“The minute you retire, it’s as if you’re invisible.”
I had to do a double-take when I read that sentence in an article about how difficult it is to get Stanford profs to make space for younger faculty.
What my brain read was “the minute you’re infertile, it’s as if you’re invisible.”
Funny thing my brain, it loves a good Freudian slip. I felt a poignant kinship with the English Literature professor behind the quote. He was acknowledging what few of us in society truly want to admit — we want to know that others “see” us. Fading into the woodwork has its advantages, clearly, if your desire is be overlooked, but that’s usually temporary. It’s when you’re involuntarily invisible that there are emotional consequences. How many of you confronting infertility have been in a social situation where you felt unseen?
Hands in the air…let’s count ’em.
The distress or frustration that can accompany a sense of being invisible is probably second only to feeling irrelevant — another monster ego deflator. Infertile folks, though, don’t have an exclusive patent on either. It just feels that way sometimes. I’m guessing Professor Felstiner would be happy to know his relevance continues –even without his office and stationary. In viewing the world through his eyes I was reminded not only how important it is to be seen but also to “see” others.
The ideas led me to a little more research and a study that was the basis for a piece called “That Spinster Stigma: Others Are Intrusive or They Ignore You.” The parallels were startling:
“The single women in the study felt that their actual life experiences were invisible when other people simply assumed they were married and had children. They also pointed to experiences with professionals, such as financial advisors, whose standard questions (for example, about how they would pay for their children’s college costs) were irrelevant to their lives.”
“The women also felt overly visible and vulnerable when other people asked them intrusive questions…”
From my experience knowing what it feels to be invisible I’ve found myself more aware of how others might feel that way, too. I’ll leave you with a few thoughts from another piece, “Social Discrimination, Ego and the Slippery Slope:”
“When you are interacting with people today, make an effort to pay attention to your perceptions of them. What are you seeing? Who are you seeing…Breed compassion.”
And for Pete’s sake, don’t ask any intrusive questions!
12 thoughts on “Invisibility — Seen it Lately?”
Definitely strong parallels!
Can I put my hand down yet? It’s getting tired.
I will say though that I’ve felt this way in a group of dog lovers, when I pipe in, “Yes, but my cat…” and they look at me as if I’m crazy. It’s always tough to be the odd one out.
I have found that more and more I am gravitating to others who don’t have children, because there I am bright, shiny, and very visible.
Great post, Pamela.
Very true! I wrote a blog post a few months back about how both aging & childlessness were making me feel increasingly invisible & irrelevant.
This is really interesting. One of the (very few) things I enjoy about the IF experience is the new ability to “see” other social misfits and understand a bit of what they’re feeling. It’s a useful skill in my circle of friends, in which a lot of the participants are “older” singles (late twenties, thirties, and early forties) who expected and wanted to be married by 25. Actually, at this very moment, I just realized that we are a self-selected group of demographic misfits (who are the most energetic and lively Catholic social group in the city, as it happens). You have opened my eyes AGAIN! OK, now I’m suddenly in a really good mood.
YES! I am so the oddball at work: they are all fertile, and they all have dogs. I am infertile and have cats. Related? I hope not; I love my cats!
I quit asking my single or married/childless friends anything after our struggles began.
I also made an effort NOT to talk about our child with the same friends/couples when we went out, and several remarked how nice it was not to have to spend the night talking about our son for hours.
Makes me glad we made a concerted effort to do so.
Great article! I will keep it in mind when I go to an upcoming family bbq. There is a new baby in the mix….so, I will see how long it takes for me to feel invisible, and make sure I don’t make someone (such as a single) feel that way.
As always, very thought provoking. You could make all sorts of analogies to this. What about the health care provider who is sick themselves?
Wow Pamela! You always know how to articulate exactly how I am feeling dealing with being infertile. I also feel invisible—not part of the group at work or in social situations. I just thought I was the only one feeling this way…..
You know where else I have been feeling invisible lately?? On “facebook”–everyone is posting pictures of ultrasounds, babies, children, tidbits about their children—and I have nothing to say……..even though I have friends on facebook—I feel invisible.
Thank you for making me feel apart of your group, Pamela!
Thanks for the reminder Pamela. I’d hate to treat anyone else the way I’ve sometimes been dealt with.
I spent most of my day Saturday with my sister and her family, As much as I love them, I was feeling the invisible syndrome all over again. It’s not their private jokes and constant banter that irked me; it was the fact that hours went by without either my husband or myself contributing to the conversation. No one was asking us about our lives, as somehow we’re not as important. I had to really assert myself to get a word in. What are we, chopped liver?
count me in too… 5 cats, to be exact, and a dog (well, i had to give that to my husband).
as someone else commented: “ability to “see” other social misfits and understand a bit of what they’re feeling”, i feel that too.
there was recently approved a law in my country were homosexual couples can marry, so it was very hurtful to see all those people against saying things like “they shouldn’t marry. marriage is for procreation and nature says two men/women can’t”.
well… hello… a woman and a man here can’t either.
shouldn’t we be allowed to be married?
Hey there, slightly off topic but is anybody having issues with their response form with the blog platform?
For some strange reason no-ones posts are not being saved.
Any help appreciated