropped’ as I didn’t fit in. They all knew her and they all knew me – they were the new ‘double act’ – so the dinner parties etc continued without me. (Hardly surprising I know).

    So, like June, I tend to hang out with younger people – not so set in their ways and not so coupled up. I have dropped off the smug marrieds’ dinner party circuit and I have to say I don’t miss it. Although on the odd occasion I have been seeing someone, it’s amazing how suddenly I am in demand again. ‘Do bring so’n’so ‘ they say. I usually refuse. If I wasn’t interesting enough in my own right to invite -then I don’t see how having a male appendage hanging off my arm would suddenly make me so.

    On a similar note – a mention of the ‘C’ Word. Christmas. The dread of Planktons everywhere.

    I have various well meaning friends who extend their hospitality at this time of year. ‘How are you fixed this Christmas ? one said. ‘We do like to invite the waifs and strays if we can’…..
    As you can imagine, I was champing at the bit to accept that one…
    I am seriously thinking of taking myself off on an adventure this year – by then, who knows, you may be making merry with Longshot 😉

    • The Plankton says:

      I doubt I will be, alas. Christmas itself, I am happy and lucky to say, will be with my children at my mother’s house which, thank God, we all always enjoy. Px

    • MissBates says:

      Hello Margaux:

      My experience mimics yours, I’m afraid. During the very brief periods (less than a few months in the aggregate) that I’ve been coupled-up during my post-35 years, I, too, suddenly received an influx of previously scarce-as-hen’s teeth invitations. Seriously, what do these hostesses say to themselves: “oh, she’s having sex, so that means she’s safe to dine with –let’s invite her and the new boyfriend around next Thursday” — ? I mean seriously. And I, too, have been the recipient of some of those “waifs and strays”-type invitations. Earlier this month a friend suggested that I come to her suburban home for Thanksgiving because — get this — “we like to take in refugees.” “Refugees”? WTF? Whatever happened to: “we’d love to have you join us for [fill in name of holiday]”? The unthinking discourtesy is stunning.

      I always go to my family for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays anyway, although it is a bit of a strain always being the spinster auntie and, pushing 50, still sleeping on the couch in the children’s playroom because the guest rooms are already occupied by the deserving married. (It’s in a rural area far from convenient hotels in which I otherwise would happily stay.) After my youngest nephew stops believing in Santa Claus, I’m going to announce one year that I’m having the holiday at MY home, for the first time in my entire adult life. I live in NYC (a delightful place to be at Christmas), I’m a very good cook, I delight in decorating for the holiday, etc., etc., but I can only imagine the consternation such an invitation will cause. [evil laughter] We plankton must amuse ourselves somehow . . .

      • june says:

        Miss Bates, i am amazed you couldnt think of a suitable reply to the refugee coment, or were you speechless.

        It is pleasant as plankton says when people just ask you to events as they would ask anyone coupled up as my friend did to her birthday celebrations , but sadly this is rare, even with me ,its just this friend and another mutual one who do it, as i said it rarely happens with people of my own generation,they are very coupled up.If a miracle occurred and i got a man i feel pretty sure the invites would come as you say OMG she is now sociallly acceptable, well quite frankly if it did happen they neednt bother, i dont need those kind of friends thank you.people should like you for you,not your sexual status, you would still be same person.

      • Margaux says:

        If it only it was this Christmas MissBates!
        I have been toying with the idea of opting out of all the festive madness completely here, leaping on a plane and heading to NYC to enjoy your wonderful city…. We could have raised a glass to Plankton in some achingly trendy Sex and The City bar !
        Another waif and stray invitation and I think it will be a certainty!

      • MissBates says:

        Hello June, Margaux: Get over here and we’ll have Christmas in NYC.

        : )

    • Dawn says:

      ‘We do like to invite the waifs and strays if we can’…..

      My response would be, “If I meet any, I’ll send them along.”

  • Sarah says:

    I just lost one friend from my divorce, but she lives so far away I didn’t see much of her anyway. All the rest just carried on as usual, or went out of their way to invite me over to cheer me up.

    Good friends are priceless.

    P, I’d like to send you an email if I may.

  • rosie says:

    Oh please, not the C word, I’m trying to pretend it doesn’t exist, as I have for the past 15 years of – how is this even possible – having no significant other. Festive season my arse.

