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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You have no kids, so you’re free, right?

Forgive my absence last week. I was in San Jose with my dad. November is going to be off and on for me blogwise. I’m going back for Thanksgiving. There’s no Wi-Fi at Dad’s house (in Silicon Valley!), plus I find it hard to think beyond the next crisis. Too many people are sick and dying on both sides of the state line. When you get to my age, you see that a lot.

Which leads to today’s topic. It ties in with my last post about being childless in a work situation where most of the others have kids. You don’t have to go home to take care of your children, so you can stay late. You can work Christmas. You can go to the conference nobody else wants to go to. If you’d just get with the program and have some kids, you too could claim mom or dad privilege.

Is it the same with the family? You have no kids, so you can take care of Mom or Dad or whoever is in need? 

That sounds harsh. Last week was tough. Although my father’s legs and several other body parts barely function, he is not at the moment dying. In fact, I have come to suspect that he will not die until he wears out every single body part. At 96, he asked the eye doctor if he could pass his driving test next year with just one good eye. What?!! I do all the driving when I’m there, but he’s reserving the right to drive his own car.

We have a fierce love for each other, but he’s a prickly sort, and he hates having other people do things for him, so he is constantly criticizing and catastrophizing. He refuses offers of help. When I arrived last Monday, he was banging on his non-functioning 70-year-old gas heater with a fireplace poker. Call the repair guy, I said. No. Then the toilet started gushing water all over the floor. Call the plumber. No. I took him grocery shopping. How about some fruits and vegetables? No.

Some parents are easy, and some are not. I have to keep reminding myself that I would probably be just as cranky if I could no longer do most of the things I used to do and other people were constantly telling me how to live my life.

What does this have to do with childlessness? I’m getting there. My relationship with my father is fraught with guilt. Although Dad says he doesn’t want me to, I feel (and others in my family feel) that I should move back to San Jose and take care of him. Forget my home, my work, and my friends here. Forget this whole life that I love. I am single and have no kids to worry about, so I’m the one who is supposed to take care of Dad–like the spinsters of old who took care of their parents then died alone.

I have invited him to live with me. He won’t even consider it. He plans to live in his own house until the end.

My brother, God bless him, drives six hours every weekend to visit Dad and help as much as he can. But no one would ever ask him to give up everything to become a full-time caregiver. He has a family and an important job. His wife is not only caring for her 94-year-old mom, but is up to her ears in grandchildren, so she’s not moving in with Dad either.

Ask the one who doesn’t have kids. Right? Have you experienced this?

It’s not just me. Our Catholic pastor, one of seven siblings, moved his mom into the rectory so he could care for her because the others were like, “William can do it. He’s single and has no kids, and we’re busy.”

I keep telling my father he should have had more children, improving the odds of one living nearby and ready to help. Maybe another one would be a plumber. But Catholic or not, he and Mom stopped at two. They were done.

So there’s that. And now the holidays are upon us. The day after Halloween, one of the most child-centered holidays of all, the commercial world declared Christmas. Off we go to family gatherings where we have nothing in common to talk about and no kids to play with their kids. I’m lucky to be old enough that nobody inquires about my plans to have children, but I know many of you will be facing the questions and criticisms of loved ones who just don’t understand.

Or maybe you’ll be at work.

What do you think? Are the childless ones, especially the ones who aren’t married, expected to do the heavy lifting when a family member needs help? I look forward to your comments.

P.S. I thank you for your wonderful comments on last week’s post. They really cheered me up while I was gone.

Childless dog-mom takes pooch to church

IMG_20170605_120334609[1]Taking your dog to choir practice must be a lot like taking your toddler to work. By the time it’s over, you vow, “Next time, I’ll get a sitter.”

Annie, 74 pounds of Lab-pit bull love, had knee surgery a week ago today. It was done out of town, very expensive. Now she has a long incision with 13 staples that I have to keep her away from until next week. She is wearing a big blue inflatable collar that looks like a life preserver. She has so many pills I have organized them in days-of-the-week pill boxes, and I have orders to keep her from running, jumping or playing. Right. She can already put weight on her injured leg and she wants to go, go, go.

Choir starts at 7 p.m. At 4:30, we were sitting out in the yard when Annie rolled around on the grass enough to dislodge her collar. A little push with her good back leg and voila, it was off. Oh no! I jumped up and forced the collar back on before she could fight me.

Please God, let her keep it on, I prayed. We still have seven days to go. We ate dinner. I slipped one of Annie’s blankets into the back of the Element and put the seats up so she’d have room to relax. When Annie realized she was going for a ride, she went nuts. She ran, she jumped, and she nipped my arm with her sharp teeth. Unable to jump into the car, she waited for me to lift her. So heavy! I could feel my spine crumbling under her weight.

Before we got to the end of our short, one-car-wide block, Annie had shoved her head between the seats, trying to get up front. Another car was coming the other way, waiting for me to move while I was fighting back the dog. Sorry! Just as I eased around the other car with an apologetic wave, Annie eased out of her collar. Naked dog again. Damn!

