never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: dreams

the guarded

After many years of observation and experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to succeed in a job like mine is to be cool and reserved. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to find an ally at work with whom I can share gallows humor, but the higher I go, the more difficult that becomes. Instead I spend a good portion of my energy at work trying to suppress my personality, thoughts, and emotions, even while handling one impossible situation after another. When I slip and let my personality through, I often feel like I’ve made a mistake.

It’s only when I come home from work, shut the door, and am alone that it feels safe to let my hair down. Although I try to retain some openness to “meeting someone,” I can no longer imagine throwing myself into the brutality of the dating market on top of dealing with this job. If it happens, it will have to be serendipitous. Same with friendships. Children have finally come to represent additional conflict and stress at a time in my life when I crave less of those things.

Last weekend I spent almost an entire day at home reading through a stack of brilliant books, and I was delirious with happiness. Few things make me as happy anymore.

Some people may lose heart with trying for connection after their first brush with loss or disappointment; others bounce back time after time. I think I’ve finally reached my personal tipping point. I’m making peace with the idea that the coming years will be about building the nest egg that will allow me to retire to a frugal and solitary but free life filled with good books and, possibly, a dog.

Soon I will do the thing I vowed not to do in that I will sit down with paper, pen, and my various financial statements to figure out when that day might come. It will probably take at least eight years, maybe more. I will continue to schedule in points of light in my calendar, but underneath it all I will be moving steadily toward that goal.


Wonderful analysis of Lolly Willowes here:

The novel became a surprise bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in 1926 (it was the inaugural selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club). This might in part have been because there were so many unmarried women in the post-World War I years—“women living and growing old, as common as blackberries, and as unregarded”—who could relate to the character’s situation and savor her fantastic refusal of the role of demure, helpful, but largely invisible spinsterhood (a refusal, without doubt, that was—and still is—considerably harder to pull off in reality). In fact, another highly entertaining novel about a woman similarly resisting repressive social norms (though not by selling her soul), Rose Macaulay’s Crewe Train, appeared the same year.


When I returned to the novel a year or so later for a fourth (or was it fifth?) reading, I started imagining that a third possibility might exist (and this is where it may have gotten a little academic and egg-headed, but I still wonder about it, so I’ll share it here regardless). I started wondering if Warner was really doing something pretty postmodern—if she might be intentionally leaving the “reality” of the novel in doubt in order to focus instead on the whole idea of fantasy itself—of (in this case) a woman’s fantasy of escaping from a rigidly-controlled and ultimately male-dominated culture in which her only value could be as a wife and mother or as a permanent babysitter and domestic servant. Maybe she was questioning the politics of this escapism (Warner herself sympathized with Marxism and might well have been suggesting that fantasizing doesn’t make the world a better place)? Or maybe she was questioning if it was even possible to escape in any meaningful way from the culture we live in?

After all, whether Laura is dreaming comforting dreams or whether she really becomes a witch, it strikes me that the life Laura chooses for herself is really, when you think about it, only a sort of lonely, wide-open prison instead of a socially enforced, tightly constraining one. When her nephew Titus becomes engaged to be married, Laura thinks of the engagement as a business transaction, an engagement between the country estate Titus already owns and the woman he is about to own. She has no understanding of—or, perhaps more accurately, no trust in—romantic love—or, for that matter, much of any other kind of social interaction. Laura’s escape from society and social oppression has been a (surely somewhat bittersweet) escape from any meaningful human interaction whatsoever!


Written from 2005 – when Heti was 28 – through to 2012, the book explores the messiness, self-consciousness and doubts of young women who have been told the world offers them unprecedented opportunities, but find themselves working as unpaid interns, living in grimy bedsits and dating loser men.

the policies

By the time Jamie is a full-fledged adult, she has likely already gone through economic shocks that have depleted her savings, if she had any, and impacted her personal relationships. Unless Jamie’s family has enough money to cushion these blows, economic and job insecurity either for herself or her partner will take their toll. The moment Jamie starts getting comfortable in a relationship — planning for a future life as a couple and talking about having kids — the prospect of economic setbacks interferes.

