never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: April, 2012


Lately I’ve been thinking about two “isms”– hedonism and narcissism.

Childless women are often accused of leading hedonistic lifestyles full of shoe shopping, manicures, massages, and fancy cocktails.  Given the increasing expense of raising children and the hollowing out of the middle class, however, this seems like rational economic calculation to me.  Daycare alone can cost $1000 a month.  It would take an awful lot of lattes and pedicures to approach that.   I indulge mainly in dance classes and eating out, and although I do often feel guilty about the expense of both, I remind myself that the cost of those activities doesn’t come close to the economic outlay of having a child.

Narcissim, I sometimes fear, can be the flip side of the endless self-development that the childless can afford to indulge in.  Even if that self-development involves volunteer work, it doesn’t usually require the in-your-face, endless demands of another person that childrearing does.  Self-development after a certain age can start to feel hollow, perhaps more so for women, since we are raised to care for others.  I worry that I am sometimes in a state of arrested development since I’ve never had to put the relentless needs of another person ahead of my own.

I battle this fear through finding hobbies that allow me to connect with “the universal flow” and by reminding myself that empty-nesters face the same issues eventually.  I also remember that there are plenty of parents out there who easily fit the clinical profile of narcissistic personality disorder, so having children is no guarantee of selflessness.  Finally, the money I spend on my hobbies contributes to the ability of my teachers to make a living, which heartens me.   There aren’t a lot of parents who have the resources to do so.

satin rouge

As an antidote to my prior post, I recommend a viewing of the Tunisian movie Satin Rouge, about a lonely, middle-aged widow who rediscovers her sensuality through belly dancing.  One of the things I liked about the film is that the lead actress has a beautiful, curvy, adult body.  The ending is a bit of a shock though!


In 1978, Susan Sontag wrote an essay entitled “The Double Standard of Aging” that is worth reading in its entirety here (  I find that most of it holds true today even as women have made huge inroads in the university and workplace.  Some choice bits:

This society offers even fewer rewards for aging to women than it does to men. Being physically attractive counts much more in a woman’s life than in a man’s, but beauty, identified, as it is for women, with youthfulness, does not stand up well to age. Exceptional mental powers can increase with age, but women are rarely encouraged to develop their minds above dilettante standards. Because the wisdom considered the special province of women is “eternal,” an age-old, intuitive knowledge about the emotions to which a repertoire of facts, worldly experience, and the method of rational analysis have nothing to contribute, living long does not promise women an increase in wisdom either. The private skills expected of women are exercised early and, with the exception of a talent for making love, are not the kind that enlarge with experience. “Masculinity” is identified with competence, autonomy, self-control-qualities which the disappearance of youth does not threaten. Competence in most of the activities expected from men, physical sports excepted, increases with age. “Femininity” is identified with incompetence, helplessness, passivity, non competitiveness, being nice. Age does not improve these qualities.

…the double standard about aging shows up most brutally in the conventions of sexual feeling, which presuppose a disparity between men and women that operates permanently to women’s disadvantage. In the accepted course of events a woman anywhere from her late teens through her middle twenties can expect to attract a man more or less her own age. (Ideally, he should be at least slightly older.) They marry and raise a family. But if her husband starts an affair after some years of marriage, he customarily does so with a woman much younger than his wife. Suppose, when both husband and wife are already in their late forties or early fifties, they divorce. The husband has an excellent chance of getting married again, probably to a younger woman. His ex-wife finds it difficult to remarry. Attracting a second husband younger than herself is improbable; even to find someone her own age she has to be lucky, and she will probably have to settle for a man considerably older than herself, in his sixties or seventies. Women become sexually ineligible much earlier than men do. A man, even an ugly man, can remain eligible well into old age. He is an acceptable mate for a young, attractive woman. Women, even good looking women, become ineligible (except as partners of very old men) at a much younger age.

…since women are imagined to have much more limited sexual lives than men do, a woman who has never married is pitied. She was not found acceptable, and it is assumed that her life continues to confirm her unacceptability. Her presumed lack of sexual opportunity is embarrassing. A man who remains a bachelor is judged much less crudely. It is assumed that he, at any age, still has a sexual life,-or the chance of one. For men there is no destiny equivalent to the humiliating condition of being an old maid, a spinster. “Mr.,” a cover form infancy to senility, precisely exempts men from the stigma that attaches to any woman, no longer young, who is still “Miss.” (That women are divided into “Miss” and “Mrs.,” which calls unrelenting attention to the situation of each woman with respect to marriage, reflects the belief that being single or married is much more decisive for a woman than it is for a man.)

…for a woman who is no longer very young, there is certainly some relief when she has finally been able to marry. Marriage soothes the sharpest pain she feels about the passing years. But her anxiety never subsides completely, for she knows that should she re-enter the sexual market at a later date-because of divorce, or the death of her husband, or the need for erotic adventure-she must do so under a handicap far greater than any man of her age (whatever her age may be) and regardless of how good looking she is. Her achievements, if she has a career, are no asset. The calendar is the final arbiter.

