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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Failed vasectomy reversal means no kids

Six to 10 percent of men decide to reverse their vasectomies. There are no guarantees a reversal will work. The longer it has been, the less likely it is to be successful. For Laura Curtis and her husband, it wasn’t.

Curtis, a musician from Ontario Canada, told her story on the April 22 UnRipe podcast for childless women. She was 22 and he was 36 when they were married. He had had a vasectomy, but she had always wanted children, so he had surgery to reverse the vasectomy. It failed, due to an excess of scar tissue. Although her own reproductive system was perfectly healthy, she was facing a life without the children she had always dreamed of having. They tried fertility treatments, with several embryo transfers. That didn’t work either.

All of this was hard on the marriage, and it even led Curtis to consider suicide. She went into therapy, went back to school for a music degree, and considered more IVF. Then she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Because she couldn’t take her MS medication while trying to become pregnant, they ended their efforts to have children. “We made choices that didn’t feel like choices,” she told host Jo Vraca.

Curtis is now a singer and music teacher. She found comfort in going back to school and studying the effects of sex hormones on the voice, something she had really felt during her fertility treatments. Classical singing is a whole body experience. When you are in pain or your ovaries are greatly enlarged, it’s difficult to support the notes, she said. You can read her master’s thesis, “The Effects of Infertility on Female Vocalist Identity” here. Now she’s working on a PhD.

Curtis teaches music and sings with several groups, including the Childless Voices Choir, founded by Helen Louise Jones in the UK. Jones also leads a weekly chanting circle online on Sundays. Visit https://www.ourhealingvoice.com to find out more about the benefits of singing, especially when you’re going through a hard physical or emotional time. Curtis says the music feeds her soul. Although she truly wanted to be a mother, she now calls herself “involuntarily childfree” because she is loving her life.

Listen to the UnRipe podcast here. https://www.unripecommunity.com.au/blog/21-infertility-after-failed-vasectomy-reversal-with-laura-curtis/

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One more thing:

I’m relatively new at the church I’m attending now. Our priest likes to dialogue during the homily. The other day, he was talking about parents and children. He said he didn’t have any children, so he needed our input. Then he turned to me and asked what it’s like being a parent. In front of God and everybody, I said, “I don’t have any children either.” Stone silence for a second, and then he stuttered around and said something about picking the one wrong person to ask. He moved on. But, that was awkward. And even though I didn’t have children, I wanted to try to answer his question. People assume every woman my age is a mother and grandmother. Surprise! I’m not.

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Hide. It’s Almost Mother’s Day Again

Help! The Mother’s Day advertisements have already started. I thought maybe with the COVID-19 crisis shutting everything down, we could skip the whole thing. No brunches, no special sales, no mother-honoring rituals at church. Everything is closed, and we’re supposed to stay home. We could finally have a respite from the whole mess. But no, here it comes again this Sunday. Have Mother’s Day brunch delivered, send her flowers, set up a family Zoom meeting, show her how much you care. Yada yada yada.

Last night on a sitcom, just in time for Mother’s Day, one of the main characters found out she was pregnant, and I cried. For Pete’s sake, does it never end?

Time to duck and cover again.

In the UK, they celebrate “Mothering Sunday” in March. It’s much like our own U.S. Mother’s Day. Some people who survived it offered their advice on the Full Stop podcast recently.

Civilla Morgan and Allie Anderson both had fertility problems and frequently write and speak about being childless not by choice. Like the rest of us, they grit their teeth through the day honoring moms.

Morgan, a “preacher’s kid,” used to go to church every Sunday. On Mothering Sunday, the mums were asked to stand and receive a gift. We all know how that feels. It sucks. An older woman suggested she simply not go to church on that day. Instead, she started talking to people about how painful it is, and she got several churches to change how they approached the day.

“It’s not okay for mothers to stand while non-mothers remain seated,” Morgan said. While she understands that mothering is a most important job, “We’re still women and we’re still human. People need to realize there’s a whole community existing in plain sight.”

She has come to accept that God has his reasons for why her life is the way it is, but she strives to make other people understand how the childless feel when they’re left out.

