never married, over forty, a little bitter

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Ah well. Mejor solo que mal acompanado.

And what’s so fucking attractive about that easy-going, no-problem girl anyway? Does she have a single fucking thing in common with Lorde, or is she inadvertently aspiring to be a muted, high-fiving fuck doll? Do you want to be a person, or do you want to be an emotional Hooters waitress, serving up cuddles and hot wings and laughing it off when your ass gets pinched for the 15th million time?


AND there’s a smallish chance that he’ll say, “Yeah, I can do that. I want to be with you.” When you stand up for what you want, and you aren’t afraid to say it out loud, you’d be amazed how well the world responds to that.

But, let’s be honest, lots of guys don’t like it. You know what kinds of guys don’t like it? The guys who are hiding from themselves, the guys who don’t want to be seen, the guys who don’t want to show up. AND THEY ARE FUCKING EVERYWHERE, dude. But you don’t want someone like that. You want one of the good ones, the ones who can look you in the eye and say, “YES. What you want is not unreasonable. I want to be intellectually met, too. I want to be emotionally open, too. I want to be with YOU.”


Do some writing about what you really, really want from love. Make a list. Then list the things that make you feel disappointed and sad. Talk it all through with a few friends. Revise your list. Spend some time alone and really feel your way through this. You shouldn’t be talking yourself into or out of anything. You should be looking deep inside and asking yourself what you want, how you want to live. You should be reaching for the very best possible love and life for yourself. You should be thinking of your favorite bad ass. Don’t you deserve to treat yourself with as much adoration and love as Lorde does? And if not WHY THE FUCK NOT? Why don’t you cherish yourself and who you are like THAT? What damns you to half-assed fucking men, exactly?


Listen to me closely now: The people who dare to ask for an expansive, life-altering love, who will be alone rather than settle for less, are the ones who find it. People who accept less, who figure they don’t deserve any better, who figure that it’s too much of a risk to tell the truth and scare men off, are the ones who live with a constant feeling of disappointment and neglect. When you neglect yourself and your feelings, you get neglected by others, too.

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for what you want. Does that make you That Girl?


Because That Girl is a shining beacon to the rest of us. That Girl doesn’t play along and call herself whatever some dude is calling her, whether it’s “pal” or “that chick I’m sleeping with” or “her, over there.” That Girl doesn’t sit through drifty, disconnected conversations with men who can’t show up. That Girl doesn’t care if you think she’s attractive or appropriate or easy to be around or not. She’s not caught up in some dude’s love affair—with himself, with his stuff, with his fantasy of how easy and sexy and mysterious True Love will be when he finally finds it, just like a porn flick starring him with a soundtrack by The Shins. That Girl is willing to risk his disapproval for the sake of her own happiness.

Fuck the critics. Fuck the onlookers. Fuck this cold, disapproving world, that doesn’t like That Girl or really any fucking girl at all, when it boils right down to it. BE THAT GIRL.

the scorched earth

Mary tried to be fair, but her jealousy was beyond all bounds. Possibly Mrs. Herbert had been shy. Possibly she might be something more than beautiful, rough, rude, brainless, vulgar. This was Mr. Herbert’s serious permanent choice. She had been an amusement, a very small incident. “But I am superior,” she thought.

— F.M. Mayor, The Rector’s Daughter, p. 152

Sometimes the old dog in the corner can still be roused; it will, on occasion, still prick up its ears or wag its tail. This particular old dog will, on occasion, even be roused enough to leave its solitary cushion, if a smart, witty, sensitive, like-minded soul comes around.

This weekend I made a bold move; I reached out to someone I barely know in an attempt to forge a connection with someone I’ve long identified with and admired. I put aside my sense of shame and took a chance, something I do about once a year, when I realize that any semi-satisfying relationship of any duration that I’ve ever had resulted entirely from my efforts. In the midst of my communication, however, I heard from a decades-old friend, someone I normally keep at a bit of a distance due to a long history of empathy fails. Long story short, wires got crossed, paragraphs were sent to the wrong person, and I ended up revealing a lot more to Mr. A (as I’ll call him) than I ever in a million years would have wished to reveal to him or almost anyone else.

