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March 21, 2024

Decoding “Womansplaining”—How to Navigate Unwanted Advice when all we want is Understanding.

 

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Among the many times I’ve been “womansplained” to is when it comes to my marital status—or lack thereof.

I’m single.

Not sure if I’m happily single or contentedly single but single.

Being single means I don’t have a husband or children. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes wondering why, Roopa, are you telling us what being single means?! I know you know but I’m just sort of reiterating and stressing what I mean to make a point.

So yes, being single means no husband or kids. It also means no in-laws and the extended family that comes from a partner’s side of the family.

And it seems to be code for others, especially other women, to say things to me like, “You don’t get it, Roopa. You’re not married.” Or, “You will never quite understand what it means to have a nightmare mother-in-law and what it takes to handle her and keep the peace in the house.” Or, “Unless you have kids of your own, you will never know the fear of really losing anyone.”

I think all the above comments are fair. I mean I am single and I don’t know what it means to have a nightmare mother-in-law. I don’t have kids, so I will never know the fear of losing a child. It’s gotten to be so much that if friends and extended family say these things to me I automatically nod my head and am almost apologetic for the singleness that induces these comments from married people.

Obviously, in my head I’m also doing some deep thinking.

Like sure, I don’t have kids. I’ve never given birth so I don’t quite get the connection between a mother and child. I mean, I understand how it must be but I get it’s not the same. So, of course, when your child is out and hasn’t come home yet the fear that a parent feels I will not know—I get that.

Never f*cking mind though that I do have relationships.

I have younger and close extended family members like nieces and nephews. When they go on trips with their friends and don’t call in, I fear the same amount that their parent does. Yes, I know it’s not the same but my deep love and fear for them are the same. I also know that it’s not reciprocated. They don’t feel for me a minuscule ounce of what I feel for them. In my own family, I come somewhere between last to second-to-last when it comes to being the favorite of the younger kids. I get that my love for them will never be reciprocated.

But it’s not a tit-for-tat situation.

Just because they don’t feel for me what I feel for them doesn’t mean my deep, abiding love for them is going anywhere or that I don’t feel for them and worry about them.

I don’t have children, so I won’t fully understand that deep bond between a mother and child. But I do have parents. Over the past decade, I have felt so much closer to my mom. It’s almost visceral how connected I feel to her. And as my mom started to get weaker and her illnesses increased, I worried for her. Day and night. I feared for her health and I feared for her life.

Since I worked abroad and did not live with her, every time the phone rang my heart would thud so loudly it felt like it would jump out from inside my body. It’s the petrified feeling you get in your gut when the phone rings at an odd hour, especially when it’s early morning for you but you know it’s the middle of the night where she is, and you just know that something is up. Or the feeling you get in your gut when you’re doing your work and going about your merry way but you know something is wrong.

Or when your father, who you are also extremely close to and who has already suffered from multiple heart attacks, starts touching his chest and your own heart starts palpitating with fear. Is he ok? Is he having chest pains? Does he need his meds?

The questions and the fears are endless.

I don’t have kids but I do have parents. But sure, keep telling me how I will never f*cking understand what it feels like to be connected to someone on that basic and fundamental level.

Did I mention how a fellow singleton friend of mind was reamed out by her boss the other day? All she did was go to work—10 minutes early—and was cussed out and humiliated in public for ostensibly not sending out her syllabus for a class next semester because a few students had complained. This happened in the corridor, during the beginning of the school day, and when hundreds of students were milling in and out of the class.

The key point that her boss made during that public talk he gave her was that she was single. She had no kids or husband and, therefore, had no responsibilities. So what excuse did she have for delaying sending out the syllabus?

Forget the fact that she did send the syllabus out but the university’s system was down and it didn’t get delivered on time. The tech guys even sent out a mass apology email just that morning which her boss hadn’t seen. But yes, let’s blame her for being single and not knowing how to manage her time with “no responsibilities.”

So many out there get constantly browbeaten and talked down to for being single but they keep their mouths shut because if they spoke up they would lose their jobs. The same jobs that they desperately need to put food on the table, have a roof over their head, wear decent clothes, and buy a coat when it’s cold AF outside.

Sure, me and other singles like me will never know what it feels to have nightmare in-laws because we’re not married but that doesn’t mean we have no clue about being humiliated, talked down to, bossed around, and devalued every single day.

As I left a friend’s home recently after yet another round of being told how I “just didn’t get it,” I reached the front door and knew that more was to come.

And she did not disappoint.

A few days back, I had mentioned in passing that I hadn’t received a raise for a few years at my workplace. I wasn’t complaining or whining. Given the state of the economy around the world, just having a job was a win for me. My friend remembered that conversation and said to me as I was leaving, “Roopa, I think what you should do regarding getting a pay hike, since you’ve worked in your current organization for five years without one, is to sit your boss down and explain what’s what. Tell your boss how things are different now and that the cost of living has gone up, and inflation is at its height.”

I butted in with, “I can’t do that. I’m just so lucky to even have a job now since so many have lost theirs…”

She interrupted with, “…and it’s appalling that they’re making you work for the same salary. How are you supposed to make a living from…” So I butted in weakly with, “…actually I’m doing okay.” But she was on a roll and continued to advise me on how to put my foot down and ask for more benefits.

I nodded my head and left saying goodbye.

My wonderful friend, who went straight from her parents’ home to her husband’s. Who was raised solidly upper-middle-class and married into a rich family. Who, last time I checked, had been to more than 80 countries, owned multiple homes and designer bags, and whose kids went to private school was giving me advice on how to deal with a cantankerous boss for a pay hike during one of the worst financial times in modern history. This friend who had never worked outside the home a day in her life.

Really?!

As I walked wearily toward the metro station to get home, I wondered why so many people, even with their good intentions and slightly off-kilter advice, end up in this “womansplaining” territory.

As it is, we are still in a deeply patriarchal world and women have to be allies to one another. Also, it’s not just about getting “womansplained”—it’s about all of us recognizing that women live diverse lives, and each journey comes with its unique challenges. Sometimes, we just need our friends to listen to us and not give us any advice. Maybe, I need to make that clear to my friends as well.

Ultimately, it’s only by fostering a more understanding conversation that we can bridge the gap between different life choices and celebrate the richness that comes with embracing individual journeys.

What do you think? Have you been “womansplained”? Let me know in the comments!

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