never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: March, 2014

the bubble

I attended a dance class the other night that cheered me up. It reminded me once again of all the things I’ve been able to do because I’ve been childless. I have had an unusually rich life in many ways, with many twists and turns. It’s too bad so few people are interested because I could tell quite a few interesting tales!

Lately I’ve been one of the few women who has been privy to the economic disaster that still continues to play out behind the scenes in the public sector. Firefighters, cops, public works… all are still feeling the effects of the economic meltdown of 2008.

In the midst of this I attended a daytime event for stay-at-home mothers of small children. It felt a bit cloying to me, as if those women are living in a protected bubble that one day may pop.

the will

My enjoyment of the leave raises the ongoing question of why my circumstances are so rare and why we have such an inadequate system of parental support in this country. Throughout the pregnancy, I spent a lot of time on the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” discussion boards. Even though I wasn’t carrying AJ, I wanted to stay closely connected to the stages of pregnancy. My favorite discussions emerged in the third trimester when the mommies-to-be began to discuss their plans for maternity leave. The Canadian and British women were aghast at the American realities. They were shocked to learn how swiftly their American counterparts would be seeking childcare and returning to full-time employment just to make ends meet. We can make public policies that ease the burden on women, children, and families. We just need the political will to do it.

racing ahead

I decided I needed to get out this weekend, even if it meant making an hour drive somewhere. I scoured the papers, located a really interesting event that I could enjoy alone, and bought a ticket.

Because said event was in the same neighborhood as a man I had written off as a romantic possibility, I emailed him and asked if he wanted to go. I figured it couldn’t hurt to make a platonic connection. He enthusiastically agreed, and we had a good time. We have a ton in common, but I was happy to leave it at that, as there are reasons I doubt it could be something more. He extended the evening into drinks, however, and it took a romantic turn.

As much as I hate to admit it after all this work I’ve done to get to a place of calm acceptance, I was in a better mood than usual the next day. I let my mind stray into “what if” territory. What if something could work out, what if I finally had a story to tell, what if I could start making plans with someone, what if, in the absence of children, I could have a partner.

His behavior, however, leads me to believe that my “what ifs” will likely remain just that. It’s way too early to tell, but there are some signs. If it doesn’t work out, I will have learned something valuable– that despite being an introvert and enjoying a large amount of solitude, I’m forcing myself to adapt to more of it than I prefer.

Unlike in my youth, however, I don’t find these detours fun if there’s no serious intention behind them. They knock me off my hard-won center and take precious time away from other goals. And I’m simply not in a good place to weather more disappointment.

In the midst of all this, a high school friend of mine, a woman who married in her early forties and called her wedding day “the best day of my life,” posted a photo of the newborn she just adopted.

unmarked territory

Women talk to women about babies. It is the all-purpose icebreaker, the way women mark territory and establish their identity. I can’t recall how many times I have been seated on the dais with other women, preparing to talk about female empowerment or human rights or economic development in Africa. Within five minutes of arrival, though, before the microphones go on and the public conversation begins, we are all talking about kids. “You have children?” “Yeah.” “Me, too. How many?” Just like those infernal forms in the doctor’s office. Number of children. Number of pregnancies. And so forth.

You might have thought that this would have changed by now, that once women had joined the Senate and piloted fighter planes, their status as mothers would have become less relevant. But it hasn’t. Despite what feminists of all stripes had desperately hoped, once women become mothers, they are still largely defined– both by others and by themselves– by the children they bear.

— Debora L. Spar, Wonder Women, p. 145

the merciless

I usually love the AV Club, but- whoa!– no sympathy at all from the commenters for the woman who was childless and sad about it because she married a man who didn’t want children. The only response is vitriol (although I do agree that Kathie Lee can be ridiculous). And this is why I keep this blog anonymous:

google “Kathie Lee Gifford Tells Childless Woman She’s Not Worthless” AV Club



When my grandparents retired, they moved en masse to Florida, taking the car, the dog, and their entire circle of friends to the same anonymous strip mall town outside Pompano Beach. They watched each other’s grandchildren grow and compared notes over neatly divided egg salad sandwiches. They went to each other’s funerals and witnessed their wills. When my maternal grandmother, widowed in her fifties, needed to buy a new car or fix a leaky faucet, it was my paternal grandfather who stepped into the role. “But how?” my children asked recently. “Why was he there?” Because he just was. Because they all lived in the same building and checked on each other every day. My generation… isn’t going to Pompano. We are not going to wrinkle; we are not going to dine at the early bird buffet; and we are certainly never going to stop having sex. But what, then, do we do?