Modern communication being what it is, however, I have no certainty that Mr. A received the messages. If he has received them, he has not responded. The power of vulnerability, indeed.

On a bigger level, I don’t know what, if anything, the universe was trying to communicate to me. “Shed old friendships that are standing in the way of more fulfilling ones” or “stick with the ones who actually call, no matter how frustrating and dispiriting they can be.”

In any case, in a week in which there has been a public outpouring of sympathy over a celebrity, I could have used a small show of kindness from Mr. A. On one hand, I could be totally humiliated over this; on the other, Mr. A could find the whole thing funny or touching and reach out. It appears, however, that there will only be silence; perhaps I don’t rate a response.

This old dog, however, with a head so weakly raised, easily returns to slumber in the absence of encouragement. There was nothing to be roused for, after all.

The internet is not much help in moments such as these. At worst, it provides the glib platitudes one encounters enough of IRL; at best, there is a feeling of “me too” solidarity and connection. What is missing is an empathetic ear that can take in all the specifics of the disaster that has happened; even better would be an empathetic ear that has some general familiarity with the players involved. This used to be known, back in the day, as friendship.

In my student period I was acquainted with a group of friends; of this group two were always my favorite. Over the decades, those two have only grown in my estimation, showing kindness, creativity, and wit in our encounters. They have both become writers. There was another member of that group whom I cannot recall saying a single thing of substance, intelligence, or charm, and who was unable to give me the time of day when I first moved to L.A. She moved here with no real career plans and ended up marrying a successful writer and having a brood of kids. It feels like she is living the life I would have liked to have lived. I was reminded of her again in all of this, because she is loosely connected to Mr. A, and were she a nicer person, I could try to glean some insight from her. Were she a nicer person, in fact, perhaps I would not have had to advocate for myself in the first place.

I feel, at this point, that I must just let all the embers die. The embers of unsatisfying friendships from my past as well as the last remaining embers of certain kinds of hopes for my future. That I must sit with the dark void for a spell, here at the bottom of the U-shaped curve of happiness, at age 44.

skipping it

Since my first job in my early twenties, I’ve tried to be careful about “wishing my life away,” thinking about nothing but my next vacation (or, as I got older, retirement). To this end, instead of putting all my hopes and dreams into exotic vacations, I tried to find activities I was excited about that I could look forward to on a weekly basis.

And yet, I’m starting to feel like I’d be willing to give away the next ten years of my life to get to retirement already. That makes it sound like I’m seriously depressed, but I’m not. I just don’t have high hopes for this particular phase of my life. The physically uncomfortable transition of menopause is looming, I can’t count on finding romance, the activities I enjoy are pleasurable but no longer thrilling (salsa, swimming, etc.), and I can’t seem to get excited about taking a vacation since I’d have to travel solo, which has also lost its thrill. Additionally the novelty of exploring California is gone. I’m in a job that overall I’m happy with and appreciate having but my career field has never been my dream. The new challenges that come with promotions are helpful, but I’m less and less interested in the field as a whole. Finally, while my new home is pleasant, I can’t shake the sense that I’m just “passing through” and without a family I will remain on the periphery.

The pull of just doing my own thing, sleeping in and having time to read retains its hold on me. In the meantime I continue to look for things that will seize me, engaging me with today as opposed to tomorrow.

the humbling

There is nothing as humbling as being just like everybody else. I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a kid (which hasn’t done my ovaries any favors), but I can’t complain that my life has been hard. Even so, my infertility has reduced me to feeling like I’m in seventh grade again. I’m passed over for lead in the play, and the guy I have a crush on doesn’t know I exist. Fertility should not be a competition, but sometimes, it feels an awful lot like one. It feels an awful lot like a reminder that whatever good fortune I have had and how hard I have worked, at the end of the day I’m reduced, simply, to a statistic.

But isn’t that what feminism taught me — that I am like every other woman? The one with the Hanna Andersson cuties — maybe her husband is a jerk or she has breast cancer. And Alicia. Maybe she won’t get pregnant, but will adopt the most beautiful baby you can imagine. I wonder if it’s possible, amidst my feelings of guilt and resentment and rivalry, to remember that none of us has it easy. That we’re all in this together. Even infertile, jealous me.


