never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: dating


We tend to frolic a little in each other’s company; we get such enjoyment out of seeing things together and talking about them and exchanging news and gossip and just being together a bit in the old way.

— Gabrielle Selz, Unstill Life, p. 327

I love this sentiment, although the woman who wrote it was divorced from and unable to ever successfully reunite with the the man to whom she was writing.

With kids off the table, I have a hard time imagining another reason to pair up with someone besides the tendency to “frolic a little in each other’s company.”

the blame game

I always used to bristle when people suggested that my single state was all my fault, but the truth is, I have a tendency to frame my situation in those exact terms. I often ruminate over past men I rejected or broke it off with and wonder if I should have made a different decision somewhere. Was it really a big deal that we were on completely different pages when it came to something like religion? Or that we were ill-matched physically, or that I didn’t like his scent? Or that he had a personality disorder or bored me or frequently made remarks I found offensive? Or he came from a completely different cultural background? Or there was a significant age gap? Or he had a drinking problem or did not have a college degree and resented my group of college friends as a result?

The human brain seems to want to find fault somewhere, even if it’s with ourselves. We want to believe that if things had been handled differently everything would have worked out fine. We have a strong desire to feel in control of our fate.

It’s difficult for me to sit with the idea that things just never lined up for me. That, perhaps, I never really had good choices to make.


In short, a full explanation cannot look at the family in isolation from economic forces. Any attempt to respond to family change must include reconstruction of the script for the college educated, prompting investment in careers and marriages that can withstand the stresses of career changes, children’s illness, and geographic mobility.


At the top, increasing disparities among men and among women have made both pickier about potential mates and wary of early commitments that might limit future opportunities. Women used to “shop around” for successful men. Male executives used to marry their secretaries, who would take care of them at home the way they did in the office. Now both look for mates who reflect (and enhance) their own expectations about the ability to enjoy the good life. Two substantial incomes rather than one make the difference between the home overlooking the golf course and the modest tract house in the less tony school district, and even if money is not at issue, the stay-at-home spouse with the Ph.D. possesses much more social status than does a high school graduate playing the same domestic role.

College graduates still largely forge lasting relationships and they typically will do so with one another, but they hedge their bets by delaying marriage and childbearing until they have a better idea of where they (and the partners to whom they commit) are likely to end up—concentrating elite advantage in the process as overwhelming numbers of them raise their children in financially secure, two-parent families.


These economic changes, which have increased the dominance of high-income men at the top, marginalized a large number of men at the bottom, and reduced the number of men in the middle, have unsettled the foundations of family life. To be sure, the family does not change with the stock market ticker or the seasonal adjustments in the unemployment rate. Instead, shifts in the economy change the way men and women match up, and, over time, they alter young people’s expectations about each other and about their prospects in newly reconstituted marriage markets. These expectations go to the core of what many see as a shift in values. The ambitious college students, who are said to have mastered the “hookup,” know that attending to their studies pays off in terms of both marriage and career prospects and that too early a commitment to a partner or to childbearing may derail both. Yet, they still largely believe that when they are ready, a suitable partner—male, female, or the product of a sperm bank—will be there for them.

Women who do not graduate from college are more likely to see childbearing as the event that will most give meaning to their lives, and they are more likely to respond to experiences with unreliable and unfaithful partners by giving up on men and investing in themselves and their children. These differing expectations, treated as the subject of moral failings, women’s liberation, and cultural clashes, are a predictable consequence of the remaking of marriage markets. At the top, there are more successful men seeking to pair with a smaller pool of similarly successful women. In the middle and the bottom, there are more competent and stable women seeking to pair with a shrinking pool of reliable men. What we are watching as the shift in marriage markets rewrites family scripts and increases gender distrust is the re-creation of class—of harder edged boundaries that separate the winners and losers in the new American economy.


With these changes, the new sexual script has become:

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl runs through her checklist: is he a one-night stand? (If so, say yes.). Is he someone she will still want to be with in a month? (If yes, then say no tonight but arrange another date.) Is he someone who can help pay the mortgage on the condo she wants to buy but can’t afford? (Flirt some more.) Is she likely to end up picking up his dirty socks and his student debt? (No way, unless he’s really cute.)

— June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family, p. 44

the system

“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward. At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home, and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”

Allsopp says fertility is the one thing that cannot change.

