never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: August, 2012


In so much as my current existence is bearable, the internet makes it so.  The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is surf the web, check Facebook, peruse my favorite websites, and write on my blog.  This morning my electricity was down and, seeing that I couldn’t get on the web, I went back to bed.  I don’t know what would rouse me every morning if the internet didn’t exist.

Ditto at work… a little surfing here and there keeps ennui and despair at bay.

I wonder, though, if having this safety blanket, the very thing that enables so many of us to live without deep, satisfying real life connections, is causing that very thing.  As I’ve written before, I was initially hopeful that Facebook would lead to real life encounters, but it has rarely done so.  Yes, I’ve gotten more generic invitations to events, but it hasn’t led to more personal connections.  Still, without it, I would be lost.

When I wrote before that sometimes I feel like I’m in a vise, it is also because I only have a few family members left, and they unfortunately are not people I can turn to when I’m feeling down.  Not having a close family leads even more to that sense that there’s nobody out there to connect to on a deep, meaningful level.

I was reminded of all this again when a woman I know got into a relationship from an online dating site, immediately changed all her Facebook pictures to “her and him,” moved in with the guy shortly thereafter, posted all their subsequent trip photos, posted their engagement day photos, and then asked her friends (over Facebook) to send their addresses in for wedding invitations.  All this without a single phone call or actual conversation between us.  It’s almost like coupling as a series of advertisements.

Looks like I need to read this book:

We’re all uprooted and anxious now. Such, at least, is the contention of Zygmunt Bauman in this riveting and important book. Admittedly there’s little in the way of specific class analysis here, for it is Bauman’s view that all our traditional bonds are loosening their choke-holds. Those purportedly fixed and durable ties of family, class, religion, marriage and perhaps even love (we’ll come back to that tricky notion) aren’t as reliable or as desirable as they were. It’s fitting that Bauman is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Leeds because, nearly half a century after Hoggart’s book, West Yorkshire has spawned another sociological account of anxiety and vertigo in a rootless society.

…Sisyphus had it easy. The work of the liquid modern is likewise never done, but it takes much more imagination. Bauman finds his hero working everywhere – jabbering into mobile phones, addictively texting, leaping from one chat room to another, internet dating (whose key appeal, Bauman notes, is that you can always delete a date without pain or peril). The liquid modern is forever at work, forever replacing quality of relationship with quantity.

What’s the significance of all this anxious work? For Bauman, the medium isn’t the message – the new gadgets we use hardly determine who we are. Nor are the messages that people send each other significant in themselves; rather, the message is the circulation of messages. The sense of belonging or security that the liquid modern creates consists in being cocooned in a web of messages. That way, we hope, the vexing problem of freedom and security will disappear.

We text, argues Bauman, therefore we are. “We belong,” he writes, “to the even flow of words and unfinished sentences (abbreviated, to be sure, truncated to speed up the circulation). We belong to talking, not what talking is about . . . Stop talking – and you are out. Silence equals exclusion.” Derrida was on to something when he wrote ” Il n’y a pas dehors du texte,” though not for the reason he supposed. It is that the fear of silence and the exclusion it implies makes us anxious that our ingeniously assembled security will fall apart.


Take sex first. Kaufmann argues that in the new world of speed dating, online dating and social networking, the overwhelming idea is to have short, sharp engagements that involve minimal commitment and maximal pleasure. In this, he follows the Leeds-based sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who proposed the metaphor of “liquid love” to characterise how we form connections in the digital age. It’s easier to break with a Facebook friend than a real friend; the work of a split second to delete a mobile-phone contact.

In his 2003 book Liquid Love, Bauman wrote that we “liquid moderns” cannot commit to relationships and have few kinship ties. We incessantly have to use our skills, wits and dedication to create provisional bonds that are loose enough to stop suffocation, but tight enough to give a needed sense of security now that the traditional sources of solace (family, career, loving relationships) are less reliable than ever. And online dating offers just such chances for us to have fast and furious sexual relationships in which commitment is a no-no and yet quantity and quality can be positively rather than inversely related.

After a while, Kaufmann has found, those who use online dating sites become disillusioned. “The game can be fun for a while. But all-pervasive cynicism and utilitarianism eventually sicken anyone who has any sense of human decency. When the players become too cold and detached, nothing good can come of it.” Everywhere on dating sites, Kaufmann finds people upset by the unsatisfactorily chilly sex dates that they have brokered. He also comes across online addicts who can’t move from digital flirting to real dates and others shocked that websites, which they had sought out as refuges from the judgmental cattle-market of real-life interactions, are just as cruel and unforgiving – perhaps more so.

marking time

 They say that every seven years we change.  I’m not sure if I believe it, but I often examine my life through that prism.

Certainly 28-35 would have been a good time to start a family, and when that didn’t happen, at 35, I started searching around for what to do next. 

