never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: December, 2012

running with wolves

I know a lot of women who are over forty and divorced and/or childless, but I only know approximately eight (not counting the famous) who have never been married and don’t have children.  That sounds like a decent number, until you consider it is out of all the women I have ever met, from high school, college, grad school, various jobs in various cities, numerous hobbies, and a stint abroad.

Of the eight women I can think of, two have problems with alcohol and one with food.  One has been in serious relationships the whole time, so hardly counts.  I’ve had falling outs with four of them but am pretty sure they are still single.  Two of them don’t actually turn forty until this year.  That leaves two who are definitively over forty, never married, and childless and coping (and often thriving) in healthy ways, such as traveling, reading and learning, creating, becoming spiritual, building careers.  All eight, to my knowledge, wanted to get married, although some had marked ambivalence, and none intentionally remained childless.

When I attended my college reunion, it struck me how deeply unusual my life has been.  Others may have been living in Thailand or making esoteric documentaries, but as a woman who has been living entirely outside marriage and motherhood, I felt I had them beat in terms of unusual life trajectories.

Sometimes, these days, having steeled myself for so long through so many disappointments, I feel oddly outside the human experience, unable to relate to the common emotions inherent in the typical life cycles of others.  Other times, admittedly, I feel like the kid in the orphanage who is facing the dawning realization that nobody, in fact, is coming for her.

And yet, recently, I am able to relish the uniqueness of my situation and the possibilities it provides.  As I’ve written before, I now wish I had been one of those women, small in number, who never wanted to marry or have kids, so I could have been constructing such a life from the get-go, instead of wasting time pursuing the conventional path.  It seems to me that my life would have been absolutely mind-blowing had I done so, but perhaps I wouldn’t have survived this long!

One of my intentions for this year is to “wobble” less– to spend less time in grief over missing out on those typical female experiences- and to embrace my situation more.  I feel like my meditation practice has started opening new doors for me, and I’ve got a list of things I’d like to explore this year.

Life has suddenly become a lot more interesting than it has been in a good, long while.

jack of hearts

The institution of marriage is possibly itself past its sell-by date: why, therefore, at this point in its evolution are gay activists demanding to be included and are states prepared to listen? Marriage is mostly about tax advantages and benefits.

Why are such elements of state prescription focussed on this one institution? Most local societies would benefit more if individuals were able to share the benefits they were entitled to around the community, rather than such benefits being restricted to immediate family.


Once upon a time, we died young: now we have increasingly elongated lifespans, and there is a social myth being promulgated – particularly around lesbian parenting – that “sticking it out” is virtuous. That even if the natural span of a relationship is no more than a few years, there is much pressure to put up with all the badness and down side that is there. Putting up and shutting up – a stoical acceptance of the down side of relationships – is seen as a good thing.


The majority of women over 40 are not in a relationship with anyone, not least because men of that age are tending to date women much younger. So what is now “normal” in regards of relationships. The truth is that although around half women of menopausal age identify as heterosexual, that is not reality on the ground.

We are failing to ask questions about what women want: sexual research is often based on what men think are valid questions about what women want. Deconstructing existing research suggests increasingly that women are far more flexible in their orientation and desires than men. However, this is not much researched. This means that academics are ignoring an entire new world.

At the end of the day, there are different sorts of power and not all power is embodied in the male. There are different sorts of power embodied in the female, in the Queen – and this is what Gaga feminism is about accessing.

broken records

After a few initial blow-ups, my mother and I were able to get along, but I did have to put up an internal wall because she is stuck in lamenting her (current) single state as well as mine and in discussing strategies for developing new romances, whereas I just don’t feel particularly interested in those topics anymore.

Bravo for this:

I have an idea that all change, good or bad, starts when a pattern is broken. And it doesn’t have to be a big change, to make big change happen. For me, the biggest change I’ve made, and which is changing everything in my life, is that I gave up the idea that there’s something wrong with me.


