never married, over forty, a little bitter


Another week, another silent phone. It’s nerve-wracking, as my fate hangs in the balance. Will I be starting a job soon? Moving? Reevaluating everything in the face of no job offers at all?

In the absence of news, I’ve had more time to think about the brilliance of Enlightened and have come up with some more insights into the show.

One theme I picked up on is that regret is a useless emotion. In the second season, Amy finally gets the job offer of her dreams, but it’s too little too late as she has set too many other forces in motion. She seems confused and regretful, but the truth is, she only gets the offer because of the things she set in motion– it is initiated by someone she never would have met otherwise– but these are also the very things that impede her from taking the job. You can’t really go back and say “if only.” Life is too tangled and messy to isolate out decisions like that.

A second theme that resonated with me is that if you aren’t interested in someone, the biggest favor you can do is let them go to find someone else. Recently another guy I rejected in the past announced his engagement, and once again, his fiancee seems compatible with him in a way I never was. Amy does Tyler a favor by recognizing they are ill-suited romantically and rejecting him; Eileen is thrilled to find him. Of course, like Amy, I’m still waiting for someone compatible to show up for me.

Third, Mike White sensitively portrays the ways in which the people we connect with intellectually can let us down personally. There are only two characters in the series who share Amy’s newfound spiritual/political/intellectual interests, and neither of them prove to be available for true friendship or romance. Both of them, in fact, use Amy and let her down. On the other hand, she has relationships with other people who don’t share her interests but who are always there for her.

I find that to be one of the most frustrating conundrums in my own life. Last summer I was introduced to a woman who makes an effort to get together with me frequently. I truly appreciate the effort, but our interests are so different that I find conversation to be a struggle and find it difficult to think of things we can do together. And yet, over the course of my life, I have been routinely flaked out on by people I connected with intellectually and politically.

In the parting shot of the series, Amy seems happy, but she walks alone. I suppose I’ll have to find satisfaction with this commenter’s interpretation:

Manruss • 8 months ago
In the end, Amy’s enlightenment came, not by getting any of the things she wanted out of life, but by simply becoming unafraid to live on her own terms.


Enabling this dogma devalues the unpaid labor of rearing children as much as it strategically devalues women’s worth at work. If being a mother were a job there’d be a selection process, pay, holidays, a superior to report to, performance assessments, Friday drinks, and you could resign from your job and get another one because you didn’t like the people you were working with. It’s not a vocation either – being a mother is a relationship.

Even if it were a job, there is no way being a professional mother could be the hardest when compared to working 16 hours a day in a clothing factory in Bangladesh, making bricks in an Indian kiln, or being a Chinese miner. Nor could it ever be considered the most important job in comparison with a surgeon who saves lives, anyone running a nation, or a judge deciding on people’s destiny.


But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.

In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. As Ronald Dworkin pointed out in a 2010 paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.


“If two women each talk to their friends the same amount of time, but one of them spends more time reading about friends on Facebook as well, the one reading tends to grow slightly more depressed,” Burke says. Her conclusion suggests that my sometimes unhappy reactions to Facebook may be more universal than I had realized. When I scroll through page after page of my friends’ descriptions of how accidentally eloquent their kids are, and how their husbands are endearingly bumbling, and how they’re all about to eat a home-cooked meal prepared with fresh local organic produce bought at the farmers’ market and then go for a jog and maybe check in at the office because they’re so busy getting ready to hop on a plane for a week of luxury dogsledding in Lapland, I do grow slightly more miserable. A lot of other people doing the same thing feel a little bit worse, too.”

the drone

Even if you are in the minority of women who don’t grow up internalizing the idea that you are predestined for parenthood, the mommy drone doesn’t quiet. “I resent that the entire culture of this country is obsessed with kids,” Rachel Agee told me the day after her 40th birthday. “And social media is only an outlet to post pictures of your children. I’ve got nothing to put on Facebook. At 40, that’s hard.” (She has not yet bought the buzzed-about Facebook baby-blocker app to censor progeny pics, but she says she’s tempted.) Agee graduated from a Southern Bible college where she was taught that to be a godly woman, one must procreate for the kingdom. “I just knew I couldn’t trade my freedom for it,” she says. She moved to Nashville as a hopeful performer and stopped going to church because it was so “oppressively family-centric.” Nearly 30% of married households in the Nashville metropolitan area are childless, but even in the secular, artier corners of Music City, Agee wasn’t greeted by a culture that supported a life without dependents. It used to be that one’s urban starter kit would include a leather jacket, a guitar and a pack of cigarettes. Today that’s been traded out for Lululemon maternity pants, a stroller and a pack of diapers.

