Probably for no other reason than William Congreve’s famous line, “Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d / Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d,” I’ve been asked a lot over the years about a “woman’s scorn.” Namely: How to avoid it, how to calm it, what causes it, what are the triggers, how long it lasts, how it’s honed over the years in secret covens, etc.?
The short answer: It’s complicated. Basically, there are as many reasons a woman could have to feel scorn as there are women. The reason for a woman’s wrath and its extremity depend on age, relationship status, personality, interpersonal dynamics, family history, maturity, chemistry, moon cycles, self-awareness and self-work to name just a few.
Nor is scorn limited to simple, run-of-the-mill rejection. Sometimes it’s unwarranted: Maybe you were harmlessly chatting with a co-worker and your significant other got jealous. Other times it’s completely warranted: Maybe your girlfriend catches you sexting with an ex. As my friend Lindsey likes to say, “People don’t mind being used, they mind being discarded.”
Speaking just for myself, I’m sure I was open-hearted at one point, but I can’t for the life of me remember when that was or when my heart started to harden. I do remember a defining moment in my development, circa 1998. I was broken and determined to never be dependent on a man for anything ever again — a feeling that was greatly aided by the release of the movie version of Great Expectations. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character instantly became my hero. I wanted to be an untouchable man-eater and kill my feelings, too.
For better or worse, over the next two decades I did just that. My entire ego solidified around my spiteful determination to reject men first and to do whatever it took to shield the vulnerable part of me from feeling the sting of being dismissed. I became pure scorn and sculpted an entire identity out of contempt. In other words, instead of facing my fears of rejection head on, I ran from them. I built walls around my heart and created dams in my psyche.
All of which is to say I know a thing or two about Congreve’s quote and that nasty, deep-seated feeling of scorn and each of the ways it manifests: tears and melodrama, weaponized sexuality, emotional manipulation, passive-aggressive verbal abuse, suspicion, rage, vengeance and detachment. They’re what I like to call the Seven Stages of Scorn and they go a little bit like this…
Stage #1: Tears and Melodrama
My first real relationship out of high school was Sid and Nancy fucked up. We’d do drugs and get in huge fights. I’d storm out of my apartment, and he’d follow me, crouching across the street to watch me cry.
We came out to L.A. for a screening of a movie he was in, and at the post-screening party, he was all over a co-star. He blatantly ignored me and left me to fend for myself, a drugged-out nobody among agents, starlets and the rest of the sharks that populate a C-list Hollywood event. I left the party and walked back to my hotel. It was pouring rain. I had no money. I didn’t even have a jacket. When I got to the hotel, I locked myself in the bathroom, and out of spite, I did as much blow as I could and superficially cut my wrists for attention.
I was torn between wanting him to feel bad if I died, but also not wanting his sorry ass to be the reason I killed myself. Those stupid cuts would land me in the psych ward when I went to check myself into rehab seven days later. It was hell. I vowed never to be so silly and melodramatic again, but truthfully, it’s sometimes still a challenge not to turn on the waterworks in the hopes of emotionally manipulating a man.
Stage #2: Weaponized Sexuality
As I matured, this became my go-to scornful revenge. After I’d been rejected and promised myself I was done with the man who rejected me forever, I’d suddenly feel the desire to reel him back in and use the entire force of my sexual arsenal to do so. I got off on tormenting the men who left me with the temptations I knew they couldn’t resist: my body, my blowjobs and/or my adoration. I’d send them voice recordings moaning for them. I’d bury them in a deluge of sexy selfies, extreme sexting and hot videos. I’d convince myself (and them) that I was “just horny” and needed a harmless fuck. I was almost always lying. Not usually to them — but to myself. I was trying to fuck my way out of worthlessness, but instead, I was fucking my way into shame.
Stage #3: Silent Rage
My girlfriends have shared that this phase is when social media becomes their worst enemy (or their best friend depending on how they’re utilizing it). The online stalking thing isn’t my wheelhouse (I’m too self-absorbed and lazy), but dear God, I know women who are experts at this type of recon. So if you think just because you evolved from hunters, you know how to cover your tracks, rest assured — you’ve got nothing on a woman’s ability to gather information, clues, passwords and recognize patterns you thought were harmless. “When on coke, I’d come up with some wild theories, loosely clobbered together by a string of random coincidences,” says my friend Lucy. “Then search for ‘proof’ with a nose bleed until dawn.”