Anderson also struggles with Mothering Sunday. She can feel relatively fine the rest of the year, and then comes the holiday. “It can put you right back at your very lowest.” Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day just emphasizes the feeling of “otherness,” she said.

For Anderson, it’s not just the grief of not having children but the pregnancies she lost, the deaths of the children she might have had.

We all know this is a “Hallmark holiday,” blown out of proportion by companies trying to sell their merchandise. We know we should honor our own mothers every day, not just Mother’s Day. But it still hurts. So how do we survive?

  • Avoid social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). You know it’s going to be full of mom celebrations.
  • We do need to honor our own mothers and grandmothers if they’re still around, but it does not have to be on that actual day, Anderson says. Why not celebrate the weekend before or after and make other plans for Mother’s Day?
  • Morgan suggests journaling to release the thoughts and feelings you don’t feel you can say out loud.
  • Don’t go to restaurants where the servers will be wishing every woman Happy Mother’s Day.
  • Don’t go to church if they traditionally single out moms with a special ritual.
  • Don’t expect your stepchildren to do anything special; they will be busy honoring their bio mom.

This year, the celebrations may all be online, but the same advice applies. Instead of moping, do something fun. Take a hike, go to the beach, watch a movie, read a book, clean the garage, or stay in bed and make love all day. Do whatever makes you happy, and if anyone complains, explain that while you love and honor the mothers in your life, the day is too painful for you, so you’ll see them another time.

For male readers, the same applies to Father’s Day. Go fishing or something till it’s over.

The Full Stop Podcast for folks who are childless not by choice is a good resource. There are enough posts to keep you busy all through Mother’s Day.

I wish you all health and peace on Mother’s Day and every day.

 

 

 

Would You Wear a Ribbon for Childlessness?

CNBC Ribbon TransparencyDear readers:

How do you feel about wearing a ribbon showing the world that you are childless not by choice? Brandi Lytle of the NotSoMommy website and blog has asked if I would be willing to display this olive green ribbon in a show of sisterhood with hers and other sites for people who are involuntarily childless. Many of these sites focus on infertility. Here at Childless by Marriage, some of us are perfectly fertile but have other issues, such as uncooperative partners. So I said I’d ask you before I agreed to add the ribbon to my site. So far the ribbon is just a “virtual” one. There’s nothing to pin on our shirts, but Brandi is hoping to work that out.

Why olive green, you ask. Well, Brandi says, it’s not being used for another cause, it stays well away from the baby-oriented pink or blue, and she has found in her research that olive green is the color of peace and wisdom. “It does not stress the eyes, it relaxes the nervous system, calms the spirit, and enhances one’s mood and behavior, and studies show it can decrease fatigue, depression, and anxiety.”

Brandi continues: “Now, it’s time to start the campaign so that the Childless Not by Choice Awareness Ribbon will be recognized by our tribe, as well as the public. Fabulous ones, I pray our CNBC community connect with this new olive green awareness ribbon, share it on social media, and wear it proudly. Because we have endured much heartache and yet, are finding a way to create a new, beautiful and courageous existence. We should be proud of that! We should show the world what it really means to be childless not by choice…”

Read her whole post here.

Whether or not we go with the ribbon, I encourage you to explore Brandi’s NotSoMommy website. She has a great list of resources and a steady supply of engaging stories on her blog. Brandi’s on Facebook, too.

I’m not a real fan of ribbons and outward displays. If one were to wear an olive green ribbon, people would inevitably ask what it’s for, and then would come the questions we all hate. But perhaps in certain circles, it could be a wonderful sign of solidarity.

So, dear friends, what do you think?

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While I was friending Brandi on Facebook, I saw that my stepdaughter’s son just got married. I watched the wedding video on Facebook. My husband’s ex and other people I don’t know were there. It was a small courthouse wedding. As far as I could see, the groom’s sister and uncles were also missing, but it still gives me a pang. I was part of the family for what feels like a minute (25 years), and now I’m not. Big sigh.

On to happier things!

My friend Theresa Wisner just published her book about her life working on fishing and research boats. Titled Daughter of Neptune, it’s wonderful. Check it out and enjoy this story of a childless woman who has made a fabulous life for herself.