“I’ve always felt there was a cultural ­imperative—now there’s a subcultural imperative,” says Kate O’Neill. She and her partner moved from ­California to Nashville; she went there to write songs—though she’s now one of the city’s top entrepreneurs—and he went there to paint. Despite the high rate of childlessness, O’Neill says, it was hard to find her way into a social world where “lately, motherhood has been so absorbed into every possible aesthetic.” I heard similar observations from women I interviewed in Boston, Austin and San Francisco.


“It’s toughest in your late 30s and early 40s,” Going Solo author Eric Klinenberg says. That’s when social isolation tends to peak among people without kids. “What people report everywhere is this experience of watching friends just peel off into their small domestic worlds. That’s the real stress point,” he says, not aging and dying alone, as people fear—and ­strangers and ­family members alike tend to ­admonish—but the loneliness between when friends have babies and when they become empty nesters. It has hit the Clouses earlier than Klinenberg suggests, since their Southern Christian circle seems to have already disappeared into parenthood. They say their lives have become lonelier and narrower over the past few years. “You build strong relationships, and then they change. It’s great for them, but it sucks for you,” Clouse says. But they recently had their first “date”—roller derby—with a childless couple at their church. They say it felt like a massive relief.

the odd women

I second George Gissing’s The Odd Women, but it’s remarkable how few examples there are:

It is interesting that the middle-aged single heroine shows up as detective in mysteries (male detectives are also often single). The isolation of the detective is part of the territory. In serious fiction, there is a real dearth. Most fiction is about young people, and love/marriage is a big big subject for novels. the pressure toward a wedding (or a divorce!) is considerable. Anita Brookner has lots of single heroines but they are all sad and out of it. Barbara Pym has many single heroines but again, they tend to lead restricted mingy boiled-egg-for-dinner lives. They would definitely not inspire students to think a woman can have a big fulfilling life without a man!

starting from scratch

I pushed myself out of the house this past weekend and am glad I did. I went out to hear live music and was asked to dance several times and also attended the screening of an environmental film that gave me some idea of how I can spend my free time if I end up staying here long-term. I enjoyed that latter group, although it consisted of one man fifteen years younger than me and the rest around fifteen years older. So be it.

I wavered a long time about moving back as I had doubts about my ability to build a social life here. I finally decided that, if I moved back, I would concentrate on my personal goals as opposed to a social life. I’m glad I prepared myself, as my fears were not unfounded.

Turns out that, yes, you can never go home again. People here are friendly but finding real connection is going to take some effort.

On the plus side, I haven’t run into any of the three women with whom I have had “falling outs” with in the past. On the negative, a friend of mine from college has still not found the time to call or see me in the six months I’ve been here. As I’ve written before, one of my friends moved to Los Angeles right about the time I arrived in town. Another one, someone I did hang out with a bit, moved to a house much farther away with his girlfriend a few months ago and I haven’t seen him since. I saw a few old acquaintances at one of his parties but not again. I reconnected with some work colleagues when I first arrived in town but those connections faded as my job search dragged on. After seeing him a couple of times upon first arriving back, I cut ties with my old fling. Another friend has been drowning in depression and that has kept any kind of friendship at baby.

I’m so even-keeled these days from all the kundalini yoga that I don’t feel angry about this in the way I would have in the past, but it’s no wonder the loneliness has been amping up. Out of necessity, I’ve grown accepting of the fact that some people are never going to reach out and others will be so busy that they will just stop answering emails. It’s funny what we accept in this modern world. We come to terms with the fact that most people are too busy to meet in person or talk on the phone, and then we grow accepting of the fact that they can’t even find the time to keep up an email conversation after the first reply.

I’m in fairly regular contact with three women– two married and childless (and one of those I struggle mightily to find common ground with) and one a single mother. Mostly I talk to people in my classes, who I tend not to see again when class ends, and people on the farm, who I don’t see a second time either. If I stay on, it will almost be like I’ve moved to a new city where I don’t know a soul. I will have to start all over and make connections from scratch.

I’ve accomplished a lot, but this is the point in time where I start to wonder about this move and whether it was worth it. My suspicions have been confirmed. Being single at this stage is a problematic status no matter where you live. Pulling a geographic won’t magically solve the difficulties.


A little after the thirty-minute mark, the interviewee, a mom, tells people not to have kids, calling motherhood the “ultimate bait and switch.” Kinda nice to have yet another perspective:

Although she seems to go back and forth on the issue here: