never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: facebook

comfortably numb

I had to do some stressful work-related traveling this week, but the upshot was that I got to meet some colleagues at my level, which was quite helpful. They confirmed some of the reasons I’d been hesitant to take a job like this: it’s lonely being the boss, you have to deal with a lot of politics, you’re always “on,” everyone wants something from you, etc.

I’d also been hesitant to relocate to an outlying area in order to move up; I predicted it might be an easier life, but I wasn’t sure what I’d do with myself away from the urban center.

Yet here I am. I wouldn’t want to go back to my former life in L.A. necessarily, and it’s probably a good thing I’m pushing myself careerwise. I also certainly appreciate the financial security (not enough to change my life in any major way, but enough to put fears about retirement to rest, if I can stick it out for a good amount of time). But, given that I think it’s wise to keep some emotional distance from the job and to find passions elsewhere, I don’t know what I’m about or what excites me anymore. I’m once again thinking that the only feasible answer to my predicament is to get involved in a relationship, but at the same time I’m resentful that seems to be the only answer and further annoyed that it’s so damn difficult to find one.

Some of my older colleagues this week spoke about their exotic travels with their spouses and couple friends. Couple friends? What a concept! I haven’t heard from my couple friends in ages. And I can’t seem to work up much excitement for travel anymore since I’d have to go alone.

In the middle of my work travels, my old friend posted a happy, smiling picture of herself at home with the two gorgeous children she gave birth to in her early forties.

I read recently that children in orphanages stop feeling pain because nobody comes to their aid when they get hurt. I’m feeling less and less myself these days.

the new world

I posted a question about whether it was “pathetic” to have roommates in your late thirties on Facebook and received quite a few interesting responses. My cousin, a professional in her early forties who has had a roommate for years and has saved a busload of money responded “There is nothing pathetic about it! The world is changing. Growing up, getting married, having kids, buying a house, and going into debt is not the way we have to live our lives anymore. The rules of the game are changing!”

Really, there is nothing pathetic about sharing resources with a group of like-minded people. If anything, we are at the forefront of a brave, new world. A world where seniors are choosing co-housing villages over bland retirement communities, where open learning communities are decommodifying education, where car-sharing and coworking spaces are becoming the norm, and where choosing roommates beyond the twenties is a sign of being wise enough to recognize that individualism is overrated—and most definitely isn’t a marker of having “made it” in the world. In fact, I’m learning that cultivating the ability to work and live with others in a way that ensures the well-being of everyone involved, while sharing resources and respecting individual needs is the new paradigm—the true sign of being a real grown-up.


I admit I’ve also had my fill of photos of: “Perfect Family – Posing on the beach all dressed in white shirts, khaki pants with beaming smile and the glorious sunset on the horizon.” It’s as if people are posing their families to look like magazine ads:


But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.

In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. As Ronald Dworkin pointed out in a 2010 paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.


“If two women each talk to their friends the same amount of time, but one of them spends more time reading about friends on Facebook as well, the one reading tends to grow slightly more depressed,” Burke says. 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.”


Bars, events, and online dating– the activities most people turn to in order to meet a partner– all seem unlikely avenues for me at this age. I do, however, occasionally get flirted with just going about the business of life– playing tennis, working on the farm, shopping at Home Depot, dealing with maintenance men, swimming, and so on.

Yet it is hard to let go of the “filtering” mechanism that online dating provides. One of the men I found attractive from the farm recently introduced me to his toddler children. Is there a woman in the picture? I don’t even know. Another man, from tennis, asked to friend me on Facebook. Turns out he is almost twenty years younger than me. I have a feeling he’s a bit surprised.

The real world is full of curves.


The most interesting takeaway from the paper is that the “motivations for pushback and resistance… were deeply grounded in emotions…. Emotional dissatisfaction is the most frequently reported reason to push back and resist online connectivity….”

Privacy, in contrast, was the least reported reason for pushback.

We are more disillusioned, then, than angry or paranoid. Still lonely, even as we’re more connected than any humans have ever been. The more we check our devices, the more we realize we’re not getting what we really need.


I could attend a high school reunion at the end of this month, but it feels like a bad idea, especially while I’m jobless. I’d have to miss out on some things I had planned to do here that weekend. I’m no longer in touch with the people attending, and they are all married (as far as I know) and most of them have kids.

Just thinking about the reunion sent me down a Facebook spiral. As I see photos of childhood friends hanging out with one another and with their kids, I am sad that my life has turned out to be one of such detachment.

I enjoyed this recent post on TheNotMom:

the collective unconscious

Here are the choice bits I promised from Henriette Mantel’s No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood. Although I’ve picked some of the sadder passages, all the essays in the book end on some note of triumph. So just buy the book already, along with Jody Day’s Rocking the Life Unexpected:

Nora Dunn, p. 22: The women I know who have children never say they want another person. They always say they want another baby. They don’t seem to realize that no matter how many babies they have, the baby will always get bigger.

Laurie Graff, p. 57: When I look at Facebook, I am a voyeur. I see pictures, happy pictures of the families my peers have created. I see the choices of girlfriends while piecing together the lives of ex-boyfriends. Artists and civilians alike, divorced, married, widowed, single, straight, or gay, they update their status and show off their kids. I do not know how they really feel, but it looks picture perfect. I look at those pictures, and I feel a pang.