    As for Long Shot I don’t know if this is prescient P, but I was on a train today and the bloke sitting opposite me was reading a book of the very same name. It’s by Stephen Leather and a quick google reveals that it’s a Dan Brown-style thriller, so I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t want to read it! The bloke reading it seemed very pleasant (he laughed and joked with the trolley man anyway) though, so maybe that’s a good omen.

    As for coupled up friends not inviting you to things anymore it has happened with some, but nothing sticks in the mind like the Rottweiler (the one who became hostile whenever she was single) discussing her and another newly coupled up friend’s plans for New Year’s Eve some years ago, while I sat there like an invisible lemon. I didn’t get an invite and she didn’t ask what I was doing. What made it even worse was that we’d all spent the past god knows how many NYEs together. Good riddance to her.

  • Steve says:

    A good reply for your male friend could be ” I’m a(Marketing/Business/IT etc consultant” when asked “..And what do you do? ” He can then steer the conversation to the questioner’s occupation/a.n other subject .

    A much better approach than the “I haven’t got a job” reply which results in squirming embarassment for both parties.

    Another point…. The C word. No , not Christmas, but the more Anglo- Saxon 4 letter word that crops up in your column today. Interested to know how women readers of your blog react to seeing that.

  • june says:

    Ah yes we all we planktons suffer from the coupled up syndrome do we not. having lived in a small town and a city, i can say the small town is worse, although the city i live in suffers from it perhaps more than most cities,it is nowhere as bad as a small town and as Margaux says younger people not as bad as my generation. My friend in her 40s was a bit amazed i thanked her for asking me to her family birthday meal with other friends,kids and partners, and that i commented i didnt feel out of it, although a plankton, She said why would that make any difference then you are my friend, on own or not. But my cousin,my generation who has a holiday home in spain informed me that she couldnt possibly ask me to stay as “i would feel out of things as i had no partner. My divorced neighbour however gets regular invites from her up coupled friends with holiday homes in ibiza and spain., but she originally comes fro m London, so possibly my generation bit m ore enlightened there . I dont suppose it had occured to my cousin she could offer me an opportunity to stay there and take a friend when they not there., but since ive moved 30 miles away she makes no effort to visit me i dont suppose i should be surprised.

    Yes the festive season joys to come , coupled up friends have partners with families of course, so they often go to them. Every year i have a dread of christmas and being told by people all who have partners and families to embrace it and enjoy! If you dont have either you just want it over and no i do not want to be told to help out serving lunch to down and outs at christmas thank you,that will not make me feel better!. Its the classic christmas answer to a single person being on their own, you feel like saying why dont you do it then, if so damm charitable..


  • Lydia says:

    I just don’t hav the same personality. I turn things down all the time, two yesterday which were work related because I’d rather be here reading in total silence or with the children or working. I’m not saying I’m a hermit but the thought of all that exhausting socialising sounds really awful but I can see plankton adores it. It’s just some people are into that social stuff a lot more than others.

    I took part in some of it with my last boyriend and it was okay but I certainly don’t have to have it or even actively seek it.

    It feels like a very different world with a social round etc which seems very different from the lives of most parents who work and have children. Clearly I can see it is the norm however for a lot of 40 something women and like observing animals in a zoo I can be interested in why they might like it but I certainly wouldn’t seek or want it.

    • MissBates says:

      Wait a minute — most of the time you’re telling us about your fabulous dating life, but this latest comment whiffs more of someone who is stuck in the admittedly soul-sucking grind of being a single working mother who is more than a bit resentful/jealous of Plankton’s large circle of friends — or as you put it, “that social stuff.” In fact, I don’t recall you having mentioned children until your last couple of comments. All very suspicious, frankly.

      • Lydia says:

        Like most divorced working parents in their 40s most of my life is work and children and I love it.
        I have never been very social though. I really really see it as the outer reaches of hell to have dinner party one night, drinks with girl friend the next… throw me the sick bag; you’;d have to pay me a fortune to endure that. That doesn’t mean I don’t go to stuff when I have a boyfriend but I’ve no ideal of out 5 nights a week. A night in is lovely. I savour them.

        What is suspicious? The point is that plenty of people don;t like lots of socialising. Some are just content in their own company. Second point some people are genuinely happy single (and I can be happy single or otherwise so either is fine).

        Wonderful dating life? I have said there never seems to be too much difficulty finding a man. I dont’ have one at the moment and I chose to stop things with the one in the summer and that’s fine.

