never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: money

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.

three seconds

It may seem like an opinion piece about the financial industry doesn’t belong on this blog, but I believe that the industry creates deleterious trickle-down effects on ordinary people’s prospects for marriage and family:

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.

the math

The way we live now is more unsettled. A woman graduate is reasonably established in a career in her late twenties and ready to think about marriage and children. It can happen, but the hazards along the road are many and there is not much room for error. The most serious problems relate to time.

The most obvious one is biological clock time. Medical infertility is around 5% for 20-year-olds, 10% for 30-year-olds, and pushing 20% for 35-year-olds, so anyone leaving decisions to the late thirties is taking a risk. Mr Right has to be identified, got up the aisle (or secular equivalent) and convinced he wants children, in a very few years. Learned discussions of these matters in terms of people’s strategies, choices, values and risk aversions tend to make the implicit assumption that normal people have a number of choices of potential partners. Everyone really knows that is not true. Finding someone worth marrying who thinks the same about oneself is simply difficult, and one is not notably unlucky if one has no such chance in a five-year period. Again, a woman married at 20 can have another try if necessary, but a 30-year-old graduate has to get it right first time. It is a tall order, given that towards half of marriages end in divorce.

the helpless

Loved this comment and can totally relate after my long job search (not to mention all the hours I’ve spent on the phone with various corporations between my two moves):


You also notice this horrid bureaucratisation if you have the misfortune of having to look for a white collar job. There never is any contact person to email a resume to or to call; job seekers must go to the company website and “apply”. Those of you who have done this know how awful this has gotten in the last several years.

One is immediately confronted with a demand that you “create an account”. From here on, it’s like trying to log on to a CIA or NSA computer! Give email address; repeat and re input you email address. Then try your luck with choosing a username and password. It almost never likes your first choice of these! You then get a system message that your password has to have numerous criteria, that involve caps, numbers and some character like a #,%, =, etc. Then you will be prompted for the answers to 3 security questions! (Why all this NSA level of security walls and paranoia? Are they that afraid that some prankster or imposter will upload a resume, pretending to be you?!)

Once you get past those hurdles, now comes the fun part! You have to fill in a LOT of information (much of which should already be on your resume); pages and pages of it! Even simple questions like city, state and country have to be answered from a lengthy scrollbar list. You can’t just type in “USA”- you have to pick the country from a list of all the worlds nations, which always start alphabetically with Albania and Azerbaijan! Because the US starts with a “U”, you have to scroll way down. Given that most applicants are from the US, it would make sense to put the US first, above Albania. That however is too rational and makes life too easy for the applicant. The purpose of this exercise is to treat people like shit and make them jump hoops. See? You’re already being conditioned for the corporate life to come!

Same goes for a lot of other choices, like school. You have to pick your college from a scrollbar list. Even past employers often have to be selected from a lengthy list of corporations. People can’t be allowed to just input information on their own! Dates have to selected and created from a calendar menu; just typing them in won’t do! Phone numbers are also a problem; they have to follow a strict format. Some sites won’t let you type in the dashes, preferring you leave spaces instead. It helps to also know your country code! Some do ask that! Some will require you to take a profiling test right then and there, with the type of questions that are designed by psychology quacks.

If you leave out necessary information or don’t format something to their liking, one is confronted by an angry looking red letter message telling you to get with the program! Sometimes as “punishment”, all the information you typed in on the page gets wiped out in the reset and you can now re-input all of it again. That’ll teach you to follow their instructions!

After about doing five or six of these, hours have gone by and the person is exhausted and has had more than enough!

How did we become such a shit nation? How did things get this bad? How do we put up with it and why? It wasn’t always like this, but we all go on as if it always was. Some of us remember better times, but that’s a distant and irrelevant memory. We used to have a reputation for being a great nation; but now, the way we treat employees, job applicants and customers, our whole economic system in general- is not an ideal or role model that any other sensible country would want to copy. In a depression/recession where employers are sitting on a lot of cash and not too willing to hire, they are having a field day humiliating people in a buyer’s market for labor.

There’s no solution to this in sight; these corporations are beyond any political and popular oversight and control. That realisation causes me to feel more frustration than any bureaucracy.

the bacon

After a surreal job search last year in which I was unable to land even a part-time job paying $11 an hour, I now find myself in a position that, in terms of salary, places me in the top five percent of full-time working women.

I have to work hard for this salary, of course, and have to cope with a lot of demands on my time and energy. In addition to that, I try to get to the gym as often as possible, to dress well, to wear make-up and have my hair professionally cut and colored, and so on.

On the rare occasions I date, I often do the driving to meet the guy and pay half the expense, or I keep the date casual so that if the man pays, he doesn’t have to pony up a lot of money.

In all this, I would just like to meet someone with whom I feel compatible and with whom I can have good conversation and make plans for the future.

And yet, that dream remains elusive. I work hard, work out, primp, meet men halfway… only to play the typical female waiting game, where the man is given all the power to make the decision, and I’m made to feel lucky if chosen.

It goes without saying that I’d hate to be stuck in a bad marriage or forced into poverty as single women can be in other countries, but it does feel like, although (some) women are doing everything now, the traditional rules of the dating game haven’t budged a bit. It’s hard to find the justification for putting myself through it any longer. I have to wonder, what does it take ?

the bubble

I attended a dance class the other night that cheered me up. It reminded me once again of all the things I’ve been able to do because I’ve been childless. I have had an unusually rich life in many ways, with many twists and turns. It’s too bad so few people are interested because I could tell quite a few interesting tales!

Lately I’ve been one of the few women who has been privy to the economic disaster that still continues to play out behind the scenes in the public sector. Firefighters, cops, public works… all are still feeling the effects of the economic meltdown of 2008.

In the midst of this I attended a daytime event for stay-at-home mothers of small children. It felt a bit cloying to me, as if those women are living in a protected bubble that one day may pop.

the muck

This unplanned, unexpected, preposterous potentiality felt like a strange gift — one with the power to lift me up out of the muck of midlife questions.

I wasn’t having a crisis, exactly – I had meaningful work, good friends, my health. I was just so tired of the same-old same. Past pursuits left me limp. I didn’t want to go to the bar, didn’t care about that new restaurant, this literary scandal, whatever next big thing. I had abandoned the dream of a four-star career, and from where I stood the prospect of a few years in babyland looked pretty good. Friends and family had braved that frontier already, had set up homesteads, paved the trails. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but what was? Hit me again, life — give it your best shot. I could totally be a parent.

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.

high prices

America’s top-heavy distribution of income and wealth, the Corse and Silva research details, has left many economically insecure Americans “unable to imagine being able to provide materially and emotionally for others.”

Amid this high-stress reality, adds Atlantic commentator Nancy Cook, marriage “is fast becoming a luxury good.” People who can’t afford the investments that help keep marriages together split and sink from the middle class. The nation becomes a more unequal — and lonelier — place.

For that loneliness, we pay a heavy price.

“Air pollution increases your chances of dying early by 5 percent, obesity by 20 percent,” as Aditya Chakrabortty observedlast fall in the British Guardian. “Excessive loneliness pushes up your odds of an early death by 45 percent.”

Those figures come from University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo, a veteran researcher on social seclusion. We have, he writes, created “a culture of social isolates, atomized by social and economic upheaval and separated by vast inequalities.”

If we want to find love, in sum, we need to go looking in more equal places.