never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: November, 2012


For years I was intensely frustrated that, no matter how “proactive” I was, I simply did not seem to be able to change the pattern of my life and get the things I really wanted.  No matter how many jobs I tried, I couldn’t find one that gave me a reason to get up in the morning.  No matter how much I “got out there” or how many online dating sites I sampled, I couldn’t find a suitable partner.  Then I would see other people find these things without, seemingly, lifting a finger.

There are systemic reasons why these things are easier for some than for others as well as a large measure of luck.  I have found a good deal of peace and happiness, however, through a few things I can control.  I’m loathe to give advice, but if I were to dispense any to the tired, jaded, and lovelorn, it would be this (all three of which are connected):

1)  Find ways to explore what your body can do that don’t involve a partner.  Given that most of us will spend some portion of our lives without one, it’s nice to know that there are other avenues of physical pleasure.  Dance, swimming, yoga, gymnastics, playing an instrument, meditating, running– they are all alternative ways to explore and be amazed by your physicality.  Also, concentrating on what your body can do, as opposed to what it looks like is, makes for much stronger motivation to get moving.

2)  Find something creative you really enjoy doing outside of what you do for a living.  Writing, knitting, podcasting, painting, fixing up motorcycles, cooking, acting in a play, woodworking, singing–they can all give you a reason to get out of bed whereas most jobs can’t.

3)  Keep the big picture in mind.  I’m not someone who is into traditional religion, but thinking of this life as a dress rehearsal of sorts provides some much needed perspective.  Besides church, there’s meditation, astronomy, philosophy, metaphysics, etc.  It’s hard to take OKCupid too seriously when you have these other things on your mind.


lateral moves

I admit to some cynicism over the fact that his wife is, as I expected, younger (33), but I found what he had to say about marrying at an older age enlightening:

I have a wife I love. But unlike people who marry at 22 or even 32, with some part of their adult experience still unformed, I have never thought that Lucy completes me. Or even that I’m happier than before. With no one to do it for me, I had already jury-rigged a life: a career, a circle of friends, a library card that I had every reason to believe would sustain me to the end — and happily so. Marriage at 40 is a lateral move.

I’m reminded of this whenever Lucy and I fight, because our fights are not the fast-moving thunderstorms of youth but the daily drizzle of realizing you did all of this before on your own, from cooking to cleaning to driving cross-country, and never once criticized yourself. You never held up an ostensibly washed dish to yourself and said, “Do you see what I see?” You never asked yourself to roll up the windows, turn down the music, and watch the merging traffic until you sat there, tense in the silent car, thinking, “I knew road trips and you’re no road trip.”



In one scene, Kaling, who is 33 in real life (and playing 31), goes on a blind date with a guy played by Ed Helms, who is 38 (and playing no one cares), when they are interrupted by an urgent phone call from the son of one of her patients. Annoyed at having to take the call, she grabs the phone from the hostess and hisses, “Do you know how difficult it is for a chubby 31-year-old woman to go on a legit date with a guy who majored in economics at Duke?”

I have no idea how hard this is, because when I was 31 (I’m now 44), I would have done anything to avoid enduring such an ordeal. But that’s not the point. The point is that we’re meant to identify with Mindy’s desperation and buy into it, to perform whatever mental contortions are necessary to look upon her with pity, and despise her just a little for reaching 31 with nothing to show for it, except, of course, a medical degree. If Malcolm Gladwell is right about it taking 10,000 hours, or 10 years, to truly master the thing you care about most, then Kaling’s character faces the depressing prospect of being over the hill before she even gets within shooting distance of the hill.

“What we see on broadcast television is that the majority of female characters are in their 20s and 30s,” says Martha M. Lauzen, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, in Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary, “Miss Representation.” “That is just a huge misrepresentation of reality, and that really skews our perceptions.” In reality, the documentary says, “women in their teens, 20s and 30s are 39 percent of the population, yet are 71 percent of women on TV. Women 40 and older are 47 percent of the population, yet are 26 percent of women on TV.” And the women in their 20s and 30s on TV are too often depicted as freaking out about their age, reinforcing the idea that life ends when adulthood begins.

