The Psychology of a Woman’s Underwear

There are period panties, and then there are period panties.

Hello, my name is Jane, and I’m a thirty-three-year-old woman who still wears underwear from high school. Saying it publicly doesn’t make me feel better, but I’m told it’s the first stage in recognizing you have a problem. Although I never really thought it was a problem. As I type those words, I realize that’s exactly what people with problems say.

It all started Labor Day weekend, which began like every three-day weekend: with a Saturday hangover. And let’s be clear, by Saturday I mean day, because once you enter your 30s, hangovers are your biological clock’s sick way of reminding you what a loser you are because you’ve chosen drinking and fun over having babies.

I spend my day of repent (read: regret) in nothing but day-old underwear and my oversized terry cloth robe. I eat four ice cream sandwiches (they’re low-fat, so I can eat the whole box) and two bags of microwave butter popcorn (not low-fat, so I limit it), and watch five hours of a “Cheers” marathon. As I daydream that the stodgy waitresses at my neighborhood watering hole are more like Woody and Carla, I receive a text from a friend: twins! I order pizza to celebrate/cope. Luckily, my husband is away – he doesn’t need to see this.

Sunday, I manage to text my friend the obligatory “Yay! CONGRATS! LOVE the names Brooks and Dunn. Love you!” and start to clean at a frenetic pace. Maybe I think I can vacuum away my inability to have one or two glasses of wine like a “normal” person, or that I can vacuum an entire box of ice cream sandwiches out of my stomach via my belly button.

As the day approaches 5 p.m. – well past the hour I enjoy doing laundry – I open the dryer and gather up every last piece of clothing in one giant ball like I’m grabbing turkeys on “Supermarket Sweep” with twenty seconds left on the clock.  Successfully guilting my husband in to helping me fold, we both dive in, bobbing for clothes, me erratically and he with patience and purpose.  Then: “Are these…yours?” he asks. I look up to find my husband holding a pair of fraying fuchsia underwear with just the fingernails of his thumb and forefinger, as if he just found a strand of anal beads in our bed.

“Give me those! They’re my period panties,” I screech as I snatch them from him like a feral cat being fed from a human hand for the first time.  As the blood rushes up through my face, past my nose, behind my eyes, and up to my hairline, I curl the panties into a ball so tight in my hand that you can’t see them anymore. “Your what?” he asks, as he wipes the two fingers he held them with on his jean leg.

“God, they’re not dirty, they’re just the undies I wear during my period so I don’t ruin my pretty ones.”

His face transitions from disgust to that look men give when they hear something they don’t really care to know about (like when you try to explain the difference between tampons and pads).

As I shoo him out I begin to uncurl my hand, finger by finger by finger, to take a long look at them. If they were a person, they would be a 98-year-old dying of skin cancer…and bullet holes. They were one pair in a collection of eight ratty broken down pairs living in the back of the top drawer of my plastic 3-tier drawer tower that I purchased from Target for $19.99 in college. As I open the drawer to return the pair back to their hideaway in their low-income pantie housing, I feel like I’m trying to hide a stash of crack from the Feds. They might as well be stored under a loose floor board in tinfoil. Instead, I shove them in the back right corner, under the lacy thongs, and a pair of crotch-less panties I’ll never use.

For the first time I’m realizing how wrong it is that I have them, and how embarrassed I would be if someone found out. Why am I choosing to keep pairs that knew me through puberty, that followed me through college sports, and that survived with me through my twenties? That’s a lot of wear and tear, not to mention DNA.

Sure, there are scarier skeletons in a person’s closet than 18-year-old underwear, yet these hot-mess panties all of a sudden have me questioning my entire existence as a normal human being. Is something wrong with me? Am I fit to be a mother? Am I one of those gross people you whisper about like the woman in my office who squeezes white heads on the back of her arms during meetings? We all have that stash of less-than-lovely undies that we keep around for that time of the month, but did you wear yours to prom?

And suddenly: the ding of a text. Another friend is bringing home another baby and I’m here with another fading hangover, lingering depression, plastic drawers that belong in a dorm room, and barely-legal underwear. Fabulous.

Deflated, and borderline suicidal (OK, I’m being a bit dramatic) I handle the situation the way I do every weird-to-bad choice. By justifying (read: making excuses for). I’ve never bought anything full price online and I frequent the kind of stores that are questioned for foreign child labor issues like H&M or Zara, so maybe I’m just economical? Or maybe I’m cheap, or lazy? But I have an answer for every excuse, leaving me to the only remaining option: maybe I really am gross.

But what defines gross? People don’t talk about picking their nose, but everyone’s done it. I think we each have our secret nasty moments, and as long as we aren’t hurting anyone we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it. We are animals after all, and no amount of etiquette, money, technology, judging, or clothing is going to change that.

So join me in saying, “Hello my name is ____________, and I might have super old underwear.”  And as long as they stay in the shadow of my closet and the shroud of that time of the month (or until they disintegrate), my 18 year-old gross undies (aka grundies) are here to stay.  And kudos to you Ralph Lauren – you make one fine underwear product.

Image: Helga Weber