never married, over forty, a little bitter


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.


This week I met a number of successful Baby Boomers who, over the course of their lives, changed careers numerous times, “dropped out” for long periods, did a lot of drugs, and had a lot of sex, and yet still managed to make significant money through their jobs and investments, to buy houses, to have multiple marriages, and to raise several kids.

Spending time with them made me look at my situation impartially and come to the conclusion that, compared to them at least, I am a social zero.  Never married, no kids.  An okay job in a female-dominated field with a decent salary but little vacation time, fewer and fewer perks, and no real chance to make significant money.  Still living in a one-bedroom apartment in my forties.

Is it a Boomer versus X thing?  Certainly there have been plenty of articles and books on that subject, for example:–the-great-financial-divide-6264549.html

If it’s a matter of being born in an era of less opportunity and stiffer competition, should we be measuring ourselves against entirely different yardsticks?  My parents are older than the Boomer generation, and in many ways I have surpassed them.  I had a better education and have travelled farther and wider than they did at my age, I’ve lived more places, and my life is intellectually richer.  I haven’t done as well financially as they did though, haven’t bought houses like they did, and of course haven’t been married or had kids.

Some of these feelings were compounded this weekend as I had time to drive around the city and in doing so travelled through neighborhoods with lush lawns and beautiful homes only to return to my modest little apartment dwelling, which costs me way more than it should.

In the end, I’m really not terribly upset over not having a posher life.  What gets to me, and what can make me feel like a social failure, is that I haven’t formed real friendships with people here with whom I share the same interests, politics, and sense of humor.  A lot of them work in the Industry but are either behind the scenes in modest positions, are toiling on the margins, or are practicing the DIY ethic through podcasts and small shows.  I can’t blame the Boomers for that failure, although I haven’t quite sussed out how much of it is a personal failure versus a failure of circumstance.

One of the topics of conversations amongst the mothers I know is “how important it is” that their kids have friends.  Growing up, I did all the normal things– went to summer camp (was voted best cabin mate!), had birthday parties, was even in a sorority– and I often think, “Fat lot of good all that did me, for the amount of friends I have now.”  I’m sure all that socializing did pay off in terms of professional savvy, but in terms of having a rich adult social life?  I have to admit, not so much.


I watched the French film Let It Rain this weekend because I read that the main character is a middle-aged, single feminist with no desire for children.  Although the film’s story is slight, it takes on weighty matters, and the flawed characters are all dead-on portrayals, with each having touching moments of sadness and despair:

At the risk of being a tiresome Europhile, let me observe that nobody like Jaoui exists in American film. She’s an attractive, average-size woman, neither beautiful nor plain, with a forceful personality and a sharp tongue. (Outside her film career, she’s also an accomplished classical, folk and pop singer.) In “Let It Rain” she takes on such weighty topics as sexism, racism, adultery and long-buried family secrets, all in the guise of a carefully woven relationship comedy that’s consistently light in tone and never judgmental.

Bossy and free-spirited, Agathe, who resembles a more unguarded Katie Couric, can’t understand why her boyfriend, Antoine (Frédéric Pierrot), objects to her rules about their relationship; she won’t live with him and has no desire for children. As much as Antoine loves her, he feels like an afterthought tagging after her during the campaign. As she discovers upon entering the fray, arguing politics with friends in Paris is no preparation for the rough and tumble of the real thing…

Karim believes he has been looked down upon all his life for his ethnicity, and seethes with ambition and resentment. Michel, who is divorced with a young son, also feels discriminated against because his wife has custody of the boy. While interviewing Agathe, one of his first questions is why women usually get custody in divorce cases. As Michel repeatedly demonstrates his incompetence, Agathe is a surprisingly good sport until she becomes so angry she can barely speak…

“Let It Rain” is of a piece with Ms. Jaoui’s earlier films, “The Taste of Others” and “Look at Me,” whose minutely observed characters tend to be thin-skinned, competitive egotists invested in their status in the world of ideas. The movie captures the tone of urbane discourse with an astonishing awareness of the subtexts of every nervous remark.

If there is an overriding political sensibility in her films, it is an enlightened feminism that recognizes male vulnerability under a facade of braggadocio and forgives men their flaws.


Proof once again that parenting is a crapshoot, although not an irredeemable one for parents who are up to the challenge:’ve_written_about_have_been_brutally_stigmatized/

“Having anticipated the onward march of our selfish genes, many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs. Parenthood abruptly catapults into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity,” he writes. “Children whose defining quality annihilates (our) fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do.”


Being a 33-year-old exhibiting no signs of reproduction has taught me a lot about how far feminism still has to go and about the expectations of the current moment, expectations about what being a woman is, or indeed about what being a proper person is. If we are going to move beyond this, then we need to be doing more than claiming our position as aunts or consumer-aunts.

Just as there are reasons to celebrate having children, there are reasons to celebrate not having children. And it should be okay to say this without feeling backed into a ‘some-of-my-best-friends-have-babies’ corner. Surely there should be ways of celebrating different ways of living without merely having to emphasise our connection to the children in our lives?