We tend to frolic a little in each other’s company; we get such enjoyment out of seeing things together and talking about them and exchanging news and gossip and just being together a bit in the old way.

— Gabrielle Selz, Unstill Life, p. 327

I love this sentiment, although the woman who wrote it was divorced from and unable to ever successfully reunite with the the man to whom she was writing.

With kids off the table, I have a hard time imagining another reason to pair up with someone besides the tendency to “frolic a little in each other’s company.”

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 curious

See, commencement speakers are the outliers — the most successful, interesting people that colleges can find — and their experiences are the most inspirational but also the least realistic. Even worse, they tend to be far too willing to dish out the craziest, worst advice, simply because it somehow worked for them. “Follow your dreams” and “live your passions” are insanely unhelpful tips when the bills need paying or the rent is almost due. Invariably, commencement speakers tend to be the lucky few, the ones who followed their dreams and still managed to land on their feet: Most of us won’t become Steve Jobs or Neil Gaiman, regardless of how hard we try or how much passion we might hold. It’s far more likely to get stuck working as a waiter or bartender, or on some other dead-end career path. Most people will have to choose between “doing what they love,” and pursuing the more mundane promise of a stable paycheck and a promising career path. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making the latter choice; in fact, I’d usually recommend it.

But for all of those young graduates who look out today and see a limitless horizon of excitement and opportunity, I hate to be the one to say it, but you probably won’t get there. And I’ve often wondered if, perhaps, those of us who ended up waiting tables or working the dead-end office jobs would be better suited to offering real advice to new graduates, advice tailored toward the majority, those who won’t attain the loftiest heights of their dreams — but still must find meaning and value in our imperfect world. And for those people, the rest of us, my advice is quite simple: Stay curious and keep learning.

Your job might be terrible, it might be horribly boring and physically draining like mine was. You might work in a terrifying corporate culture that stifles creativity and punishes independent thinking. You might be forced to watch round after round of layoffs and budget cuts, wondering if and when the ax will fall on you. And of course, there are plenty of other terrible ways that your life can turn sideways, too.

Stay curious. Keep learning.


I’ve always valued learning intrinsically, as an end unto itself. And more and more, that seems like the key. Curiosity provides life with wonder and excitement beyond our crummy, quotidian routines. A passion for learning, an unqualified commitment to pursuing your interests — and seeking new ones — will carry you through the good times and bad times, the rich times and poor times, the miserable times and happy ones.


Which brings me to one of the best and worst things about dating a Russian man: his inherent sense of commitment. Here in the West, we may think we have it made with our “egalitarian system,” but when I look around at our hyper-individualized relationships, at our “you’re not obligated to anyone in any way” mentality, it seems brutal and barbaric. In New York, whenever I console a friend who’s in hysterics over yet another guy who wants to keep having sex but “just wants to be friends,” I can’t help but get enraged and want to call up one of my Russian friends for moral support. Russian doesn’t have a word for girlfriend, only wife and bride, so men approximate by saying “my girl,” “my bride,” or the English transliteration of girlfriend.

But there isn’t any close approximation of “friends-with-benefits”– a term I often struggled to deconstruct to groups of confused Russian males. It is telling, in this context, that the Russian translation of Hollywood movies “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached” are “Sex Without Obligations” and “Just Because He Promises to Marry You Doesn’t Mean He Will.” How can you be friends with a girl you’re sleeping with? If you’re having sex, she’s your girlfriend, simply because your decision to sleep with her makes you in large part responsible for her physical and emotional well-being. And when I’m trying to cheer up some of my casual sex victims who can’t even telephonically reach their super-autonomous beaus, I can’t help but feel like there’s a certain honor in the Russian man’s understanding that with great sex comes great responsibility, an ethical code that we in the West have almost totally lost.