A Safe Place for the Childless Not by Choice

Dear friends,

Lately in the comments, a few people have been sniping at each other. That’s not good. We get enough of that in the rest of the world. As childless people, we face questions, disapproval, accusations, and folks who can’t resist giving you unwanted advice. Right? Let’s not do that here.

Last week we talked about how some of us—maybe all of us—sometimes keep quiet about our childless status because we don’t want to deal with the reactions. We’d rather blend in and let the parent people think we’re just like them. We don’t want them coming at us with why, what’s wrong with you, etc. Most of us don’t know how  to explain or justify our situation because we’re not sure how it happened or what to do about it. We’re still trying to figure it out. There aren’t any easy answers.

Of course, I’m talking about those of us who have not chosen to be childless, who are hurting over their childless status. The childless-by-choice crowd sometimes gets pretty militant about their choice: Never wanted kids, happy about the situation, feel sorry for you breeders who want to waste your bodies, money and time adding to the world’s overpopulation. Get over it, and enjoy your childfree life. But how can you when you feel a gaping emptiness inside?

In an ideal world, we would all accept each other’s choices, but the world is not ideal. We feel left out, guilty, ashamed, angry, and hurt. We need a safe place. Let this be one. If someone asks for advice—and many readers do—chime in, but we need to support each other’s decisions once they’re made. Don’t add to the hurt. And if a certain gentleman wants to leave his childless older wife for a young, fertile woman who will give him a family, ease up on him. We women might resent some of his sexist comments, but we don’t know what it’s like for him. He’s aching for children just like we are. And sir, don’t be knocking older women. Some of us take that personally. 🙂

Let’s try to be kind here. I am grateful for every one of you. Hang in there.

P.S. Easter was brutal for me. All those kids in Easter outfits. All those happy families while I was alone. Luckily I spent so much time playing music at church that I was too tired to care by Sunday afternoon. How was it for you?

Where do we “childless by circumstance” people fit in?

In preparing to write this blog, I look at the posts in the various related Facebook groups I belong to. It always makes me uncomfortable. The posts at the Childless Stepmothers group burn with anger. The stepmoms seem to hate their stepchildren as well as the kids’ biological mothers. They resent the fact that they have to take care of these “brats” while they don’t get to have their own kids. Although my own relationship with my stepchildren has not always been smooth, I am always aware that by giving me a chance to interact with his kids, my husband gave me a family. It’s an opportunity to be a mother in some ways. I am lucky that the kids’ mom is a great person, and we all get along. It doesn’t always work out that way.
At the Being Fruitful Without Multiplying group, the overriding theme seems to be that people who have babies are idiots. Not smart enough to use birth control. Look how pregnancy ruins your body. Look how it ruins your life. How dare these breeders make us share our world with their “spawn?” And how could a doctor refuse to sterilize a person in his or her 20s, saying they’re “too young?”
At Childless Not by Choice, the grief fills my computer monitor with tears. Some members are childless because their partner can’t or doesn’t want to have kids, some don’t have partners, and some have struggled with infertility, including multiple miscarriages, stillbirths and failed attempts to get pregnant.They’d give anything to have children.
I feel most comfortable with the Childless Not by Choice group, but it’s not easy to face all this sadness.
In real life, too, it’s hard to fit in sometimes. At my new dentist’s office last week, the dental assistant went on and on about her children and grandchildren—as well as her husband. She didn’t ask if I was married or had children, and I couldn’t tell her because of the sharp instruments in my mouth.
At lunch last Sunday after church, I sat with four friends, all mothers, three of them grandmothers, as they passed around baby pictures and talked about their families. I love these women, but I felt like a papaya at a table full of apples. I sipped my iced tea and hoped our food would arrive soon.
I have other friends I meet at writing workshops and other events who are militantly childfree. If I say anything about kids, they proclaim that they never wanted them, thank God they don’t have them. They shudder at the thought of being mothers while I quietly hope the program will start soon.
It’s a crazy time. In my mother’s generation, everybody had children if they were physically able to do so. They were all happy apples. Now, with so many choices, it’s one big mixed-up fruit cocktail.
What are your experiences dealing with the moms and non-moms? Please share in the comments.
(If you want to join any of these Facebook groups, search for them by name. Most are private so people can share freely. If you need an invitation to get in, let me know.)

