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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Don’t Ask Me How Many Grandchildren I Have!

“How many grandchildren do you have?” a Facebook friend posted last week. People started commenting with their numbers—7, 3, 5, etc.

The original poster is one of those people who are always posting questions. What foods do you hate? What countries have you been to? Who starred at the first concert you attended, etc.? I’m sure you have friends who do that, too. That’s fine. It’s fun. But then this grandchild question came up.

I could not help myself. I typed, “Zero. You should not assume that everyone has children and grandchildren.”

That’s all I said. But it lit a fire. The mommy brigade scolded me. It’s all in fun, they said. I don’t have to get all angry about it. I said, “I’m not angry, but I need to represent my people who would find this question hurtful. Enjoy every minute with your grandchildren. Just be aware that some of us don’t have them. I’m jealous of everyone who does.”

Jealousy is my go-to response these days. I tell folks who are happy about their families that I’m jealous as hell. Period. Let’s move on.

There are so many people to whom it never occurs that some of us, for all kinds of reasons, never have the opportunity to have children. I feel a duty to let them know. More than a fifth of us don’t have kids. They need to see that, acknowledge it, and maybe have a little bit of sympathy instead of closing the door in our faces.

Can I get an amen?

Have you found yourself in situations where you had to challenge the assumption that everyone has children? What did you say?

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On the brighter side, something cool happened on Saturday when I was walking Annie on the next block. This Corgi named Winnie always comes waddling out on her short legs to greet us. She has the softest fur I have ever felt. On Saturday, she was accompanied by a group of little boys. The smallest one came running over to pet Annie with long slow strokes. Suddenly he turned from my dog and put his arms around me. He could only reach up to my hips. I was so touched. Then he ran back to his yard, but he stood there waving as we walked on.

“I’m Grandma Sue to the world, and I love it,” I told my deaf dog.

I promise you will reach a point where little ones are a delight and not just a cause of deep pain.

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Here comes Mother’s Day again. Do whatever you need to do to nurture yourself on that day. Take a bubble bath. Or a hike. Buy yourself flowers. Dye your hair blue. Honor your own mother if she’s still around. Avoid social media and don’t put yourself in situations that will make you feel worse (Sunday brunch!!!). If you didn’t see it on the Childless by Marriage Facebook page, do listen to this Childless Not by Choice podcast, which offers great advice from 11 childless women about surviving the holiday. Host Civilla Morgan always makes me feel better.

Big hugs to one and all. Sue

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