In 2010, there were 21.8 million women in the United States over the age of sixty-five. Fifty-eight percent of them lived alone.

— Debora L. Spar, Wonder Women, p. 224


We will settle, more or less comfortably, into the choices we made or had thrust upon us– this mate, these children, this job and home and community– and watch our other choices melt irretrievably into fables. The man I might have married but didn’t. The children I lost or didn’t have. The opportunities I let slip away. If feminism was largely about giving women choices, then age is in some ways the cruelest slap, slyly removing possibilities as time passes by.— Debora L. Spar, Wonder Women, p. 206

Whereas man grows old gradually, woman is suddenly deprived of her femininity; she is still relatively young when she loses the erotic attractiveness and the fertility which, in the view of society and in her own, provide the justification of her existence and her opportunity for happiness.— Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

The woman in our collective imagination is a producer and tender of children, armed with the assets– breasts, hips, eggs– that make her not only capable of this task but also attractive to the men who must participate in at least the first stages of it. Once this function ceases to exist, women’s lives, in a harsh Darwinian sense, are over.— Debora L. Spar, Wonder Women, p. 205

A male co-worker of mine told me the other day, while conversing about the lack of cultural options in our area, that he’s so wiped out from the job that he mostly stays in on weekends recuperating anyway. I can see myself heading in the same direction.

I fear I have entered into that stage of life wherein I spend my remaining energy simply making enough money to keep shelter over my head in old age. The gentleman above is lucky enough to be married; I don’t know where I’d find the time or energy to meet someone, as I’m nodding off by 10 p.m. and completely wiped out by 11. And, of course, the odds are not in my favor. One glance at the online dating sites confirms that is no longer the right avenue for me.

I’m middle-aged now, and I feel it. I didn’t feel I was “in my thirties” until a few years into that decade of life, and the same has happened with my forties. I feel the need for gentler workouts– swimming, yoga, etc.– and clothes shopping is an arduous affair. Some of the cute, animal-print clothes I was wearing just a few years ago have taken on a new meaning now, and I can’t bring myself to wear them or many of the other items in my wardrobe.

I like the people I am working with but haven’t yet figured out how I will build a social life here. This isn’t quite where I wanted to be at this age– starting all over again.

I know women– my mother is one– who remarried in their fifties. It’s still possible for me. A man at this age might be more likely to appreciate a woman with a good job and a healthy savings account. Perhaps it is not all over yet.

I would like to wrap up this post with something pithy, but unfortunately I can’t think of a thing.

the shapeless

It almost feels like your life is not worth that much because if something were to go wrong there would be nobody behind left without a mother, as I am a childless woman. A childless woman is like a shadow – you may or may not notice it on the wall. It doesn’t have a shape nor does it make a sound and it disappears in the night like it never existed. I remember the conversations around the water cooler. Women always talk about fashion or cooking until somebody starts talking about what her child.

You can have the knowledge of Einstein or have Newton’s intelligence; nothing will deter a woman from talking about her child, while you, the childless woman, can hear yourself carrying your own conversation – talking to yourself, quiet, just an extension of the water cooler.

My lack of children made me lose some of my best friends. No, we did not argue and parted ways because we did not agree on who should be the next president of the United States. We suddenly had nothing in common, our two ways conversations became a one speech dedicated to the little bundle of joy they had. Their lives changed and so did our relationship. My contribution was a gift or just sitting on my chair and listening. We could not share emotions, thoughts, feelings, and advice.

the muck

This unplanned, unexpected, preposterous potentiality felt like a strange gift — one with the power to lift me up out of the muck of midlife questions.

I wasn’t having a crisis, exactly – I had meaningful work, good friends, my health. I was just so tired of the same-old same. Past pursuits left me limp. I didn’t want to go to the bar, didn’t care about that new restaurant, this literary scandal, whatever next big thing. I had abandoned the dream of a four-star career, and from where I stood the prospect of a few years in babyland looked pretty good. Friends and family had braved that frontier already, had set up homesteads, paved the trails. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but what was? Hit me again, life — give it your best shot. I could totally be a parent.