Childless Facebook groups: apples, oranges and potatoes

The different ways people look at not having children boggle my mind. I follow posts on three different Facebook pages devoted to childlessness: Being Fruitful Without Multiplying, Childless Stepmothers Support Group, and Childless Not by Choice. Trying to compare them is like trying to compare apples, oranges and potatoes. All of these groups are closed groups, but you can join by invitation. If you want to join, I’ll recommend you for membership.

Each group serves a different need, and I get something different out of each one. Being Fruitful Without Multiplying is the site for the book of the same name. Most of the participants are the editors and contributors who wrote sections of the book. Generally their viewpoint is that they don’t want children. Most say they never wanted them. They call themselves “childfree.” Therefore, the posts often talk about what a nuisance it is putting up with other people’s kids or complain about friends who are obsessed with kids or discuss how they wish the wannabe breeders would quit whining.
The Childless Stepmothers Support Group is for childless women who are married to men who have children from their previous marriages. On this page, most of the posters complain about how awful their stepkids and their husbands’ ex-wives are and how painful it is not to be able to have children. They use a lot of abbreviations, such as SS, DH and BM (stepson, dear husband, biological mother), which gets confusing for me. Sometimes the anger gets to me, but sometimes I can really identify with this group. It’s a safe place to talk about family matters without worrying that your husband or stepchild will read what you post.
There’s another group called The Childless Stepmom.This is also a closed group, and I have not gotten involved, but it’s another place you might want to look for someone to talk to.
The Childless Not by Choice group is for people who do want children and can’t have them for some reason. Sometimes the posts are so sad and frankly, yes, whiny, that it’s hard to read, but we all need someplace to go where we can share our anger, pain and frustration with people who understand.
Each of these groups has become a solid support group for its members. The participants offer comfort and helpful advice, but boy, are they different from each other. There’s such a divide between “childfree” and “childless.” I feel like those of us who are childless by marriage get caught in the middle.
What do you think? Poke around and see if you can find a place to land that feels good.
By the way, I have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Come “like” me there.

My Childless Dog and I

You can tell I’m tired and overwhelmed when the blog is this late and I take to writing about my dog, but I’m still here. Keep those questions and comments coming.

I live with a dog named Annie. She’s almost 4 1/2, half Lab and half Staffordshire bull terrier. We started with two dogs, Annie and her brother Chico, but Chico got a little crazy and had to go live somewhere else. Losing my little boy broke my heart. But that’s not the main topic today. The subject is how my dog and I are both childless.

As soon as Annie was old enough, we had her spayed, vet talk for a hysterectomy. We didn’t ask her if she wanted to have puppies. Nor did we ask the two female dogs that preceded her in our lives. We just did it. We didn’t want to acquire a houseful of puppies, and I never wanted to face the heartbreak of giving them away and separating them from their mother. I know that’s the way it goes, and the dogs are probably fine. Annie’s mom seemed relieved when the puppies were gone. When Annie met up with her mother more than a year after we adopted her, they fought, and we had to pull them apart.

We hear a lot about the need to spay and neuter our pets to keep from having too many unwanted animals, and most of us do it because we really only want the one dog or cat and we don’t want the hassle of dealing with baby animals. We only allow our pets to mate when we want them to have babies. Otherwise, we strive to keep males and females apart.

Some advocates of the childfree lifestyle argue that we ought to do the same for people because there are too many of us. They fight for the right to have their tubes tied, often encountering doctors who refuse to do the surgery because they might change their minds.

Me, I never got spayed. I still have all my parts, but I never used them to make babies. Now Annie and I hang out together, two childless females mothering each other into old age.

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Ellen Walker, author of Complete Without Kids, interviewed me about my book recently for her Psychologytoday.com blog, and it was published Sunday. Give it a look at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blogs/complete-without-kids/2012-7/are-you-childless-marriage. You might want to subscribe to her blog. It’s full of good things, and we’re all sisters in this childless game. Annie, too.