I used to do an audio comprehension exercise with my Advanced English class in which the students listen to a couple arguing about whether or not to move in together after a year. The class always failed the accompanying questions, not for linguistic reasons so much as cultural ones. Why, they asked, didn’t the man want to move in together? In Russia, it’s still customary for people to be married (or even divorced) by the time they’re 20. When I asked my Advanced English class how long a couple should date before moving in together, they stared blankly back at me, as though time had never come into consideration for this decision, until one student shrugged his shoulders and said, “If you like her — one day,” to hearty nods of approval. To judge this decision in terms of time seems excessively rational to Russians, when it’s obviously a case of emotional intensity. When I recount this story to my Western guy friends, they look like they are about to have a heart attack, but why? Rent is expensive (especially in New York), and if you’re not religious and you’re spending virtually every night together, it seems economically unreasonable to live apart purely to uphold some abstract socially mandated principle.

And yet, the rush to commit comes with a catch. As in most chauvinistic societies, monogamy is more of a lofty ideal than a requirement, and there is a double standard to it. I can’t recall the number of times I was sitting in a café in Russia when a girl came in to see her friend and said, “Sorry I’m late. My boyfriend cheated on me,” to which her friend rolled her eyes and said, “Again? When is he going to kick that habit?” as though they were talking about him failing to put down the toilet seat. I posed a question once to my Western and Russian friends: Is it more disrespectful to have casual sex with a girl and not call her your girlfriend, or call her your girlfriend and cheat? The Westerners said the latter, as though it were obvious, the Russian ones said the former, as if that were obvious. Having experienced both, I really don’t know anymore, although I respect the way one of my Russian friends explained it, in a sort of Sartrian epistemology: “Listen, human nature is fucked up. It’s more honest, and more humane, to just lie.”

In the end, it’s not the wandering penis that makes me incapable of making it work with a Russian guy. It’s the precise patriarchal style that I find so attractive in the first place. It’s them never respecting that I have my own schedule and that I can’t exist exclusively around their time frame. It’s them calling me every hour to check up on where I am and what I ate, like a needy parole officer. It’s them taking a cup of coffee out of my hands as I’m about to sip it, chucking it into the trash, and saying, “That’s enough. You’ve had too much caffeine today.” I may have been born in Russia, and I may have two passports, but I grew up in New York, and no one gets between me and my coffee.

And still, sometimes, when I’m in my egalitarian relationship with an American guy, and I’m freezing my ass off in a mini-skirt outside while being eyeballed by some pervert and my boyfriend is giving me the “You’re an independent woman and you can handle this yourself” look, I can’t help but long for the protective paws of a Russian man, can’t help but feel torn between what I learned at my feminist university and what I grew up with in my patriarchal community, can’t help but feel an internal battle between my rational beliefs and my emotional desires, and I think what every person thinks when they are frustrated with their love life: Man, my parents really fucked me up.

pain management

So I’m back to my original plan of taking classes, upgrading my job skills, poking around new career possibilities, and searching for part-time jobs. There will be some more vacancies this fall at my old organization, and I will apply for those when they open. I’m expecting the hiring process to take anywhere from two to six months, so in the meantime I’ll explore other options. I don’t, however, have much faith in the twentysomething woman (I’ll call her SanDeE after the character in L.A. Story) with whom I’m working at an employment agency.

My roommate is currently thrilled with his new promotion into another management job in which he can do as little as possible. My reward for working so hard in L.A.? I may be unable to find a job here and may have to drag my tired body back there for more abuse.

I had my first visit with a doctor here last week and she said we could, over time, experiment with lowering my medication. If I have to move again, that’s off, of course. For that reason and the fact that it’s so much easier to live here, I think it’s in my best interest to stay.

I do, however, confess to being a bit bored. It’s me and not the city; there are plenty of things going on, but having left a global city, and having lived here before, I have yet to rouse a great amount of enthusiasm for anything.

Also, the dating scene seems dismal. I do get hit on by youngsters stacking shelves at grocery stores and manning the doors at music clubs and in general get “checked out” way more than I did in L.A., but when it comes to men my age I don’t have much hope. The dating sites have the slimmest pickings I’ve ever seen, and not one of the eight or ten forty-to-fiftysomething friends I have here has so much as mentioned anyone they could introduce me to. I honestly don’t think they know of a soul.

