never married, over forty, a little bitter

swimming circles

I wrote long ago about swimming at a popular natural spot here and listening to a middle-aged man converse with his friend about his worries that he’d never be attracted to another woman again– that maybe his sexual life was over. And he was cute! After I moved to L.A., I came back to visit this city and that same swimming spot again and he flirted with me. Too late.

I haven’t seen him since I’ve been back, but today he reappeared! I’m not sure if he remembers me, and he’s definitely aged in the past six years, but who knows what could happen, right?

I indulged myself with an extra-expensive suit at the beginning of summer because it was the one that looked best on me. Most of my flirting has happened at the swimming holes, so it’s been a good investment.

I do think the secret to life at this age is to immerse yourself in learning and the things you love, whether that is a sport, a hobby, a new skill, or whatever. After forty, forget the bars. Forget the dating sites. Forget anything that involves standing around hoping to be noticed. Find your loves and maybe love will find you– and if not, you may be too immersed in your life to care.

At least, that’s my theory today.

will work for free

“When negotiating,” Sheryl Sandberg writes of the male-female corporate income divide in her bestselling book Lean In, “Think personally, act communally.” Write that down, young lady. When navigating the land of the unpaid internship, however, women should remain obedient underlings. Why else would Jessica Bennett, editor at large of Sandberg’s Lean In foundation, post this listing on Tuesday, August 13?

Wanted: Lean In editorial intern, to work with our editor (me) in New York. Part-time, unpaid, must be HIGHLY organized with editorial and social chops and able to commit to a regular schedule through end of year. Design and web skills a plus! HIT ME UP. Start date ASAP.

Such rich material – luckily, Baffler contributing editor Susan Faludi is already on the case, with a dazzling essay in our new issue. “Even when celebrating…examples of female leadership,” Faludi observes in “Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not,” “Lean In’s spotlight rarely roves beyond the uppermost echelon.”

This internship posting is yet another example. Not to point out the obvious, but the kind of work experience and time commitment that the Lean In foundation is looking for – prior editorial, design, and social media skills, combined with the capacity “to commit to a regular schedule through [the] end of the year. . .start date ASAP” – is something that only the rich or the subsidized can provide for free.

Jessica Bennett, the responsible party behind the posting, forgot about community momentarily to instead reply to the inevitable backlash. Why would a billionaire self-help huckstress be all too happy to have women as undercompensated underlings (which is also, as former employee Kate Losse explained to Faludi, the corporate philosophy of Facebook)? “LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers,” Bennett wrote in another Facebook post. “Let’s all take a deep breath.”

But unpaid internships, like unpaid work of all kinds, are overwhelmingly a gendered issue. Women are 77 percent more likely to take on an unpaid internship, according to a 2010 study conducted by the research and consulting group Intern Bridge, which also found that women from lower-income families are more likely to take internships from nonprofits (the top provider of unpaid internships), while women from higher-income families are more likely to hold paid internships in for-profit industries. The Lean In foundation, a nonprofit, is leaning on and exploiting these potential interns, ignoring the fact that, historically, “women’s work” has rarely been paid. For the ambitious young woman who has diligently read her Sandberg, this listing reads as a slap in the face: community, it turns out, only matters when it’s making Sandberg money. But errand running is better than ironing, right?

the flip side

Navigating through the New York dating scene and perpetually striking out with husband/father material, Davenport makes the life-changing decision to try in vitro by convincing one of her friends to donate his sperm. A circle of nurturing friends and family, all suggesting genre stock characters, surrounds the filmmaker with unwavering goodwill and enthusiasm toward her goal. Conversely, there are those in Davenport’s life who display skepticism toward her maternal ambition, even outright rejection in the case of her father, and because of the film’s superficiality they function more as antagonists. When the final outcome reveals a stable vision of single motherhood, Davenport and her son look down on the naysayers as they sit on the pedestal of “I Told Ya So.”


I have ambivalent feelings about people who become single mothers on purpose and couldn’t do it myself, but then I have no support system for it. I admire women taking the reins into their own hands, but I am wary of the “baby at all costs” mentality.

Two recent posters here are on opposite sides of the fence on this issue. Due to that debate, I found this interesting (and I for one would feel like my lifestyle had become “ghetto” if I had to fund a child on my own, but then I am especially prudent financially):

I was initially drawn to Nina Davenport’s documentary First Comes Love (premiering July 29 at 9 p.m. on HBO) because of a tersely disapproving, suspiciously snide notice in the New York Times. The review seemed to contain just the blend of tight-lipped moral disapprobrium, of simmering resentment toward the artist that usually signals something intriguing or alive. The reviewer said that the filmmaker, whom I had known very distantly in college, was on “her favorite subject—herself.” The review implied that in this vivid documentary account of having a child on her own, with a sperm donor friend, Davenport came across as somehow shallow or vain.

