never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: facebook


An old friend of mine is coming into town in a few weeks with her two kids in tow. It will be good to see her, but these reunions are not nearly as important to me as they were a decade ago. The thing is, I’ve moved on.

I hear from my friends who are married with children every few years or so over email, and every five years or so some of them pop into town or we find ourselves in the same place. But we are not on the same page. While they were busy with spouses and kids and couple friends and home building, out of necessity I constructed a whole new life and self, one that was paying far more attention to matters outside that realm, matters they have long since dropped. In some ways I got to live like I was in my twenties again, when self-exploration was king, albeit with the added difficulties of grieving alone and locating age-appropriate activities.

They don’t know this about me though and perhaps I have remained “static” in their minds as I haven’t had big visual milestones to show off on Facebook. Much of this life building has been furtive and carried out in the shadow of benign neglect. I felt this difference starkly at my college reunion; I had the sense I’d been traveling down a different track, but one that wasn’t well-lit.

selfie motivations

Obviously, not everyone wants to partner up and make babies; I’m not saying that is the literal end goal for all of our social media ego building. I’m talking about our primal motivation, before you account for all the conscious decisions about our individual lives we each make aside from that. When you really follow the motivation behind every single post down to its source, you will always, always find a desire to connect, to be loved, to have sex, to be seen and known and desired and valued by another person. The only question is why are we so afraid of that? (Answer: confronting the basic human underpinnings of all of our daily actions would mean existing in a permanently vulnerable state, and I think we can all agree when I say, “Fuck that.”)

No matter what social media vessel you feel most comfortable with, be it pouty-lipped selfie or 2,000-word essay defending selfies, we’re all perpetually striving to put together all the pieces that give the impression of our best vision of ourselves, cast forth in the hope that someone will notice and love us in whatever way it is we need to be loved. The only reason we hate on selfies is because they are way less subtle about it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to, literally or figuratively, put your best face forward. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be loved. Maybe if the rest of us weren’t so strangely opposed to admitting that that’s why are on social media in the first place, we would be less judgmental of the selfie-takers who aren’t afraid to wear their approval-seeking behavior on their sleeves.


While social media has the potential to make a big world smaller, to bring people of all kinds together, and to strengthen the bonds of friendship, its downside is bleak. Let’s face it: We don’t always experience joyous excitement when scrolling through photos and posts of our friends doing well, enjoying a vacation, or having fun together. Prosperity, pleasure, or an unexpected bonus in someone else’s life can stab you with pain. It might make you depressed or even ill.

Imagine my therapy client who has fertility issues. What does it feel like to her every time she opens Facebook to find a post from yet another former high school classmate announcing her pregnancy? Consider your neighbor who has been unemployed for a year logging onto Google+ only to discover that his longtime friend was recently promoted—again. Sure, there are plenty of people online congratulating one another, sharing in joy, and finding vicarious happiness in the success of others. But envy can be powerful and decidedly unpleasant.

Social media amplifies unintended slights or emotional injuries. Most of all, it exponentially increases the likelihood of social envy.

– See more at:

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 equation

I’m not saying that biology doesn’t matter—of course it does, and I don’t think women should ignore or put off researching their window for fertility and doing their best to accommodate that. The sad reality is that women can’t wait as long as men do to be sure whether or not they want kids. But biology isn’t everything, and simply warning us that our fertile years are waning isn’t actually helping create healthy families; in fact, I’d say it’s adding to women’s stress and fear about this issue. Biology is one part of the equation, but gaining life experience, figuring out who we want to be and who we want for our partners in love and parenting, and what they want, is just as important.


I took my first full-time job in my early twenties, during the pre-internet days. I had moved to a sleepy city where I didn’t know a soul. I survived by reading a lot, but I remember the workdays feeling excruciatingly lonely and long until, near the end of my first year, the magical invention of e-mail arrived. I was then able to have intermittent communication during my day with my old college and high school friends, which was a lifesaver.

These days the first thing I do upon waking is peruse my email and the web. I actually look forward to getting out of bed in order to do so. In fact, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without the internet and all it has brought me– blogs, podcasts, email, forums, and the like.

Prior to the rise of the web, I looked for solace in books and in other like-minded souls on the serendipitous occasions when I could find them. I confess that in my youth there was a lot of hanging-out with people I didn’t have much in common with, who weren’t all that good for me, and who often left me feeling alienated and self-doubting. Part of that was youth, I’m sure, but part of it was that back then we didn’t have the whole ocean of human thought before us to dip into whenever we felt lost or questioning.

