never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: September, 2012


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…

softening the blows

I was told I could never have children.  Then, in my late thirties, I miraculously got pregnant.  I had two more children after that.  Being a mother has made it easier to accept disappointments in my career and to deal with growing older.  Now I have fun watching my kids try to figure out their lives, but I’m also always looking forward to my own next phase. — David Hutchings interview with Susan Sarandon, October 2012 More magazine, p. 26

As any woman who is nearing or over forty and childless knows, we (probably) won’t get  the late-life miracle of children to soften the blows of aging and career disappointment.  We have to face them head-on.

Perhaps, in some ways, that puts us ahead.  We’re on to the next phase already.

petering out

I was enthusiastically asked for a second date this weekend with someone who ended up canceling because he said that another potential relationship was starting to develop.  I don’t have any reason to doubt him, as we hadn’t spoken since he’d asked me out, but I have sometimes used that line to back out of something that didn’t feel right.

In any case, I had my own doubts about starting something up, as the demands of my job continue to grow more and more unreasonable, and I feel like I have no choice but to leave it.  Things were supposed to head in the opposite direction over the course of the year, but they most certainly have not.  Every day at work makes me want to explode, and I feel uneasy about dating a new person while in this situation.  I don’t want to overload them with tales of my job stress, and I feel like quitting a job will put undue strain on any burgeoning romance.

And yet, this recent experience reinforces my impression of the fragility of midlife dating.  So little ever gets off the ground.  Things show some potential and then so easily peter out.

I feel my own ambivalence, of course, but in a good number of situations I try to overcome it to give things a chance, only to have things die out on the other end.


More and more, I felt weighed down by all the judgments — some proffered, some unspoken — about single and childless women. From being too picky to be satisfied by a partner, to just too career-orientated and selfish, the judgments are endless. In my experience, they’re generally inaccurate, too. 

I met plenty of women like me — women in their late 30s who’d done well professionally but not to the exclusion of all else; who had built great relationships with friends and family; but for whom the right romantic relationship, and children, remained elusive. 

When I analysed the reasons why they and I were in this position, I came to one conclusion: bad luck, bad choices or bad timing. Not selfishness.

…I soon started to understand what had led me to where I was. Part of my sadness was a sense of loss that I would never love or be loved with the fierceness that exists between mother and child. 

I wouldn’t experience all the challenges that motherhood brings, and the better person I think it makes some women — more patient, less self-centred, calmer.

But a significant part of how I felt was simply about being an outsider now that my friends’ and sisters’ lives had moved on to different places.

Read more:


Dr. Chris Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn, on why he has chosen not to have kids (the discussion starts at the 50 minute mark):


My former city is a hipster town, and when I look at some of my hipster friends’ Facebook pages (and their friends, as all the moms seem to have connected with each other) and see the photos of their kids, I get a little depressed.  Perhaps I want to believe that hipsters stay young forever, never becoming adults and starting families, or perhaps it’s because, for all their tattoos and piercings and quirky glasses, they end up living fairly conventional lives.

I get it though.  Most of them are not particularly career oriented, instead working in bookstores or as yoga teachers or as teacher’s assistants.  Their passions tend toward extracurricular activities such as following (or being in) a band, or writing a novel, or moonlighting as a DJ.  At some point, they probably glance around the bar and realize they are the oldest person there, or they accept that their creative dreams are not going to pan out, and they look to getting married and having kids as the next logical project.

I wish I had more examples (I do have a small number) of alternative people truly going on to live alternative lives, ones outside of the family structure.  Hipsters who remained focused on creative projects or alternative ways of living.

I’m reminded of how so many of the quirky couples I know have named their daughters Ava– don’t they know Ava is the new Jennifer?   I guess I want them to show a little more originality to match their eyeware.

the message

This article validates all my complaints about how movies and TV shows always couple people off in the end:

…his book is a critical examination of the way contemporary novels, movies, TV shows and pop songs choose to ignore, reject or grossly oversimplify the experience of singleness in favour of the couple, making singletons “one of the most despised sexual minorities one can be.”

Now, before you roll your eyes and accuse Cobb of being melodramatic, consider the way in which our culture upholds the search for romantic love and “the One” as the Holy Grail of human experience. Even in cultural narratives that are ostensibly empowering to singles – from Sex and the City, Bridesmaids and Girls to Beyoncé’s All The Single Ladies – the overall message (usually aimed at women) is clear: Go ahead and be yourself, but if you want real happiness, make sure someone puts a ring on it.

This is not to say there aren’t unhappy marrieds out there – just think of all the bickering couples in any recent Judd Apatow vehicle. But in the end, these couples tend to work it out. Either that or they leave, and wind up coupled to someone else. Because singledom, in pop culture, is not a way to live but a way to get from one partner to the next.

