never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: July, 2013

bitter pills

We are today disengaged from our jobs and our schooling. Young people are pressured to accrue increasingly large student-loan debt so as to acquire the credentials to get a job, often one which they will have little enthusiasm about. And increasing numbers of us are completely socially isolated, having nobody who cares about us.


As I discussed last year in AlterNet in “Would We Have Drugged Up Einstein? How Anti-Authoritarianism Is Deemed a Mental Health Problem,” there is a fundamental bias in mental health professionals for interpreting inattention and noncompliance as a mental disorder. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where all pay attention to much that is unstimulating. In this world, one routinely complies with the demands of authorities. Thus for many M.D.s and Ph.D.s, people who rebel against this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.

The reality is that with enough helplessness, hopelessness, passivity, boredom, fear, isolation, and dehumanization, we rebel and refuse to comply. Some of us rebel by becoming inattentive. Others become aggressive. In large numbers we eat, drink and gamble too much. Still others become addicted to drugs, illicit and prescription. Millions work slavishly at dissatisfying jobs, become depressed and passive aggressive, while no small number of us can’t cut it and become homeless and appear crazy. Feeling misunderstood and uncared about, millions of us ultimately rebel against societal demands, however, given our wherewithal, our rebellions are often passive and disorganized, and routinely futile and self-destructive.

When we have hope, energy and friends, we can choose to rebel against societal oppression with, for example, a wildcat strike or a back-to-the-land commune. But when we lack hope, energy and friends, we routinely rebel without consciousness of rebellion and in a manner in which we today commonly call mental illness.

pain management

So I’m back to my original plan of taking classes, upgrading my job skills, poking around new career possibilities, and searching for part-time jobs. There will be some more vacancies this fall at my old organization, and I will apply for those when they open. I’m expecting the hiring process to take anywhere from two to six months, so in the meantime I’ll explore other options. I don’t, however, have much faith in the twentysomething woman (I’ll call her SanDeE after the character in L.A. Story) with whom I’m working at an employment agency.

My roommate is currently thrilled with his new promotion into another management job in which he can do as little as possible. My reward for working so hard in L.A.? I may be unable to find a job here and may have to drag my tired body back there for more abuse.

I had my first visit with a doctor here last week and she said we could, over time, experiment with lowering my medication. If I have to move again, that’s off, of course. For that reason and the fact that it’s so much easier to live here, I think it’s in my best interest to stay.

I do, however, confess to being a bit bored. It’s me and not the city; there are plenty of things going on, but having left a global city, and having lived here before, I have yet to rouse a great amount of enthusiasm for anything.

Also, the dating scene seems dismal. I do get hit on by youngsters stacking shelves at grocery stores and manning the doors at music clubs and in general get “checked out” way more than I did in L.A., but when it comes to men my age I don’t have much hope. The dating sites have the slimmest pickings I’ve ever seen, and not one of the eight or ten forty-to-fiftysomething friends I have here has so much as mentioned anyone they could introduce me to. I honestly don’t think they know of a soul.

When one lives in New York or Los Angeles, a big part of life is the adventure of living in New York or Los Angeles. In these smaller cities, it does seem like the only point of adult life is getting married and having kids. I’m struggling for a third path– using the slower pace to work on creative projects, form community, and continue learning. I don’t know if I’ll be successful long-term or if this will be enough.

If I do have to move back to L.A., I will sell my place, chalk this up to a failed experiment, and figure that it’s simply not the right place for me anymore. I’m a little daunted by the prospect of losing my only piece of real estate and committing long term to L.A., though. I could also move elsewhere… more decisions.

In any case, I am refusing to feel guilty about this break. I needed it. I pushed through so much mentally in Los Angeles, but my body balked, and I ended up with a chronic condition. I enjoyed another recent Dr. Drew podcast with Anna David in which she discusses this same issue; she thought she could handle anything mentally but her body eventually broke down:

the pile

Zoe, however, is childless and single, and she feels the victim of an unspoken inequality that lurks beneath the surface of many industries.

Although she works long hours – usually much longer than her female colleagues with children – this year, she found herself at the bottom of the pile when it came to taking a summer holiday, with the working mums getting first dibs.

When her co-workers’ children are ill, they are free to work from home, yet this option is never available to her. ‘I have asked but been told a firm “no”, with the excuse, “You’re an employee not a consultant,”’ she says.