Months ago I wrote about the book A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence here:

At that point I had seen the movie but hadn’t gotten around to reading the book.  My mother’s visit this holiday weekend prompted me to pick it up.  It’s a beautiful book, one that perhaps I couldn’t have fully appreciated had I read it earlier in life.  The end is ironic, in that the still single and childless thirtysomething Rachel finally becomes an adult, while her mother, who had been a wife and the mother of two children, remains a child.

Rachel reaches adulthood by finally taking the reins of her life and throwing herself into a love affair.  In the end, the romance doesn’t pan out.  The experience teaches her that she must take chances in life, despite the fact that there are no guarantees.  It is the opposite of most of what passes for “chick lit” these days in that the heroine takes a chance on love, but it doesn’t work out, and she must renounce home and family in order to find self-realization.

Reading the book I concluded that I became an adult long ago, but by remaining single, there is the ever-present fear of sinking back into, as if stepping into quicksand, a life like Rachel’s early one.

In my copy of the book, there is an illuminating afterword by Margaret Atwood, in which she writes (pp. 213-214):

Rachel’s prison is so hard for her to get out of because it is made mostly from virtues gone sour: filial devotion, self-sacrifice, the concern for appearances advocated by St. Paul, a sense of duty, the desire to avoid hurting others, and the wish to be loved.  It may be hard for us to remember, now, that Rachel is not some sort of aberration but merely the epitome of what nice girls were once educated to be.  To go against such overwhelming social assumptions, to assert instead one’s self, as Rachel finally does, takes more than a little courage and a good deal of desperation.  Desperation and courage are the two magnetic poles of this book, which begins with the first and arrives at the second.

Also interesting is the thesis paper “Redefining Women’s Worth:  The Ambiguous Nature of Female Identity in Margaret Laurence” by  Christine Styles:

Thus, Laurence effectively demonstrates what Joyce Nicholson identifies as a veritable dilemma for women: “For her is … the choice between being attractive, a socially successful person or a failure, between becoming what women are expected to be, a wife and a mother, or being considered peculiar, unsatisfied, unfulfilled” (Nicholson 27). Her novels explore the struggle to acquire and maintain an equilibrium between personal desire and social conditioning. Laurence illustrates the anti-social and self- destructive forms of behavior (including the tendency to interiorize) which are encountered when women are tom between these two restrictive and undesirable options. One means by which Laurence demonstrates the difficulties her female characters face in their specific social contexts, is through examining the manner in which society offers security and happiness based on the willingness of the female to conform. Should a woman be pretty enough, sweet enough, enough of everything socially desirable, she will be rewarded with a loving husband and children. And, of course, she will be completely fulfilled in these roles. Closely coupled with society’s constant offers of pleasure in exchange for conformity, is the promise of guilt and despair should a woman step outside her domestic domain. The modem woman’s freedom to do all things becomes the burden of having to do all things, including maintaining the sanctity of the home. Therefore, as this thesis will examine, pleasure in its many forms, particularly outside conventional norms, is closely coupled with both personal and social sanctions. Hence, women are faced with layered, ambiguous messages. Even as they are told to develop the intellect and participate in the pleasures of the body, they are constantly reminded that to do so will remove them from socially beneficial circles. Thus, women’s roles and freedoms are never far removed from political ideologies. Although the twentieth-century woman in Laurence’s novels is tempted by the possibility of creating an autonomous self, she is subject to ” … either/or” thinking: motherhood or individuation, motherhood or creativity, motherhood or freedom” (Rich 160). 



I hadn’t heard from my friend Judy, a sculptor, for weeks. She was at one of those artist colonies in the woods, a sort of full-scholarship sleepaway camp for grown-ups where composers, poets and visual artists work alone in their tiny cabins all day. Still, it was unusual for her not to respond to my various e-mail rants about deer tearing up the garden and unreliable contractors, and I was starting to worry. Judy happens to be single, childless and in her 40s. Suddenly, I pictured her locked in her lonely room conjuring fantasies in which the man of her dreams appears on one of the wooded paths (poof!) with two bright-faced kids in tow.