…in earlier generations the renunciation came even sooner. Fifty years ago a woman of forty was not just aging but old, finished. No struggle was even possible. Today, the surrender to aging no longer has a fixed date. The aging crisis (I am speaking only of women in affluent countries) starts earlier but lasts longer; it is diffused over most of a woman’s life. A woman hardly has to be anything like what would reasonably be considered old to worry about her age, to start lying (or being tempted to lie). The crisis can come at any time. Their schedule depends on a blend of personal (“neurotic”) vulnerability and the swing of social mores. Some women don’t have their first crisis until thirty. No one escapes a sickening shock upon turning forty. Each birthday, but especially those ushering in a new decade-for round numbers have a special authority-sounds a new defeat. There is almost as much pain in the anticipation as in the reality. Twenty-nine has become a queasy age ever since the official end of youth crept forward, about a generation ago, to forty. Being thirty-nine is also hard; a whole year in which to meditate in glum astonishment that one stands on the threshold of middle age. The frontiers are arbitrary, but not any less vivid for that. Although a woman on her fortieth birthday is hardly different from what she was when she was still thirty-nine, the day seems like a turning point. But long before actually becoming a woman of forty, she has been steeling herself against the depression she will feel.

…the rules of this society are cruel to women. Brought up to be never fully adult, women are deemed obsolete earlier than men. In fact, most women don’t become relatively free and expressive sexually until their thirties. (Women mature sexually this late, certainly much later than men, not for innate biological reasons but because this culture retards women. Denied most outlets for sexual energy permitted to men, it takes many women that long to wear out some of their inhibitions.) The time at which they start being disqualified as sexually attractive persons is just when they have grown up sexually. The double standard about aging cheats women of those years, between thirty-five and fifty, likely to be the best of their sexual life.

…women do not develop their bodies, as men do. After a woman’s body has reached a sexually acceptable form by late adolescence, most further development is viewed as negative. And it is thought irresponsible for women to do what is normal for men: simply leave their appearance alone. During early youth they are likely to come as close as they ever will to the ideal image-slim figure, smooth, firm skin, light musculature, graceful movements. Their task is to try to maintain that image, unchanged, as long as possible. Improvement as such is not the task. Women care for their bodies-against toughening, coarsening, getting fat. They conserve them… the “feminine” is smooth, rounded, hairless, unlined, soft, unmuscled-the look of the very young; characteristics of the weak, of the vulnerable, eunuch traits, as Germaine Greer has pointed out. Actually, there are only a few years-late adolescence, early twenties-in which this look is physiologically natural, in which it can be had without touching-up and covering-up. After that, women enlist in a quixotic enterprise, trying to close the gap between the imagery put forth by society (concerning what is attractive in a woman) and the evolving facts of nature.

Are men naturally attracted to younger women because of biological reasons (their fertility) or social ones?  One thing that complicates the question for me is that there is a great deal of ageism in the gay community, with gay men approaching the age of forty with the same amount of shame and trepidation as women.   The only book I’ve found on ageism in the heterosexual dating market that devotes a chapter to ageism in the gay male dating world is a 1989 book by Barbara Gordon called Jennifer Fever.  Another one from the vault:


When I was newly diagnosed with an autoimmune disease a few years ago, I read everything I could get my hands on about it and spent hours surfing the web for more information on the condition.  I also flirted with joining support groups.

Eventually, though, the condition subsided into just another fact about me amongst many.   Thanks to medication, it doesn’t impact my daily life or activities all that much, except for the occasional flare.  I’m just thankful now that it struck in the second half of my life, which I consider to be age 40-80, rather than in the first half.  During this second half of life, I feel I should be grateful to still be here with another lifetime in front of me.   I think we all have or will experience great loss and disappointment by this period, and remembering to feel that gratitude for the extra decades can help us through.

I’m finally getting to a point where not having a husband or children is just another fact about me amongst many, although I’m sure there will be the occasional emotional flare.  Being single and childless has, admittedly, been tougher than accepting my disease, because I feel like I didn’t accomplish what is viewed as two of the main tasks of the first half of life, making moving on to the second especially confusing and challenging.  So I enjoyed reading this today (

Now, gratefully, I am in a place where I can not only accept the fact that I was not destined to have a child or children in the traditional sense, but that my life was divinely orchestrated for something else… something “more” not “less”, in its own right.

The word “childless” does not mean that we are not “child-full” of little or now grown-up people we love. I myself am a Godmother to three and “Aunt Marcy” to many. Nor does it mean that we are “less” than women who have their own children. It is simply one descriptor, out of many, about our present state of being. At this time, I do not have a child, therefore I AM childless. That may change someday, but for now, there is greater peace in accepting it as it is.

groundhog day

I’d never seen the movie Groundhog Day but I often think of it when I feel “stuck,” so I finally decided to watch it over the weekend.

