No Love For The Difficult Woman

I want to be adored and celebrated and for someone to look at me in a way that makes me feel as magical and brilliant as I know I am. But what shows up is more like Cheeto-fingers brushing the hair out of my face and asking nicely for a blowjob.

People everywhere have toe fungus. Right this second, someone you know has it. This is according to my podiatrist who deals with toe fungus every single day. Except Thursdays. On Thursdays he breaks toes and joints and saws bones and drives screws, but the rest of the week, it’s all toe fungus all the time.

He’s cute in a nerdy way. He’s got a wife, two kids, a leaky roof, and a mortgage, and his demeanor is sort of constipated, like what you might expect from a man who’s sentenced to a lifetime of toe fungus. Of course I love him. His aura of privileged discontent is like a siren song beckoning to something deep inside me. I’ve always been attracted to arrogance and a problem to solve and I like to make him laugh because it surprises him and makes me feel powerful.

He breaks my toe on a Thursday. When I wake up, my foot is wrapped in a cloud of bandages and strapped into a surgical shoe. It’s not like one of those cool Transformer-boots that announces your injury and demands respect. It’s a sad, Velcro, ambidextrous prison-shoe, and it makes me feel old. At my two-week checkup, he digs around his podiatry drawer and removes what looks like a jock strap. “Wear this every night,” he says.

I picture myself at home, getting ready for bed. There I am in a gigantic pair of cotton underpants and a tank top that reads BRUNCH SO HARD. There I am under the bathroom mirror, trying to pluck a whisker from my neck that I can feel but can’t fucking see. There I am beating back my mustache with a thick spreading of Nair for the Face. There I am jamming a night guard into my mouth so I don’t grind my teeth into pegs. There I am staring at my face. Think about Botox. Think about Kardashians. Think about credit card debt. There I am turning off the lamp next to my kiddo’s bed and kissing him goodnight. There I am binding the jock strap to my foot while a cat named Richard looks on with disgust.

Then I go ahead and delete all my dating apps, because fuck it. I’ve been celibate for over a year and was only half-heartedly swiping anyway.


I married my college sweetheart when I was 23. Upon reflection it seems stupid to make any long-term decisions when your big life experiences have been going to college close to home and that time you took ecstasy and spontaneously vomited all over your sweater. Yet somehow no one tried to talk me out of getting married. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, I was a woman who KNEW WHAT SHE WANTED. And apparently that was a man who at parties would run around naked with a sock on his cock for funsies.

When I was 30, I divorced my college sweetheart. I had a sweet, nine-month-old baby who I did my best with and suddenly I was dating again. The universe took pity on me and sent me an Australian mountain-climber who took me on adventures in the woods and fucked me like he climbed mountains—with an intensity and vigor that felt like a drug and made me grateful to be alive. He loved me and my son and for a while it felt warm, like family.

When that ended there were so – many – first – dates. There was the guy who sweats when he eats cheese. And then he ate cheese. And sweated. The guy who slept with a gun under his pillow. The guy who purported to have done enough research to earn the equivalent of a masters degree in cunnilingus. The guy who was not only in a men’s support group, but who also had a therapist, a spiritual advisor, and of course, an improv group, who dumped me while out to dinner on our fourth date and I was ashamed because even though he was neurotic and frankly very lazy in bed, I continued to go out with him because I just wanted someone to hold my hand. The socially-awkward writer who never spoke except for when he whisper-ordered an island cocktail and a massive plate of Jamaican food that he ate none of while we sat in silence. This guy named Mike Jones, who was as inoffensive and unremarkable as his name implies, and as we stood on the sidewalk and said goodnight, a dead body on a gurney was literally rolled out the doors of a nursing home, down a ramp, until the dead body was rolling along the sidewalk, directly behind Mike Jones, with him none the wiser. Now there’s a metaphor.

And then there were all the really boring guys just spending their lives doing really boring things.


I’m driving home from work and I’m stuck in traffic. I notice a guy waiting to cross the street. He looks like he works in finance or sells insurance and he wears a gold wedding band. He’s on the phone and absentmindedly untucks his plaid button-down from his khakis and for a second I get glimpse of his dad-bod, and my first thought is: HOT.

It occurs to me that the reason I like this guy, even though he’s probably not suited to me at all, is that he represents this life that I think that I want and that I think that I’ve been cheated of. But this guy doesn’t want me. I’m too loud. Too independent. Creative. Ambitious. Opinionated. I intimidate this guy. I used to think these qualities meant that I was “difficult” and not in a cute-Meg-Ryan-I-order-salads-weird-way, but in an undesirable way, and because of that, I needed a man who could “handle me.”

Perhaps Carrie Bradshaw said it best, “Then I had a thought,” Carrie said. “Maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed. Maybe they need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them.” Some women? This equally problematic bullshit implies that there are a select few of us out there, the difficult, the special women, who can’t be tamed and will die alone due to a probable handler shortage, but the rest of you, you might as well go ahead and turn off those brains ladies, you ain’t gonna need them where you’re going.


