never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: books


Arnold thought, lying awake in the night, of the people you can talk to and the person you love. The fact that these are not always the same is an outrage; one of those sardonic flicks at beauty and unity which life loves to give. Men and women have always accepted it, with the cynical, unquestioning patience of their kind. Men go out to talk with other men, come home to woman and child. Girls gossip with girls, take silent walks, locked in dumb affection with the beloved youth. What is talk, that curling of the tongue round air to trap ideas, between two people who would kiss? For that matter, what are kisses, what is embracing, what is dumb desire, between two people who cannot know each other’s mind?

– Rose Macauley, Crewe Train, p. 225-226


Her fellow actors were odd but unexciting, their way of life haphazard, their behavior opportunistic. Like the artistic and literary circle which Mary Jocelyn penetrates, they turned out to be dirtier and cattier than expected.

–Janet Morgan, Introduction to The Rector’s Daughter, p. xiv


This is how I felt at 36 and again at 42:

Wet starts in 2009 in my mid-thirties when I was single and working in Silicon Valley. I was never a girl to worry about an engagement ring. I was more likely to ask, like Peggy Lee did in her hit song from 1969, Is that all there is? In fact, I had become famous as a non-settler when I wrote the book Quirkyalone, which launched a movement of people who choose not to settle in love.

I felt disappointed and disillusioned that actually I had settled. I was burned out, unfulfilled, bored, and hopeless about love, fearful that having written Quirkyalone would only attract singleness into my life.

My resume was amazing, but my life felt very dry, like a giant to-do list and there was no more satisfaction in crossing anything off.

I wanted the script of what a woman is supposed to want: a husband, house, maybe one child, but then again, I didn’t really want that either. The real problem was I didn’t know what I wanted.

book mates

Mary liked the long Dedmayne winter evenings. In October, as regularly as the leaves fell, she began the winter habit of reading her favorite novels for an hour before dinner, finding in Trollope, Miss Yonge, Miss Austen, and Mrs. Gaskell friends so dear and familiar that they peopled her loneliness.

— F.M. Mayor, The Rector’s Daughter, p. 24

neglected gems

I’m writing this conclusion after reading May Sinclair’s Mary Olivier, which is a remarkably similar book. Calling them intellectual spinster lit is sexist shorthand and unfair, a reductive approach to careful, sustained exploration of female identity and social status and opportunity, with the addition of energetic minds and consciousness, and the subtraction of romantic “solutions” and entanglements. It’s an effort for a heroine to live with herself and not be defined by a relationship with a man. Sinclair goes further than Mayor does, and Mary Olivier has the feel of a significant modernist text, and it, or at least she, Sinclair herself, maintains a minor reputation that should definitely be more substantial. I’m working on that vein. But in many ways I’m more interested in this even more obscure and neglected text and author. comparison to Sinclair points to Mayor’s seriousness and the ambition of her story and the way she tells it. And I wonder if The Rector’s Daughter isn’t the true neglected gem, especially for our own tastes and time. Strong recommendation, for an intriguing, highly readable and engaging, out of the way text.

the monotone

I finished a good memoir this week called Gone Feral about a woman searching for her (slightly mad) father. She and her sister were the children of “back to the land” hippies and experienced unconventional childhoods. They both struggled mightily to find their way in their twenties and thirties but both found unconventional partners who were good matches for them and both ended up having a child. At the end of the book, there is a lot of ink spilled about how their own children “saved them,” gave them purpose, taught them the meaning of love, etc. They are now both “back to the landers” themselves, so the cycle is complete.

It’s so hard to know how to feel reading that kind of stuff. I, too, took many detours in my twenties and thirties (and now in my forties), but none have led to a partner, and all have led back to a one-bedroom apartment and the taxing full-time workweek. It’s basically been a long stretch of monotone with splashes of color every so often when I got brave.

I never felt that “well-matched” feeling with a partner that these women did (or if so it was with someone that it couldn’t work out with long-term), but admittedly, I had more concern than they did about things like a roof over my head and health insurance. Still. A lot of other people have those concerns too, and they found partners.

