never married, over forty, a little bitter

Month: May, 2014


The killer (I’m purposefully not using his name) wanted to belong. That need for human connection and belongingness is an intense one, and the frustration of that need can be excruciatingly painful. (Obviously, no amount of pain justifies killing.) The murderer, though, wanted a particular kind of belongingness – he wanted to be part of a couple. His rage against women was fueled primarily by his perception that they were uninterested in him as a romantic or sexual partner.

Interest in coupling is commonplace on college campuses – and in the rest of the culture. In and of itself, is not a bad thing. What is troublesome, though, is (1) the over-the-top celebration and overvaluing of coupling and romantic relationships over all sorts of other relationships and other kinds of values and achievements and goals – part of what I call matrimania; and (2) the undervaluing, and even denigration, of people who are single, single life, and all of the potentially positive and powerful aspects of singlehood – what I call singlism.

identity problems

The idea of men going on shooting rampages because of threats to their identity as men makes sense to me. One way to think about that idea is to look at the cases where women DO kill multiple people. In the ones that make the news, most often the victims are the woman’s own children. They are not counted as mass killers because the body count isn’t high enough. But just like the breakdown in identity that I see happening with men, when the thing that defines a woman’s identity as a women breaks down (being a good mother), she—in those most extreme of cases—feels the need to kill the part of her that is causing the most pain.


Yes, sexism, misogyny, inability to deal with sexual rejection, and entitlement to women’s bodies still exists. Yes, we need to deal with it.

Best place to start? Talking with and treating women as equals. Encouraging men to see women as humans first, with sex taken completely off the table. Encouraging platonic friendships between the genders where each help each other succeed. Teaching consent and respect. It seems unimaginable we are still in need of progress in this area, but we know it to be true.


Men need to be able to get help for their problems without fear or shame. Emotional pain is real and devastating. Men need to understand that and they need help seeking out solutions. We need to look for warning signs and follow up immediately when we see those signs. We need to let men know it is ok to ask for help. We need to encourage friendships, sharing, and a wider, more open definition of love. We need to teach actual coping skills and actual problem solving skills to be able to deal with the inevitable loneliness, pain, anger, or lack of success that are simply parts of life. How many times have you heard some version of “just man up” instead of teaching real coping skills? And we need to continue to expand our definition of masculinity so that a man’s identity isn’t wrapped up in any one thing, but there are always a wealth of options for a long, happy productive life.


Last week researchers at the University of New Mexico warned that girls rely too much on romantic relationships for their self-identity. The study found that girls are at greater risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts the more their relationships diverged from their ideal. There was no evidence that such romantic disappointments affect boys, who were shown to gain their self worth from sport or other achievements.

For these girls, Cameron Diaz is a good role-model. It is a great shame that these American teenagers are fortunate enough to live in an era where their future no longer relies on meeting a prince, yet they fail to utilize this. Perhaps they should be enlightened to the fact that just fifty years ago in some states of their country, women couldn’t take out a loan or a mortgage without the signature of a husband. Perhaps they should be reminded that in the 1970s a woman could be sacked simply for losing her looks and no one would bat an eyelid. It’s no good having all these victories in the battle for emancipation of women if we still send out a message that finding Mr. Right is the only route to utopia.


I sometimes wonder how long it will be before all this intimacy and authenticity attracts stalkers:

When he first started recording, he told me, “Really being authentic and sincere for an hour was kind of a struggle. There was an initial desire to be distant, cool. I saw myself grappling with: How do I present myself?” Eventually, he realized: “You don’t [present yourself]. You just do it. And to me that’s very post-Empire.” Authenticity, for Ellis, means expressing strong opinions, even if they’re unpopular. A recurring theme is Ellis’s distaste for both Fruitvale Station and 12 Years a Slave, a film he says has been “overly rewarded for its slavery narrative.” Such an opinion might spark a mini whirlwind if floated on Twitter or elsewhere online, but the podcast insulates. “I’m just not interested in tweeting that kind of stuff anymore—the contrarian opinion,” he explains. A controversial topic can languish, or achieve more nuance, when spoken out loud with someone else without the possibility of an instant reaction from those who disagree. The podcast is a safe bet for anyone who feels they’ve been burned by the media—a quiet stronghold for unmediated conversation.

open books

I was listening to, yes, a podcast the other day, and the woman being interviewed said she never listens to music or watches TV anymore– all she does is listen to podcasts.