‘I’d love to meet somebody and have children myself one day, but increasingly I wonder how I’ll ever do that when I’m always at work. I’m missing out on life.

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the personal

Economic and social vulnerability only exacerbate this tension: indeed, both models are rendered fragile by the strain of job insecurity and the privatization of risk. Among informants who were single (56), dating (21), or divorced (5), fear—of being deemed unworthy, of losing their selves, of betrayal, of failing and losing what little they have—dominated their experiences in the romantic sphere. For those who were married, the family became a constant battleground where they wrestled with these fears and their longing for solid, lasting ties. In an era when economic and social shocks such as job loss, illness, or disability are the responsibility of the individual alone, intimacy becomes yet another risk to bear, especially for black men and women who carry the additional burden of racism in both the labor and the dating market. The unpredictability, insecurity, and risks of everyday life come to haunt young people within their most intimate relationships, not only by shrinking their already limited pool of available social resources but also by disrupting their sense of security, destabilizing their life trajectories, and transforming commitment into yet another risky venture. Children remain the last bastion of commitment and stability— yet the social institutions in which young parents create families often work against their desire to anchor their lives in connection with others.

the complex

Prime Minister David Cameron described the baby’s birth as an “important moment in the life of our nation” which, as Prince George is third in line for the throne, makes sense if you think the monarchy is important to begin with. (Where would we be without slideshows of the royal corgis?) But for the rest of us who are not subjects of a queen, the answer likely lies with an all too familiar obsession with tabloid-ready infants. As Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse aptly notes, Prince George sits at “the intersection of celebrity worship, royal worship, and the burgeoning baby-industrial complex.”

In The Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Media, Erin Meyers argues that our interest in famous kids is drawn from our desire to see celebrities—who reside in a seemingly unattainable world—in an identifiable situation: motherhood. While we don’t often weekend jet-set to Bora Bora, we have pleaded with a one-year-old to not eat dirt. Meyers says the “celebrity mom profile” grew with the magazines of the 1990s, when celebrity moms began to “embody a highly romanticized and idealized vision” of motherhood as a “pinnacle of ‘natural’ feminine achievement.”

the same river twice

Last year I wrote about the documentary “The Same River Twice” here:

It is now on youtube here:

The segment that had me sobbing at 35 is at the very end, at the 1:13:17-1:15:00 mark.

It impacted me a little less this time around, although it still gets me.

the abyss

In my mid-thirties, when I felt suffocated by everyone around me pairing off and procreating, moving to Los Angeles felt liberating for exactly the reasons listed in this blog. Six years later, in my forties, they felt like the reasons I needed to leave:

L.A. is the apocalypse: it’s you and a bunch of parking lots. No one’s going to save you; no one’s looking out for you. It’s the only city I know where that’s the explicit premise of living there – that’s the deal you make when you move to L.A.

The city, ironically, is emotionally authentic.

It says: no one loves you; you’re the least important person in the room; get over it. What matters is what you do there.


Literally no one cares, is the answer. No one cares. You’re alone in the world.

L.A. is explicit about that.


Los Angeles is where you confront the objective fact that you mean nothing; the desert, the ocean, the tectonic plates, the clear skies, the sun itself, the Hollywood Walk of Fame – even the parking lots: everything there somehow precedes you, even new construction sites, and it’s bigger than you and more abstract than you and indifferent to you. You don’t matter. You’re free.

In Los Angeles you can be standing next to another human being but you may as well be standing next to a geological formation. Whatever that thing is, it doesn’t care about you. And you don’t care about it. Get over it. You’re alone in the world. Do something interesting.

Do what you actually want to do – even if that means reading P.D. James or getting your nails done or re-oiling car parts in your backyard.

Because no one cares.

In L.A. you can grow Fabio hair and go to the Arclight and not be embarrassed by yourself. Every mode of living is appropriate for L.A. You can do what you want.

And I don’t just mean that Los Angeles is some friendly bastion of cultural diversity and so we should celebrate it on that level and be done with it; I mean that Los Angeles is the confrontation with the void. It is the void. It’s the confrontation with astronomy through near-constant sunlight and the inhuman radiative cancers that result. It’s the confrontation with geology through plate tectonics and buried oil, methane, gravel, tar, and whatever other weird deposits of unknown ancient remains are sitting around down there in the dry and fractured subsurface. It’s a confrontation with the oceanic; with anonymity; with desert time; with endless parking lots.