“Some of the greatest pain that I have seen among friends is the struggle to have a child. It wasn’t all people who couldn’t start early enough because they hadn’t met the right person,” she said.

“But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have. And I think if you’re a man of 25 and you’re with a woman of 25, and you really love her, then you have a responsibility to say: ‘Let’s do it now.’

the unique

Optimistic study here. I admit I’m highly attracted to uniqueness:

Psychological research on first impressions has shown that men and women do in fact reach some degree of consensus about each other in precisely this way. During an initial encounter, some people generally inspire swooning, others polite indifference and others avoidance. Desirable qualities like attractiveness, charisma and success — the features that differentiate the haves from the have-nots — are readily apparent.

Yet alongside this consensus is an equally important concept: uniqueness. Uniqueness can also be measured. It is the degree to which someone rates a specific person as lower or higher than the person’s consensus value. For example, even if Neil is a 6 on average, certain women may vary in their impressions of him. Amanda fails to be charmed by his obscure literary references and thinks he is a 3. Yet Eileen thinks he is a 9; she finds his allusions captivating.

In initial encounters, consensus and uniqueness are in tension. Which ultimately prevails?

the needy

I’m not sure following his advice will make a whit of difference for this woman, but I give him props for including this quote:

I’m reminded of a story that Rich Gosse, the founder of AmericanSingles, once shared with me. It was an amazing response to how he dealt with skeptical press inquiries about his new business model.

“What kind of loser (I’m paraphrasing here) would go to an online dating site to meet someone?” the press would ask.

To which Rich would reply: ‘Well, there are a number of people out there who are socially awkward. There are a number of people who are somewhat weak and needy. There are a number of people who are so desperate for companionship that they’d do anything to avoid being alone. I call these people ‘married people’.”


I once placed a lovely but unusual artifact up for sale on Craigslist and had no takers. There was nothing wrong with the artifact itself, but at that particular moment in time, there was no market for it.

To a large degree I think that’s what explains my (lack of) a dating life. There’s just very few men in the market for the particular combination of what I have to offer.

The one thing that used to puzzle and hurt, however, was when I encountered men with whom I shared the same sense of humor, hobbies, politics, books and movies, education, and general outlook, and with whom there seemed to be physical attraction, and they still weren’t interested, or they weren’t interested in anything long-term.

Sometimes I think that it’s not just online dating– with it’s promise of endless possibilities– but our oversaturation in media culture that is to blame. I consider myself an attractive woman with a good education, a salary that has recently nudged me into the top twenty percent, and, I think, a nice and interesting personality. That, in combination with genuine compatibility, would, I assume, make an appealing package. But I’m not a traffic-stopper or a trust-funder, nor am I well-connected or famous. And, of course, now I’m “old.”

No matter how fast I run, though, that’s a race I can never win, not from my starting line.

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.

the periphery

I’m feeling much better– my intense anger has left– and I’m more or less back to my original self, even on a Monday.

Although my job has it’s sticking points, there are definitely some good things about it– some avenues of creativity and fun. I will say, however, that although I’m extremely grateful to have it, the relief of knowing that abstract figures are replenishing my bank account cannot compensate for the inevitable feelings of dislocation and loneliness that have resulted from making a move at this age, especially since the move was to a place that does not readily offer the same types of social avenues I’ve built an identity on over two decades.

Although I don’t feel this bad, I found some solace in this:

Over the winter I moved from New York City to Portland, Ore. The reasons for my move were purely logical. New York was expensive and stressful. Portland, I reasoned, would offer me the space and time to do my work.

Upon arriving, I rented a house and happily went out in search of “my people.” I went to parks, bookstores, bars, on dates. I even tried golfing. It wasn’t that I didn’t meet people. I did. I just felt no connection to any of them.

Once social and upbeat, I became morose and mildly paranoid. I knew I needed to connect to people to feel better, but I felt as though I physically could not handle any more empty interactions. I woke up in the night panicked. In the afternoon, loneliness came in waves like a fever. I had no idea how to fix it.


When we are lonely, we lose impulse control and engage in what scientists call “social evasion.” We become less concerned with interactions and more concerned with self-preservation, as I was when I couldn’t even imagine trying to talk to another human. Evolutionary psychologists speculate that loneliness triggers our basic, fight vs. flight survival mechanisms, and we stick to the periphery, away from people we do not know if we can trust.