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Childless and Single at 40 — and Free

There‘s an expectation that the only ‘right’ way for a woman to be is to be partnered and have kids. It’s time to change that

When my first marriage ended and I spent several years as a single woman in my mid- to late-20s, contentedly dating but not meeting any kind of man I’d want to partner with — OK, it was Miami in the ’80 so maybe it was a Miami thing — I remember thinking, well, I just may end up being single all my life.

A push toward amatonormativity

But ending up with a hubby and kids is becoming harder and harder for many young professional women because — pick your reason — there’s a shortage of marriageable men, women want more from marriage, women are too picky, men don’t want to commit, women are giving men cheap sex, and, well, you get the drift.

It sometimes felt as though so many of the things a single, childless woman on the eve of her forties is supposed to be most fearful of never having attained — the right guy, the happy marriage, the babies, the not-dying-alone — had been lined up for my inspection and then, one by one, unveiled to reveal the worst-case scenario. It wasn’t that I was missing out on happy endings; there were no happy endings! Still, it was a truth universally acknowledged — gleaned from stacks of literature, countless movies, and decades of magazine purchases I’d made — that by age forty I was supposed to have a certain kind of life, one that, whatever else it might involve, included a partner and babies. Having acquired neither of these, it was nearly impossible, no matter how smart, educated, or lucky I was, not to conclude that I had officially become the wrong answer to the question of what made a woman’s life worth living. If this story wasn’t going to end with a marriage or a child, what then? Could it even be called a story?

‘Unapologetic permission’

It has been interesting to read reviews of her book. Because the reviews tell us as much about how we talk about single women and our choices as the societal messages to couple up and reproduce do.

Here’s the thing that has been the most shocking and that no one prepares you for: the freedom. Women today are not taught how to deal with this kind of freedom, anymore than women of our mothers’ generation were taught to deal with their own money. We enable others’ freedom — as home keepers, child-minders — but are rarely rewarded for having our own.

Not a message from childhood

That freedom is exactly what we “women of a certain age” relish, especially those of us who are divorced. And you bet we have been talking about it; I guess we didn’t find a way to make that message resonate with younger women — or they didn’t see us as role models of how to embrace solo living as a woman of any age. (We also know, as she discovers, that without a biological clock ticking anymore, men become a source of sexual pleasure.) But, true; that’s something we didn’t necessarily grow up with since childhood. And yet boys — then and now — get a different message, one that doesn’t value them for their relationship status.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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