I pulled into a neighbor’s driveway, climbed into the back and wrestled with my dog to get the stupid collar on. She wasn’t interested in wearing it anymore. I couldn’t blame her, but I knew she’d be licking and biting her staples as soon as I left her alone. Taking her to choir is a bad idea, I thought, as I clicked her regular collar back on and sealed the Velcro around her balloon collar. I should just stay home. But I had been home constantly since I brought Annie back from the hospital on Thursday. In addition to choir, I needed to return my library book, pick up my mail, and buy a few things at the store. “Lie down!” I ordered the dog. As I drove, I could hear her nails clicking as she walked around. Every other minute, she shoved her face up next to my arm. “Down!”

Post office. I literally ran from the car to my box, grabbed my bills, and ran back. Library. I stopped at the drive-through return, leaned way out the window and let the book thunk into the box. Grocery store. Race down the aisles, glancing constantly out the window to check on the dog. Grab strawberries, bananas, lettuce, cookies, a bag of flour, try to find frozen yogurt, can’t, no time, hurry through the checkstand. Senior discount? Yes, please. Out with my bags. Oh, thank God, she was still in the back. But footprints and nail marks on my choir book showed she had tried to get into the driver’s seat.

Okay, church. Nobody there yet. Annie was going out of her mind with excitement. I helped her to the ground. She dragged me all over the grass and pavement. She did her business. She nosed bits of garbage, chewed on weeds, sniffed at doors, shoved her head into the bushes.

The other singers arrived. “Oh, how cute,” they said, all wanting to pet my dog. Annie dragged me from person to person. They stroked her and talked baby talk to her. They praised her for being such a good dog. They thought she was healing well.

“How is Mom?” someone asked. I let my tongue drop in a sign of exhaustion. My spine was all jumbled from lifting and restraining the dog. My clothes were covered with fur. I had a wet spot on the breast of my blue shirt where Annie’s water bowl tipped over while I was moving it. My arm was bruised where she nipped me.

Annie settled down as we did the readings and started to sing. But when we decided to adjourn to the sanctuary so we could try some of the songs with the organ, Annie dragged me ahead of the others through the vestibule and across the altar to the choir loft. “Slow down! It’s church!”

She raced up the steps, trying to sniff everyone at once. As the organ sounded. “Holy, Holy, Holy!” the dog settled down below us, smiling her doggy smile and panting percussion as we sang. Finally. Peace.

That fell apart when we went back to the chapel to finish our practice. I drained my water bottle to fill a plastic container with water for Annie. She lapped it up, the sound reverberating off the skylight and stained glass window. Then she dragged me to the door. Need to pee. So did I, but I couldn’t leave Annie to go to the restroom. We walked around the yard while the singing went on. Annie and I were there, but it was all about the dog.

After choir, a friend held my stuff while I lifted the dog back into the car. Oh my back.

At home, we each had a snack before we settled on the loveseat with my tablet to watch a TV show. Annie nestled up against me and fell asleep, softly snoring. “I love you,” I whispered. And I do, but this single-parenting business is hard.

Stitches or not, she’s staying home next week. At least with a dog, you can leave them at home for an hour with a bowl of water and a doggy door.

I don’t know much about motherhood, but I have seen that for mothers, it’s all about the child. If the child needs to stay home, you stay home. If the child needs to be fed or changed, you abandon your own needs to feed or change him. If the child acts out in public, you pray everyone understands. At the age I am now, I don’t know if I could be a real mom to a little human. I don’t have the stamina or the patience.

Would I have been up for it when I was young? I’ll never know. But I do know that we need to forgive our loved ones with kids if they seem to go nuts for a few years and don’t have time for us. Forgive them and offer help. Maybe, at least for now, those of us who don’t have children are supposed to help those who do. Try it.

My niece, who is single, recently became a foster parent to a four-year-old boy with special needs. This week, she took in a baby. God bless her, I don’t know how she does it. God bless all who play the mother role in whatever form it takes.

 

What if you never find that special someone?

We often talk here about having found a partner who is great in every way except for being unable or unwilling to have children. But what about those people who don’t find that special someone? I just read an article by Mandy Appleyard from the UK that talks about her experience with this. I really recommend you read “The Love I’ll Never Know.” Appleyard talks about the cruel comments people make. They assume that she chose career over family and that’s why she has neither husband nor children. But her relationships never worked out. She was even married for a while and had two miscarriages before that marriage failed. People don’t understand. She talks about how she copes by enjoying her career and transferring her love to her godchildren. I think we can all identify with a lot of what she says. Read the comments, too. It’s unbelievable how thick-headed some people can be.

Most of us somehow find a partner along the way, but not everyone does. Among the people I interviewed for my book was a nurse named Barbara who had never married. Yes, she had a career, but that career didn’t fill the empty place in her heart. For a while she worked in the maternity ward and she would weep as she delivered newborns from the nursery to their mothers. Would she have liked to have a family? Yes. But it just didn’t happen.

I was lucky enough to be married twice to men I loved. At least on the surface, I had the beginnings of a family. If we had agreed to have children, we could have. The problem was that we didn’t agree.

There’s no guarantee in this world that we’re going to find that special someone. I’m amazed that most of us do end up getting married at least once. But what if it never happens? What if every relationship goes bad and we’re still alone as our fertility dries up? Use a sperm donor or adopt, some people suggest, as if those are easy options. They’re not, and I don’t think we can blame anyone who decides not to try single parenting.

For those of us who don’t have children but do have partners or spouses whom we love, I think we should give them a big hug and thank them for being there. It could be worse.

What do you think about all this?