never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: family


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.


What do you wish people knew about infertility/involuntary childlessness?

That the pain never truly goes away. You may react less viscerally to certain things than you once did, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t still shed a tear each year at your niece’s dance recital because it’s always going to be a reminder of what you’ll never have, you’ll never be. And that there truly are few things in this world more painful than not being able to make your dreams of a family come true.


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”

the sniveling

This passage perfectly encapsulates how I felt during my last dispiriting period on the job market, before I returned to my profession:

My parents… generation has watched the social infrastructure they painstakingly helped to build being dismantled and sold off, while at the same time having to rescue their offspring who cannot get an economic foothold. Even in our mid to late thirties, my partner and I are chronically financially insecure, always on the verge of packing up and moving back to our parental homes.

Bringing up a family on a modest income, improvising and making do, work was then a source of pride and stability, a solid base on which to build. Now, for us, the pressure of precarity demands a new sort of virtuosity and a different outlook… Work is no longer a secure base, but rather a source of anxiety and indignity, both a matter of life and death and utterly meaningless, overwhelming and yet so insubstantial it could run through our fingers. It is normal to feel under threat and undervalued, to feel snivellingly grateful to have a job, any job. We must be sure not to take work for granted and yet be willing to be taken for granted ourselves. We endure a similar level of “making do”, but without the home or kids, and without the security of regular employment. We can barely live independently now. How will we be able to bring up children, or support them in similar circumstances? The future is no longer something to look forward to, but something to dread.

Again, from my family I inherited no world-shaking political beliefs, just a desire to be part of a community, to do a useful job which was not driven by private profit and to cultivate outside interests rather than be defined by a 24/7 career. Such an attitude, far from being revolutionary, used to be the norm, even a non-attitude. But now the tide has come in, and anyone with such eccentric ideas finds themselves stranded way out to sea on a sandbank with the waves lapping at their feet and the vultures circling above. By maintaining the same moderate position we have become radicals by default. Smiling swimmers beckon toward us (“Come on in, the water’s lovely!”), but we know that we are in a contradictory no-win situation: our future survival depends upon immersing ourselves from head to toe in an ideology which we know is poisonous.

— Ivor Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia, pp. 76-77

muddling through

I remember being worried about turning thirty and then finding it liberating once I passed that milestone and still felt young. I had some of the best years of my life, in fact, from 30-32.

I feel myself once again turning a similar corner. I’ve passed through the worst years of realizing I won’t be having kids and may never get married and am feeling a blossoming of enthusiasm for life again. I’m still facing a number of challenges, but perhaps I’m on the upswing from the lowest-point of the U-shaped curve of happiness that age 44 is purported to be.

At the very least I feel my “muddling through” is par for the course in anyone’s life:

When I was pretending to be the easy-breezy single gal, I was buying in to the general cultural perception that single people occupy some developmental netherworld between goofy teenagers and sober marrieds. But as I cooked my brother dinner or grilled the urgent care nurse about his red-blood cell count, I noticed a peculiar sensation: self-respect. This was difficult, and while it would have been easier if we’d had partners, we were still managing.

Even the small stuff, I realized, wasn’t so small. One night, while sitting on Mark’s couch watching The Simpsons with him, I had a funny epiphany: I was all I ever needed to be. I didn’t have to be pretty or interesting or delighted with my life. I just needed to get the KitKats, to bring movies, to be a good sister.

Mark got better. “Cured,” the doctor said. We both went back to our regular lives and ordinary worries. But I cut the glamour-girl act. I wasn’t glamorous and I wasn’t always happy. I was an ordinary woman, muddling through, and that was more than enough.


When my grandparents retired, they moved en masse to Florida, taking the car, the dog, and their entire circle of friends to the same anonymous strip mall town outside Pompano Beach. They watched each other’s grandchildren grow and compared notes over neatly divided egg salad sandwiches. They went to each other’s funerals and witnessed their wills. When my maternal grandmother, widowed in her fifties, needed to buy a new car or fix a leaky faucet, it was my paternal grandfather who stepped into the role. “But how?” my children asked recently. “Why was he there?” Because he just was. Because they all lived in the same building and checked on each other every day. My generation… isn’t going to Pompano. We are not going to wrinkle; we are not going to dine at the early bird buffet; and we are certainly never going to stop having sex. But what, then, do we do?

In 2010, there were 21.8 million women in the United States over the age of sixty-five. Fifty-eight percent of them lived alone.

— Debora L. Spar, Wonder Women, p. 224

transient states

That left us with two choices: find a friend group that felt like one big family, or build a bigger family of our own. We love our friends, but California is a transient place. One glance at a kickball team photo from 7 years ago would reveal that only 10% of us still live here. We’ve still got the same sized group, but it’s something of a revolving door these days. It’s become difficult to want to get too comfortable with anyone.

