In the podcast I posted yesterday
a panelist mentioned that teenagers have babies because they want someone to love them. Jody Day then made an excellent point when she said that many single fortysomething women share the same agenda.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve read several memoirs which featured difficult mothers. Some of the mothers were merely intrusive, insensitive, or illogical, while others were downright neglectful or abusive. In all cases, though, when they developed dementia or terminal illnesses, the daughters made sure they received proper care and, when the time came, a decent burial. Perhaps they didn’t always love them (although most did beneath their frustration), but they still felt obligated to ensure their safe passage.
We all know that many elderly are neglected by their offspring, but I would wager that few are outright abandoned. It’s difficult to imagine who is going to perform this function of making sure I am cared for in my old age. I just finished reading She Matters: A Life in Friendships by Susanna Sonnenberg, and found it to be quite an accurate portrayal of how most friendships eventually end. I certainly can’t count on friends to go through the wrenching process of caring for me if I were to, say, develop dementia in old age.
Society offers us one solution– find a romantic partner– and as much as I would like to do so, I realize that the possibilities only get bleaker as I age.
I found this Metafilter response interesting. I don’t agree with it entirely (I’m sure many of those long-ago “spinsters” felt stifled) but I do think we need community and connection:
I don’t think it’s possible to be happy without marriage and/or children if that’s are what you actually want, unless you finds some sort of community and worthy cause/social outlet for love that you find just as fulfilling.
Back in the day unmarried women joined religious orders, spent long hours as patrons of the arts, worked for orphanages, etc. and found a satisfying measure of fulfillment that way. They rarely lived alone, and were connected through their family and community to multiple opportunities for service.
Say what you will about the economic and social autonomy women have attained since then– the secular modern options for unmarried career women who would love to have a traditional family life but do not can be alienating. There is no built-in support system, and that’s a critical factor.
So IMO living alone, working for a primarily non-humanitarian cause, and being disconnected from your desire to nurture will pretty much guarantee you unhappiness if you in fact really do possess a nurturing spirit.
In the absence of having a family of your own, my advice is to find a substitute family (social community) based around a good cause/brainchild into which you can love and put your all.
Also, if you have nieces and nephews, you could be the doting favorite Aunt.
posted by devymetal at 1:14 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]
Having failed to find a partner or tight group here, I am taking steps toward creating a more secure future by returning to my former city, where I will have family at least somewhat nearby and a roommate (for however long that lasts). Not only that, but it is a smaller city where people tend to know each other, so I will feel more a part of a community.
Despite the occasional emotional setbacks, I’ve mostly come to terms with my childlessness and am looking forward to what lies ahead. Long-term, though, I think there will need to be larger, societal solutions for all of us childless women when we hit old age (even if married, we will tend to live longer than our husbands). I’m thinking something along the lines of co-housing opportunities where independence can thrive but so can a sense of community (http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-01-2011/elder_cohousing.html). Something that is embedded into the city as opposed to ghettoized like, say, the Sun City communities. Something that provides a sense of friendship but continues to exist when friendships falter.
We have become so much more visible in the past couple of years, which is a promising start.