In this journey called Life, it is safe to say that most of us have certain assumptions about how our chapters will unfold. We assume we ALL will:
Celebrate some birthdays and holidays
Go to school
Maybe go to college, grad school
Date a bit
Get a job, if you're blessed, a career
Date some more
Pay taxes and bills from the income of that job
Maybe we get fired or laid-off, get another job or two, or more
Possibly divorce and marry someone else who also has kids from their previous relationship AND try your best to blend the new family unit
Continue to work
Take a few vacations
Get a few promotions and/or change career paths for more income
Save money for retirement
Take care of aging parents/spouse/relatives
Attend funerals of family and friends along the way
Have an illness/disease or two (hopefully not too life threatening)
Grow even older because...
Your children go to college, get married and have some grandchildren
While you continue to wrinkle, grow grey hair (dye it) and mature
Hopefully you retire from a successful career
Perhaps travel some
Take up tai chi, yoga, pottery or sculpting, paint with oil or water colors, go fishing, golfing
And enjoy a good quality of life before painlessly dying in your sleep.
Of course, this doesn’t have to happen in this exact order and many of these milestones may not apply to the majority of the populace.
But what happens if you skip over major milestones like getting married and/or having children. Then a few of the life stages listed above are highly effected and can cause an interesting dynamic as a person interacts with society and matures.
A Little Background
In the late summer of 2014, I wrote an article about being ‘single over 40 in a married with children world.’ Soon after, I sent out a questionnaire utilizing social media and word of mouth in order to have a tiny but viable cross section of people, across races/cultures, economic classes, a few outside the USA, and across generational lines. I was only able to interview approximately 60 people, ranging in age from 40 to 85 years old. Both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, were interviewed. I also researched statistics, read books, blogs, commentaries, YouTube videos and news articles online about how people viewed their single and childless lives.
For the most part, our modern 21st century society no longer looks at people who are single, over 40 and childless and label them some kind of misfit or weirdo. In the past, though the words ‘old maid’ or ‘spinster’ might be used to describe a 20's to middle-aged woman, or older, who never married for some reason. The reasons have often been laid directly at the feet of the woman. In the past and somewhat in the present, it is often viewed as the woman's fault, and only her fault, for not finding a mate. Usually it is because she isn't attractive enough, nice enough, domesticated and agreeable enough. Or maybe she is too much of a book-worm or too intelligent, nags too much, isn't willing to settle, or too argumentative like Shakespeare's famous play "The Taming of the Shrew."
While the male equivalent, ‘bachelor,’ or 'stag' though commonly used like 'spinster' in past centuries, doesn’t have the same type of negative social connotation as the female version. (This maybe why the more modern term 'bachelorette' has become popular.)
Historically, women have always been encouraged, even required to marry and have children. This, in most cases, was heralded as women's (girls) only value and in fact, being married off to invoke peace treaties and combine wealth/resources is historically common. While men have always been allowed to ‘play the field' and 'sow wild oats.' Males have often been encouraged to have more than one mate, in the form of a mistress or two as ‘side pieces’ and historically this is why harems, concubines and courtesans have existed. No one would deny that there are loud reverberations throughout our human civilization and culture that shouts and demands that both men and women live in some form of couple-dom.
Homo-sapiens being naturally gregarious, always paired off and had offspring, mostly due to survival. Throughout time and the world, the institution of marriage, though often arranged un-romantically like modern-day business mergers, was about strengthening and growing the tribe or community, especially for the wealthy aristocrats. For all, children meant free and clear laborers, providers for elderly parents and relatives, as well as heirs, to pass on property and knowledge to the next generation.
In a way, this explains why, if people specifically women, didn’t marry there was an automatic suspicion and mistrust by the society at large. Even when widowed or divorced, women were encouraged to marry quickly in order to be a valid part of the society. Being alone has always been looked upon with contempt and distrust. Too much independence was historically deadly because people needed each other to stay alive. If females didn’t have kids, they were ostracized and labelled ‘barren, fruitless, or infertile’ ---all words that lend themselves from productive agricultural classifications. If you weren’t contributing to the community/tribe in some vital capacity, why should you be allowed to consume much needed resources?