I can relate in that I have no idea why I’m paying for cable. I rarely turn on the TV anymore. I still listen to a lot of podcasts, although I’ve cut my listening down from what it once was.

One of the reasons I like podcasts so much is, like everyone else, I’m stressed out and busy and podcasts allow me to multitask. Along those same lines, I, like most people these days, have little time for long, intimate conversations either in person or on the phone, so podcasts fill that hole.

The other thing I’ve realized, though, is that podcasters (and celebrities in general) are rewarded for an honesty and an airing of dirty laundry that the rest of us can only dream about. As the competition for jobs becomes ever fiercer, the average citizen must build a carefully crafted image that allows for no vulnerability, no strong opinions, and no mistakes.

Podcasts allow us to vicariously experience humanity in all its messy complexity, a messy complexity that, in our personal lives, we must keep under wraps.

the outcast

So. Elliot Rodger.

I don’t want to say much because I have no idea what his issues were, and I could only stomach his videos for a few minutes. What seems apparent, however, is that he felt entitled to a certain type of woman– blonde, pretty, popular– and that his entitlement was likely fed by the surrounding culture. Unsurprisingly, those women seemed to be the only ones on his radar, and even then, he failed to grasp their humanity. The other apparent thing about him was his loneliness, alienation, and anger. He was angry that “undeserving” men were able to get women, but his racism and classism fueled his perceptions of “undeserving.”

The main reason I’m bringing him up, however, is that he gives all us lonely, bitter, skulking, single bloggers a bad name!

At least some of the “ick” factor I got from him has to do with my own sense of shame. So I just want to say it’s easy to feel alienated when you are single and childless. It’s common to give in to to the impulse to skulk about Facebook. It’s normal to have WTF moments when observing that some seemingly terrible people manage to get married and/or have kids when you haven’t been able to do so. It’s hard not to lapse into bitterness occasionally. It’s ordinary to find oneself without close friends, as they have all disappeared into coupledom and parenting. It’s common— and healthy in the absence of alternatives– to turn to the internet as an outlet (ahem). None of this makes you a pathological freak.

I have known many lovely, sociable, competent, attractive women who have unintentionally ended up single and childless, who have felt all those things, and who have found a great sense of community and solace in blogs and forums and books aimed at them.

I have felt all those things. And yet, I’m once again seeing the silver lining in my situation (like the clouds, that silver lining comes and goes). As a single woman, you still have to work, and you are more likely to be stuck in a stressful job than the married women you know. You have to do all the household maintenance and sometimes have to take care of elderly relatives. But. You don’t have to go to kids’ birthday parties or to Disney movies or take a child to the orthodontist or help out with homework. There are still slivers of free time to pursue the self-development that often gets curtailed when people start the cycle of birth/childhood/schooling all over again by having kids.

Rather than continue to pursue what I’ve missed out on, especially when it’s becoming clear that that ship has sailed, I have an opportunity to develop in some unusual (if unheralded and even unnoticed) ways. I’m feeling the urge to seize that again.

the delicious

I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.” – Albert Einstein

Minds previously each preoccupied with their own concerns defer to the other’s topic of interest, so as to arrive at a more shared and unified perspective on the object of attention or the topic of debate… insistent bleak ruminations diffuse and scatter as the mind mingles with the mind of an intimate or congenial companion.” – Marcel Kinsbourne, What Should We Be Worried About?, p. 87

I spent the bulk of this three-day weekend with other people, putting in a full day on Saturday at a party and a full day on Sunday with work colleagues and visiting another friend. On one hand, I agree with the latter quote above– it often does lift my mood to interact with other people and it usually puts me in a much more optimistic frame of mind. On the other, I would have loved the weekend all to myself to get through another pile of books, study Spanish, get some cooking done, clean my apartment, and think.

Also, the friends I spent the weekend with are still on the active hunt for a partner, and as I have written before, I am not. I’ve already spent two decades on that hunt and am not eager to waste a third! In every other area of my life, if I put in the effort, I get results; not so with trying to “meet someone.” Again, I’m open to it, but it will have to happen serendipitously while I’m out and about, pursuing the things I would be doing anyway.


In Marriage Markets, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn examine how macroeconomic forces are transforming our most intimate and important spheres, and how working class and lower income families have paid the highest price. Just like health, education, and seemingly every other advantage in life, a stable two-parent home has become a luxury that only the well-off can afford. The best educated and most prosperous have the most stable families, while working class families have seen the greatest increase in relationship instability.

Why is this so? The book provides the answer: greater economic inequality has profoundly changed marriage markets, the way men and women match up when they search for a life partner. It has produced a larger group of high-income men than women; written off the men at the bottom because of chronic unemployment, incarceration, and substance abuse; and left a larger group of women with a smaller group of comparable men in the middle. The failure to see marriage as a market affected by supply and demand has obscured any meaningful analysis of the way that societal changes influence culture. Only policies that redress the balance between men and women through greater access to education, stable employment, and opportunities for social mobility can produce a culture that encourages commitment and investment in family life.

vicious circles

Carbone and Cahn describe these developments in terms of the concept of “marriage markets.” Many scholars from all political and philosophical persuasions object to the very idea of treating intimate relationships as something that should ever be the product of calculation or exchange. Yet, most also agree that supply and demand affect “price.” Carbone and Cahn add that sex ratio imbalances produce virtuous and vicious cycles that influence expectations, alter behavior, and ultimately transform cultural practices. Sociologists Marcia Guttentag and Paul Secord demonstrated in the eighties, in an influential book on sex ratios, Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question, that relationships are in fact the product of a market. If the men outnumbered the women in a given group, Guttentag and Secord argued, men competed among each other to land the “best” women. Women in turn tend to select for some mix of worldly success and good behavior, so an excess of men tends to produce “virtuous cycles” in which men compete to satisfy women by working hard, remaining faithful, and investing in their children. The fact that men outnumber women among high earners eager to pair with each other, Carbone and Cahn argue, provides an explanation for why the marriage rates at the top have remained relatively stable and why divorce rates remain relatively low.

What happens if women outnumber men? The men could seek out higher status women and the women might compete to satisfy the men in a similar fashion to what happens in a market where men outnumber women. It turns out that isn’t what happens: men and women don’t react in the same ways when they are outnumbered in a given marriage market. Instead, men prefer more relationships than committed unions with partners who might outshine them, and the women become jaded by the men’s behavior. In the face of persistent disappointment with male behavior, their standards for an acceptable husband increase and they, too, become more reluctant to marry or to commit to a long-term relationship. The result tends to be what some would term a “vicious circle,” that is, a cultural shift toward greater promiscuity, more gender distrust, greater investment in women’s income opportunities and less in men’s, and fewer stable long term relationships.


At the end, they note that America has not yet created the infrastructure for the post-industrial era that would make the relationship between home and family more seamless and that, in an era of inequality, American companies have built in greater instability in employment that also undermines family stability, damaging any efforts to rebuild the home-family bridges. They offer a deceptively simple solution to diverging family patterns: fix economic inequality. They also recommend fixing the pathways to adulthood with proposals ranging from better pregnancy support to early childhood education through college and employment.

the crew

Reardon’s description matches up with what we have been describing throughout this book. The new upper-middle-class model has enormous payoffs for children—payoffs that re-create class identity. Upper-middle-class parents are more likely to raise children within two-parent families, and both mothers and fathers spend more time with their children than their parents did. These well-off parents, who spend substantial sums on cleaning crews and energy-efficient washers and dryers, devote increasing amounts of their own time and that of carefully selected high-quality nannies, preschool teachers, tutors, sports trainers, and camp counselors to creating activities that stimulate their children’s cognitive environment. Well-off families have remade the use of parental energies to invest ever more in children even with two parents in the workforce.