I have no answers.


I think this is one of those age-related things that I hadn’t expected. The effort that one has to make at a certain age is so unbelievable. I read things that tell me: As a woman of this age, I’m supposed to be doing at least one half-an-hour exercise a day, and not only one kind of exercise but I’m supposed to marry aerobics and core building. And then I have to take this supplement and take this medication. And then I have to keep earning money because I can never retire. It’s hard to get up in the morning!

That title was actually said to me by my Beverly Hills hairdresser. I remember thinking that I looked fantastic — that this was as good as it gets — when I walked in to see him. And he said, “I see you made an effort.”

the effort

How I relate to this:

Q: In the book, you say that you haven’t known what to wear for a few years now. Has that changed?

A: First of all, how you look physically is the least of the issues at 50. I want to make that clear. But I do write about it because at a certain point you’re just not sure what you’re comfortable in anymore. It takes a lot of effort at this age not just to get dressed, it’s everything — eating the right foods, taking the supplements, getting the right amount of exercise, remaining economically viable. It’s a lot of work. For me, it takes a lot of coffee. And vitamin D.

Also, the last chapter of her book, “The Four A.M. Club,” was to me the most poignant:

Q: The last chapter of your book is a collection of women’s thoughts at 4 a.m. Why 4 a.m.?

A: At 4 a.m. I’m wondering what city I’m in because I’m on a book tour. And I’m wondering if I can get a good espresso at 5 a.m. I find 4 a.m. to be a real time when people at this age have these funny and serious thoughts about life.


We should’ve been able to do that, but, in practice — and I think this goes down to America and Britain being such unequal societies — we weren’t able to do so. We find that there had been very grave consequences in terms of social engagement — particularly in Britain. We find that there’s great consequences in terms of mental well-being, which are at least as marked, perhaps more marked, in the United States than they seem to be in Britain. And we find that there are consequences too —certainly more suggestively, but there’s still a lot to convince me — in terms of family relationships and how people get on with their nearest and dearest. All of these things that we like to think that money shouldn’t be able to buy — friends, family, community — all of these things have been tainted by the social fallout of Great Recession.


In my twenties and thirties, my mother was like one of those sitcom characters who asks her daughter in every conversation, “So, are you seeing anyone?” A widow now, she maintains that there’s no life outside of marriage and family for women (while at the same time occasionally saying she regretted having kids– put that in your pipe and smoke it, Freud).

I battled that whole idea in my youth but certainly a lot of it sunk in. I can’t blame all of that on my mother’s attitude, as it’s easy enough to get that message from the larger culture. So in my early decades I put a lot of energy into “finding someone” while simultaneously pursuing my own interests and dreams. It was a bit of a schizophrenic existence.

In my forties, I have to admit that, for all practical purposes, my mother is right. I don’t want to be a “whiner,” but I only have to read the eloquent posts on sites such as the Gateway Women forum to realize that strong, admirable women frequently “wobble” in the face of long-term singlehood and/or childlessness.

It’s the nonexistent path, and it does sometimes feel like one has to be superhuman to overcome the messaging. Given that I don’t want any old relationship but a generally good one, I may have to don a cape:

First… the weight of a whole tribal or family historical tradition has to be
lifted…then the influence of the individual parental, social and cultural
background has to be thrown off. The same must be done with the demands of
contemporary society at large, and finally the advantages derived from one’s
immediate social circle have to be partly or wholly sacrificed. Then all the easy
indulgences of being a Sulk or a Jerk… have to be given up. Following this, the
individual must attain personal and social control, so that all the classes of
behavior… become free choices subject only to his will. He is then ready for
game-free relationships… at this point he may be able to develop his capacities
for autonomy. In essence, this whole preparation consists of obtaining a friendly
divorce from one’s parents (and from other Parental influences) so that they may be
agreeably visited on occasion, but are no longer dominant.

Games People Play by Eric Berne, M.D. p. 182-183, “The Attainment of Autonomy”