So here I am, back in transient California, but without the option of building a family.

I’ve realized that my former life in L.A. is over. One friend is likely moving away, another has had a baby, and the rest just live too damn far. It feels like it’s time for the non-relationship to finally end, and it’s unlikely I will want to spend two hours in the car to see a five dollar show with performers with whom I only have the slightest connection.

The slight reconnections I made in my former city have already withered, except for one woman who is going through the IVF process. If she succeeds, I see that one withering as well.

The childhood friend who sent the photos of her kids keeps in touch intermittently, but our correspondence goes like this: I tell her of an interesting happening in my life, she sends photos/news of her kids. If we hadn’t been friends before, we’d have little reason to keep in touch. Far too little in common.

I like my new co-workers and see us getting along well but don’t necessarily see any of those relationships going farther than work. It doesn’t help being the boss. I’ve met some nice people out and about, but I’m in that unsure place in regard to when or how my next friendships will develop.

I met a man recently with whom I have a ton in common but I’m unsure of his sexual orientation. His correspondence with me is unpredictable, and I’m refusing to take it personally. I confess, though, that it would be wonderful to have a private, shared world with someone, a place I could retreat when I felt the void in the larger world.


As I head back to the big city and paycheck, I found this interesting:

On the plus side, unlike the man being interviewed here, I will have no commute this time around, so that right there should lessen my stress.


The holidays can bring up childhood traumas and emotional angst. They can be a huge trigger for feeling lonely when you are single. I am tired of all that. My new idea is that I am back to embracing the childlike wonder of it all. I am done with the woe-is-me-I’m-single-at-the-holidays thing, and I am going back to childlike wonder.

the maldives

If only some of my friends and relatives would get the memo:

Try to imagine a house that’s not a home,” sighed Mud on their 1974 No 1 single, Lonely This Christmas. “Try to imagine a Christmas all alone.” A Christmas all alone? What’s the problem? I’ve spent Christmas all alone for years, and I can’t think of anything better.

By “alone”, I really mean alone: without family, friends or, usually, neighbours (the woman next door did once bring me a slice of Christmas cake wrapped in a napkin because she was worried about me). And it’s glorious – 24 hours when I don’t have to talk to anyone or do anything I don’t want to. I look forward to it like other people look forward to a week in the Maldives. That’s what it’s like: a week in the Maldives, compressed into one day, in a terraced house in south London.


I get impatient when friends tell me they “admire” my way of celebrating Christmas, and that they wish they could do the same. So why don’t they? Obviously, it wouldn’t work for everyone, but happily single people with no kids could find it a revelation. For those tempted to give it a whirl, I suggest getting in ample food and whatever your poison happens to be, and the new book, DVD or music you’ve been yearning to get around to. Having said that, the most important thing is attitude. Being alone is only lonely if you want it to be.

Somehow, the image of a family happily unwrapping Christmas gifts is greeted with joy, yet a solitary figure sitting by the fire, sipping a glass of wine, and reading or contemplating her past, present and future is less than palatable. Why? And why do those of us who choose to spend Christmas alone have to endure unending condescension and pity from the likes of those who think that being together is the worst fate that could befall someone, especially towards the end of the year?

This makes Christmas very hard for those who have no family or friends descending on them this festive season. We may not actually like our family – in fact, we probably remind ourselves annually that there are more family arguments and even homicides at Christmas than any other time of the year – but if we’re on our own, we feel their absence acutely. I know I have. And endless repeats of Love Actually and the Fezziwig scene in A Christmas Carol only make this worse.

But the fact is that more and more people are spending Christmas on their own or with one other person, or just with the cat. We live further from our families. We remain single longer. We have children later. We get divorced more often. So there are fewer and fewer teeming households out there for Uncle Jamie to arrive at with his pile of presents. In any case, he has probably ordered you something from Amazon that will be delivered ready-wrapped by post, or bought you shares in a goat. Yet those of us without a house full of guests guffawing under the plastic mistletoe tend to feel bad about this, as if we are the only ones left on our own this Christmas.

There is also the matter, this time of year, of mass behavior. Everyone is expected to participate. Annoying as this may be for cultures that do not include Christmas as part of their traditions, it is also annoying for those of us raised in the culture but wishing to have some control over how we pass through these days. Every year, it feels like all the secular autonomy we have so desperately struggled for over the years passes out of our hands when we are dealt the annual trump card of Christmas. Sure, play your hand the rest of the year as you see fit. Pretend to be independent the rest of the year. That’s all very cute. But this is Christmas, damn it! Resume your family role!

I celebrate your independence as I celebrate the independence of this nation from all superstitious tyranny.

The crowd is a tyrant, and you must resist. By resisting the tyranny of Christmas, you save your own soul.