        I have absoultely no jeaously of P’s large circle of friends. I would like to hvae a lot more time on my own. I have been bringing up children for nearly 30 years and I am very very lucky that is so and mostly I love it but I would love a bit of time on my own at some point even totally alone. I had to take myself to near the equator last week to achieve some aloneness for a time.

  • Caz says:

    your last couple of bogs have been particularly witty and entertaining plankton – great stuff. However have to agree with Steve….I’m no prude….(I love the f word)….but find the c one, especially when used by a woman, very offensive and it strikes a jarring note in otherwise eloquent prose.

  • Margaux says:

    Lydia – forgive me, I am slightly confused. One minute you are giving us the impression you are out attracting/dating loads of different men and telling us you are jetsetting around the world – the next you are telling us you spend most of your time staying in looking after your children. ( And what about those zoo animals among us who don’t have children ? Are we to stay at home too?)

    Desiring social interaction is a pretty basic psychological need. What is being discussed here is not a hankering for some mad social whirl but the fact that any notion of being high on the ‘party invitation list’ rapidly disappears for the average plankton of a certain age – or comes with conditions attached as befits the Plankton status.

    • Lydia says:

      I suppose my point is I wouldn’t want to be high on an invitation list and perhaps it’s just that those of us with children and work have more than enough interactions without wanting a load more (unless it’s a nice dinner or spending time with a boyfriend which I do like)..

      I agree that (a) people without children are different and (b) some people love and need lots of parties and dinners and outings. I have people around 365 days a year. I would love 48 hours with no one here at home. I turn down invitations all the time although I am still in the same game and if I think a man might be good I do like one to one dinners or just meeting to see what you think. I suppose like that intimacy and confiding in a man, but not a lot of parties. Things might change when all the children leave home I suppose and I might then want to go out more and meet more people.

  • Dawn says:

    “… 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.”

    One doesn’t need to have erotic capital or be attractive. One simply has to be a big enough Anglo-Saxon four-letter word that begins with ‘c.’ My ex-husband’s second wife is living proof of that.

    • Lydia says:

      And if someone cheats on his wife to move to you then you can be pretty sure he’;ll be cheating on you before too long.

      Let us not though forget it is the cheating husband who is most to blame, not wife number 2. Some people do think my poor husband was enticed away (because they love him and want to put blame elsewhere) whereas the worse moral wrong is on the part of the husband. No one forced him to stray.

  • fi says:

    I’ve never considered myself a second class citizen because I’m single, but I think that’s because I genuinely have never defined myself by a bloke or my relationship with one.
    I’ve defined myself by my job, or as a mother, but never by whether I had a man and even when I was married I kept my own name, didn’t bother telling folk I was married, and to this day a lot of people don’t know I was. Either time 🙂 As my identity has not been tied to a relationship/ marriage, that may be why I don’t get the same sense of loss that some people here seem to have – not just loneliness but also a feeling that they are viewed differently or as lesser people.

    • Lydia says:

      It’s a feminist thing really (and neither did I – married alomost 20 years). i am me with a whole load of areas of my life. Women who only feel complete when they are on the arm of and in a sense owned by a man need a course from a therapist, not a husband.

  • rosie says:

    I don’t think anyone on here has suggested that wanting a man in their life means they need to be defined by one. It’s a basic human need to want love, physical contact and companionship, no? Otherwise none of us would be here in the first place. And I don’t consider myself a second-class citizen either, society does.

  • fi says:

    Let me qualify further. I’ve never felt a second class citizen without a husband. And I’ve never felt anyone ever thought of me that way either. Until I read it here, such a concept had never occurred to me as still existing in the 21st century, or the last one, or indeed outside a Jane Austen novel.

  • rosie says:

    Well lucky old you…

  • rosie says:

    Without wishing to get into an argument and hijack Plankton’s blog, I’d have said supercilious, but there you go.

  • maria says:

    I have to agree with fi, I don’t consider myself a second class citizen just because I’ve never been married, either, nor did I ever had the slightest perception that other people considered me one; and I’m supposed to live in a backward misogynist country (Portugal).

  • Fi0na says:

    You mention teenagers. Forgive my Naiveté but are we just accepting that males of the plankton generation are ready and willing to accept another man’s teenagers? or children of any age? (marriage being the implicit goal, which usually means cohabitation doesn’t it?). To me, this is a huge hurdle to get over. All this husband seeking seems a bit cart before horse. Or perhaps this is a subject for a later post; Love me, love my tearful-hysterics inducing children.

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