The Not-So-Revolutionary Single Woman


Jessa Crispin in Boston Review:

Two weeks after I left the United States for a stay in Germany, I found myself nearly incapacitated by nausea, pain, dizziness, and fatigue. I had moved to Berlin on my own. I knew no one in the city and barely spoke the language. My American health insurance did me no good, and I had not yet set up German coverage.

Alone, with no one to care for me, I dragged myself to daily doctor appointments. I stumbled around grocery stores, trying to cope with the nationwide lack of Saltine crackers when everything I ate immediately came back up. And every day, I worked from my bed, with my laptop laid warmly on my chest. Freelance writers do not get sick leave. After about ten days of this, I had a quick outpatient surgery, paid for with cash. I woke up from the anesthesia, still alone, in a small, curtained cubicle, only to find the clinic would not release me unless someone picked me up. I called the only local whose phone number I had, a German guy I had met at a party on one of my first days in the country. “This is going to sound weird . . . .” But he was a war photographer, and he handled it well. “I once had to have surgery in rural Nigeria,” he told me as he bundled me into his car.

While reading Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, I often thought of this episode. In her examination of America’s fast-growing unmarried population, Traister makes single life sound so romantic. She is married now, but she looks back on singlehood as a period of ease and freedom. If bad things happened to her, it was only the universe demonstrating how much she could overcome. Her great challenge was transporting an air conditioner to her apartment. Turns out, it wasn’t that hard. She got a taxi, and then her landlord helped her carry it up the stairs. She felt empowered.

My story does not make me feel empowered. It makes me feel lucky. I was lucky that German law allows even uninsured people to obtain treatment at a price I could afford. I was lucky to have had surgery early enough to fix my problem. But with luck comes fear.

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