The internet gave me a great gift by letting me know there are many others out there who think and feel as I do– who have the same politics, the same sense of humor, who get enraged by the same things. I feel like this enables me to “speed up” my evolution as I don’t spend as much time “lost in the woods” as I might otherwise.

This, of course, has a potential downside. Perhaps the internet is enabling me to stay solo, for better or worse. Without it would I have married someone I wasn’t gung-ho about out of the sheer need of human connection? Is it keeping me from befriending people I don’t have much in common with but might grow to feel affection for over time? Or do both those things spell a lifetime of frustration from which the internet liberates us?

And as much as the internet can make me feel less alone, it can in other ways– particularly via social media– make me feel more alone:

Her conclusion suggests that my sometimes unhappy reactions to Facebook may be more universal than I had realized. When I scroll through page after page of my friends’ descriptions of how accidentally eloquent their kids are, and how their husbands are endearingly bumbling, and how they’re all about to eat a home-cooked meal prepared with fresh local organic produce bought at the farmers’ market and then go for a jog and maybe check in at the office because they’re so busy getting ready to hop on a plane for a week of luxury dogsledding in Lapland, I do grow slightly more miserable. A lot of other people doing the same thing feel a little bit worse, too.

Still, Burke’s research does not support the assertion that Facebook creates loneliness. The people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from Facebook, too, she points out; on Facebook, as everywhere else, correlation is not causation. The popular kids are popular, and the lonely skulkers skulk alone. Perhaps it says something about me that I think Facebook is primarily a platform for lonely skulking. I mention to Burke the widely reported study, conducted by a Stanford graduate student, that showed how believing that others have strong social networks can lead to feelings of depression. What does Facebook communicate, if not the impression of social bounty? Everybody else looks so happy on Facebook, with so many friends, that our own social networks feel emptier than ever in comparison. Doesn’t that make people feel lonely?

the flurry

It sounds as if you’re already dealing with your feelings in many productive ways, and they just haven’t delivered results. Yet.

That doesn’t mean they won’t. It can take time for the dividends of your choices to become clear to you. For one, I think they’re being obscured by the newness of this phase of life for your peers — and the fact that each is traditionally launched with a party. When you’re in the flurry of weddings, showers, housewarmings, etc. — and it is typically a flurry — you’re seeing many people who are at the height of their joy with these milestones.

I don’t mean to sound cynical, just realistic — some of these marriages will unravel; some of these houses will be money pits; some of these kids will be difficult and wear out their parents, who will love them nonetheless but who will give up a lot of other valued things to make it all work. The highs and comforts inherent in marriage/house/kiddos are real and significant, but so are the lows, and the mehs.

And this will become steadily more apparent to you as your friends and family get beyond the cake-and-gifts phase, and celebration mode gives way to the rigors of daily life. (If we had showers and receptions for singleton milestones instead, would the jealousy jump sides? Discuss.)

This will happen, possibly, as your “new/fun” activities and travels evolve into deeper commitments and pleasures.

the why factor


One afternoon I went out on the river in a bad state. I was tired and worried about the surgery, and I had spent an hour the evening before immersed in a toxic pastime: Googling old boyfriends and pondering the road not taken. Thanks to the new world of knowing too much about anyone you ever met, this was hardly a revelatory activity, but that night I stumbled upon new data about two different men I had loved.

The first was a recent wedding announcement, the other an acknowledgment to a spouse in a book published years earlier. Both instances suggested the kind of wife I had never been and probably never could have been: both painted tableaux, at least in my mind, of flawless dinner parties and social hobnobbing and renovated barns in Greenwich or the like. I was lying on the couch in the living room when I read these tidbits, wearing gym shorts with my hair in a ponytail. Shiloh and Tula were lounging nearby; I was having leftover chicken and watching reruns of Nurse Jackie. Here was the life I created, and whatever it was, it was not a flawless dinner party waiting to happen.

The next day, while I was rowing, I let my mind run free. This was an old and treacherous internal tape: I had forgotten to marry and have kids; I often preferred canine company to human; I would die sad and alone. Such was my recitation of despair, pulled out time to time like an ill-shaped sweater you can’t bring yourself to give away.

— Gail Caldwell, New Life, No Instructions, p. 43

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.