never married, over forty, a little bitter


My friend isn’t out of work: his theft is a small act of defiance. For it has slowly dawned on him — as it has for so many of my twentysomething peers — that all but the jammiest of our generation won’t enjoy the same lifestyle as their parents.

Where they had mortgages, we’re stuck in rental purgatory. Where they had grants and then savings, we have debt and more debt. Where they looked forward to retiring at 60 or 65, we know we’ll be trudging into the office until our Zimmer frames snap. The existence of iPods, Asos and easyJet offer scant compensation.

I have a friend who, at 42, is now pregnant with her second child. She’s a highly accomplished woman, with undergrad and grad degrees from top-tier colleges (albeit not in medicine or engineering) and a full-time job. Her husband is a tenured college professor.

Despite the fact that they don’t have debt, they are currently living in a one-bedroom apartment in the NYC area with their one child. Her employer will not allow her to work from home even one day a week, so she feels like she doesn’t get to see her child nearly enough and says their apartment is always a mess. She’s afraid to ask for another maternity leave. She’s always wanted children and is thankful to have the opportunity to have a second one, but her current life is one that would have seemed terribly stressful and unappealing to me in my twenties.

I do understand that, when you hit 40, you can’t keep waiting for the ideal situation if you want kids, but it just goes to show how tough it is today.

The sociologist in me thinks often about the fact that so many of us are turning to New Age therapies that tell us we are special and blessed. Is it because, unless we are celebrities or multi-millionaires, “real life” gives us nothing but the opposite message? Real life tells us we are a burden, a drain, and an indistinguishable part of the mass (unless we are in the role of consumer, that is). Real life tells us we have to struggle for every penny. That there are always millions of others ready to take our place. That we should be grateful for any kind of job and any sort of paycheck. That life is extremely competitive.

Another New Age mantra– accepting “what is.” Is this because, in real life, the economy is in tatters and the environment is degrading? That in real we can’t have expectations from people we date or from friendships? That we can’t depend on a social safety net?

The fact that the largest number of people involved in New Age therapies are middle-aged women is yet more food for thought.

I try to reconcile these messages, which have helped me, with my political beliefs. I’ve decided that before we can take action, we have to soothe our psyches, calm our emotions, and put ourselves in a place where we can think clearly.

Yet I have also come to the conclusion that there are just too. many. people. in this world.

turning the corner

Bolick: It’s not true and in fact, I forget what the statistic is, but numbers show that most people get married eventually and the more educated you are, you push off marriage is another statistic but you still get married and the older you are when you get married, the more likely it is that your marriage will not end in divorce. What I tend to find is that women in their 40s who have never been married are saying, “Yeah. I went through a phase where I wanted it and I thought I was going to have it and I was upset that I didn’t and then I turned some corner at some point where I realized that I was actually incredibly happy with my life and my work and the way that I am living right now.” And so if I’ve wanted anything to come out of this article conversation, it’s that I’ve wanted there to be a more positive conversation around what it means to be single. Single people aren’t the lonely, pity-able souls that we have historically considered them to be and my message is not, “Stay single forever. Down with marriage.” It’s, “If you are single, there is so much potential in a life that’s unfettered by another. Enjoy that time while you have it.”