No Spouse, No Children–What It’s Really Like

Ward, Donna. She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. Sydney, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2020.

Married women without children feel like square pegs in a round world. Now consider those women who have never married, who are single for life, who are that dreaded word, spinsters. As they age, there is no one ahead of them, behind them, or beside them. That’s the subject of Australian author Donna Ward’s book She I Dare Not Name.

Reading this book, I broke all my rules, turning down corners, underlining sentences, and making notes in the margins because she tells so well a story most people don’t know or understand.

Even friends and family come to wrong assumptions about people who never marry or have children: “She doesn’t want a husband or kids.” “There must be something wrong with her.” “She must be gay.” “Lucky her. She’s free to do whatever she wants.” Ward wanted the usual things. It just didn’t happen. Every relationship turned sour, and now she’s in her 60s, single and childless. As so many of us have experienced, her friends moved on to marriage and children, then grandchildren, so she’s often alone. Sound familiar? It sure does to me as a childless widow, but at least I have that validation that I was married.

Most of us are guilty of misunderstanding. I have to admit that when I meet men my age who have never married, I immediately think something’s wrong with them. Of course, I think the same thing if they have been divorced more than once. But that’s not really fair. Maybe they just never had the chance.

Ward and others, male or female, who have never married could be called Childless by Unmarriage. How does this happen? It just does. There’s no guarantee we’re all going to find a partner. I think it’s a miracle that any two people get together and love each other for a lifetime. And yet people assume, until you tell them otherwise, that everyone has a partner and everyone has kids.

“I am suffocated by other people’s impression of my life. I am wizened from explaining myself,” Ward writes. (p. 285)

“I did not choose against children, or against coupling. I do not despise marriage. I did not choose career over marriage. I do not think loneliness within marriage is better or worse than mine. The lack of a partner is not evidence that I want to be alone. Thank you for asking. I am not a lesbian. The lack of children is not evidence that I don’t want, or do not know how to be around, babies, children, teenagers. . . .” She goes on, trying to debunk all the misunderstandings.

Ward is very honest about the challenges of being a single in a world set up for couples and families. Who is her backup when she falls ill or needs care in old age? Who cares about her in that way families do? This quote from p. 307 really struck me:

“It seems a human right, as basic as the right to breathe, that everyone has at least one person dedicated to them, a person who would be so distracted by grief they might not survive their loved one’s passing, yet here I am, personless in this world.”

Yes, personless. Oh my God, that’s it.

I have read that part of the reason one feels lonely is that humans traditionally lived in groups to protect each other. Alone, we feel vulnerable, out in the cold while the rest of society is warm and safe by the fire.

Now, before you call me on it, I know you can have children on your own. In the U.S., 40 percent of babies are born to unmarried mothers. But we don’t know how many of those women are choosing to parent without a partner via adoption or sperm donor. Ward never wanted children outside of marriage. Most commenters here have also said they don’t want to do it alone.

I know several people who have never married and never had children. They seem to have good lives, but as Ward points out, we don’t know what it’s really like. Maybe some of you are also lifelong singles. Do you mourn the lack of a mate and children or are you happy with your life? Do you feel like the odd one at every gathering? Would you/have you considered parenting alone? For those who do have partners, what do you think about this? Please comment.

I highly recommend Ward’s book and the many other books she names in her bibliography. Ones I have starred to read include:

Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella Depaulo.

The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick.   

The sorrow of a childless ultrasound test

Dear friends,

This morning, I’m going to the hospital for an ultrasound test. It’s the same kind of test women look forward to having to see their babies growing in the womb. Oh look, there’s his fingers. I can hear his heartbeat! They go home with a picture to show everyone. Of course sometimes, the test turns tragic, showing no baby or a baby that is deformed or has died. To me that’s worse than never having a baby.

But it’s not that kind of ultrasound. Whatever else might be inside me, there is no baby. The technicians will be seeking the cause of my persistent stomach problems. I’m torn between hoping they find something—finally an answer!—and hoping they don’t. At least I’m pretty sure this will not be the kind where they stick a wand up your vagina. Been there, hated that. Let’s keep it all on the outside, please.

It’s not my first ultrasound, but I’m always a little sad that I’ll never have the one where I see my baby. Not that I’d know what it was. In my experience, it’s all a bunch of fuzzy dots that don’t make any sense to me. When I did this three years ago for basically the same problem, it was a fascinating tour through my parts. There’s your liver, there’s your gall bladder, there’s your kidneys . . .

Anyway. I’ll be going alone. I won’t be anesthetized, so there’s no reason I can’t drive myself. But this morning, hungry from fasting, headachy from lack of caffeine, and a bit scared of what they might find, I wish I had someone to hold my hand. I wish my late husband Fred was still here.

Lately I’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like to be single and childless at 66. I drove myself to the ER when this started with incredible pain one night in December. A friend took me for my colonoscopy/endoscopy three weeks ago. Afterward, I was back to being alone, even though the instructions said to have someone with you for 24 hours. There is no family member nearby to whom it would naturally fall to take care of me.

Would having children solve this? Not really. My friends’ grown children live far away, work full-time and are busy with their own children. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want a grown-up child treating me like an old person and telling me what to do. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want that.

So what am I saying? Having an ultrasound for something other than a baby makes me sad. And build up your support network, whether it be family or friends. No matter how independent you think you are, you’re going to need it.

I’m confident that whatever they find, I’ll be okay. If I can survive my daily speed walks with Annie up and down the hills here, I’m pretty healthy. We both are.

As always, I cherish your comments.

 

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?