“When any group is not featured in the media, they have to wonder, Well, what part do I play in this culture?” Lauzen says. “There’s actually an academic term for that. It’s called ‘symbolic annihilation.’ ”

Nobody disputes the fact that age is more cruel to women than men. But why don’t we? Take a look at Facebook, tireless corroborator of the relentless march of time and its startling effect on the boys I knew in high school. The girls don’t shock in the same way. They tend to hang on to their hair. They submit to the torture of Pilates. They can moisturize without inspiring a Morgan Spurlock documentary. They look fine; in other words, they kind of look the same.

This is just superficial evidence of what science seems to be telling us. Suddenly, the news seems full of quiet debunkings of evolutionary psychology’s most cherished chestnuts, not to mention reports on the hazards of middle-aged sperm and hopeful sci-fi tidings about the creation of fertile eggs from the stem cells of Japanese mice.

And yet (mouse stem cells aside), the tragic, grotesque, totally unfair and yet unassailable ephemerality of a woman’s so-called prime is a trope we privilege over any evidence to the contrary. We expect women to submit to its incontrovertible veracity with equanimity and shame, and we expect men to be gracious about it and try not to gloat. Mostly, we expect nobody to notice or question the different ways in which “primeness” is constructed for each sex, which is not based on the same criteria at all. If, as Hegel suggested, ideas are not just ideas but come wrapped in all flavor of attitudes, then this particular idea is a giant, Gorgonzola-stuffed, bacon-wrapped fig of a notion: decadent, cloying, aged, cured in centuries of spin, warmed over and passed around again and again.


This “New Girl” episode — titled “Eggs”— was a case in point. At a dinner party, Jess’ lesbian friends, one of whom is a gynecologist named Sadie, announced that they were having a baby, which they had just “tucked in under the wire.” Sadie then dropped the boom: when a woman reaches 30, 90 percent of her eggs shrivel up and die. This statistic is to have-it-all fantasies what Jason is to camping trips and Jess — who is 30 and wants a family one day — gets hysterical. She becomes convinced “it’s the ‘Grapes of Wrath’” in her womb and starts yelling to greater Los Angeles about how she wants her “nipples to have a purpose.” Jess ultimately takes a fertility test and finds out she has plenty of eggs (but not so much sausage, as she puts it). Meanwhile her best friend CeCe, who has been calm about her babymaking capacities, gets upset when she learns her egg count is low. They are not getting any younger.

I really love “New Girl”— with that sort of unconditional, I just like hanging around with all these crazy people affection that some TV shows inspire — but the Chocano essay made me think about this episode differently than I might have otherwise. This episode was a heightened, adorkable version of a conversation I’ve had many, many times, but I wonder if, to someone else, it didn’t sound like overhearing high school seniors complaining about how old they are. (Or, if you’re in high school, hearing old people complain about, duh, how old they are.)


"There are times in our lives when we have to realize our past is precisely what it is, 
and we cannot change it. But we can change the story we tell ourselves about it, 
and by doing that, we can change the future."

  -- Eleanor Brown, The Weird Sisters, p. 305


Finally got around to reading the actual David Brooks column here:

Interesting stuff:

These are all stunningly fast cultural and demographic shifts. The world is moving in the same basic direction, from societies oriented around the two-parent family to cafeteria societies with many options…

Why is this happening? The report offers many explanations. People are less religious. People in many parts of the world are more pessimistic and feeling greater economic stress. Global capitalism also seems to be playing a role, especially, it seems, in Asia.

Many people are committed to their professional development and fear that if they don’t put in many hours at work they will fall behind or close off lifestyle options.

Toru Suzuki, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Society Security Research in Japan, gave Kotkin’s team this explanation in its baldest form: “Under the social and economic systems of developed countries, the cost of a child outweighs the child’s usefulness.”

Some of the comments come to better analysis of the situation than Brooks does, such as:

  • J Young
  • Seattle
NYT Pick

Wow. Mr. Brooks is recommending social engineering as an antidote to an excess of personal choice, while at the same time suggesting it might be okay to investigate “emerging commitment devices.” No wonder he’s a Republican apostate.