My friend Amy tells me about the time she was seeing a guy, only to obsess about every time he liked a hot model’s picture before he texted her back. “How come he hasn’t texted me?” she would ask herself. “Obviously he has time to ogle hot chicks online.”
Some of my other friends have confessed to checking their ex-boyfriends emails after they’ve broken up and deleting emails from other women. I also know wives who read all of their husband’s DMs unbeknownst to him. Every piece of this information can and will be used against you in the next phase.
Stage #4: Rage Expressed
This is when the verbal daggers come out. For me personally, it’s an ugly, spiteful, nasty side of myself that I hate to confront. I resort to name-calling and running passive-aggressive commentary. I aggressively attack everything else he holds dear — e.g., his hobbies, his mother, his best friends and his sports team.
But while I’m projecting my rage outward, I’m really furious at myself. I’m furious he didn’t capitulate to my sexual charms and complete me. I’m furious I couldn’t bully or manipulate him into loving me. I’m angry that I slept with him — again.
I’ll say things like: “You’re the worst thing that ever happened to me,” and “I can do so much better.” I’ll make a fool of myself in the process. Like the time I called my ex lover, Ryan, and told him, “Let me know when your wife’s family makes you get rid of all your tattoos because you’re a SELLOUT.” I made his wife cry. I then had to go directly to a BBQ where he and his wife were in attendance. I didn’t stop there either. I proceeded to do a bunch of blow and make amends with his wife with cocaine in my nostrils.
The most illogical, irrational and embarrassing behavior of my life has occurred in this phase, as my bruised ego — coupled with my self-loathing — create a perfect storm of lashing out.
Stage #5: Remorse
Not surprisingly, I’d almost immediately want to apologize after I’d made a scene or my cruelty had reached levels even I found uncomfortable. And for at least five minutes, the remorse is typically genuine and I’m capable of personal responsibility. But when he responds with something like, “Of course I forgive you,” it instantly triggers resentment, especially if he hadn’t expressed enough contrition for his own misdeeds or apologized profusely enough for the hurt he caused. Suddenly I’m thinking, Why am I apologizing to him right now??? All of which leads to…
Stage #6: Mafia-Style Rage
My friend Liza tells me, “I’ve broken my hand on a guy’s face and physically assaulted a woman named Lolita.” My hairdresser says her sisters taped a dead fish under the car seat of a man who cheated on her and took a sledgehammer to his windshield. Another friend, Patty, recounts putting all of her boyfriend’s clothes on the street when he broke up with her with the note, “Eat a dick” on top. I had one friend who seduced her fiancé who cheated on her for one final fuck and then cut a sleeve off every single one of his suits in the morning.
Maybe it’s cliché. Maybe it’s closure. Maybe it’s inevitable — the only way feelings of pride, betrayal, abandonment, resentment, self-pity, insecurity and rejection can truly work themselves out.
Stage #7: Detachment
I’m particularly familiar with the concept of revenge because I’m a Scorpio, and my stinger is filled with spite. (Did you sprain your eyes from rolling them? Good.) In fact, one of Scorpio’s defining negative traits that show up on every list is “vengeful.” I’m also Italian and Irish. When someone crosses or discards me, it’s like a tiny little mafia awakens in my heart and whispers, “You’re dead to me now.” Cutting a man out of my life like cancer is my happy place. At 39 years of age (and sober), I’ll generally skip all the histrionics and go directly to an icy, dispassionate apathy that sometimes makes me nervous I’m a sociopath.
Yet, if I’m be completely honest (and not glib), my scorn isn’t something that flares up on a case-by-case basis. It’s cumulative, and if left unchecked, it will harden my heart over a lifetime. My scorn comes with baggage. It comes with my daddy issues. It comes with my step-daddy issues. It comes with unreturned text messages, defiance and the idea that it’s “me against the world.”
At its core, my scorn comes with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness that I’ve been running from my whole life. And it’s taken me 20 years of self-reflection and work to get to a point where I can detach — and not in an unhealthy “you’re dead to me” way, but in a loving way — because after all, the best revenge truly is a life well lived.