The documentary has attracted admiring notices, as well, but other reviewers were equally condemning or vehement. Slant writes, “Davenport doesn’t seem interested in taming her unwieldy vanity, and thus her documentary reads as a profile recontextualized as cinema narcissismo.” Time Out writes that Davenport “approaches a hot button issue from the most suffocatingly narcissistic perspective imaginable.” And Variety calls First Comes Love “irritatingly self indulgent.” Doesn’t this intrigue you, so far? Aren’t you curious about what this terrible, narcissistic, self-indulgent person has done?

Part of what Davenport has done is make a difficult, rich film about her own experience. (How dare she? What vanity! What narcissism!) And part of it, I am quite sure, is that she has gone ahead and had a child on her own. The logic here is revealing: There is something about single motherhood that people see as selfish, or self-indulgent, or narcissistic, in a way that they don’t see the urge for a child in a married woman. It is as if a single woman were somehow going against nature, daring to ask of the world some fulfillment not due to her because she does not have a man behind a newspaper at a kitchen table. This manifests in precisely the sort of slightly uncontrolled moralism on display in the reviews.

This suspicion of the single mother’s motives, the sense that she has some untoward reason for acting as she does, and is not thinking generously of the child in the way mothers are supposed to, takes very weird forms. The New York Times reviewer, for instance, said that she “rather liked” Davenport’s father in the film. The reason she “rather likes” him is that “he’s the kind of parent who thinks caring for children means more than just cheerleading.” Of course, he also calls his daughter a “dilettante” for pursuing an unlucrative career in the arts, without a husband to take care of her. He also comments, when she says she wants to have a child, “You are a single mother having a fatherless child. Sounds like the ghetto.” Definitely not a “cheerleading” parent, in other words. His own wife observes that he is enjoying hurting Davenport’s feelings. But what the New York Times reviewer is telling us is that this man seems more sensible, more likeable to her, than Davenport, who is romantically, bravely, unsensibly, pursuing what she wants.

What we see, barely cloaked, is the distaste for the hubris, the “narcissism” of thinking that you can raise a happy child on your own.
Many people in the film tell Davenport that she shouldn’t have a child because of her financial insecurity, and yet many reviews chastise her for apparent “privilege,” for her “casually affluent family.” (Though they don’t seem casually affluent to me. They seem very deliberately self-consciously affluent.) So, in fact, the single mother is, as usual, attacked for being poor and for being rich, for not supporting a child and for being able to support the child. Is there any position a single mother could make a movie from that would be acceptable to the critics, both in her life, and in the world? The answer is probably no.

decisions decisions

CASTIGLIA: I married young because I knew I wanted to get married and I wanted to have a family. In marrying so young, I made a choice that didn’t work out and I’m now divorced, but I have a beautiful daughter. It seems that often women are cornered in these ways: wait to find someone you feel truly compatible with and enter a marriage you feel as certain as possible will last but then deal with potential fertility issues, or marry young and take your chances when you’re still quite fertile. Not that it’s always an either/or situation, but still. Based on the way things have played out for you, what advice would you give to younger women when it comes to love/marriage/babies? I mentioned on Facebook a while back that women should take the time they need to try to find a truly healthy love relationship, but that if they don’t find a great partner by their mid-30′s, they should just have a baby alone.

KLEIN: I really hope that in the future egg-freezing becomes standard procedure, and then everyone can make better choices.

In a way, I am jealous of you that you were so certain you wanted to be a mother and you knew that so young. I didn’t. I wasn’t born with the “maternal gene” and had to come to it a long way after. I went into therapy at 35 (late!) to figure out if I wanted to have children or if I didn’t (either would be okay). The one thing I didn’t want to do was wake up at 44 and say, “I was just afraid, I wish I would have done it.”

If I could do it all over again, I’d have partied in my 20s, realizing I wasn’t interested in settling down, so to stop pretending. I would have dated and figured out what kind of guy I’d want to settle down with. I’d start dating seriously at the end of my 20s, early 30s, have kids by 35. Ha ha, can anyone really plan their life like that?

I honestly think it’s all okay: marrying young, not marrying, having children later, not having children at all. It’s so hard to remember that each one of us was put on this planet to live out our own particular journeys, and there’s no one way to get there!

the ugly

These are the days of ugly emotions. Infertility hijacks your schedule, damages your relationship with your spouse and unleashes in you terrible jealousy of other women, women who conceive easily, without thought, without drugs, without dozens of days lost to medical intervention. Women whose biggest problems are swollen feet.