Single over 40 In a ‘Married with Children World’, Part 1
I don’t mean to complain considering the state of pollution on our planet, glaciers melting due to climate change, unpredictable weather, international wars, human and drug trafficking, the price hike on bacon and beef, Ebola breakouts, general terrorism and basic economic struggles of the average human being working on a below average job. All of that is way more important! But I have a trivial pet-peeve so, by all means and with my blessing, feel free to disregard…okay, not completely.
With that said above, I live in the south. I moved here from New York City 10 years ago this summer.
There’s a tradition in the south that I’ve just started noticing. At some point, if you’re a woman, people who know you will start calling you ‘Miss So-n-so’. I remember hearing this as a child and thinking nothing of it. But now, as an African-American 45-year old woman born, raised in Virginia, now living in Tennessee, I seem to hear it all the time, even from relatives: “Hello, Miss Joi!” “How are you, Miss Joi?” “Miss Joi, it is so good to see you!”
When did my marital status become a part of people respectfully greeting me? It hits me harder than a cold splash of artic water. I’ve just started getting used to being referred to as “ma’am” by retailers or apathetic teenage fast food cashiers.
Okay, I’m only half kidding. Without even realizing, I’ve gone from college to life and woke up middle aged, single in a ‘married (or divorced) with children world’ and nothing prepared me for the feelings; inadequacy comes to mind but that isn’t the right word. The majority of the populace has been or is married with children. You start to wonder what you’re missing just a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy. I like being single for the most part. I like my own company. I’m not lonely 90% of the time. I enjoy coming and going as I please, not having to check in or discuss plans. But I do miss having companionship sometimes. It would be nice to discuss your day when you get home. It would be nice to call on a guy to kill the spider on the ceiling or take the trash out. And then there’s sex…
For a long time, from the age of 28 to 42, I had developed a side career of looking for my mate via online dating. I was an expert, having been a part of a panel of experts at a City Learning Annex. I’d been one of a group who beta tested Match.com when it came to New York City in the mid-90s. I truly enjoyed dating in the City. I made some amazing friends that I’m still close to, even today. And no, I don’t think I’m picky, I just wanted the life my parents had: not perfect but content marriage of 64 years; real friends and lovers to each other with an ‘us against the world’ attitude filled with family focus.
My mother, almost in her mid-80s, has always been strong, independent and confident. She is a woman of much faith, extremely generous, loving and kind, though an internal toughness as hard as nails. My father, who passed away in 2010, was also loving, warm and kind. He also was known for his spirituality and love for God, his storytelling, his passion for ancient history and current events were only matched by his love of baseball and football –-The Atlanta Braves and the Dallas Cowboys. They loved each other deeply, but knew how to give each the space they needed and come back together to work hard, play and love. They clung to each other making a ‘love oasis’ for my brother--- then when he was 20 years old and a sophomore in college--- I came along and enjoyed this home haven. I thought this was how life was supposed to be but it hasn’t been easy finding a mate who wanted similar things.
As we age, we naturally, nearly automatically--- sometimes multiple times ---between the ages of 35 to 50 start to assess our lives. We ask ourselves, how are we doing? We look around at colleagues, co-workers, friends, relatives and measure ourselves. Are we where we want to be career-wise, in health, well-being and family? Are we happy? To me because of our mortality, it’s almost a necessary half-way point investigation, a kind of lifetime in review process to see what we still need to do in order to make a dent in the world, perhaps to leave something behind for posterity.
When I was a kid, I fell in love with Hasbro’s The Game of Life TM. I still love this game because it is like looking into a crystal ball, showing how life could unfold each time one plays. We played the game contrary to the rules where if the wheel spun and the avatar didn’t land on ‘getting married,’ the player remained single the entire game. Like a book with chapters, the real game of Life has markers---rites of passage, significant events that everyone seems to generally go through, like: first step, first word, first day of school, dating, prom, getting your driver’s license, graduations, first ‘real’ job with benefits, marriage, first child, divorce, second child, re-marriage, grandchildren, illness and/or death of close relatives/parents, retirement, etc.
But what if, for some unknown reason, you find yourself not having one or more of those significant markers? What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to react or interact, especially when others seamlessly go through those chapters? I think this is when a lot of people might go into therapy. Don’t laugh! Seriously, don’t knock therapy unless you’ve tried it. It is hard to face things that you’ve been avoiding all of your life. The emotional weight can be rather harsh and devastating. In other words, the truth hurts. Especially when you’re facing your own truth but, the work of understanding your truth has its rewards.
In the 2003, there was episode of Sex in the City called "A Women's Right to Shoes" that kind of addressed the skipping of these significant markers in a humorous way. For those who never watched the show, the main unmarried character, Carrie goes to a baby shower where her precious $485 Manolos (shoes for those who don't know) are lost. She complains through the episode that singles don't get gifts like newlyweds and expecting mothers do. So in order for her to get her shoes back, she cooks up a wedding registry where she announces to the baby shower hostess that she is getting married to HERSELF. There is only one thing on the registry list for the hostess to purchase: Carrie's $485 Manolo Blahniks strappy 4-inch sandals. The hostess grumbles but buys the "irresponsible waste" in order to preserve the friendship with Carrie (or shut her up, depending on perspective.)
Let me be clear, I’m not a victim of my life. It just startled me to find myself single at 45 because I think consciously and unconsciously it was a small but sharp lifetime fear. Yet, I have almost convinced myself that having a mate is not really important to me anymore. I’ve almost convinced myself that I should just revel in the now. But I do regret deeply not having kids. There were times I thought I was being punished for ‘doing the right thing’ and waiting on a husband, while others went out and did the family-thing without the traditional wedding.
Though if I’m honest, being alone does have moments that are terrifying but it’s just the fear of the unknown. I’ve found myself to be more capable with each challenge and I like that. Life will unwind as it will. None of us ---single, married, widowed, divorced, with or without children ---have little to no control over the future. Regardless of mates or children, rich or poor, race or culture, we all have that in common for nothing is guaranteed. All we really have are our hopes and dreams, and the satisfying work in striving to achieve them.
One day at work, a colleague and I were chatting. He spoke of a close friend who turned 40 and was dating a very attractive woman near 50. She had never been married, no children, owned her own home, had a satisfying career and good friends, family. They had been dating for nearly 3 years and my colleague wondered out loud why his friend was still dating her.
‘You know she doesn’t want to get married as much as my friend does. Most single women at 50 never wanted to get married in the first place.’ My colleague is close to my age and he sounded so sure. His comment stung a little. I have always wanted to be married with children so, I wondered out loud to him, ‘why do you think that?’ I don’t really remember his answer. Chances are, knowing him, his answer was flippant but, I do remember how the conversation made me feel.
It really made me think. Is he right? Did women who are single without children over 40 choose to never marry? Is it just a choice? I could have married several men but, I knew instinctually that they were not the right fit for me, which was my choice. I’m a half of decade away from 50 and who knows if being hitched is what’s best now.
But I can’t be only one feeling this way. Surely, there are many people, probably more than ever, who are single over 40 without children who have a mixture of both, a desire and indifference for a mate. I began to realize that I had quite a few friends who may feel as I do and wouldn’t mind sharing their thoughts on it. Utilizing Facebook and regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or economics, I reached out to friends and friends of friends questioning ‘being single over 40 in a married with children world.’ There were some really interesting answers. In the next part of this article, I’m going to address what I found out.
For one thing, it turns out, I was right. I’m definitely not alone!
Read the next Part 2 of this article!