I moved across country at 37 and do think I accomplished quite a bit.  I burnished my resume professionally and learned the history of a new locale.  I took seven or eight trips around my new state.  Mostly due to online dating, I went on first dates with dozens of men.   A few of those developed into more dates and one into a three-month relationship.  I had a non-relationship that dragged on for a year.  I made at least one close friend and became enamored with a local creative scene.

Now here I am, at 42.  Another seven-year mark.  What’s next?  My current career feels played out, and the field no longer inspires me.  My close friend has moved away.  I can’t think of anywhere new to travel locally, and the thought of returning to destinations alone feels pointless.  I can imagine meeting a romantic partner randomly but can’t imagine where I would go or what I could do to meet one purposely.  I have given up on trying to figure out where I could fit in socially with the creative scene that had so captured my imagination.  In sum, I can’t figure out a way to summon fresh enthusiasm for my current situation.  I feel both at loose ends and dead ends. 

 Although my previous years here were filled with dramatic ups and downs, not much has actually happened this year (to me, certainly I’ve seen my peers move forward) outside of thinking about what I want to do next.  It certainly feels transitional, I will say that.


I’ll admit, this year I’ve suffered more psychological blows than most.  Sometimes I feel like I’m in a bad dream.

I’m used to coping through laughing, analyzing, and complaining with girlfriends, but I don’t currently have those kinds of deep female friendships in my life.  The blog helps, but there’s nothing quite like people who really know you. 

Without that safety valve, I sometimes feel like I’m in a vise, and the pressure just gets tighter and tighter.

the peak

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the ideal age for me to have gotten married was 32.  Lo and behold, Good Morning America came to the same conclusion.  I disagree that it would be too difficult for me to compromise now, and in fact, I’d still make a good partner for the right person, but the past ten years would have been much easier if I’d found him back then.

The thing was, after 30 I found dating to be quite difficult.  The men who were still single, by and large, wanted to stay that way or were starting to pursue younger women.  I remember feeling frustrated at how ready I felt but how limited my options were (lots of dates but few keepers).  I would also agree about the sexual peak:

 In 2000, Good Morning America did a segment on the ideal time to get married.  It seems for women to be age 32, which is also the year she hits her sexual peak.  The philosophy behind this stated that at 32, a woman has finally come into her own, confident in who she is and makes choices based upon fact rather than fantasy.


At 32 she is still open to new ideas, but steadfast enough that she is not easily fooled or manipulated.  The segment went on to explain that after 35 it is very difficult for a man or woman to marry because by that point, both are so set in their ways, compromise, an essential element to successful cohabitation is difficult to achieve.


This political season, single women keep finding themselves at the center of political firestorms. Both parties and the media have recognized that single women are one of the country’s fastest growing demographics and a potentially crucial voting bloc. As the New York Times recently wrote, single women lean strongly toward Obama in polls, but they are not reliable voters, often feeling like politics don’t address their everyday concerns.

the void

I’m starting to think that my friends who had kids at the last possible second– at 39, 40, 42– are quite lucky indeed.  They were able to experience two decades of dating and working, and just when it was all getting stale, and it was beginning to dawn on them that they weren’t going to accomplish the career success they had dreamed of, they were able to redirect their desire for fulfillment into raising a child.  They all seem pretty appreciative that they have had the chance to do so.

On the other hand, not having a child at this stage means that I have to face all that angst head on.  I have to squarely face my regrets over not having a family and my disaffection with my career; there’s no redirecting and nowhere to hide.

Women who have had a family by this age but no career might look forward to getting out in the work world, and it appears that women who have had both, at least according to the article below, now want to catch up on all the “wild times” they have missed.

The women in this piece just might want to talk to women who have been single for decades.  I’m sure we could swiftly disabuse them of the notion that being single past one’s twenties is some kind of dionysian carnival ride that they’ve been missing out on.

I’m annoyed by the fact that women like me are nowhere to be found in it.  It confirms my suspicion that parents all hang out with each other, and I am invisible to their club:

Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives.

Why do moms in my generation regress, whether by drugging, cheating, or going out too late and too often? Because everything our children thrive on—stability, routine, lack of flux, love, well-paired parents—feels like death to those entrusted with their care. This is why they start drinking at wine o’clock, which is so dubbed not only because it coincides with whine o’clock but because it can begin at six p.m., or five, or even four. (Though the four o’clock mothers wind up in A.A.) I know a mom who drinks only on the weekends because she thinks it’s more responsible… but she starts with a mimosa at brunch on Saturday at eleven, and doesn’t stop until her Sunday night television shows are over.

As the children age (and multiply), the moms are burdened by the responsibility—to work, hold onto their homes, watch over their kids’ social and academic lives. The boredom turns to terror. You can almost clock the moment it begins, past preschool but before kindergarten. The childbearing is over, the breastfeeding in the past, the sling donated to Housing Works. It’s the moment when a mom dresses as a Harajuku girl for Halloween, or there’s a full bar at a four-year-old’s birthday party, or two ladies step out of book group to smoke on the stoop. It’s blowjob gestures at cocktail parties followed by a-little-too hysterical laughter. It’s the mother who says, “Mommy needs an Advil because she stayed up too late last night.” It’s fortieth birthday parties at karaoke bars.



