Do We Settle Because We’re Afraid of Being Alone?

Do we commit to less than perfect partners because we’re terrified of being alone?

A webinar about spinsterhood got me thinking about this over the weekend. On Sunday, Jody Day of Gateway Women led the discussion with Civilla Morgan, who hosts the Childless Not by Choice podcast; Shani Silver, host of A Single Serving podcast, and Donna Ward, author of She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. (Read my review of her book here.) Ward, who lives in Australia, has just released an American edition of her book.

Our world is not kind to women who for whatever reason, aside from becoming nuns, never marry or have children. The assumption that everyone has a partner is even stronger than the assumption that everyone has children. Have you noticed how the world is set up for couples? Two settings at the restaurant table. Win a trip for two. Here’s a two-for- one coupon.

The word “spinster” has ugly connotations. It implies that something’s wrong with you, that you failed to attract a man. You’re unattractive, weird, asexual, can’t get along with people. Then again, as Ward writes, maybe you attracted plenty of men, but none of them were good enough to spend your life with.

Bachelors are not quite as frowned on, but still we wonder: what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you have a wife and kids like everybody else?

Maybe, like Silver, you like being on your own. You don’t need to be married or have children. She complained that every resource she sees for single women focuses on dating: how to get a man and end your single state. But for some singles, that’s not the issue.

It’s like being alone is a fate worse than death.

I have been alone for 12 years now. I get lonely. I have my memories to keep me company, but memories don’t put their arms around you. Memories don’t help you move that fallen tree branch that weighs more than you do. Memories won’t watch your purse while you go to the restroom, drive you to the ER when you sprain your ankle, or listen when you really need to talk to someone.

But having been married, it’s like I get this check mark from society on the box that says, “Approved.”

The list of challenges living alone goes on for days, but I don’t want to get married again. I like my freedom. Most of my widowed friends feel the same way. We have found our solo power and we like it. When we need help, we call each other.

When I was younger, would I ever have considered a single life? It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it could have happened.

No one asked me out until I was in college. Too nerdy, too fat, not social enough, parents too strict? I don’t know. I was already wondering if I’d ever find anyone, if I’d be like my Barbie doll without a Ken. I was afraid no man would love me when everything in my world told me a woman needs to get married and have children. So when someone finally wanted to date me, I didn’t ponder whether I liked him; I said yes. And I continued to say yes through a first marriage that failed and a series of unsuitable boyfriends between marriages. When I think of all the garbage I put up with just to hold onto a man . . .

By the time I met Fred, I had come to believe I would be single for the rest of my life. What if he hadn’t come along? I hope I wouldn’t have married another dud just to have someone. I know people who have done that. Don’t you?

I can count on one hand the number of people I know who never married. People wonder about them. Are they gay, do they have autism, are they mentally ill, or are they just plain weird? What if they’re regular people who surveyed the choices and said, “I’m fine by myself”?

My dog follows me around all day. She’s afraid of being alone. Humans are afraid, too. Maybe it’s the herd mentality. The zebra that wanders off alone gets killed by the lion. But maybe we don’t need to partner up for safety anymore. We can just be part of the herd.

So how about you? Have you settled so you wouldn’t be alone? Do you think it’s better to make a life alone rather than to be with the wrong person? Does the idea of a solo life scare you so much you’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect relationship to avoid it, even if that means giving up the chance to have children? Let’s talk about it.

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The Nomo Crones are meeting again for another Childless Elderwomen chat. On Sunday, June 20, noon PDT, I will join Jody Day, Donna Ward, Karen Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Maria Hill, Karen Malone Wright and Stella Duffy. We’ll talk about coming out of the COVID cocoon and the skills we’ve learned from our childless lives. No doubt, our talk will range all over the place. We’re a rowdy bunch. To register to listen live or receive the recording later, click here.

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3 thoughts on “Do We Settle Because We’re Afraid of Being Alone?

  1. I married my first husband because I didn’t want to be alone. I was 30 and I wanted babies. He said he did too, Then, after we were married, he changed his mind. He also became abusive and cheated on me. After almost 4 years on my own, I’m 41 and about to marry a wonderful man who has two children from his first marriage. We’re planning to adopt 1-2 children from the foster care system and I look forward to these new roles (stepmom and adoptive mom to older kids). I don’t feel that I am settling in the least this time around, but I am grieving the dream of a baby (given our ages and family history, we have agreed to adopt rather than try for a biological child).

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  2. Sue, One thing I’ve realized about academic life is that I had a false idealized image of how it was supposed to be. Everyone would be a scholar and a dedicated teacher. They would work together with the other faculty, whom they liked individually, as a team, encouraging and sharing their projects and discoveries. They would support each other in their teaching and bolster and cheer on others’ successes. None of this was true. I’ve since found out Donny had a similar image of what the musician’s life and business would be like, and it was false as well. I’d say the same applies to love and romance and marriage. We inherit ideas about falling in love and how that will develop, mostly from memes and tropes in film and literature. Speaking as someone who’s had several long-term and a few short-term great relationships, I can share my accumulated wisdom. No mate is the perfect one in every respect. We can decide to work to love someone we find attractive and compatible. Deep respect and friendship are vital as well as a commitment to work at the relationship every single day. If a person doesn’t want to be alone, she will find someone suitable, and probably they will enjoy life more together. My niece, for example, basically decided she wanted to be married within a year when she was 35 and single, and she set out to make that happen, which she did. I wouldn’t call the man she married perfect, but she’s happy and they’re still working at it after more than 5 years. If a person decides to live alone and have various kinds of outside relationships, that’s great too–but she should realize the drawbacks of living alone. People can change, and so a relationship may end. That doesn’t mean it was a failure. When we are more unhappy than happy together, it’s time to move on. So I just don’t think the terms you’re using are helpful or accurate. Every love relationship is “settling” in some way. People are imperfect, ourselves included. We hope someone will care enough for us to accept that and love us because or in spite of our quirks. And if we want to work at being in a relationship, we’ll work at being engaged with people, responding to what’s enticing about them, and being open to accepting them as they are. If they want to work at longer-lasting love with us, Wow! We are blessed.

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