I love to meet friends for lunch. In big groups, or small groups, or when it’s just two of us. We catch up with each other’s lives, trade travel stories, or family stories, swap books… whatever. I guess you could say, I’m a lady who lunches. An unrepentant lady who lunches.
I say unrepentant because apparently the term “ladies who lunch” is a pejorative one. Often accompanied by a sneer, and a smirk, and the implication that doing lunch is, as Preston Davis said in a recent post on her blog Keep It Chic, “a signifier of an idle life.” Preston says that she too loves to lunch with friends. Because keeping up with friends is important. Meeting for breakfast just isn’t on since she does most of her work in the morning, and dinner is family time. So lunch it must be.
In her post Preston refers to a 2012 Vanity Fair article called Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunched! by Bob Colacello. In writing his piece on the idea of ladies who lunch, Colacello was gobsmacked that practically every rich socialite he interviewed “swore they were not now and had never really been ladies who lunched.” Huh. Even though they’d socialized with the famous ladies who did do lunch (Babe Paley, C.Z. Guest, The Duchess of Windsor et al), and of course they ate lunch themselves, they weren’t ladies who lunched. Uh, ok-ay.
I guess these very rich women were aghast at the thought they might be pigeonholed as having nothing better to do than lunch. And I can’t blame them, really. The 1970 Stephen Sondheim song “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” from the Broadway hit Company, depicts ladies who lunch as lounging about in caftans, “planning brunch on their own behalf,” and drinking too much scotch. Oxford dictionary says the term “ladies who lunch” is a “derogatory” one, And Urban Dictionary pulls no punches at all, saying the phrase refers to “rich middle-aged” women who have “no jobs or other meaningful way to occupy their time.” Ouch.
You should read Colacello’s article. It’s pretty interesting, if you can keep all the names straight. He gives the whole history of the “ladies who lunch” phenomena. Or you could read the novel Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, same idea.
I was a teacher for many years, and for teachers lunching in a restaurant in the middle of the week is a treat. A luxury. Something that we do only on the weekend, or during summer break. Most days during the school semester, teachers don’t have time to leave the building at lunch. Or the school grounds.
Our lunch time is spent wolfing down a sandwich as we rush off to a department meeting, or an extra-curricular event like a staff-student ball game, or our Multicultural Festival, or we might have to help the kids who are putting the finishing touches on the school newspaper. Or we’re grabbing our sandwich to eat while on hall duty, or yard duty, or worse… cafeteria duty. All the while cursing that we’re wearing our new Max Mara suit because we forgot it was our cafe duty day, and hoping against hope that there won’t be a food fight. Ha. I know some of my former colleagues are laughing at that last example, and thinking, “Oh, Sue, only you were worried about your new suit.”
And if we do sit down to eat with colleagues for twenty minutes, we then use the rest of the lunch hour to finish up some marking. Or maybe print off and photocopy a test, rearrange the desks and tables in our classroom for a group activity, chase up the pad of chart paper and boxes of markers that have disappeared from the supply cupboard, and get the AV equipment set up for our first afternoon class. Let’s just say that teachers are busy at lunch, with no time for lunching in a restaurant.
So when we do eat out… in a restaurant… in the middle of the week… we’re thrilled. I remember marvelling when I first retired, at being out in the “real world” at lunch time… during the week.
My first “ladies who lunch” lunch as a retired person , May 2013
Of course, now I’m used to it. Being retired for five years, I’m an old hand at doing real world stuff during the week. And I’m most assuredly a lady who lunches. A lunching lady, if I can be called a lady. I think I curse a bit too much for that label, but never mind. Besides, since I don’t own a caftan, hate scotch, and am not rich, I’m not afraid of being pigeonholed as one of those ladies who lunch.
I think that the only people who are afraid to admit that they are a lady who lunches are the people who’ve always been able to do lunch whenever they chose, who could afford to be idle if they wished. And are maybe just a little defensive over that fact. Sigh. Best get over that, ladies.
For me and my friends, I think that just because we while away a couple of hours, a couple of times a month, doesn’t mean that we’re idle the rest of the time. Or have nothing better to do. Or that we haven’t earned our leisure time.
Or that we’re not very grateful to be able to be a lady who lunches. Once or twice a month.
In fact, I’d like to propose a toast to the real ladies who lunch, and who deserve to do so. Ha. So there. Take that Stephen Sondheim.
Any thoughts, my friends, on lunch, or ladies who lunch? Or on anything, really.
High Heels in the Wilderness is for women like me. Women who love clothes. And books. Who dream of travelling to amazing places. Who want to explore their own lives, and their own potential, now that they aren't twenty (or even forty) anymore.