Those constantly tossed around by their jobs and unable to find firm economic footing will have challenges getting to the commitment stage. Jamie may decide that given the insecurity of economic conditions, committing to a partner or a family is just too risky. When the future is unforeseeable, and you can’t really know what you’re signing up for, why sign up at all? Another possibility is Jamie may decide that economic calculations are more important than romantic attraction or compatibility in her choice of mate.


In middle age, Jamie will want to feel a sense of usefulness and pride in her accomplishments. But American society is structured to make these things elusive.

Americans can no longer count on a stable career, and unfortunately, we have not set up reasonable policies, like basic incomes, to compensate for this situation. Between deliberate wage suppression, deregulation, unfair tax polices, and austerity measures, Jamie, like so many Americans, may find herself at the mercy of ruthless corporate practices. For Jamie, this means that her strong psychological need for security and stability may keep her from achieving social cohesion and stable family life. With little free time and precious few vacations, Jamie has not had enough time to establish hobbies, connect with nature, or engage in civic activities. She may find herself with little deep involvement in the world.

As a woman, things are especially precarious for Jamie. Recent research by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers suggests that the subjective well-being of American women has dropped both in absolute terms and in relation to men.

lotus eaters

If I had found a partner at the age of twenty-two with whom there was mutual attraction and love and who wanted to commit to marriage and kids and who didn’t mind being the sole breadwinner and who made a good enough living to do so and who was guaranteed to treat me well and never leave or die or lose his job (or who would have left me enough money in the case of any of those events), I would have happily acquiesced to being a stay-at-home mom and never entering the job market. I’m guessing most women would.

I would also have liked to have been a supermodel or famous movie actress, or to have inherited a substantial trust fund, or to have won the lottery.

The majority of us, however, have to make contingency plans. The fact that the way we are living our lives is not our first choice, or even our second, but we are in fact “making do,” is not something we like to admit these days, especially in the U.S. Many of us carry this around as our dirty little secret.

Yes, there are some women who, even under ideal circumstances, still want to work; they would go out of their minds without the stimulation of being in the workforce. But my guess is those women represent a fairly small slice of the population. Even those who want to work may be at least partially motivated by the lack of respect and status given to homemakers rather than the desire to hold a j.o.b.

Although many of my wealthy former classmates seem to have pulled off the rosy scenario described above, for most of us, they may as well inhabit the land of the lotus eaters, a place of never-ending bounty that exists only in dreams.

So the rest of us get ourselves a job and then get labelled “career women,” as if we were some small, overly-ambitious slice of the population, instead of the realists we’ve been forced to be.


Gigi is thinking about dating on a whole other level. “I don’t know if I told you, but I’m no longer dating. I’m not looking for it. I’m not asking for it. I don’t want it. I’m serious. I am no longer dating.”


“Marriage and children would have been great back in my twenties and thirties,” she explains. “But now love and children aren’t things I need to focus on. I don’t want to feel like I have to stop what I’m doing with my life now that I’m still alone in my forties. This is my life now and I’m going to live it as I see fit. I’m living a life other than marriage.”

–Melanie Notkin, Otherhood, p. 174

Suddenly, this year, I need reading glasses. There is probably no better symbol of middle-age. I’m tired.

It’s been a strange time to start over in a new place, but I realize I have to make it work here. I can’t easily quit and find another job in a few years. I either have to retire from here or, perhaps, in another five years move up to an even more demanding position elsewhere. I’m not sure I’d want to do that in my fifties, but it’s either up or out.

As I’ve written before, remaining single and working at a demanding job near the top of the ladder isn’t where I wanted to end up in life, but I’m also aware that my choices are swiftly dwindling. My last move brought that into stark relief. I’ve tried many things to change the pattern I’ve been in, and none of them have worked. I’ve now moved into acceptance.

The problem with the term “career woman” is that it’s anachronistic; it’s from a generation ago, when a woman who worked was an outlier, a rebel, a feminist. It’s really not relevant to today, when half of the modern workforce is made up of women: single, married, divorced, widowed, and everything in between. Having an income, whether it’s a one-earner or dual-earner household, is no longer a choice for most North American women. It’s a necessity. –Melanie Notkin, Otherhood, p. 184

This weekend I was unable to make it up to a festival I used to enjoy in my old stomping grounds, so instead I went to some events in this area. I did get up to my old neighborhood one day last week, and the three friends I was going to meet for lunch and coffee all had to cancel due to family and work obligations. I went to a couple of my favorite restaurants alone, and the food wasn’t quite as good as I remembered, especially after all that farm-cooking I did in my former city.