Conservatives claim to be huge fans of individual liberty–but apparently that doesn’t apply to the liberty to live alone, childless, or churchless. If family values and social ties don’t come naturally any more, then let’s legislate ’em, dammit! Heaven forbid that we should keep our options open.

In reality, our increasingly diverse, mobile, wired, and atomized society is a direct result of the unfettered growth of capitalism. Emile Durkheim wrote on this over a century ago, positing that the “mechanical solidarity” of family-based societies is replaced by “organic solidarity” as population increases, the division of labor grows ever more complex, and we rely increasingly more on strangers than on kin. Durkheim didn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing–just a step in the evolution of cultures.

A complex economy demands and rewards individualism, not family ties. That’s the ultimate irony of combining economic and social conservatism: one works against the other. Which is why otherwise intelligent people like David Brooks twist themselves into these amazing contortions when they try to have it both ways.


  • Robert Henry Eller
  • Milan, Italy
NYT Pick

“Among a great number of 20 to 40 year old people I know there is indeed a diversity in lifestyles followed remarkably by a solid predominance of marriage and traditional hard work and climb the ladder of success lifestyle. They do vote Blue; then tend to change as they mature. There is a decent future ahead.”

Bryan, you live in Malvern, PA. I lived there for over twenty years myself, and not so long ago. It’s an upper-middle class to very-wealthy area, among the wealthiest in the US. My neighbors there were millionaires, even billionaires.

You’re sampling just like the Romney campaign did.

  • Sarahct
  • 06879
NYT Pick

Mr. Brooks seems to have problems imagining human species’ existence in any other way than the 20th century model.  Marriage with children may have worked well for mostly agricultural centuries of our recent history, but it seems to be not so efficient a system for a large portion of the newer generation.  Why should our public policy be skewed to favor an old and increasingly irrelevant institution such as marriage?  It would create a class of people unfairly advantaged over others.  
Given that we as a species have done a good job of adapting and surviving so far, any tidal waves of change are probably not merely for selfish reasons as Mr. Brooks seems to imply.  
And, don’t forget that the Earth is well and over populated and still growing in spite of the plummeting birth rate cited in this op-Ed.  Mr. Brooks has to introspect as to honestly face what his motives were for this rambling article.

These are just some of the first few I read through… they continued along the same vein.  There does seem to be a tidal wave of change of opinion on all this in favor of new ways of living that don’t necessarily center around marriage and children.


On one hand I have had my frustrations with men who won’t commit, on the other hand, as a single person, I’ve been able to live in different locales, take up numerous hobbies, and follow my whims in ways that have been quite self-enhancing, and I’ve been scared to commit to children myself due to the unstable job market.

From Bella DePaulo’s blog post on an article by David Brooks:

Now here comes the rationale for writing discrimination against singles and adults with no children into our laws:

“The surest way to people bind themselves is through family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind. Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility, including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like.”

It is interesting that Brooks uses the language of bondage in describing links to marriage and family, but I won’t linger on that one. The “induce” word is eyebrow-raising, too: In Brooks’ view, people need to be arm-twisted into caring about others or their communities or their nation or “their kind” (another somewhat disturbing phrase), and families, to him, are the best arm-twisters of them all. Not any kind of family, of course – just the two-parent version…

I promised in the title of this piece that David Brooks would cry uncle. Here’s what that sounds like:

“But the two-parent family is obviously not the only way people bind themselves. We are inevitably entering a world in which more people search for different ways to attach. Before jumping to the conclusion that the world is going to hell, it’s probably a good idea to investigate these emerging commitment devices.”

So maybe we have David Brooks’ blessing to be committed to our close friends and other important people in our lives who are not our children or legal sex partners. Maybe we also get to be committed to passions such as the pursuit of social justice. (Not that I think we need his nod.)