What Is Known
Originally, my aim to write this article was selfish. I wanted to know if I was a part of a small minority group stuck on the ‘over 40, single and childless’ reality island or were we a newly emerging continent that was rising from the deep, increasing in number and size within modern society. I suspected the later, and I was right.
There are stats that show that single people outnumber married people in the United States since 2000. The U.S. Census says that by 2009 the amount of married adults fell from 57% to 52%. There is also evidence that in some urban areas, straight single women outnumber straight single men almost 5 to 1. Though there is a steady increase of online dating, on sites like Match.com, Elite Singles and eHarmony, over the last 15 to 20 years, there are stats that show that for every 86 unmarried men, there are 100 unmarried women. Plus, more women are choosing to wait to get married later in life.
Women and men DO want to get married and to fall in love but, they are not willing to compromise or settle for what they do not want. The rise of divorce has also played a part. Finding the person that will improve on the life they have built for themselves through fulfilling careers and social lives has become much more of a priority.
There are also current stats that say that being single is healthier and less lonely than previously speculated because single people are more likely to take care of themselves better, exercising and eating right. They tend to be more involved in the community, volunteering more, traveling, and going to cultural and social events more often. This information turned out to be accurate in the people surveyed for this article.
Though these stats were encouraging, I was still itching to find out how others felt about their single-
hood. I wanted to know details. How did they deal with being single? How did they embrace a world that still was predominantly in couple-hood bliss with their own romantic soundtracks?
With holidays marketed more and more toward the ideal family or getting-engaged scenarios - especially with the holiday dreaded most by all singles: Valentine’s Day - I wanted to understand how others felt. Did they feel at odds with those around them, who seemed to be happily paired-off in mating euphoria?
Personally, I think the hardest thing to come to terms with as ‘a single over 40 never married’ was there would be no linage to add to my family tree, unlike my sibling. I also wondered what was the point now of dating or becoming a couple when companionship and love can be had without the commitment of marriage. When asked the same question, most surveyed wondered the same thing.
'Those Surveyed Said'
Though the last article had very good intentions, looking back now, I believe I was mainly focused on how I felt about my own situation. So I waited. I waited to finish part 2 of the article, never imagining it would take nearly 2 years to write. But I learned a lot during that time. Most of the people I interviewed were content with their single-hood AND childless lifestyle. For more than half of those interviewed, the choice to be single was thrust upon them by life’s circumstances. A few more had been married at one point but either never chose to be married again or, if they did marry again they were now single, again, and had been for more than 2 years.
One man, single, never married, no children had thought he would get married and have children like his siblings and friends but, he never met a woman he wanted to live with for the rest of his life.
“She just never showed up. Sometimes I would date something resembling her but, it was never quite ‘her.’ I would know ‘her’ anywhere.”
Even at 62, he hadn’t given up on his dream of finding his soul mate but, by our conversation, I believe he knew the reality was slim.
“She probably got married to the wrong guy. Or she got hurt by the wrong man. The day we were supposed to meet I took the bus and she took the train. I know she’s still out there. We might meet yet.”
His hope was endearing yet, I could hear in his voice the doubt that time had probably run out.
Another woman in her early 50’s had decided to remain single and celibate. She hadn’t been in a relationship for over 20 years. As far as she was concerned, ‘sex and men were over-rated and chaotic.’
“I like my life the way it is, no fuss. I like to come and go as I please.” In fact, she was packing for the third time in four years to move to another town for work after being laid off again.
“I love to read good books, watch [reality] TV, and I have my cat. I travel often, I see family when I can and I love the work that I do. I don’t see a need for much else.”
One gentleman in his late 70’s was recently single because his partner had died of natural causes. Though his family had rejected him in his 20’s for his ‘chosen’ lifestyle, he and his companion had created a big family out of the LGBTQ community they actively participated in. They had a life together for nearly three decades. He loved the fact that gays were now being allowed around the world to marry. He loved the new acceptance and freedom to be who he really was all out in the open. He only wished he was a few years younger in order to go out and enjoy it all.
“I’ve had a great life full of love and people I wanted [and chose] in it. I wish I was just a little bit younger so that I had the energy to have more fun with [his partner.]”
