never married, over forty, a little bitter


A male friend of mine, having learned of my recent misadventures on the job market, compared me to Lily Bart, the protagonist of The House of Mirth, who died alone and penniless.

But, if I keep plugging away at the job market and taking classes to improve my skills, my story will diverge, right? If, instead of becoming addicted to a sleeping draught, I keep dancing and playing tennis and meditating and swimming and lying in the sun, surely I will escape her mirthless ending?

the woman alone

I have tried to write about the experience of being female from the perspective of women alone– drawing first on my own experience and then moving the focus to the lives of the women I searched out, the single, widowed, and divorced women of this county, women without men, who want and need as much as anyone else to be part of a whole, not just fragments isolated from society and one another. pp. xi-xii


Most women still don’t realize they have a potential for separate psychic existence, which involves taking primary responsibility for one’s own emotions and adjustments to life. Within this separateness is true security, the best kind of all because it allows for freedom. But freedom, as Sartre reminds us, is terrifying, so most married women spend their lives avoiding any serious confrontation with themselves. Women alone must either face such a confrontation or retreat to the bitterness and isolation supposedly the lot of all women without men. p. 43


There are a variety of reasons why women are alone, but usually it is the result of a catastrophic event: a divorce or death. There are also many women who have never been married, either by choice or because they did not have the opportunity. Few women actually choose permanent aloneness, and most resent the presumption of oddity… The extent to which the women I have met successfully and happily built lives for themselves seems to correlate closely with their ability to relax about marriage… The problems for a woman living alone are severe, and it seems to me that most women either face them with a great deal of strength or with none at all. p. 55

— Patricia O’Brien, The Woman Alone [1973]

the majority

When my last relationship ended, and I was just a kid starting out, about to turn forty, I was as eager to begin to search for another perfect soul mate as I was to volunteer for hard labor in a North Korean prison camp. The world seemed to be broken down into two factions: those who were twitching from horrible divorces and those who were still pretending to be seventeen.


And in those years of solitude and contemplation, I tried to pursue a regimen of peace, maturity and self-esteem (by which I mean attempting to limit myself to two despondent statements per day about “not having a life”).

Eventually, though, I hit critical mass and had to admit that I really did want to be a part of another tiny unit of humans, even if it meant setting myself up for a possible emotional slaughter. I’m not sure what constituted the last straw. It may have been sheer exhaustion from trying to talk other single women I knew into clearing spaces in their busy schedules in order to attend things meant to get me out of the house. Or maybe it was the way the dogs just kept snoring through my pleas for help with bringing stuff in from the car.

Either way, my edict of “Never again” gradually morphed into “Never again unless I get married.” My thinking was that if I could take that additional step toward greater permanence, a step that had always eluded me, I would undergo an almost mystical transformation from confused member of the minority of loners and weirdos into the safer territory of the majority, with their holy matrimony, lawsuits, divorces, and mutual restraining orders.

— Merrill Markoe, Cool, Calm & Contentious, pp. 46-49

feeding the soul (if not the stomach)

Several people have suggested I get a job at the local bookstore. This is why I have not applied:

A shift at a bookstore of ******’s size can be strenuous and tiring work. Much time is spent on one’s feet and it is necessary to stay upbeat and remain positive as long as you are in the store. Because ******* is open every day of the year, 9am-11pm 7 days a week except Thanksgiving, employees must be able to work evening and weekend shifts on a regular basis and be able to come in during off hours for occasional store meetings or other store functions.

In the past years ****** has grown in national recognition and our goal is to continue to improve. Our number one asset is our employees and the level of customer service they provide. Because of this, we need employees who are willing to go above and beyond for any customer. With their help we can offer the best customer service possible.

Starting pay at ******* is $7.25/hr. Raises may be implemented but it may take at least a year (excepting promotions).


With “Modern Family,” the twain meet. Family happiness presumes wealth; one cannot say it’s contingent on wealth because there’s no threat that wealth will ever evaporate. That wealth is never remarked upon in the episode-ending sequences wherein characters describe what they’ve learned — instead, it’s Walton-like homilies on the value of family and love. If love is all you need, why depict an iPad-toting, Hawaii-visiting clan as average? The most popular and acclaimed comedy on television tells a story where whatever one wants is easily available; it’s an attractive fantasy being sold to the public as an examination of the way we live now. Perhaps the extended Pritchett family’s denial of a world outside their three big homes is symptomatic of a particularly modern condition. Or maybe, offscreen, Claire and Phil Dunphy have run up huge amounts of credit-card debt to keep up with their family and aren’t telling anyone about it, hoping against hope it’ll all work out. Now that would be modern.

the recap

I’ve only been able to put about 20% of my efforts each week into a job search thus far, but I’ve certainly gotten an education in the market here.

My original idea was to find a part-time job that would bring in a little income while I take classes and perhaps lead to something full-time a year or so down the road. Every week for the past four months I have found and applied to one or two promising part-time positions on Craigslist, but I have never heard back from any of them.

My first month here I was warned about the difficult job market, and so I decided that perhaps going back to my former employer at a midlevel professional position and reinstating myself in my pension was not a bad idea. I could be retired in ten to fifteen years if I did so. Alas, thus far I have not gotten any of the positions I’ve interviewed for.

Along the way I interviewed for a part-time clerical position at my former place of employment; the position would have granted me health insurance and gotten my language classes paid for. There was no commute and the hourly rate was better than the jobs I was applying for on Craigslist. My connections did land me an interview, but I didn’t get the job.

In the meantime I worked some connections at a “fun” place to work that would totally fit in with my past experience, but my connections couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help me. I also applied for a low-level position at another fun/glamorous company that again matches my experience, but I didn’t score an interview.

I took the tests for an employment agency, but they didn’t have any permanent full-time positions for me. Currently I have limited hours open for temp work, and the agency either has nothing for me or calls with opportunities that do not match my schedule. In one case they called with an “opportunity” that was so unappealing I could not find it in me to take it.

At the end of October I will finally have more days open for temp work, and after Christmas my schedule will be wide open. Hopefully that will help me score something I can live with, or perhaps I’ll get lucky and find something permanent on my own.

If not…? I will hope for the best.

the cusp

I tried to approach this thing as a journalist, not as one of those people who take a strong stand about the whole thing. Because I’m not really that interested in us going extinct, or hastening our extinction, I really look for signs of hope, and I think there are a lot of them in that book. You may have felt that the preponderance of the evidence was not encouraging, and I admit we’re in a very tough place. That’s my conclusion as a journalist, and it’s going to be a pretty wild century. But within that century we have the means to do something about it. And it doesn’t mean inventing incredible new energy systems that don’t muck up the atmosphere, or somehow changing human nature so we all suddenly consume less or distribute our food more equitably, stuff like that. This involves technology that we already have.

There is a side benefit that is even possibly a contribution to humanity, which is that the best contraceptive of all is educating and empowering women, and men. What better world would we have then?