And it doesn’t need humanizing. Who cares if you can’t identify with Los Angeles? It doesn’t need to be made human. It’s better than that.

the open range

Though he was ten years younger than I, everything he said he wanted in a girl was… me. I wrote a clever email about singing dogs, urging him to check out my profile and see how perfect I was for him.

“Thanks, but I don’t think so” was all he wrote in reply.

Oh! That wasn’t good. But to make sure he was really rejecting me- me?? Really??– I wrote again. “Are you sure? Aren’t you blowing me off kind of quick?”

“No, I am not interested, and if you are so thin-skinned, you shouldn’t be on,” he replied.

Almost in tears, I had to admit that “thin-skinned” was right. One month on Match and I was practically cellophane. Any free-range Internet dickhead who took it into his head had the power to make me feel worthless. No more Dogsong for me. I went to a Leonard Cohen concert with one of my girlfriends and cried my eyes out on every song.

–Marion Winik, Highs in the Low Fifties, p. 53

missing things

I established a new doctor here last week and she told me I was doing well with my chronic condition and to keep up with all the exercise I’ve been doing. I have all the markers for a severe form of my disease, but most days I can’t even tell I have it.

Our conversation made me a little more determined to make this city work out for me. It is not as exciting as Los Angeles, but it is way less stressful. At this point in life, I think I need to stay in the place that is best for my health. The promotion I turned down in Los Angeles would have made it extremely difficult for me to get any kind of exercise at all or to eat well for four days out of the week. Taking it might well have torpedoed my health.

I liked this blog post comparing the pros and cons of the smaller city of Portland to the city of Los Angeles:

fantasy lives

How do you think the perception of single girls has changed over time? Or has it?

Well, contemporary society certainly didn’t invent the notion of a spinster or the idea of a single woman being lonely, damaged, or desperate. But when there were fewer opportunities for women, I think it was probably much easier to concentrate on finding and working on a good marriage. Yet our generation was told — or at least I was — that we had to have incredibly successful careers as well as successful marriages. And I know very few women who manage that but hundreds of men. Of course, we now also have millions of shows, blog posts, Op-Eds, Tumblr groups and what have you out there to perpetuate the idea that we should be able to have it all or that single women are pathetic. We put these cultural messages out there; I mean, if you think about The Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny was repeatedly called the “underdog” when she was single. Then she landed a husband and she’s the show’s great success story, off to her own series!

But I don’t really know why we have such a hard time making singlehood okay; maybe it’s threatening to a still patriarchal society that needs procreation in order to survive. Maybe it’s that no matter what we do, some women are always going to find fault with others for their choices.

How do you think we can change the way single women are perceived?

I think we can all work on being open to one another’s choices. And look, I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone because I judge the shit out of women who are perfectly capable of working but instead rely on their husbands entirely — especially when they try to make a big show out of their “work” when really it’s some dilettante-ish thing their husband is funding. And the truth is I judge them because I’m jealous, on a certain level. A part of me wants to have a man say, “Honey, don’t worry about the money. How about you try making that scrapbooking business idea a reality? You’ll have my full support.” Yet ever since I’ve become aware of the fact that my judgment is based on jealousy, I’ve been trying to curb it — by reminding myself that I don’t know what these women’s lives are like, that I don’t know what they’ve traded or had to swallow and that maybe it’s a lot more challenging than anything I do. And with awareness, couldn’t we all — even the Smug Marrieds — stop congratulating ourselves so much and in turn finding fault with the way other women are living?

Can we ever balance our seemingly innate yearning for love with, well, all the other things we have to do in our lives — careers, friendships, and the general pursuit of fabulousness that seems to be required of modern womanhood?

It’s definitely possible. I think it takes a certain emotional maturity that I’m only now beginning to feel like I possess. But we have to make sacrifices and give up certain fantasies. The fact is, I know only two married women with incredibly successful careers and in both cases, the husband essentially agreed to remain entirely subordinate — to either give up his career entirely or to just do it more as a hobby. I think a lot of Type A women want a Type A man but most of the Type A men seem to want yes-women. This idea a lot of women have about having it all — the big life, the great career, the successful husband, the group of friends, the fabulousness — is, I think, a fantasy. And somehow doing my book taught me that that’s okay, that it’s not about doing or having it all but being happy with what you have.