You didn’t think Brooks was going to end there, did you, with that wisp of open-mindedness? Here’s his actual parting paragraph:

“The problem is not necessarily a changing family structure. It’s people who go through adulthood perpetually trying to keep their options open.”

At a time when few jobs are totally secure, and when even the secure jobs sometimes require retraining, it seems odd to cast attempts to keep your options open as a bad thing. At a time of unprecedented choices (Brooks’s “age of possibility”), when we can try new things and follow fresh interests instead of remaining the same stagnant person for our entire adult lives, it seems misguided to decry those who avail themselves of opportunities to learn and grow.

shifts happen

For most of human history, the family — defined by parents, children and extended kin — has stood as the central unit of society. In Europe, Asia, Africa and, later, the Americas and Oceania, people lived, and frequently worked, as family units.

Today, in the high-income world1 and even in some developing countries, we are witnessing a shift to a new social model. Increasingly, family no longer serves as the central organizing feature of society. An unprecedented number of individuals — approaching upwards of 30% in some Asian countries — are choosing to eschew child bearing altogether and, often, marriage as well.

The post-familial phenomena has been most evident in the high income world, notably in Europe, North America and, most particularly, wealthier parts of East Asia. Yet it has bloomed as well in many key emerging countries, including Brazil, Iran and a host of other Islamic countries.

The reasons for this shift are complex, and vary significantly in different countries and cultures. In some countries, particularly in East Asia, the nature of modern competitive capitalism often forces individuals to choose between career advancement and family formation. As a result, these economies are unwittingly setting into motion forces destructive to their future workforce, consumer base and long-term prosperity.

The widespread movement away from traditional values — Hindu, Muslim, Judeo-Christian, Buddhist or Confucian — has also undermined familialism. Traditional values have almost without exception been rooted in kinship relations. The new emerging social ethos endorses more secular values that prioritise individual personal socioeconomic success as well as the personal quest for greater fulfilment.

To be sure, many of the changes driving post-familialism also reflect positive aspects of human progress. The change in the role of women beyond sharply defined maternal roles represents one of the great accomplishments of modern times. Yet this trend also generates new pressures that have led some women to reject both child-bearing and marriage. Men are also adopting new attitudes that increasingly preclude marriage or fatherhood.

table for one

I was invited to a tasty meal with interesting guests this Thanksgiving, and I’m glad I went, but as I was rushing to get there, I did think, “I could be happy spending this day alone.”  I had a pile of movies and books on my table and had already been to a demanding dance class in the morning.  I could have curled up with a book and been contented and snug with my own company.

For the past several years, while I’ve eaten the actual Thanksgiving meal with friends, I’ve refused to travel to see family.  I absolutely love this time of year in L.A. and having four days off to myself to enjoy it without the usual traffic hassles.

In the past, I did actually travel to Canada once on a solo journey over a long Thanksgiving weekend:

“At a time when too many people are feeling hyper-connected, overstimulated, too busy and too hassled, what could be more dreamy than spending an entire day completely on your own, doing whatever you want, whenever you want?” says Bella DePaulo, who teaches psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and is the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. “Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that are highly scripted. You are supposed to spend it with other people — especially with family. All jokes and sitcoms aside, you are supposed to want to spend it that way.”

But a lot of Americans are celebrating by themselves because of demanding jobs, challenging schoolwork, family tensions or the expense of travel. Some don’t care for all the dinner-table questions people ask, or the political talk, or the meat-and-sweet potatoes menu, or the lame jokes; some people prefer going on nature hikes or biking or snowboarding or strolling around empty cityscapes on Thanksgiving Day. A few are even crossing over to Canada, where it’s just another Thursday.


It is commonplace to suggest to single people that they spend the holidays volunteering. It is a good suggestion and a noble thing to do. But here’s the thing: It is also a good suggestion and a noble thing for anyone to do, regardless of their marital status or their plans for spending the holidays.

Why aren’t there more advice columns and holiday specials telling those people who plan to celebrate in the conventional way – around a table crowded with friends and relatives, and piled high with mountains of food – to take some time to volunteer? They can do it beforehand, or maybe afterwards, instead of passing out on the couch.