My favorite part of the movie was the decision on the part of the lead character to take piano lessons.  He was able to become a master, as he could take classes endlessly, day after (the same) day.   I believe that a great deal of life consists of being stuck in less-than-ideal situations, and I cope with this fact by figuring out ways I can get better at something even while I am spinning my wheels in other ways.  That’s how I began taking dance lessons and someday I hope to master  a foreign language and a musical instrument as well.

I also related to the way in which every day started the same, in the same bed, same room, same furnishings, same song on the alarm clock.  To me one of the strangest things about staying single for decades is going to bed and waking up in the same room day after day.  Every few years I have to take a long hard look at my furnishings and purge some of them, feeling like they have become too girlish for my current age.  If I move in another year, I may just purge everything and start over.

The movie had a typical Hollywood ending in which a couple is united in love with the promise of a wedding and children in their future.  One of the reasons I rarely see movies anymore is that, having failed to experience one of the central mythologies of our culture, that common storyline feels hollow to me.  The main character in the movie could only move forward in time once that relationship had been established; I’m trying to figure out how to move forward without it.


In the latest issue of More, Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, is quoted on p. 20 as saying, “Motherhood is the ultimate sisterhood.”

Motherhood is the ultimate sisterhood.  Is it?  Should it be?

Interestingly, Chelsea Handler is on the cover, and she states in her interview that she doesn’t plan on having children.  She also discusses the importance of female friendships in her life.


When I was in what I considered the “last chance” stretch of 39-41, I consecutively dated three different men who, at the time, I thought were compatible partners for me and possible candidates for marriage and parenthood.  Despite being my age or older, two of them said they were not ready and the third disappeared on me.

I’m still friends with the first two; they call often, and we occasionally see each other.   Although I’ve begun to move on from the desire to have children, I acknowledge that I carry some unresolved anger at both of them.   They put their own needs first, which is appropriate, but it feels like they didn’t care enough about me to “rescue” me from a life on the margins.  Perhaps I am also angry at the fact that they had that power, the power to deny me the social acceptance that comes with being a wife and mother.

I was eating in a restaurant with one of them once, and he lost the thread of our conversation as he became distracted by two young couples walking by with their babies, sighing wistfully at the sight.  I wanted to bonk him on the head.  I felt devalued and angry that I was partly in my position due to him!

Both men imagine that they may still have children some day; theoretically, they have another five to ten years before they hit the end of the road.  When I was 35 and living in my former city, I was friends with a female coworker my same age, and neither one of us was in a relationship.  We were beginning to feel the pressure of time running out.  Around this time, a 50-year-old male coworker, who had spent a good deal of his youth slacking off and working in video rental stores, announced that his 35-year-old wife was pregnant.  My coworker and I both felt so angry that he had an additional ten years on us to pull it all together and start a family.

Happily, the anger is dissipating as I move into acceptance and a new vision for my life.  It’s hard for me to imagine now being married to either of those men; the time has passed and I’m no longer interested in them in that way.


I think most people plan their free time around others, as in, I want to spend time with X this weekend, so let’s figure out something we can do together.  Perhaps this movie, or this concert, or a trip to wine country?

I am finding that I increasingly plan my free time in the reverse.  I want to go to a particular movie, or lecture, or event, and then I have to decide if it is worth the hassle of inviting someone else.

I think the seed of this orientation was in me from the beginning.  In middle school, my best friend would want me to wait for her between classes so we could walk down the hall together.  I thought this was absurd– why would you need someone to accompany you down the hall?  She is now married with three kids, and here I am.


Another interesting post from “Olivia Reading in the Bath” on the lack of information on how to live as an adult without children:

This was my comment on the post:

We no longer seem to have a vision of adulthood in this country; instead we glorify both childhood and adolescent rebellion and our pop culture focuses its attention on those demographics.

I think back to, say, the Rat Pack era, when being an adult was seen as glamorous and fun and something to aspire to, and there were things like cocktail parties where kids were kept out of sight. Today adults instead imitate teenagers by wearing the same clothes, attending the same concerts, etc., I think because there are no other options.

The only real markers we seem to have for adulthood are marriage and parenthood. If you don’t participate in those things, it’s hard to feel as if you have “grown-up” because it seems there is nowhere to “grow up to.”

I think our culture has it backwards in our glorification of youth. We should be giving youth something to aspire to– adulthood should be seen as the prize.



Nice post:

I especially liked this:

I think that Americans are groomed to expect a happy ending. I personally blame the entertainment industry for this.  All problems are resolved in Hollywood.  No problem is insurmountable.   It is so pervasive that when people encounter real life scenarios that can’t be fixed, they are confounded, and that’s when the suggestions and the stories start a-flyin’.

What these well-intentioned people don’t understand is their stories usually have the opposite effect than what was intended.  Instead of feeling inspired, we feel deflated.  Why someone else and not us? What are we doing wrong? Have we not tried hard enough? Are we unworthy?

The same writer wrote an interesting piece on the challenges of being a stepmother, here: