never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: place


This week I travelled about an hour to visit another beach city, one that hosts my all-time favorite music event and is the home of the last three men (all creatives) who caught my fancy. It’s very “hipster” and much more in line with my interests than the family-and-sports-oriented place I am living in now.

On the other hand, it’s more congested and trafficy and I’d have a much higher chance of having out-of-control neighbors or customers. All of which is moot because there’s no job for me there anyway.

In L.A. you pick your poison. I read somewhere that it’s almost impossible to live, work, and play in the same area, but I did have that with my last job, which is why, despite all the issues, it was hard for me to leave it.

I am a little concerned about living in my current place until I’m in my fifties. It’s easy but may end up isolating me.

While in this other town, I stopped into one of my favorite health food cafes for lunch. It was mostly filled with groups of people in their twenties and thirties, on dates or with friends, along with a few families and one small group of middle-aged women. As I ate, I spied three other doppelgängers in the room– women over forty, eating alone. So perhaps my life would not be so different there.

the squandering

I had a place I could afford to write and live in alone in New York City, and I was squandering my time there. I tried not to think about that, and so I stopped noticing. But the years ticked by, quite linearly I might add, and somehow one day I was twenty-eight, and the next I was thirty-eight. I assumed I’d have that rent-stabilized apartment forever, which at twenty-eight seemed like a great thing for a struggling writer. But at thirty-eight, still lonely and with few details of my life changed, I started to imagine that I’d grow old and die alone in that run-down shoebox, and it scared me.

— Sari Botton, “Real Estate,” Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, p. 158

When living in Hollywood, I, too, was scared of becoming one of those odd older women still living alone in a small apartment, hanging on to a rent-controlled space. Yet none of my moves seem to help me escape that fate.

Ms. Botton, on the other hand, despite being a self-proclaimed odd bird and die-hard loner, did eventually meet her match, a fellow artist and peer (42 to her 39). They married and shortly thereafter left NYC.

I’m almost at the end of the book and I can’t quite recall if every essay ends with the writer leaving NYC with a partner or spouse and (excepting a few cases that I can recall) one or two children in tow. They still miss the excitement of New York, but it seems to me that those feelings are tangled up with nostalgia for their heady days of youth.

One of the essayists moves away with a spouse and a child she adores in order to live in Europe, where she can afford to stay home and write. And yet, she still rues the fact that she can no longer live in New York. I am inclined to roll my eyes and think “boo hoo, poor you,” but I realize that a lot of people would look at my life– decent job, living on the beach– and feel the same. I do count my blessings.

And yet. There are so few stories out there about women like me, women whose stories don’t get tied up at the end with the nice pink bow of marriage and kids (even if it happens a decade later than the norm), that I feel compelled to convey the reality of it, warts and all.

the reserved

Myself, I am having to adapt to my new environment.

But that politeness is not a temporary shield, not a shell, not a surface: that reserve is bottomless. As a foreigner you will never reach the end of it. I understood the language, but communication was impossible. How could I justify a desire to stand out, to make something of myself in the context of a complicated culture that values fitting in over individualism? How could I even begin to describe this to someone who desperately and rightfully wanted me to follow their clear social cues and talk about the weather? “That’s quite a change,” people would reply, when I said where I was from, and the right response– the only response– was “It is, a bit.”

— Ruth Curry, “Out of Season,” Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, p. 45

the burbs

The burbs. They are easier, safer, less jangling on the nerves. The single men who are around may be more serious about relationships, if I could find any common ground. But with a lifestyle tailored for marriage and family, it’s hard to fit.

“In Connecticut, they’re just very normal, very sweet, very unassuming. They don’t have game. They’re steak-and-potatoes American. They don’t care about fashion, they’re not metrosexual,” said Kassner, who hopped on a train to Stamford, Conn., on July 12 for an outdoor concert featuring alt-rocker Matisyahu in order to meet a decent guy.

High-end matchmakers said it’s a matter of time before heading to the suburbs is no longer considered a trend — and becomes the norm.

Carolyn Grossman, a 40ish executive secretary, complained that married people segregate themselves from singles, then “stereotype single people as being drinkers and party people.” In the singles enclave in South Norwalk where she lives, she said, town authorities more readily tolerate noise than in a family neighborhood.

“They just don’t seem to have any conception that there are other people besides themselves,” she said of married couples.

Ms. Thompson believes that suburban single women are distrusted by their married counterparts.

“Even if you go to a P.T.A. meeting, the husbands are carefully guarded,” she said. “You’re made to feel you should stay on the outside.”

Being a single, childless woman in the New York City suburbs has never been easy. My neighbors all moved here “for the children” — for the quality public education, backyard swing sets and cars that didn’t require usurious garage bills. They wonder, not unreasonably, what I’m doing here. I sometimes wonder, too, even 16 years after moving back to New York following a decade in California.

At the time, I was unwilling to return to a dark hamster cage in the city I had lived in most of my adult life, where nature is largely confined to parks and potted plants on fire escapes. But once I reached a certain age — I’m now 65 — living here became more than just a matter of being a social pariah, with few friends whose lives don’t revolve around their families. Sometimes it’s dangerous.

special deliveries

One of the first things I did upon my last two moves was to stock a cabinet with ramen and ginger ale and crackers. When I lived in L.A., all the restaurants delivered, which was wonderful in general, but especially so when I was sick. I had no guarantees of hot soup delivery in my last abode and in this one, so I stocked up. Thankfully I’ve since found a few places that are able to deliver me hot noodle soup when the need arises:

So what have I learned from a hellish two weeks?
People our age who choose to live alone belong in cities, with plentiful take-out-food options, friends close by and apartment building superintendents to deal with the rats in the basement.

square one

A couple of commenters have mentioned that they prefer the personal posts, but I go through periods of hesitancy in terms of revealing my life on a public blog, and at other times I have things I want to write about but feel like a broken record. Especially now, as I’ve started to feel I’m back at square one, waking up on Monday feeling less than enthused about the long work week ahead.