…once I began to look at pop culture through Cobb’s lens, the primacy of coupledom was everywhere. I know dozens of happy single people in real life, but why is their experience ignored in books and movies? Why, despite study after study establishing that marriage and children don’t make people any happier, do we persist in craving (and creating) narratives that assure us they will? Even complex drama fails to avoid the trap of assuming that conventional coupledom conquers all. The great Byronic hero of our TV age – Don Draper – is reflected mainly through the women he falls for, and struggles to stay faithful to. And the same was true of Tony Soprano before him.

the joneses

I was talking to a woman I know in Los Angeles today and she told me that her family spends 60k a year sending their two children to private schools.

Holy moly.  I can’t even imagine.

Apparently, a lot of people spend that kind of money, although of course there is more to the story than meets the eye:

Family Money

Although many of her friends are quite successful, after talking to them in depth, Kim realized a large percentage of them were actually being supplemented by their families in some way. Either grandparents were helping with tuition, or they had trust funds or some other form of family money to help pay for private school. And to be honest, when she thought about it, Kim herself wasn’t really sure what had gone on in her household growing up—money was rarely discussed. For all she knew her grandparents had been helping out with her tuition, too, but the subject just never came up.

I suppose that is one rat race I’m glad I’m not running.  I felt the same reading Sandra Tsing Loh’s book on the subject:


the simple life

While convalescing, I read a wrenching memoir entitled The Arrogant Years by the author Lucette Lagnado, who also wrote The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.  Lagnado hails from an Orthodox Jewish family, originally from Egypt, that falls upon hard times.  She suffers from Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a young teen and the treatments leave her infertile.  She is somewhat of a rebellious child and ends up working as an investigative reporter in adulthood.

As she ages, she feels a bit sorry for herself when she visits some of her old friends and finds them married with children and living in tight-knit Orthodox enclaves, where the siblings, children, and grandparents all live in the same neighborhood and take care of each other.  In contrast, her siblings have scattered and she struggles, as a busy career woman, to help her mother when she becomes old and infirm and is sent to a variety of substandard nursing homes.  She writes, p. 367:

Above all, the Community took care of its own, my friend reminded me.  If someone was sick and infirm, there were armies of volunteers rushing to visit them and comfort them and bring them soup… And that outside world I had found so seductive?  It was a wasteland, a lost and hopeless place, my friend believed.  While she loved America, it was such a lonely country– so many American families were broken, fractured beyond repair.  Children lived hundreds, thousands of miles from their fathers and mothers.  Grandchildren hardly ever saw their grandparents.  Families came together once or twice a year– Thanksgiving, Christmas–on what had become requisite, almost forced reunions.

Alone and sick, I found this multi-generational community a mighty appealing vision.  And yet, a few pages later, in discussing another family, she mentions, p. 371:

His wife who joined us was a serious, soft-spoken woman; she worked with Orthodox victims of spousal abuse.

So there you have it– life is not perfect in this community either.  Lagnado herself feels like “damaged goods,” worthless, in her community once she loses her ability to conceive children.

I felt the same sense of modern life’s complexity reading this opinion piece about Michelle Obama’s speech on the importance of fathers.  The columnist mentions Michelle Obama’s strong father figure and the important role Obama is playing in the life of his own daughters and uses these examples to support her argument that fathers are indispensable.  I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but she fails to mention that Obama was raised by a single mother, and, he, of course, turned out pretty well.  So perhaps things are not so simple?  The column:

In reading Lagnado’s memoir, I couldn’t disagree that, however imperfect traditional societies may be, the modern, secular world also leaves us wanting.  A worthwhile book on this subject is Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists.  I recommend it for those living outside the traditional family structure, as it does a good job of describing how lonely and alienating the modern world can be and offers some possible solutions:

search lights

I continue my search for people who have their “lights on”– those who are looking for friends and partners– with some success.

For example, I forced myself to look at an online dating site using the “get in and get out” method.  I used a very restrictive search to come up with a short list of candidates and then wrote one person.  I wanted to spend as little time as possible on it, as I’m still heavily ambivalent about the process.  I did, however, end up on a nice date with a man who seems genuinely interested in finding someone.  He also gushed about the photo I sent him, which was nice considering I’ve had the opposite reaction– the “thanks, but no thanks”– after emailing a photo.

Despite feeling under the weather, I also forced myself out to an event, one that involved a group of people I felt had not been particularly welcoming in the past.  I guess, after too many bad experiences, I’ve become a bit paranoid, because the event was fun and everyone was friendly.  I was asked out by someone I met there, although he’s much younger than me and may feel differently now that we have connected on Facebook.  But that’s fine.  Perhaps he could be a future party guest.  I feel like having one man to consider is more than enough.

Both these men told me that they want to go to certain events but they don’t want to go alone.  They were fairly emphatic about that.   Who knows how many men sit at home feeling that way?