never married, over forty, a little bitter


“It is the duty of every man, who has sufficient means, to maintain a wife. The life of unmarried women is a wretched one; every man who is able ought to save one of them from that fate.”
— George Gissing, The Odd Women, p. 93

I wrote earlier about how George Gissing’s book The Odd Women, published in the late 1800s, has caused me to reflect on both how things have changed and how they have remained the same.

The passage above, spoken by a male character who remained engaged for nearly twenty years while he built up the means necessary for marriage, reminds me of some of my dating encounters in Los Angeles.

One man I dated for a while, a man who is nearing fifty, still shies from marriage because of his failure to launch his career. I doubt he will ever marry at this point.

Another fortysomething man I briefly dated came from a wealthy family and was their last living child, as his only sibling had passed away. He wasn’t traveling the world or devoting his time to worthy causes or a demanding career; on the contrary, he was spending his time having fun with entertainment industry projects and decorating his newly-purchased home.

He showed no interest in getting married or having children, and I admit, I judged him for that. It seemed unmanly. With all the people out there who struggle to afford children, he could have easily provided for a wife and kids, and I’m sure his parents, who are deeply religious, would have been thrilled to have grandchildren. To top it off, he was one of the last people I dated before I had to go on medication and kiss the idea of having kids goodbye.

And yet. If I want to see a world in which single life is accepted, a world in which people aren’t forced into unhappy marriages, I have to respect his choice to remain single with a dog as his favored companion.

The problem is, we’re not there yet. The world is still in transition, so my judgments are too.


Maura Johnston: I’ve heard people complain that they don’t find Amy “relatable,” and I have to think that’s in large part because she’s a female character who isn’t interested in presenting herself as someone who people have to like. That shit is only reserved for your Don Drapers, your Walter Whites—hell, your Jerry Seinfelds and your George Costanzas, even. In that way “Enlightened” reminds me a bit of “Bunheads,” another show with a Woman Of A Certain Age Who Has Her Own Things Going On at its core; it, too, has low ratings and a question mark hanging over its future. Mike White’s dialogue is certainly slower than Amy Sherman-Palladino’s rapidfire patter, and Amy Jellicoe is more of an out-and-out antihero than Michelle Simms, acting more blatantly in her (sublimated) self-interest and seeming more deliberately divorced from the real world. But both characters are at an age where they should have kids and don’t, where they should have signposts of stabile adulthood and don’t (both are living rent-free, Amy with her mother and Michelle with her mother-in-law), where they should be settled. Neither of them is, though, and watching that struggle is essential to both shows’ driving force.


Michelle: I don’t know that I think she is overextended! Like the funny thing is I think her dreams are relatively concrete; half the pathos of the show is about how the world won’t give her the simpler things, and instead of shrinking she just ramps up her expectations. If Abaddonn had just given her the job she wanted, when she came back from her Hawaiian… rehab, I don’t know that her inner radical would have come out.


Michelle: Yeah. I mean the funny thing about Mike White’s worldview, given that he was raised evangelical (to an extent, it’s all complicated) is that it is so, so Buddhist. I mean he has said in interviews that he’s a great follower of Pema Chodron’s writings, as I have become too. The thing is, her advice would effectively tell Amy that she has to stop trying to get all this ground beneath her feet. Like she has to stop hoping she will have the perfect career, the perfect relationship, etc., because those things don’t exist and because they don’t matter. Chodron’s teachings are all about learning to live with groundlessness, with not having certainty in your life. With recognizing that what you think of as “certain”—your righteousness, your love with someone else—is actually transient and that holding to it is what’s causing you pain.


“When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.” Neil DeGrasse

Reading (and listening) to this quote, it occurs to me that the feeling of relevance is what I lost in my mid-thirties and what many single, childless women feel as they get older. No wonder we get depressed!

siren songs

Two of the artists I’ve been enamored with this past year went to the same college as a friend of mine, and they often draw upon that college setting in their work. My friend actually knew one of them personally.

A few years ago, this friend would have been just as enamored with these artists and just as interested in their movies and books, and we would have conversed for hours about them. But she has a toddler and an infant now. She valiantly tries to touch base with me occasionally, but she has no time for books or TV shows or films, even when they are about subjects that once would have been dear to her heart.

I understand completely now why I was so drawn to L.A. As my interesting friends became consumed with their families and dropped out of my life, there was no longer any filter between me and my favorite writers, musicians, and filmmakers. These artists were no longer intriguing distractions that helped me to process the drama in my own life. Their work, which spoke to me figuratively and often literally, became the only thing speaking to me, and they moved from the background to the main event.

And just about every artist that captured my attention lived in Los Angeles.

Had I not tried living there and had remained single here, I think
I would have regretted it deeply. I would have imagined that I missed my chance to connect with the world of ideas in the absence of having a family.

Even now, knowing that the expense and logistics and stress of living in Los Angeles preclude much of anything else and that most of those artists have little time left for anything outside of their own families and struggle to “make it,” I am still occasionally pulled by the siren song of the place. Still pulled even though I know I would likely end up in the exact same situation as before if I returned.

That’s why I hope I don’t have to make any kind of decision about a job. If I only get one offer and thus have to go back or have to stay here, I will ascribe it to fate and make the best of either situation. But I don’t want to choose all over again.