Then an e-mail from her flashed across my screen: “You can stop looking. I have found the meaning of life.” Apparently, “poor Judy” had simply been too blissed-out to check in. No cooking, no cleaning, no distractions from the work she loves, plus a group of talented pals to drink and schmooze with after hours. A man? The pitter-patter of little feet? She wasn’t missing it.


Next year I’d like to get up the guts to say I want to spend the holidays on my own/with friends, but since my mom is alone and can’t get over her despair about being single during the holidays, it’s difficult.  I’d actually be feeling quite merry cozying up at home and attending a few social events over this long weekend,  but having her here, feeling somewhat sorry for herself, is, as I’ve written, a bit of a buzzkill.  Thankfully, though, our interaction has steadily improved as the days have passed.

Good article:

For many people my age, the baby gap is the high-street store where they buy gifts for their offspring. But for me – and many others in the same boat – it’s the space left by the absence of a partner and children, a space that seems particularly cavernous at this time of year.

And as more and more men and women postpone marriage or parenthood – sometimes until it’s too late – there are droves of us in our 30s and 40s who’ll be visiting elderly parents, waking up in our teenage beds on Christmas morning or attaching ourselves to our siblings’ families – all the while thinking it really was time we grew up and had our own.

I’ve been feeling a bit of an anomaly at Christmas for a few years now so this time around, I’ve decided to embrace my 40-something, single, childless state and do something completely different – something I’d find it difficult, or at least prohibitively expensive to do if I had offspring in tow.

I’ve jetted off to Mexico – for just over a month – and will be spending Christmas on a beach in the sun, swapping turkey and cranberry sauce for guacamole and chilli prawns.



Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, I can easily slip into thinking I’m doomed to singleness (although that seems like less and less of a bad thing) because of my dysfunctional family of origin.  It never hurts to be reminded that many lovely people have a difficult time finding a match:

staying sane

As someone who is doggedly continuing with regular workouts, yoga, and meditation over the holidays, this advice resonated with me:

And so, this is just general advice for everybody over the holidays, and it’s nothing new or original, but just a reminder: The things we do that work, that keep us sane, they only work if we do them. So over the holidays, whatever you regularly do to keep sane and fit and happy, find ways to keep doing them. If you work out, keep working out. If you are staying in a strange place, find ways to exercise there. Run. Walk. Get outdoors. Find a gym. If you attend recovery meetings, find them where you are and huddle close with your people. If you are in therapy, have a plan. If your therapist is on vacation, then do some substitute activity that puts you in touch with your own feelings and reminds you that you matter, that you are loved, that you are cared for. If that means writing in a journal, write in your journal. If that means talking with close friends, talk with close friends. Reach out.Stay close to those who hold you up. Eat well. Sleep well. Sing well.


A few days ago I was in a great mood, looking forward to this long holiday weekend.  Had I spent the entire five days off by myself during the day and with friends in the evening, I would be having an ecstatically good time.  Instead, my mother is staying with me, and her visit, to say the least, has been a challenge, so the weekend has been dampened a bit.  I was apprehensive about her coming, and rightly so, but felt I owed her this one visit a year.  It’s ironic that my holidays would be more enjoyable without family!

It’s funny, isn’t it, how so many of us long to escape our nuclear families and our often-stifling suburban backgrounds only to rush ourselves right back into the same situations as adults?  Maybe we give ourselves a few years of fun in college and after, but then we start feeling like it’s time to return to the nuclear fold.  My ambivalence is, I’m sure, another reason I am still flying solo, as well as the fact that it’s taken me longer than others, perhaps, to emotionally recover and strengthen.

I won’t allow myself to spend too much time in self-pity, but I do feel sad that, as a single woman, I don’t come from the type of family that provides emotional succor.  I realize, however, that my situation is hardly unique.

Let’s just say these links have been helping me cope:

And although I’m not Asian, this one too:

presents of mind

I’m already feeling good, but who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky this year: