never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: socializing

the leftovers

There are a couple of men who have stayed in contact with me over the past few years of my work/life ordeals. For a variety of reasons, including some enormous logistical ones, I’m not interested romantically. I both appreciate the effort and attention and simultaneously am irritated that I feel like I should appreciate it, as if I should be grateful for whatever scraps come my way, with no determination on my part of whom I might want to spend time with. The more comfortable I get with the idea of being alone, the more irritated I am at the years I have spent believing this, years in which everyone seemed to partner off and I felt grateful for whomever was left to spend time with.

I have some of the same issues with my friendships. I also have felt obligated in that realm to give largesse, whether it be knowledge, connections, driving, a place to stay, or parties, with little expectation of return. One of my kindest and most moral friends told me a few weeks ago that I could afford to be a bit more “mercenary” in my friendships. I agree to a certain extent, yet I kinda hate that we have become such a mercenary society in general.

On thing about all my current acquaintances is that they are kind. There is no backbiting or “frenemy” type behavior, which is an enormous relief.

I put up with a lot of that from a “friend” a few years ago because she was connected to a larger social scene which intrigued me. I loved having that connection; someone to go out with and with whom to dissect the scene. But she was unkind.

My connections are now isolated… a person here, a person there… none connected to each other or a larger social whole of which I am a part.

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.


I don’t know exactly HOW I got over the things in the prior post, other than not denying my feelings, and reasoning and reading my way through them, and letting time take its course.

This is how I feel about each item now:

1. I’m pretty content with participating in activities that get me out of the house and socializing with other people (strangers and acquaintances)– art shows, dance, tennis, yoga, etc. I also have some NoMo friends and have made peace with the fact that they are scattered across the country and this city and the friendships are not super-close. This might at least help them last longer. I recognize and appreciate the freedom I have to pursue disparate interests.

2. I try to maximize the positives and ameliorate the negatives of my location as best I can. I take some heart in knowing that there’s no place that truly accommodates older single people–so I can forget imagining a move will make everything perfect– but most places offer some things that allow one to grow.

3. Just knowing that endless thorny issues are part of most people’s working lives helps. The meditation helps me keep it in perspective, and I try to clock out after eight hours so I can refresh.

4. Time eventually dulls.

5. In regard to romance, I co-exist with uneasy impressions. On one hand, there’s no real reason I shouldn’t expect to find someone as most others have done; on the other, compatible men who are also available and looking for a relationship seem to be unicorns, at least in my galaxy. I just let that one be. When other people pair up, I just shrug and think, “Huh.” I’ve accepted that there’s not much I can do in this regard. Trying didn’t work, so I leave this one up to fate.

6. At bottom, I only rely on myself, and have a strong sense of self as a result.

This may still sound depressing, but I do pretty well. I don’t take anti-depressants. I sleep well at night. I get exercise every day, and I’m generally in a good mood. I do pretty well at work, I look forward to things, I have a solid intellectual life, I love to escape to shows that make me laugh, and I work on my own goals in my personal time.

I don’t discount this hard-won contentment though. I work with a lot of men and every single last one is married. I don’t see them volunteering for this solo living, and most of the people I know who are stuck in it are not doing all that well. I don’t think it’s abnormal to want love and support and companionship; in fact, enragement at going without is perhaps a normal and logical response.

I do feel from all the reading that I’ve done that the points I’ve made are commonly experienced by older women who are single and childless. Some may get lucky or are more resourceful than I am, but I know a lot of women who are less resourceful and/or less lucky. So hopefully some of them can take heart in knowing they aren’t alone.


A few weeks ago I was surprised to read that a weekly comedy show was taking place at a bar here; I trekked down to check it out one night but there was no evidence of it happening, and since the venue consisted of small tables of people on dates or with friends, I didn’t stick around. I haven’t seen it advertised since. Then the little boho spot around the corner closed down. This weekend I checked out a group that (I hear) was once large, vibrant, fun, and eclectic; only myself, one other woman, and an elderly couple showed up. One half of the couple joked, “I bet you were hoping to meet some single men.” My solo state is both remarkable and irremediable, it seems.

In a couple of weeks I’m going to try another group and in July I’m looking forward to a big weekend event. And of course, beach weather is coming and I’ll be spending lots of time in the ocean.

By fall, though, I think I’ll have a pretty good sense of whether there’s anything for me here socially. I do treasure my alone time but am not sure I’m ready to become a complete hermit just yet. When the days grow short, I may have to start driving into L.A. every weekend in order not to wilt.

the immoveable feast

Recently I attended a nearby party with a bunch of married couples with kids–friends of a friend. It was good for me to get out of the house but about what I expected. It was difficult to find common ground for small talk, and I left without speaking much to anyone outside of my friend.

This weekend I was invited to a party by another friend where I might have had more in common with the folks (although they might also have all been paired off), but it was over thirty miles away, and, although I was intrigued, I couldn’t bring myself to make the drive, especially at night. I’d like to get out and mingle but don’t want to spend that kind of time and energy when there isn’t much that results from it except the chance to get out of my head for a little while.

More or less the only thing to do at night in my new surroundings is go to bars or restaurants, which I am not inclined to do alone. There was a tiny music/art/literary space around the corner, but it has already closed up shop and moved on.

All during my thirties and early forties I would throw parties, including during my first stint in L.A. But the guests in L.A. were a real hodgepodge– an acquaintance from a temp job, a guy or two I met through online dating, current coworkers of various ages and backgrounds, an acquaintance from my undergrad days, a woman or two from dance class. Many were un-or-under employed and/or in transitional states. People would seem palpably relieved to be at a party where 95% of the guests were single, as opposed to the other way around, but only scattered and short-term connections between the guests ever resulted.

I was located centrally before, so my friends only had to drive anywhere from, say, five to forty-five minutes to get to my place. Now they’d have to drive forty-five minutes to an hour-and-a-half.

I just can’t see the point in throwing another shindig and trying to get that mishmash of people back together. I don’t mind seeing them individually when I’m up in L.A., but I feel like I said goodbye to all that when I left town.

I’m in my own little version of Key West now, you could say.

the delicious

I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.” – Albert Einstein

Minds previously each preoccupied with their own concerns defer to the other’s topic of interest, so as to arrive at a more shared and unified perspective on the object of attention or the topic of debate… insistent bleak ruminations diffuse and scatter as the mind mingles with the mind of an intimate or congenial companion.” – Marcel Kinsbourne, What Should We Be Worried About?, p. 87

I spent the bulk of this three-day weekend with other people, putting in a full day on Saturday at a party and a full day on Sunday with work colleagues and visiting another friend. On one hand, I agree with the latter quote above– it often does lift my mood to interact with other people and it usually puts me in a much more optimistic frame of mind. On the other, I would have loved the weekend all to myself to get through another pile of books, study Spanish, get some cooking done, clean my apartment, and think.

Also, the friends I spent the weekend with are still on the active hunt for a partner, and as I have written before, I am not. I’ve already spent two decades on that hunt and am not eager to waste a third! In every other area of my life, if I put in the effort, I get results; not so with trying to “meet someone.” Again, I’m open to it, but it will have to happen serendipitously while I’m out and about, pursuing the things I would be doing anyway.

the periphery

I’m feeling much better– my intense anger has left– and I’m more or less back to my original self, even on a Monday.

Although my job has it’s sticking points, there are definitely some good things about it– some avenues of creativity and fun. I will say, however, that although I’m extremely grateful to have it, the relief of knowing that abstract figures are replenishing my bank account cannot compensate for the inevitable feelings of dislocation and loneliness that have resulted from making a move at this age, especially since the move was to a place that does not readily offer the same types of social avenues I’ve built an identity on over two decades.

Although I don’t feel this bad, I found some solace in this:

Over the winter I moved from New York City to Portland, Ore. The reasons for my move were purely logical. New York was expensive and stressful. Portland, I reasoned, would offer me the space and time to do my work.

Upon arriving, I rented a house and happily went out in search of “my people.” I went to parks, bookstores, bars, on dates. I even tried golfing. It wasn’t that I didn’t meet people. I did. I just felt no connection to any of them.