Ann Slichter, p. 85: Back at Gelson’s in the checkout counter there’s that lame US weekly. I think of all the comparing and wishing and hoping I’ve done over the years. Famous pregnant women clad in cute outfits are on every cover. Five months pass, I look at the magazines, same gals, this time they’re pushing strollers. Six more months go by, and every publication has “How I lost my baby weight,” juice fasts, and low-carb eating plans. Those silly little magazines are designed to make me feel bad. And I fall for that trick every time. According to them, I’ve failed.

Andrea Carla Michaels, p. 94: I mean, since turning fifty, I have been placed in the role of older woman, someone’s mother, lonely cat lady– where “independent and free-spirited,” adjectives folks used to ascribe to me, have been daily replaced, “kiddingly” of course, they insist, with “eccentric” and “quirky,” and with multiple references to cats.

Jeanne Dorsey, p. 98: In the ideal world, she will be at peace with this choice, and her identity as a woman remains complete. In the real world the stigma of being a childless woman is part of the collective unconscious.

Betsy Salkind, p. 126: You’d think that people who do have children would take a greater interest in the world of the future, but I’m not seeing that so much. Parents often seem more intent on making sure their kids have advantages over other children than improving the situation for all.

Judy Nielsen, p. 147: My ability to live so well with MS for twenty-five years is the result of having had the time and middle-class privilege to heal myself — and of having the choice of not having children… Instead, I have had time, precious time, to pay attention to my eating, my sleeping patterns, my feelings, my dreams. I participated in my wellness by committing to the age-old practice of practicing.

Kathryn Rossetter (her essay is worth the price of the book alone):

p. 194 Major assumptions are that I am a feminist and career woman who never wanted kids; that I was traumatized as a child; that of course I have had one or more abortions; that I am selfish and self-absorbed and I will never understand life and the depth of unconditional love. Men assume I’m so independent that I am not even looking for a relationship and am just a good-time girl. Some have even intimated that as a woman I seem “unnatural.” I usually just shrug and say, “Life doesn’t always work out.” I offer no more information.

p. 196 During this time, the first phase of my college friends were beginning to have their children. Christmas cards were full of baby pictures and tales of how the love of a small child had transformed them. It was a feeling they could never explain and a depth of love they never knew possible… A divide was forming between the mothers and non-mothers.

p. 196 Whenever I was in a serious relationship, I would feel the strong desire to have a child with that man. I would see us creating new life out of our loving union. But I never felt this when I was on my own, and during those times, I didn’t give children much thought.

p. 198 I suppose it was that I just couldn’t wrap my head or my heart around having a child alone… Unfortunately, I had no one in whom to confide my thoughts, fears, and sadness. At that time, the women’s movement was too fragile to be able to afford the time to support those left confused in its wake.

p. 199-200 Going to L.A. at forty with a broken heart is just slightly less painful than taking a sharp stick in the eye. At that time forty was the new sixty, so personally and professionally, I had a lot of time on my hands… Most of my friends were living a suburban lifestyle… There was no place for me there. I felt excluded from “real life” and profoundly alone.

p. 201 … I threw myself on the bed, and from deep within came a sound like a wolf caught in a trap, howling for its life. I cried for my disappointments, I cried for my mistakes, I cried for my losses. I was a failure as a woman. No one loved me enough to commit to me. I was embarrassed. I felt I needed to apologize for my life.

p. 202 I don’t see my issues discussed on The View. There are no books written, statistics kept, or exposes done on single, childless women of a certain age. My opinions are not sought. I am not even marketed to as a viable consumer.

who’s sorry now

Years ago, a male friend of mine (somewhat rudely) suggested to me that if all my dates weren’t working out, perhaps the problem was with me. I had gone on dates with him too; he later came out of the closet.

He now complains weekly on Facebook about how none of his dates with men ever work out.

status updates

Last week I ran into an old friend I haven’t seen in a good ten years. She’s several years younger than me and has always been a cool, alternative type. She married and had a couple of kids quite some time ago.

We friended each other on Facebook, and I found that her pictures are the same array that I see with both sorority girls and tatted-up chicks alike: a bunch of photos of the kids, several with mom holding the kids, one photo with the whole family with dad as a barely discernible blur in the background, and one or two photos from the wedding. That is so different from my Facebook photos, which are all from parties or travels or events. Interestingly, when I clicked on the dad’s Facebook page, there were no pictures of the kids!

When I asked her about some of our mutual acquaintances, her answers all began (and mostly ended with) s/he got married or s/he is still with her boyfriend/girlfriend or s/he has a new partner. I was reminded of the prominence of that theme here, and how it was a big reason I had become so antsy to move away as a single woman in my thirties. It seems to me that relationship status was not as big a deal in L.A., but then I lived in the central city, near Hollywood.

I will have to guard against getting bored here in the same way again. As long as I stay focused on hobbies and certain kinds of community engagement, hopefully I’ll be okay. If I stay unemployed, I plan to get on that organic farm next month!