When one lives in New York or Los Angeles, a big part of life is the adventure of living in New York or Los Angeles. In these smaller cities, it does seem like the only point of adult life is getting married and having kids. I’m struggling for a third path– using the slower pace to work on creative projects, form community, and continue learning. I don’t know if I’ll be successful long-term or if this will be enough.

If I do have to move back to L.A., I will sell my place, chalk this up to a failed experiment, and figure that it’s simply not the right place for me anymore. I’m a little daunted by the prospect of losing my only piece of real estate and committing long term to L.A., though. I could also move elsewhere… more decisions.

In any case, I am refusing to feel guilty about this break. I needed it. I pushed through so much mentally in Los Angeles, but my body balked, and I ended up with a chronic condition. I enjoyed another recent Dr. Drew podcast with Anna David in which she discusses this same issue; she thought she could handle anything mentally but her body eventually broke down:

woven themes

The theme of the upcoming Fourth of July Communications League for Unmarried Equality (CLUE) blogfest is independence and interdependence. I’d like to take a circuitous route on those topics, starting with ballet class.

I never intended to take ballet for twelve years. I’m not a natural talent, but I’ve gotten pretty good over time. I started it only because I wanted to get better at partner dancing. When the partner dancing scene played out for me in my mid-thirties, and I felt like I was sitting on the bench a little too much as people partnered off permanently, I became more involved with ballet. I never imagined I’d be taking advanced classes with well-known teachers in my forties.

Much of my life has played out along these same lines. I admit the independent route has not always been my first choice, but my life has certainly been rich from taking it. For example, during my first year in the workforce, nothing on the romantic front panned out for me, so I reconnected with an old dream of volunteering abroad and spent a year in Africa. A decade later, in my mid-thirties, when it felt like I was losing my social circle to marriage and children, I moved to Los Angeles, where I knew virtually no one, and started over again.

Thankfully, I had the spirit to substitute other dreams when the more conventional ones didn’t pan out. And in each new situation, I made connections outside of the nuclear family paradigm.

When I decided to leave Los Angeles this spring, my ballet teacher threw a goodbye dinner with some of the women from his earliest classes. Several of us were long-term singles, as was the teacher. We had taken his classes for years, back when they were small, and followed him from one studio to the next. We helped keep him going until he finally started his own studio, with great success.

Single people are often described as self-centered, but we don’t have to be Mother Teresa to prove that untrue. We simply need to leave the house and participate. By participating in artistic and cultural endeavors, I like to think that, in my own small way, I contribute to their existence. You can’t have a show without an audience, or a class without students, or a sporting activity without players. Simply by showing up, single and childless adults help keep the adult social world alive.

Why did I decide to leave L.A.? For most of my life, including my early years in L.A., I would argue with the premise that a person can’t survive as an island. I managed fine for two decades with the help of AAA, Chinese restaurants that deliver hot soup, and paid handymen of various stripes. Then I was struck with an autoimmune condition, and I had to reconsider that stance. For a few months there, I had trouble carrying out basic tasks. It got a girl to thinking.

I had friends in L.A., but they were spread as far as Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Manhattan Beach, Silver Lake, and Santa Monica. They weren’t exactly available in a pinch or for a cup of tea. They also tended to move away from L.A.

I started envisioning where I’d want to live as I grew older and decided to move back to my former city, where I had friends who were rooted and would be within a thirty-minute drive, at most. I also had family in the area, including a parent who was approaching eighty and might one day need help.

I’ve been in touch with a lot of former acquaintances since I’ve been back. A few single moms, a separated dad, a lifelong bachelor, a couple of ever-single women, and a married woman who may not be able to have children. Not so much the married with kids, but they are off my radar as much as I am off theirs.

I moved in a friend as a roommate, which may or may not work out, but it’s an experiment I wanted to try, as I may want to move into a communal house at some point when I get older.

I won’t lie; it can be a continual struggle to stay connected when you’re older and single. You have to be creative and resourceful and flexible and brave.

But then nobody said marriage was a walk in the park either.