Once social and upbeat, I became morose and mildly paranoid. I knew I needed to connect to people to feel better, but I felt as though I physically could not handle any more empty interactions. I woke up in the night panicked. In the afternoon, loneliness came in waves like a fever. I had no idea how to fix it.


When we are lonely, we lose impulse control and engage in what scientists call “social evasion.” We become less concerned with interactions and more concerned with self-preservation, as I was when I couldn’t even imagine trying to talk to another human. Evolutionary psychologists speculate that loneliness triggers our basic, fight vs. flight survival mechanisms, and we stick to the periphery, away from people we do not know if we can trust.


RZ: I was a writer and teacher before I was a mother but so much of my mental and physical energy is spent in my role of mother. Am I more a mother than a writer now? I’m not sure. I don’t think I can really separate them enough to measure them against each other.

It is interesting that despite our many similarities, we don’t know each other very well. Over the years our paths have crossed from time to time, but we’ve never become friends. Is it because I have children and you don’t?

I know that I’ve made assumptions about you, about the kind of nonmom you are.

I’ve always imagined that you went to parties and stayed out late and slept with various handsome men (and maybe women too) and had beautiful clothes that were not machine washable and that your body functioned in ways that did not surprise, alarm or amaze you. I felt sure that you went to sleep late, woke up late, and read the newspaper at breakfast. Your apartment, as I pictured it, was quiet and peaceful but not very tidy. Your life was your own. Your read books voraciously but were sometimes lonely. You traveled and went to writer’s colonies and applied for fellowships and teaching jobs that might require you to move to other states or countries for a few months. Your mother worried that you weren’t married and you told her that her alarm was antiquated and sexist.

SM: I think we both made assumptions about each other based on the popular stereotypes associated with New York women. I certainly did. I thought your life consisted of reading banal storybooks, making instant oatmeal, and doing laundry. I couldn’t imagine how that would feel fulfilling. I considered an obviously complex and evolved person but went straight to the stereotype, which is basically a failure of my imagination.

You’ve read my memoir now, so you know that my life and my relationship to my body are not as you describe above.

I don’t know if the severe limits on my life have been greater or lesser in degree, or similar or different in type, to the limits on your life, a mother’s life.

RZ: I agree that most assumptions about mothers and nonmothers are erroneous.

For example, a few months ago I sent a YouTube link to a movie I made about my son’s home birth out to everyone on my email list. I was surprised when you responded. I had assumed you wouldn’t be interested in my movie. I thought you might find it overly sentimental or possibly disgusting. But you said it inspired you. How? Why?

SM: “Inspires” as in fills me with breath and hope, as in somehow both increases and decreases the mysteries surrounding motherhood and birth.

During a high school internship program at a local teaching hospital, with a teenager’s total assurance that I would be a doctor when I grew up, I watched a vaginal birth and came close to fainting. The attending doctor had to take care of me while the mother was in labor. It was almost funny. So I was surprised by how clean and simple the birth process seemed in your movie.

I am genuinely interested in the lives of mothers inasmuch as I am interested in the lives of people in general, but I’m separately fascinated by some mothers’ apparent conviction that nonmothers are shallow, that mothers suffer and feel more deeply than nonmothers. It seems as if these mothers want to shun me because I’m not a member of their sorority—hell, I didn’t even show up to rush.

RZ: I’ve never thought that you or nonmothers in general are “shallow” but clearly I’ve made a lot of other uncomplimentary or idealized assumptions. Perhaps I should have spent more time thinking about what you and I have in common or about what I have lost in the years in which I signed on so completely to the world of mothers and the idea that we are different from nonmothers. How does such a perception affect women? What can we do to change things?

SM: The problem with sustaining the dichotomy between mothers and nonmothers, of course, is that in doing so we weaken all women against the reigning culture of men.

James Baldwin is supposed to have said at Berkeley, that no white man, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with him. Well, no man, no matter what color, would want to trade places with me.

RZ: Maybe because I’m trying to justify my own path or maybe because I truly feel this way—I don’t know—but I’ve spent my whole life assuming that (to bring it back to James Baldwin) no mother, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with a nonmother. So I’m back to the dichotomy.

SM: I find it hard to understand that feeling.

RZ: Obviously I’m exaggerating. Some women do not want to be mothers. Women have abortions or give children up for adoption or responsibly avoid pregnancy, but by and large, despite the fact that motherhood is not physically, logistically, financially or socially supported, most women do become mothers at some point even if they don’t choose a particular pregnancy or child.

Is this because of a cultural message that motherhood is the ultimate goal for women? Why do so many women become mothers?

And how can I discuss my feeling of having chosen the “right” way, the only path that makes sense to me without being offensive? Motherhood, it seems to me, is both extremely difficult but also and ultimately, the greatest privilege. I guess I fear nonmothers’ scorn and envy when I say these things.

SM: It is hard for me to understand mothers who assume I envy them, or who assume that motherhood is my goal.

But the problem here is that the dialectic of mother versus nonmother isn’t a perfect one. Every mother has also been a nonmother, so only they know the difference. Nonmothers simply can’t have this perspective.

It’s generalizing an individual belief—that my, or anyone’s, experience of womanhood should be considered the ultimate experience for all women—that’s the problem.

RZ: I can see how my assumption that motherhood is (or should be) your (or anyone’s) ultimate goal would be offensive and problematic. I need to think about what’s led me to embrace such an essentialist view of womanhood.

SM: My friend J., the mother of a severely disabled child, finds the mother/nonmother dialectic deeply problematic. She knows that not all mothers are in the same boat.

I find that dialectic problematic, too, because I know that not all nonmothers are in the same boat.

There’s a vast difference between the life of a committed artist and the life of a person who gets paid to take orders forty hours a week and spends the rest of the time entertaining herself.

There are very many ways to live a nonfulfilling life. I have found several. But from where I’m standing, plenty of mothers seem to have found them, too.

What I want to know is: what do thoughtful and insightful mothers know that I can’t know?

RZ: So much of being a mother is learning to tolerate discomfort. There is an athleticism to motherhood, a kind of torture-victim’s resolve. Nursing a child is like a spiritual practice, a meditative disciple, a consecrated patience. I imagine I might feel this way about yoga if I had time to do yoga. Also, I would give up my life for my children but not for my husband and not for my parents and not for my friends….

SM: That might be it — the essential difference between us. I don’t know anyone I’d die for. That is a fascinating dialectic

just thinking

Despite all the red flags, I let the recent dalliance play out, and play out it seems to have done. I continue to be surprised that people aren’t more polite/ respectful, especially with a like-minded peer who circulates in the same professional world, but at this point I shouldn’t be. In any case, it feels as if my last link to my old self and interests and lifestyle has been cut.

So I can no longer avoid facing up to my current circumstances. Alone here, lost in a place that, for better or worse, is not quite in sync with how I’ve spent the prior three decades of my life. This weekend I considered going to a small literary breakfast that I attended in the past, but I couldn’t cope with an hour plus drive and the two freeways I would have to take to get there. It was a fairly stimulating event, but last year I had to go alone and nothing came of it socially, so it was hard for me to justify the drive.

The fact is, most of this country is suburban and social life remains modeled on the nuclear family pattern. I’ve been lucky/savvy enough to live in the center of the handful of cities that break the mold, and even so, I got tired of going out by myself and began to feel like I was aging out of a lot of it.

Now I’m living in a very pleasant place that would be nice to settle down in with a partner, but I’m sans the partner.

I decided to just stay in this weekend and clean and take care of paperwork and cook and restore my sanity after a hectic week. I had a blissful dip in the ocean and finally got back to my Spanish. This could, conceivably, be how I spend the next ten years.

Writing. And thinking. Just thinking.

missing adults

What really struck me was that for women, particularly in the United States, particularly now, they spend almost all of their leisure time with their children. And that led to this other crazy finding that has since really helped to alleviate a lot of my guilt: that working mothers today, even when they work full time, the time studies are showing that they spend more time with their children than stay-at-home mothers did in the 1960s and ’70s … because they’ve given up personal leisure time and time with adults.