never married, over forty, a little bitter

risky behavior

Recently I finished a memoir called Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid With the Cowboy I Love by Jessie Knadler. Knadler left her (admittedly flailing) magazine career in Manhattan to marry a younger “cowboy” and live with him in rural Virginia. I was taken with her new life of canning, sewing, and chicken-raising, but she admitted they were often dirt-poor and the manual labor she assisted her husband with was grueling. She got very honest near the end, when her frustration with her husband’s non-analytical, pro-military, county-western-music-loving, Christian persona had grown to the breaking point and she was left lonely and wondering if they had anything in common. She was also angered over the fact that she had completely overturned her life, lost her ability to make money, and was the one making all the changes so that the relationship could work. She then got pregnant and ended up embracing her situation, even though it meant toughing it out alone when her husband was next deployed to Afghanistan.

I enjoyed the book but wondered if the “happy ending” was a bit forced. Perhaps Knadler, like all of us, simply needed to overlay meaning on her story and justification for her choices. She insinuates repeatedly that getting married makes one a “real woman” and is the path to maturity, as is motherhood, but I maintained an intellectual distance to those claims. Like all of us, it sounded as if she was grasping at meaning during a difficult time of career and lifestyle disillusionments.

The thing is, in my twenties, I had chances for relationships with similar types of men, and I turned them down, believing that our religious, political, and intellectual differences were simply too vast. Although I envy aspects of her “back to basics” life, I don’t think I would have lasted in her marriage. I would have felt too lonely. Of course, now I am literally alone, at least in terms of a romantic partnership.

Another acquaintance of mine ended up marrying a rough-around-the-edges immigrant and twenty years later has a brood of kids with a somewhat unstable father. In my twenties, while abroad, I had a love affair with a similarly charming but rough-around-the-edges rogue. I was in love with him, but when he visited me in the States it was clear that he didn’t fit in my life. He didn’t mesh with my friends or background and his employment prospects here were nil. I called it off.

In my younger years I was simply not willing to take huge gambles on iffy prospects. Flinging myself on the job market actually seemed a lot safer.

In the last couple of years I was more willing to take chances on iffy men, as my opportunity to have children was winding down, but in retrospect I’m glad none of those options panned out. I could be in a world of turmoil if they had.

Overall, realizing that I did have some choice and agency in my life’s direction has restored a sense of calm to my psyche.


A global poll taken last Valentine’s Day showed that most married people—or those with a significant other—list their romantic partner as the greatest source of happiness in their lives. According to the same poll, nearly half of all single people are looking for a romantic partner, saying that finding a special person to love would contribute greatly to their happiness.

But to Fredrickson, these numbers reveal a “worldwide collapse of imagination,” as she writes in her book. “Thinking of love purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person—as it appears most on earth do—surely limits the health and happiness you derive” from love.

“My conception of love,” she tells me, “gives hope to people who are single or divorced or widowed this Valentine’s Day to find smaller ways to experience love.”