Every woman I know has a secret.
She yearns for some time alone. It could be days, it could be nights, it could be in suburbia or in an ashram. It could be a month, a year, a week, an hour or just one damn minute to herself.
I bet every woman you know has had this longing. It is a hunger we are reluctant to acknowledge, except to each other, whispering furtively on the phone. Some married women admit to liking a night to themselves as if it were a sexual deviancy. A woman whose husband travels a lot exclaims, "You can have cereal for dinner if you want!" I know a respected community volunteer who claps her hands when she comes home to an empty house.
As women, we know "I want to be by myself" too often translates to "I don't want to be with you." We don't want to hurt feelings or make excuses. This is why coveting time alone can feel like the last taboo. This is why we secretly seek it.
In every phase of life we carve it out between the rock and the hard place. The young mother who updates her Facebook status: "Danielle H*** is hiding from her kids." The young doctor who worries she likes having her own apartment so much, she wonders if she could ever get married. The grandmother who is glad when the kids go home. The wife who insists on her own bedroom and all the gals on their balconies and back porches, sneaking a smoke.
In a life of necessity, distraction and scattered forces, we instinctively rescue a sliver for ourselves. We need it, we chase it, we get it, we breathe and the world simmers down.
The 2010 census reveals that over a third of American women, ages 45 to 64, are living alone. Some by choice, some by chance, some by circumstance. Some love it. Some hate it. Many are the envy of their friends.
However, solitude is a shapeshifter, fitting itself into any crevice. You don't have to live alone to satisfy your craving. If you don't live alone, you must admit you like a really long shower, so steamy, so watery, so can't hear a thingy; an isolation booth at home.
The right to disengage has historical precedence. As Dr. Phil says, "Ya gotta name it to claim it," and Virginia Woolf most certainly did. Her speeches that turned into the seminal and necessary essay A Room of One's Own codified a woman's need for time to herself. She brought the idea to the surface and, thus to collective thought. Space and time for women to think their own thoughts became part of the lexicon. And all those women with rooms of their own that Virginia pictured over 80 years ago?
Where are they? Where are the rooms? What's going on here?
This is why I yell at the TV while watching HGTV's House Hunters. I love House Hunters. I hunt houses with those people for hours, wondering each and every time if there's going to be a room of the wife's own. But what do we get instead? Closets! They give us closets!
And the couples and the Realtors make the same lame joke every single time. Believe me, I think I've seen every rerun. I love this show.
The husband and wife look into the closet. "Oh, Honey!" the man will exclaim as he walks in the walk-in. "Think there will be enough room for all your shoes?" he asks, as he admires the closet's size.
The Realtors always laugh, as if this were a new joke. "Oh, Honey," the wife will say. "This fancy closet looks terrific, but I don't think we can fit any of your stuff in!" She goes and grabs about four hangers.
"Well, maybe you can hang your stuff, here," she says. More laughs.
"Now let me go show you the man cave," says the Realtor, knowingly.
"Now you're talking," says Hubby and off they go.
Wait a minute. Man cave? Did you say man cave? Where is the woman cave? Where is that carrot to dangle before the female buyer? When will they say "Ta-Da!" When they open a door for us other than the closet? Other than a "Here's your kitchen?" Other than "I hope you noticed how close we are to the mall?" or "You could do your crafts here," while they point out a ledge.
Where is the outcry?
Virginia Woolf had another interesting theory. Turns out Shakespeare had a sister. Virginia sees her as a poet who never wrote a word. She died young. She was buried at a crossroads. But Virginia believed "She lives in you and in me and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed."
Maybe Shakespeare's sister never wrote a word, but I'm sure she had traveling thoughts while washing up those dishes. Sinks and suds and kitchen windows create stolen moments. We claim them on the fly, gazing over landscapes that we don't know.
Even in a crowd, we carry the "sea of tranquility" in our pockets. Eighty years ago, Virginia Woolf introduced her daring concept: A woman needs time to herself.
It is 2011 now, many complicated generations later. How are we fulfilling that need amidst all the clamoring others?