never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: November, 2012


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?

the unraveling

Eons ago I posted about a mid-thirties acquaintance who was determined to have children, despite what seemed to me an essentially self-interested nature.  She found a partner amazingly quickly and had a couple of beautiful kids.

I just discovered that she’s divorced and apparently has been for years.  I am always skeptical of those quickie marriages!  Naturally, though, she has found a new partner and is remarrying.

Another friend of mine did essentially the same thing in terms of her marriage and within a few years was ready to divorce her husband.  She was already stressed out as a stay-at-home mom, so I cautioned her against leaving her husband and taking on the full load.  She lucked into a small fortune soon thereafter and got her divorce.

Now she sends long, plaintive emails about how tough it is, handling the kids on her own.  I don’t want to denigrate her trials or play “I’ve got it tougher than you,” but I know with absolute certainty that she wouldn’t last a week at my job, so it does sometimes get a bit difficult to hold my tongue.

A third friend is getting divorced after a long marriage and her spouse’s affair and is now shouldering the burden of the childcare as well and is feeling hard done by.  I tell her that, although things did not end well, at least she has a child.  If you wait for the “right” situation, as I did, you take the gamble that you will end up childless.

Admittedly, though, that is seeming like less and less of a tragedy.

the wheel

I finished the 1974 book Pronatalism: The Myth of Mom & Apple Pie by Ellen Peck and Judith Senderowitz this week and was struck by how much of the same terrain it covers as this blog. I should have read it before I started writing!  It makes me aggravated that we have to continually reinvent the wheel in this culture because so many subversive ideas become buried amongst the popular, commercial din.

Some excerpts (I feel that some things have changed- at least, for some people–  and many have remained the same):

p. 156  In case she’s escaped all of those pressures (that is, if she was brought up in a cave), a young married woman often wants a baby just so that she’ll  1) have something to do (motherhood is better than clerk/typist, which is often the only kind of job she can get, since little more has been expected of her and, besides, her boss also expects her to leave and be a mother);   2) have something to hug and possess, to be needed by and have power over; and  3) have something to be— e.g., a baby’s mother.– Betty Rollin, Motherhood:  Need or Myth?

p. 172  Perhaps as the United States has changed in recent decades, there is somewhat less emphasis on, and opportunity for, upward social mobility and hard work as a way of “getting ahead.”  Perhaps many suburbanites are somewhat satisfied with their lot and have no great expectations of advancing.  Promotion in many large organizations is based more on tenure and less on over-time, ulcer-producing work than was true in earlier America.  There is an increase of leisure time.  Perhaps ours is a society that is relatively rich and bored.  The frontiers of the West and even of upward social mobility and financial advancement are possibly less promising.  Meanwhile the impersonality of many interactions between people in a complex urban life remains.  Perhaps such factors combine to help make family life, including the three-or-four-child family, popular.  Children provide a do-it-yourself, build-your-own-source of meaning at home instead of on the job; they have endless capacities to absorb time; they provide at least small challenges and upsets and crises in a culture that may be bored with its pleasant sameness; and they provide exceedingly personal interaction in contrast to the impersonality of many other contacts.– Edward Pohlman, Motivations in Wanting Conceptions

p. 252  Both papers describe pronatalist prejudice as experienced by the writers- perhaps the clearest manifestation of this prejudice is found in the simple fact that childfree women like them are required to explain themselves.  (Mothers need not write tentative, half-apologetic articles on “Why I Want Children.”)  The existence of such prejudice raises a vital question about nonparenthood as an option in our society:  to whom is the option available?  Some women, such as Greene, are strong enough to make the childfree decision and easily resist subsequent challenge.  For other women, such as Michels, susceptibility to social pressure makes “childbirth by coercion” a serious possibility.  One must ask:  is nonparenthood to be limited to the strongly independent?

p. 274  But it seems to me that what most of us are striving for in life is not immortality– that may just be a convenient excuse for doing what is socially expected.  It seems to me that what nearly every human being desires is a feeling of being accepted, respected, and admired by others.  Here is where many fall into parenthood as an automatic, unthinking matter– since it seems an easy ticket to social approval.  Therefore, society ought to question its habit of congratulating new parents so effusively for their status.  I have observed that new fathers automatically become the center of attention in any situation (even in political strategy meetings wherein decisions are made which could hold implications for decades to come).  Columnist Nicholas von Hoffman has commented that new parents are greeted with only slightly less fervor and hysteria than are returning astronauts, and perhaps that’s so.  Parental status has been made to fit nicely in with commercialism as well, given the money which is spent on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.– Stewart R. Mott, Reflections of a Non-Parent

p. 311  While parenthood may in fact be rewarding in many cases, it cannot automatically be assumed that having children necessarily maximizes the life chances of all individuals.  If information were available concerning the circumstances under which voluntarily childless couples can achieve satisfactory social and psychological adjustment, perhaps psychologists and marriage counselors could offer more realistic guidelines regarding the kinds of individuals most likely to enjoy children and the kinds of situations most conducive to rewarding parent-child relationships.– J.E. Veevers, Voluntary Childlessness, A Neglected Area of Family Study

p. 312 Growing concern with the problem of population has stimulated the search for a solution which will reduce the rate of population growth without seriously interfering with precious individual rights and freedoms.  Meier argues very convincingly that:  “The most feasible procedure for halting population growth and thereafter maintaining equilibrium (coincident with a policy of increasing the apparent freedom of choice in the society) would be to increase the social position of the infertile segment of the population.”  (1958, 175)  Most approaches to the population crisis have involved persuading women to have fewer children and have not been spectacularly successful.  The efficacy of such campaigns might be improved by a complimentary approach involving persuading some women to give up having children altogether, and rewarding rather than punishing them for that decision.– J.E. Veevers, Voluntary Childlessness, A Neglected Area of Family Studay


A bit incendiary but interesting nonetheless:

She dismisses the claim that motherhood is the hardest job in the world as ‘a smart way to satiate unappreciated women’, and suggests women with active brains could put them to far better use than having babies. ‘How insulting is it to suggest the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things?’ she asks.


Read more:–believe-motherhood-beneath-them.html#ixzz2CzDeEHQK
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guessing games

Based on years of experience, I am always telling friends that if things start off weird with a guy– i.e. he disappears for long stretches of time, acts ambivalent, doesn’t answer emails, etc.– the relationship is almost guaranteed to be doomed.  He is most likely hiding something, and even if some kind of relationship forms in the future, that hidden something will come back to bite you in the ass.

These days I’m finally learning to heed my own advice.

giving thanks

She said, “Well, you’re very easy to talk to. You’re not judgmental. You’re empathic.” But that’s what you’re supposed to do, when you’re a friend. And the friend’s supposed to do it back.


I’ve seen how parenthood transforms people in the most beautiful ways. My little brother has become this incredible, reliable father who provides for two girls and a stay-at-home wife. I keep thinking, “Is this the same guy who only five years ago would consistently leave every gas tank on empty and show up to work 20 minutes late?”

His growth humbles me.

That direction of growth might not be right for everyone.