One woman who was over 50, never been married, had no children, admitted proudly that she was still a virgin. To her, being chaste was a badge of Christian honor. Both parents had passed away. She lived with her unmarried sibling but had always wanted marriage and kids. But she was not willing to compromise her Biblical principles and sleep around outside of marriage.
“I want what my parents had. They were good Christians, married for over 50 years. I took care of them until they died.”
She has always loved animals and she lives with several types including, dogs, cats, hamsters and quite a few more exotic ones like tortoises, ferrets and chinchillas.
“They are my children…if God wants someone to come into my life. God will bring them, just like my fur babies. I trust that.”
The Sex Question
The one thing I haven’t touched on is sex. The sex discussion among those surveyed was made up of the following categories:
(1) Utilizing friends for sex (2) Enjoying dating and the opportunity for sex if/when it becomes available (3) Masturbation (4) Celibacy (5) Or, some combination of each.
This activity is a natural act that can become extremely complex for everyone but, especially for those who are over 40, single and childless. Depending on the person, they may prefer the popular ‘friends with benefits (FWBs),’ who take care of their urges. Most enjoy a more single-handed approach to their hormonal state through masturbation or the use of toys. While others, due to a lack of interest, religious or moral beliefs and, the lack of partners have chosen celibacy.
Those who are celibate often express a desire for more than the act of sex. Many indicated a desire for intimacy and a real connection that only a genuine romantic relationship can provide. Several discussed ‘FWBs’ and how this arrangement can become complicated and dicey especially if the friendship is remotely important and could be damaged by adding the sex dynamic. All of this depends on the person, their values, what they want and what their life circumstances lean them towards.
Here's a few celebrities that are in a similar mid-life, single, kid-free situation:
Oprah Winfrey: She's not married, she didn’t have children and NO ONE would call her a spinster or say that she has a sad or unfulfilled life. She is Oprah!
Helen Mirren: Though this 70+ year old extremely talented and elegant actress never had kids, she didn’t get married until 1997. You KNOW she has enjoyed herself!
Condoleezza Rice: This 61 year old political power-house, the former Secretary of State, never married and had children. But we can all agree that she is having a great life.
George Clooney: Though he got married again, (he was married to actress Talia Balsam, from 1989 until 1993) he was Hollywood’s most eligible (hated?) bachelor for YEARS.
Katherine Hepburn: Though briefly married 1928 to 1934, she never had children, it was said that she dated the very married Spencer Tracey until his death. When this 96 year old died, considering many of her famous quotes, I’d like to think that she probably had very few regrets.
Kim Cattrall, Queen Latifah, Ricky Gervais, Shemar Moore, Margaret Cho, Matt Dillon, Winona Ryder, the rapper/actor Common, Ashley Judd, Hoda Kotb, James Woods, Hill Harper, Anjelica Huston, Jon Hamm, Ann Coulter – to name just a few well-knowns that are childless, flying solo, never wed (or are divorced).
Around 2015 during the holidays, I had an epiphany that allowed the last vestiges of single-hood/childless melancholy to almost completely dissipate (Though I still have my days...I'm only human.) It dawned on me that my little bit of angst was a CHOICE. I could choose to feel sad about my single-hood and childless status or, I could choose to look at it completely differently. I looked at everything as realistically as possible:
I had no responsibilities or commitments to anyone but me. No one demanded my attention from projects or goals that I wanted to do, especially financially.
I didn't have to cook, clean, or be domestic for anyone besides myself. Which means, my home can be as messy or as organized as I want at any given time.
Plus, I don't have to meet anyone else’s needs, demands or expectations. I can go and come, and go again, as I please.
This sense of freedom and the room to be selfish was actually revolutionary to my thinking. Of course, being selfish has a bad reputation. You scold children about selfishness and we hear people criticize others for selfish behavior. In this case, I think it is different. I'm giving myself permission to take care of me and my needs.
As I have implied, I always wanted to find love, I still do. I wanted a good man to share my life with and then have some babies, maybe adopt one or two, raise a family and enjoy all the ups and downs this can bring. I tried very hard to make this happen for myself but, this is not my current reality. The very blessing of not having many family commitments and people around me who could distract me from my goals, allows me the freedom to be unencumbered, spontaneous and come from a very different place than those who are married and/or have children. I have few worries other than the daily concerns of bills, gas prices, work and whatever project I'm working on in the moment.