I know a woman who used to work in this area for a good chunk of her forties. She told me she would drive elsewhere on the weekends for a social life, although the temptation to just stick around was strong, as it is so easy here. Another woman, a big reader, told me she thinks of herself as a resident of Los Angeles and acts accordingly.

I’m only at the halfway point in my explorations, but the picture is becoming clear. This is where I work, live, shop, go to the beach, and exercise, but my imagination will likely bloom elsewhere. At the moment the one thing I’m excited about is a small show that occurs on the weekends and is about twenty miles away. The sense of expansion has been worth the trek.


This is how I felt at 36 and again at 42:

Wet starts in 2009 in my mid-thirties when I was single and working in Silicon Valley. I was never a girl to worry about an engagement ring. I was more likely to ask, like Peggy Lee did in her hit song from 1969, Is that all there is? In fact, I had become famous as a non-settler when I wrote the book Quirkyalone, which launched a movement of people who choose not to settle in love.

I felt disappointed and disillusioned that actually I had settled. I was burned out, unfulfilled, bored, and hopeless about love, fearful that having written Quirkyalone would only attract singleness into my life.

My resume was amazing, but my life felt very dry, like a giant to-do list and there was no more satisfaction in crossing anything off.

I wanted the script of what a woman is supposed to want: a husband, house, maybe one child, but then again, I didn’t really want that either. The real problem was I didn’t know what I wanted.

the midpoint

The first time I moved to Los Angeles, it took me almost three years to plug into a social scene that captured my imagination, and then another three to realize it wasn’t actually going to lead anywhere.

Now that I’m residing in this smaller, sleepier satellite, I predict I’ll figure out the lay of the land sooner, but I’m trying to give things at least a year before I come to any definitive conclusions. I’m meeting lots of people through work, experiencing the different seasons, enjoying summertime at the beach, attending the annual local events, and participating in various activities. I’ve been telling myself that as long as my weekends are full, I won’t resort to online dating, and it looks like they will remain full through the end of the year.

My hunch at the midpoint, however, is that despite my relaxing dips in the ocean, I’m a fish out of water here. A fish amongst spouses, kids, and sports.

If that proves true, I don’t know what my approach to things will be come 2015. I have some plans to leave town at the end of the year; my first real trip away since moving here and starting this job. I’ll have some time to think, then, about the road ahead.

both worlds

Last weekend I went to an event in my community and, as usual, ran into several people I know through my job, which was fine. It was all very welcoming. I enjoyed the event and it’s a good thing for me to get out and network. There were no single men to meet, as far as I could tell, except the one I’ve already been set up with.

The next day I drove up to Los Angeles for an art show and a comedy show (among other things), and although it was a long and tiring day, the thrill I felt at leaving everything behind and being around people who have nothing to do with my current life and have entirely different priorities from marriage/family/stability was immense. There were single men around, but mostly either much older or much younger, and I’ve already been through the difficulties of finding a relationship in L.A.

Regardless, I’m lucky that this beach oasis is not in the middle of nowhere, hours from a big city. I may be able to strike upon a “best of both worlds” scenario, where I can enjoy the ease of life here and then easily escape when I need a wider view.


Some interesting experiences this week.

I attended an event where I met a woman from Portland who has been living in Los Angeles for about three years. I’d guess she is in her thirties. She isn’t crazy about her job, she just broke up with her boyfriend and dreads reentering the L.A. dating scene, she feels like she barely sees her friends because they all live far from her, and she has no family here. She’s considering moving to an area of the country where she has family but fears she’ll miss the stellar music acts she enjoys seeing in L.A. easily and cheaply.

I told her what she is going through is perfectly normal, and I just went through it. She was visibly relieved, as was I to be reminded again that the pluses and minuses of living in a city this size are experienced by all of us transplants.

I met a man at this same event who got his degree just a couple of years before me but is now head of a huge organization. He’s gay and has a partner. It made me wonder that if I hadn’t spent a great deal of my twenties and thirties distracted and depressed by the idea that I should be getting married and having kids, as well as not taking my career seriously because I assumed I eventually would do so, I’d be in his position now. He methodically climbed the ladder while I questioned my career and choices and journeyed down several blind alleys. Yet I don’t regret my forays into living abroad, other career paths, and the private sector. I would probably always wonder if I hadn’t travelled those paths.

Finally, when I first started writing this blog I mentioned my envy of a woman I know, someone who got a pricey arts education, dropped out of working in the field after a year because she didn’t like the politics, married a man from a wealthy family and had several children, and then after decades of not working got written up for some artwork she’d done in a studio in her house. I think it’s pretty common for women who’ve been supporting themselves for decades to feel irked by the dilettantism of wealthy wives. At that point in particular I felt like I’d been toiling in the understaffed, unappreciated trenches for far too long.

Recently this woman’s artwork came up again, and this time I was able to shrug it off. So she’s dabbling and putting some pieces in shows like a million other artists. I could do the same but have little incentive to do so, as I already earn a living and have derived self-esteem from having a career and supporting myself. When I do creative projects, they are just for my enjoyment. I don’t need to sell anything, and I don’t have anything more to prove.