Wanting to be cherished by a man when you’re in your mid-30s—it’s sort of silly, isn’t it? I’m obviously not a virgin, but the lessons my mother taught me in high school are more relevant now than ever. She said: High school girls have sex with idiot boys who have no idea what they’re doing and the girls get no pleasure and then they get pregnant and their whole lives are ruined. Yeesh. Today the guys I go out with have somewhere around 15 to 25 years’ experience in the bedroom and still no idea what they’re doing, or possibly, they just don’t care that much. How can this be? I had better sex in high school and college than I do now. I lost my virginity to a lovely boy on a waterbed while R. Kelly’s “Down Low” played on repeat and it was unironically amazing.

Recently I met this guy through a mutual friend. Mid-40s, going through a divorce—a perfect guy to have casual fun with. We went to an amazing dinner before the no commitment, casual exploration of the senses back at my house. But you know what? Everyone’s actual lives get in the way of that. Like every single experience you’ve ever had, the other person has ever had, it all still shows up, because this is not a movie, no matter how much you want it to be. So we’re drunk and we’re having the kind of bad sex where the guy crushes you and stabs you while you squirm around looking for an air pocket, until he’s like, “I can’t come unless you go down on me.” What? Why can’t you? This is about your 20-year marriage? Your childhood? Why can’t this be enough? But I’m ready for it to be over and so I’m like whatever, and eventually I think he’s mostly masturbating but I’m still down in the general area because I’m polite and encouraging until he comes all in my fucking hair.

Oh my god the next day. He’s gone and it hits me like a truck. My head hurts, I’m nauseous, I have to go to work, and my son’s bedroom is just sitting there, across the hall from where this strange man spooged in my hair. I mean my kiddo wasn’t there, he was at his dad’s, but still, this is his home, this is our home, this is where we play that game where the motorized fish go around and around and you try to catch them with plastic fishing poles, and where we’re building the Millennium Falcon out of Legos, and have impromptu dance parties, and chase each other around the dining room table, and I’m 35 years old and I’ve got some strange man’s semen in my hair, which for me, is not fucking hot because I take my hair very seriously. And I’m allowing this because I want to feel vibrant and young and alive and sex is a way I remember getting there.

I want to be adored and celebrated and for someone to look at me in a way that makes me feel as magical and brilliant as I know I am. But what shows up is more like Cheeto-fingers brushing the hair out of my face and asking nicely for a blowjob.


It’s hard to accept that the great love you want might not happen for you. That if you’re hit by a bus tomorrow, your love story looks like a bad divorce, an Australian man maybe you should’ve married because it was about 70% right, and a string of bad dates. I wondered if I needed a more realistic look at what love can be for me as a 36-year-old single mother and embrace the possibility that I may end up alone. And I go to work. I raise my kid. I write. I spend time with the people in my life. I choose to be happy.

But then I’m at a reading and I’m wearing the surgical shoe and I meet this guy and suddenly all the conclusions I’d come to get all fucked up. He’s nothing like I expect a man for me would be. He’s only 30-years-old and very blond and I worry in photos he’ll look like my hot little brother. But when I’m with him it feels…like magic. He’s a writer, and a filmmaker, and he loves his family, and we’re passionate about similar things, and I find myself coming home at 2, 3, 5 in the morning after walking through the city with him for hours. I’ve graduated from the surgical shoe into tennis shoes and his presence in my life forces me to loosen my grip, but I think he might be worth it because it feels like he can see me.


These are dark days. I’ve been reduced to discussing the meaning of a 30-year-old’s hotdog emoji with women I used to discuss poetry and the meaning of life with. As a rule of thumb, a hotdog emoji, even as a symbol of an inside joke, is not the same as saying I miss you, I love you. A hotdog emoji is a fucking cop-out. And it’s disappointing.

There’s a dark path, and it calls to me. It says, Adrienne, is there anything more tragic than a 36-year-old woman looking for love? I always knew there was something wrong with you, that you’re tragic, unlucky in love; let’s stay in bed and nurse this hurt till you’re good and mad and bitter and hard.

Maybe dating at 36 is a sort of encapsulation of all the frustrations of being a woman at 36. Be strong, but not too strong; be vulnerable, but don’t be hysterical; be smart, but not too smart; don’t get old; don’t get fat; don’t make a stink when men are paid more money than you; put exclamation points in emails so no one thinks you’re shrill; fulfill your dreams but never forget your life is your child’s; love your body, hate your body, go on a cleanse—it goes on and on and on, and then there are these men who want to come in our hair and on our faces, to what, put me in my place? Aren’t I already there?

Me, I’m not trying to dull my sparkle anymore. Especially with anyone’s jizz. No, I’m going to pull all the love that’s in my life close. My friends, my family, my son, my work, my cleaning lady. I’m going to believe in the abundance of the universe, of all the good things to come that I can’t see yet. I’m going to pry my fucking heart open and shove a crowbar in there to keep it open just in case a funny, kind, lovely partner appears. I’m going to write all the things and show up places I never thought I’d be. And maybe I’ll be alone. And sometimes it’s hard to stand alone. But you know what? The cheese stands alone. And I fucking love cheese.

Adrienne Gunn is a writer, editor, and storyteller and has published in McSweeney’s, PANK, TriQuarterly, Five Quarterly, among other journals, and has a one-woman show called Mother of the Year!

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