I went out last night with two of my single acquaintances to a lively event that lifted my spirits significantly.  I do think it’s really important to spend time with other single women in order to realize that you are, in fact, not the only one out there.

This post reminded me a little of my thoughts this weekend (although I wouldn’t describe myself as a naturally sunny person, I do think casual acquaintances sometimes see me that way):

My life is my own — marriage and especially motherhood make you utterly beholden to others. A wife must always consider her husband, and a mother must always, in some ways, give her life over to the needs of her children. Their schedules, their requirements, their moods… they dictate the ins and outs of nearly every moment of their mother’s day.

There’s no more leisurely reading, no more running out at the drop of a hat, no more deciding to go somewhere on a whim. Sleeping through the night becomes a major accomplishment.

And yet, I think, it must all be so utterly worth it when your child opens up his eyes and sees you there in the morning. 

So I remind myself of this: Of my independence, of the way that I can expand my mind and challenge it while it is still free of concerns over bottle temperatures and peanut allergies, when I can still go to a lecture without worrying about tracking down a babysitter, when I can make what I want for dinner or not bother going shopping for two weeks. I can sleep late and go away on weekends and dispose of my disposable income however I like.

I even try to convince myself that dating is fun — after all, almost all the men I’ve ever gone out with are good and kind, if not the man I should marry — and that my life has an excitement and variation my married friends somehow envy. After all, they sometimes tell me this.

And I see how hard marriage can sometimes be, and how one is forced to grow, accommodate and bite one’s tongue. It’s not all wine and roses.


…what I wonder the most is how I can bear all this — all this whining and kvetching and feeling ridiculously sorry for myself — and still be a bearable person? People tell me that I am cheery and sunny and funny, and men I’ve dated have even paid me the dear compliment that unlike so many other “women my age,” I’m “not bitter.” The sadness inside me apparently has eaten away only that which is too deep to be seen.

The worst thing is that those who are closest to me know, and must feel, the murk and the whining and the oh-so-not-sunny part.



When I visited with my friend, the new mother, today, I mentioned a good book to her, and she responded that she currently doesn’t have much time to read.  This is understandable, as she is also working full-time, but I wonder if she has, at least temporarily, lost her drive to read and write.

One of the primary motivations of reading and writing for me is the search for meaning.  With new roles as a wife and mother, my friend may not feel that motivation quite as keenly, at least at the present time.  Contentment may not be the greatest intellectual spur.

All this reminded me of the new Gateway Women post:

  • Being a mother is, perhaps, one of the most important jobs on the planet. Even world leaders, prophets and dictators answer to their mothers, for good or ill!
  • Being a mother in our culture is meaningful, has status and gets you out of your own way forever.
  • As a friend once said to me when she had her first child “I don’t have to worry what my life’s about any more” – being a mother is an existential ‘get out of jail free’ card. You’re off the hook, meaning-wise.

If you don’t have children, you can’t delegate the major part of your happiness, fulfillment and meaning to your role as a mother and your delight in your children. You have to do it for yourself. And the feedback loop is invisible – no cheery little people smiling and hugging you, no knowing smiles of approval from other parents, no special day in the calendar to tell you how wonderful you are and how much you mean not just to your family, but to the whole flipping world.

Whilst motherhood is a lifetime of hard work, the results are tangible (even if you don’t like them or they bring you great sadness) and once you have a child, irreversible. Creating a life of meaning as a woman without children is a promise to ourselves that no-one forces us to keep and which has to be renewed daily.


brunch accomplished

As predicted, it was good to see my friend.  Her husband was quite nice, and their baby was cute and sweet-natured.

Also as predicted, the visit was bittersweet.  Discussing my current dilemmas turned out to be somewhat unavoidable.  I was asked if I was still in touch with two or three former girlfriends, and in each case, the answer was no.  I also had to confess that I was no longer in regular touch with anyone we attended high school with, all of whom have families now.  I revealed that I hadn’t heard from my “non-boyfriend” since we ended things.  I was asked about future plans and admitted I might be leaving my job and moving again next year because I was afraid of growing old and alone here.  Although I tried to be matter of fact about it all, I thought to myself, “Good God, I am a real Debbie Downer.”

The thing is, my friend is happy.  Of course, I know lots of people in difficult marriages, who are divorced, or who have problems with their children.  My friend, though, however rocky and uncertain her path may have been in the past, now seems content and relatively trouble-free.  She seems to be entering “the good years.”  Her sisters also both had children late in life, so there were funny stories of them visiting each other with their young kids in tow.

I do seem to be on par with them financially, so there is that.  Otherwise, the visit brought into stark relief just how unhappy I am and how difficult things have been these past few years.  I fear being Negative Nellie, but on the other hand, I cannot be truthful without admitting some of these things.

My friend, along with a few others, are dying to know the name of my blog; as you can see, I have to keep it under wraps.