I have lived alone for almost 20 years. Though I work, have friends far and wide that I'm in contact with, for the most part, I'm alone 90% of the time. When I go to the movie, I go alone. I eat out alone. I shop alone and often travel alone. Chances are, on my next vacation I will be alone. But being lonely is a choice.
Is loneliness ever a factor? I was asked by one I surveyed, was loneliness ever a problem for me? I told that person that I'm human but, loneliness is a 'state of mind and a chosen perspective.' My mother taught me as a child to look upon playing alone as an 'opportunity to please at least yourself,' plus when you're by yourself, 'no one will ever break your toys.' With many I spoke with the others surveyed, they agreed with me for the most part that being alone is a state of mind. You can be alone in a marriage, even in a crowd. Loneliness is a part of the human equation, no one escapes this emotion during their lifetime. But for some surveyed, loneliness haunted their lives and felt more like an stalking enemy.
One 50-something woman surveyed said, "Though I don't cry about being alone anymore, I feel it everyday. It sometimes makes my soul ache...then I turn on some music, or watch a movie, call a friend and the ache abates for a time."
I've been much lonelier WITH people then I've ever have been by myself. But then again, I like my own company, which is essential to being single as well as coming into your own. Many surveyed agreed that even if you are blessed to find someone to romantically connect with, if you don't know or like yourself, or your own company, this will not bode well for any kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise. Because there will be a desperate need vibe coming from a dark place, this brings out predators like blood in the water for a shark. These predators will seek you out in your vulnerability with conscience or unconscious intent to impair and hurt. I've seen it, I've experienced and some surveyed warned of it. It is better to be single and alone then with someone, feeling alone and being hurt, trying to make it work.
What I've Learned
Why did I ever think being single and childless was not the way it should be for me? Fighting against reality is exhausting. I don’t know anything else other than the lovers I’ve known, the romances of my youth, the view of a child watching her loving parents’ relationship and romantic fantasies of books and movies.
As for whether I should date or seek out companionship in the years ahead, who knows? For now, I have put that on hold for an undetermined time-frame, a 'dating sabbatical' if you like. I hope to one day date again with the same relish I had in my past. But right now, I’m in the midst of savoring my fascinating vantage point ---AND I like what I see!
My life is not to be pitied or disdained. That is a story that I made up in my head. I thought others were thinking ‘look at her, poor thing can’t find a mate.’ Who cares if this is true or false? Either way, what others think is not my business, nor can I change their minds. I've found the freedom and the space to disregard those who might view my life negatively, including family, friends and most definitely my biggest critic, myself.
Please understand that this doesn’t mean that I now view being married with children, with all the responsibilities and commitments, as a burden or something to be avoided. Some surveyed felt this way. But I suspect for some, there was underlying bitterness behind those feelings. Personally, I still hold on to a very romantic ideal of dating and marriage. I look at marriage as a wonderful thing! For over 40 years, I was an active witness to my parents nearly 64 years of marital bliss. Their love was genuine, loving and passionate. Their love fueled my life in ways I’m just beginning to appreciate and understand.
What it does mean is I can celebrate and embrace my life without feeling like it is less or lacking due to not wearing a diamond ring, or walking down a church aisle and saying ‘I do.’ After all the research and numerous conversations, I've discovered that there's nothing wrong if I haven’t been married nor had little ones, even if I wanted this at one time. In fact, I’m in excellent company. The best part is, there are no regrets, just acceptance with great memories of what was and the dreams of what still can be.
Over these two years, as I researched this article, I learned a lot from all my investigation and living – HUGE THANK YOU to ALL the PEOPLE who took the TIME to answer my questionnaire and dialogue, sometimes numerous times, over many hours with me. I continue to read quite a few of those blogs, websites and view YouTube subscribed videos used in my research. Ultimately, I learned that we can choose to accept our actuality, continually growing, learning from our choices. With no judgment or fear, it is truly a gratifying feeling to finally accept one’s own Truth.