never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: September, 2013

mixed bags

And boy does this sound like the “mixed bag” that was my life in L.A.:

Moving to the city will solve some problems and add new ones. It will provide a woman with privacy– she will be able to come home late without the neighbors talking, but this new gift of privacy also means she doesn’t know her neighbors. It means no lawn to mow, no home to keep up, no taxes to pay, but it also means busy streets too dangerous for your eight-year-old to ride his bike on. It means higher costs for food and baby sitters. But perhaps the greatest advantage for a woman alone is that the city gives her an environment where she is not considered out of step with the rest of the world. She may not know her neighbors, but they include other mothers, single women, widows, bachelors– a variety of people alone whom she can seek out if she wishes. In short, living in the city can mean a mixed bag of freedom, variety, and loneliness.

— Patricia O’Brien, The Woman Alone, pp. 126-127

tough cookies

I’ve written before about how it can be difficult for me to make room for spontaneity in my life; I am usually unable to show up somewhere at the last minute. My friends seem to expect me to be able to do so; I suppose they think I am just sitting around, staring into space. In reality, my days are planned long in advance, and dropping my plans any time a friend calls can feel like opening the door to chaos.

I now have a better understanding of why I am like this:

With recognition of their diversity, is there any one characteristic shared by most women alone? I would say there is, and I would identify that characteristic as their meticulous attention to planning. Women who are totally alone, without children, plan their lives with great attention to detail: they map out the hours of their days, setting down certain routines they do not allow themselves to break; they plan dinner parties and vacations far in advance of the event; they will almost choreograph their contacts with other people. They do all this for the very common-sense reason that they cannot take anything for granted. There is no structure that will generate things happening if they don’t make them happen, unlike the household of a woman with children, where the daily routine means a variety of expected and unexpected events– PTA meetings, skinned knees, new math lessons, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, good or bad report cards, crayoned drawings that say “I love you,” a mixture of warmth and worry.

This attention to planning is sometimes obsessive, often exhausting, but it is needed. It allows a woman to plan a European vacation over the Christmas holidays so she won’t have to sit alone in her apartment and be reminded she has no one during this, the most family-oriented of all holidays; it helps her circumvent lonely weekends when sitting around on a rainy day reading the Sunday papers isn’t enough. It is a way of providing norms and constraints on herself when there are none applied by society. In the same way, so is the fact that large numbers of women alone keep dogs, cats, parakeets, potted plants; something, anything, that demands regular attention and care. I asked one divorced woman about this, a woman with a dog and a cat in her apartment, and she added another reason: “I keep pets because they are a source of giving and receiving affection I can depend on.”

Planning is a crucial element of life not only to the ordinary woman managing to support herself on an ordinary salary, but also to women with special life structures, women who have achieved a certain degree of fame or fortune. Writer Marya Mannes has told me that without a carefully built discipline, a pattern to her life, she would be lost: “If I didn’t have my writing, and if I didn’t have an enormous zest for living– alternating of course with periods of depression like everybody has and feelings of great loneliness– I don’t know what I would do. It’s very tough to really do everything yourself, for yourself.”

–Patricia O’Brien, The Woman Alone, pp. 119-120

the undefined

Yesterday an old high school friend of mine sent out a baby announcement. She’s my age and had her first, a son, a couple of years ago. Yesterday she had a daughter.

I no longer harbor any illusions of having a child of my own, so I was able to handle the announcement pretty well. Any pangs I did feel had more to do with where my life is at the moment and my resulting “status” or lack thereof.

If everything goes according to plan, this friend will be embedded in the status of wife and mother of two for the next twenty years. Currently, I am single, (relatively) friendless, childless, and jobless. Given that I’m on the cusp of my mid-forties, I don’t have particularly high hopes of any of that improving, save perhaps me landing some kind of job.

Nobody is going to congratulate me for taking time out to rejuvenate. I am in undefined territory.


All women need to be stronger and more individualistic than they have hitherto wanted, tried, or dared to be. Perhaps women alone have a unique chance to gain this personal strength if they redefine who they are in relation to a society that undervalues them.

–Patricia O’Brien, The Woman Alone, p. 70


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.