It’s time to accept where I am in life and make the best of things in this particular place. Bloom where I’m planted. I may or may not meet someone; that is up to chance as I’m not actively looking, and indeed have few options for actively looking. I’ve accepted that friendships too may be few and far between. But I’m okay. The truth is, I’m getting too tired to spend time feeling sad about what I don’t have. I need to conserve my energy for the things that I do have.

And I turn thirty six. Summer rounds into fall… rounds into winter… rounds into spring… rounds into summer, and there it goes.

A guy I might be interested in isn’t interested in me, or one who’s pursuing me isn’t moving me. There’s another party, another disappointment. On Sunday, I shop for new jeans or new shoes or a new dress for dates I don’t have. Dates with men I don’t meet.

…soon after that, I take a week off work and travel with other singles… I make new friends, and I feel like my life is fresh and new and has potential. And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


And I wonder to myself how many plane trips I would have taken with my family. How many vacations we would have had together. And how, now that I’m forty-three and being honest with myself, I know I’ll never have that. I’ve passed that life; I’ve missed my flight.


But then, as summer once again rounds into fall… rounds into winter… rounds into spring… rounds into summer, and we reach the end of our fertility, certainly not the end of our womanhood, we grieve less as we embrace life as it is, no longer focusing on what it isn’t or what we aren’t.

–Melanie Notkin, Otherhood, pp. 222-229

the cockeyed

The most dramatic decisions I’ve made in my life feel now as though they were launched by a level-headed unconscious: leaving Texas, stopping drinking, getting clear of bad relationships. Occasional leaps of faith toward the unknown that seemed cockeyed or frightening but turned out well.

— Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions, p. 60


I enjoyed the honesty of this interview; once again, it’s nice to hear a dude’s perspective on coming to terms with the single and childless life:


That year, seven of my girlfriends were expecting babies.

Although the biology was simple, falling pregnant seemed like life’s greatest mystery.

“Why does it happen to everyone else but not me?” I asked my mother, who had never put any pressure on me to settle down.

She was proud of the life I had created.

“Perhaps it’s just not your destiny,” she replied philosophically. “Maybe you’ve got a different purpose in life, like writing your books.”

“I probably had 12 kids in my last life and need a break!” I joked, despite the fact that a deep sadness was starting to settle over me.


Hans Castorp respected work– as how should he not have? It would have been unnatural. Work was for him, in the nature of things, the most estimable attribute of life; when you came down to it, there was nothing else that was estimable. It was the principle by which one stood or fell, the Absolute of the time; it was, so to speak, its own justification. His regard for it was thus religious in its character, and so far as he knew, unquestioning. But it was another matter, whether he loved it; and that he could not do, however great his regard, the simple reason being that it did not agree with him. Exacting occupation dragged at his nerves, it wore him out; quite openly he confessed that he liked better to have his time free, not weighted with the leaden load of effort; lying spacious before him, not divided up by obstacles one had to grit one’s teeth and conquer, one after the other. — Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

It looks like my new job will be much like my last, in terms of understaffing and unrelenting demands. I’ve been initiating a number of projects I’m excited about; these projects have some personal appeal to me, might introduce me to interesting people, and should be a win for my customers. I’m not keen on the responsibility of being the boss lady, but I am enjoying the freedom to innovate and initiate, and my staff seems to be willing to come along for the ride. I like the people I’ve been working with and am appreciating the fact that I can accomplish a lot here.

In the same way, I can appreciate many aspects of being single. I have some time to pursue hobbies and relax and read (not so much lately but hopefully again soon), and as I’ve written before, I’ve had an adventurous and varied life.

That said, I would prefer not to have to work and, if I had my choice, I would work a lot less. I would also prefer to be in a relationship, even though I know it would entail a lot of sacrifices. I’m trying to reconcile myself to the fact that I didn’t live the last two decades of my life in the manner I would have preferred, and at this point, I probably never will do so, at least until retirement age.

I railed against this for a long time but am slipping into acceptance now.