I’ve been mulling over the different areas women can place their energies when motherhood is not in the cards. As I’ve written before, there are no established roadmaps for the single and childless, so we have to create our own. These are the areas I’ve formulated along with my personal reactions to each:
Spirituality— I haven’t participated in organized religion since my youth, but in this last year I have taken up kundalini yoga and meditation and found them helpful. I can’t envision myself donning a turban and turning my life over to the cause, but for some women, becoming intensely involved in a religion or spiritual practice may be the right option. Nuns were the original spinsters, right? Unfortunately, many, if not most, women become alienated from their churches when they remain single and/or childless.
Politics— I align my lifestyle as much as possible with my political beliefs, and I always vote and often donate money to causes I believe in. Having worked for city and county governments, however, I can attest that institutional change is painstakingly slow. I am more interested in cultural change because it happens faster, but ultimately, institutional change needs to occur if we want to have real options in our lives (and, you know, save the planet). I admit I’m a pessimist here– the difficulty of getting a decent health care bill passed only reinforced my pessimism. The Occupy movement is, at its best, a good example of how to have an impact while building community and having fun, so it does give me a little hope. If I am able to create a life in the future that affords me more time, I could see participating in something like that.
Career— I would love to believe that I could find a job that provided all the meaning I need in my life, but I don’t. After two decades in the workforce, I have to agree with the saying that “you are not paid to have fun,” a saying that is even more true now than when I started working in the nineties. A job is pretty much a paycheck, and those careers that promise social or political or artistic fulfillment are often the ones that are the most exploitive. I do hope to find a job that I don’t dread going to, one in which I find the work stimulating enough and in which I enjoy the company of my coworkers and am not multitasked to death (my current problem). Ultimately, though, there are unpleasant aspects to any job, and for me, I need more than a job to keep me going.
Hedonism— One thing that is nice about being childless is that there is more disposable income for eating out, getting massages, taking nice vacations, etc. I do indulge in some of that, but hedonism in and of itself is, to me, not enough to make life worth living. It is more like the dessert than the main course.
Romantic Love— This seems like it would be the easiest dream to fulfill, as all it involves is finding one other person to love and be loved by in return. I was a starry-eyed romantic in my youth and, despite my lesser sex drive, would still love the opportunity to throw myself head-first into romantic passion. Now that I no longer need to find a partner who is good “fatherhood” material and who is able to support a family financially, I would think my options would be endless. Not so. There are myriad reasons for romantic difficulties at this (or any) age, but certainly ageism is a big one. I would love to find a partner for a mutually supportive relationship, one that involves working toward a shared dream together as well as having fun and adventure as a couple. I still hope to find this but have not been given much reason for optimism.
Community— One of the common themes of the single, childless woman is that she has lost all her friends to marriage and motherhood. This starts becoming apparent in one’s thirties, as most people have paired off by then and have begun to socialize in a couple’s world. At that point, though, a woman usually still has a small number of friends in her same boat; these friends can provide support and psychological ballast, a la Sex and the City. Unfortunately, most of these remaining friends are lost to the “miracle babies” of the late thirties and early forties, leaving a single and/or childless woman truly alone. Although our experience is fairly common and we have found each other online, what I read from other bloggers and commenters is that when they take a look around in real life, they don’t see other women like us. For me, this has been the saddest part of remaining single and childless. If I could find stable sources of community, it would be a huge boon to my quality of life. I keep looking.
Creativity— I’m using this term as a broad umbrella. Out of all these possibilities, in my opinion, this one offers the most dependable pay-off. It is under an individual’s control, and results can be immediate. The psychological benefits of creative projects are immense, they are deeper than what is offered by hedonism, and they are potentially spiritual as well. Depending on the project, if it reaches a broader community, there could be political effects. When I’m deeply involved in a creative project, it gives me a reason to get up in the morning, especially when the above categories have failed me.
So, is that all there is? Then let’s keep dancing…