never married, over forty, a little bitter


I am good at being alone, it’s one of the things I like most about myself. I’m proud of it. Knowing that aloneness is something I’m not only comfortable with, but crave, has meant that I seem to need less of it. As long as I can close a door, or walk away, or sit by myself, I’m fine. Being alone makes me feel powerful and peaceful. It makes me feel like my brain is a gold mine, and I’m so lucky to have this imagination. Being alone has always felt deeply indulgent to me, like a day off or being able to buy whatever you want. I can subsume the need, of course, if I have to, and there’s a part of me that thrives on crowds and bustle and ambient noise. Too much, though, and I get cranky and sad and thoroughly unpleasant.

I am a person who needs a lot of space, not the physical sort, but the distance from others kind. I’m pretty sure I can’t go on vacation with someone because I’d be grouchy if I couldn’t spend at least 60% of the time alone, wandering the streets or reading. This is something I’m pretty sure (very sure, actually) that a few people in my life find this disarming—because eventually you’re supposed to stop being by yourself and find someone to be with instead. You stop being a solitary creature with your own space and start building a space with someone else. And then you add more people to that space. You should do this for a lot of reasons, but also…you don’t REALLY want to be alone, right?

We have bought this, I think, the idea that being alone is something we should avoid at all costs. Women who are alone, who live alone after a certain age, who aren’t partnered, are pathetic and deeply suspicious. Men who are alone are either oversexed, perpetual teenagers, sad, asexual creatures, or creepy perverts. Being by yourself is not a choice anyone in their right mind is supposed to opt for.


I’ve definitely seen this kind of reasoning behind-the-scenes:

Married women with kids who lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009 had a 31% lower chance of finding a new job than married fathers with kids. But their alter-egos — single women without kids — were taking less time to find new jobs compared to similar men. In fact, single women who weren’t moms had a 29% greater chance than single men without kids of finding a new job.

The study didn’t examine the reasons behind the disparities, but Serafini has a pretty good idea what may be at play. “When making hiring decisions, employers have assumptions about mothers,” says Serafini. “There are stereotypes that they will be less productive employees because they will have to pick up their kids and leave work early.”

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A woman in her late twenties named Kerri writes of her experiences as a mother. There are several young mothers in the class, and on the breaks Kerri and the others gravitate to one another. They talk shop: of nutrition and playdates and tantrums and sibling rivalry. Their conversation is lively. As the semester progresses, I note their growing addiction to one another’s company; the breaks can’t come fast enough for the group to assemble and compare notes. They seem pleased with life. They glow with satisfaction and take a vaguely superior stance toward the younger women in the class, who are not yet in the game of motherhood. Kerri makes the others laugh and has a large laugh herself.

From reading her writing, I know what her new friends probably don’t, that stay-at-home motherhood has been something of a disappointment.

Now when I look at Kerri, I see not just a student struggling under the weight of school and family responsibilities. I see a woman gripped by a quiet, middle-class despair, the same despair that spawned the work of Betty Friedan and some of the dark domestic poetry of Anne Sexton, whose “Cinderella” we read in class.

Kerri smiles and jokes with the other mothers, but I’m now in on her secret. I see her struggling with guilt about what she feels, carefully watching the other mothers and searching for clues to answer the big question: Are they really as fulfilled as they seem?

–Professor X, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, pp. 146-147


But the gender imbalance in China is one of too many men. There are an estimated 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30. So why the pressure on women to marry — specifically, educated, urban women? Huang Yingying says it has something to do with men wanting to marry down.

“There is an opinion that A quality guys will find B quality women, B quality guys will find C quality women, and C quality men will find D quality women,” Huang says. “The people left are A quality women and D quality men. So if you are a leftover woman, you are A quality.”

But it’s the “A” quality women the government most wants to procreate, to improve the ‘quality’ of the population, according to Leta Hong-Fincher.