Single and childless: Any regrets in later life?
April 8, 2010 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I am not desperate for relationships (quite the opposite), nor am I trying to run away from them. I am at a stage where I need to really focus on my career and I want to opt out of relationships, possibly for life (being the planner that I am, I need to pick one direction, at least for now- but this is a choice I can easily make for life). Another reason for this decision is that I am really comfortable living single and I don't particularly yearn for children at this point in life.

This may not be the norm, given all the women I know (and men for that matter), who I also know find this to be quite odd . And I have been told, that even if you don't yearn for relationships or children when you are young, you may regret this later on in old age. So I want to know from people (especially women) who followed this path-
1. What was your motivation to take the path?
2. Did you regret your decision to stay single/not have children later in life?
3. If you did, what is it that you regret the most?
4. What is the best piece of advice (practical not philosophical, blunt and not politically correct) you would give to your younger self?

(No offense to anyone but I am especially interested in hearing from 50+ or older individuals)

Thank you for taking the time to read this and respond!
posted by xm to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Some of my professional experience taught me that 50 year olds seldom regretted not having children if it was their choice not to have them. But once people got to their old age, they really regretted it, often. Very often. I've said it before here.. if you really want a crystal ball about children.... walk in to a nursing home and ask the residents.

That said, NEVER have children if you don't like them. That's unfair to the children..
posted by taff at 8:11 PM on April 8, 2010

Response by poster: But which is worse- being in a nursing home and regretting you didn't have children or being there because you had children?

Just wondering.
posted by xm at 8:17 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, if we're going to get off on this particular tangent - I don't think that people who get old and regret not having children are the only people with an opinion. All kinds of people don't have kids and are happy. While I worry about what happens when I get old, I worry about wasting my best years doing something that doesn't make me happy MORE. Hoping for someone who will visit and adjust my oxygen flow isn't really a great reason to get knocked up and spend the next 25 years spending money on a kid. Really wanting kids and valuing that experience for yourself? Excellent reason. Go for it.

Besides, if you haven't noticed, one of the chief old-person complaints is that the kids don't visit. If you have none to visit, I'm sure that particular old saw doesn't bother you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:24 PM on April 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I shouldn't have digressed :) I am not personally looking for reasons to do A and not B. I want to know Q1-4. Thanks.
posted by xm at 8:27 PM on April 8, 2010

Best answer: . But once people got to their old age, they really regretted it, often. Very often. I've said it before here.. if you really want a crystal ball about children.... walk in to a nursing home and ask the residents.

"to keep me comfortable/company in my old age" is an understandable, common, and yet terrible reason to have children, if you don't otherwise desire them. Not the least because you have no guarantee that will even come to pass, with your specific children, who could be mentally or physically disabled, estranged from you long before for reasons you can't even fathom through your own perspective...or not even make it into adulthood.

The only sane reason to have children is because you can't imagine being left out of the process--not result--of raising a child for 18-22 years, regardless of the individual child you might get.
posted by availablelight at 8:28 PM on April 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

How do you end up in a nursing home because you had children? Are you worried that it'll age you and slow you down?

Also, I'm just a 30-year-old guy, so I don't really fit your parameters. But it seems to me that the highest pleasure available to human beings is relating to other human beings. For some people, that happens outside of the context of the 'trad' marriage-kids equation, but what's funny is that you don't even mention that in your question. You say you're thinking of opting out of relationships, and while I'm aware that that's a euphemism for love/marriage/etc, opting out of relationships entirely strikes me as a massive mistake.

I'm sure you didn't plan to go quite that far, but it seems to me that you should plan on certain ways to fulfill your own natural human desire, a desire which I have a feeling will be unavoidable at some point, for intimacy and contact with other people. Since you're planning, it would probably be a good thing to work in there.

One good option, I think, is mentoring or teaching younger people. I think this can be a remarkably fulfilling and socially complex experience.
posted by koeselitz at 8:29 PM on April 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Or, what MedievalMaiden said.
posted by availablelight at 8:29 PM on April 8, 2010

I remember reading on Salon years ago that a study found that people who had decided not to have children didn't regret it later in life. Generally it was the people who wanted children but who, either through unfavourable life circumstances or especially infertility issues, were never able to have them who grieved over it all their lives.
posted by orange swan at 8:41 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm only 39, but I have a little perspective on this...

I always said I never wanted kids, probably from age 16 or so, maybe younger. Not because I had a burning passion/career thing that I wanted to concentrate on, just didn't really have the maternal instinct. I have close friends who feel the same way, so we had a bit of club going on :)

I never wanted to 'opt out' of relationships altogether, though. Quite the contrary, I've always been in love with love!

Then I met my childless friend's friend. And he stole my heart. And he wanted kids someday. So, I had a choice. I could deny myself the love of this wonderful man in order to stick to my guns about not having kids, because it was definitely a deal-breaker for him. Or, I could change my plans about kids, be able to marry this incredible person and possibly add more incredible (little) people to my life.

We have been married almost 6 years and have two beautiful daughters. Both of my parents are shocked that this ever came to pass -- they never had that "she'll change her mind someday" attitude about me, because I was adamant in the past. But these girls are the most awesome creatures, and we created them, and I couldn't imagine life without them. They're still quite young (one is only 4 months old!), so who knows how they'll grow and what kind of relationship we'll have, but I can't wait to find out!

Don't cut yourself off completely, even if you do end up not having kids. In the end, it's all about relationships and the people you've loved and the experiences you've shared.
posted by wwartorff at 9:11 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should have clarified.... it's the loneliness and isolation of old age that makes people regret not having children. And there are few places where it's more obvious than in a nursing home.

There are all sorts of reasons to have children.... but you asked in question 2 about regrets. And I've seen many. But as a grumpy old statistician...I must acknowledge that it may well be confirmation bias.

Do whatever your gut tells you... you can't hedge bets against the future, or the future you. That's just my answer to number 2.
posted by taff at 9:11 PM on April 8, 2010

I had 2 children (boys), by the time I was 21, and didn't think I could afford to raise anymore, and so I had a vasectomy. Despite having had a lot of soul searching discussions with my wife of that time concerning additional children before I had the operation, it turned out, later, that she really wanted a little girl, and she went on to have two more children, the last her little girl, Elizabeth, with a second husband, after our marriage ended. Color me "in," I guess, by accident of circumstance, on both sides of your question.

As it turned out in law, of the time, and in personal history since, two children were the right number of kids for me to be father. I'm proud of both my boys, and the choices they've made in life, and of the grandchildren they've given me in love and confusion with complicated young Tennessee women of their own generation, and I'm happy to have been around for all our disagreements and successes, disappointments and dances, discomfiture and dreams, as a family, since. I'm also as glad, I guess, as I can be, for my ex-wife, that she got her little girl, although I don't think that child should have come along in the way she did, at the cost to me, of being a custodial parent of my own children (but that was the practice of family law in the '70s).

Pushing 60, it is gratifying to me to know that the long line of people before me, with my last name, has passed through my loins, relatively successfully, and that the name that goes with the genes is as good as I got it, if otherwise unremarkable for my own achievements. I know it meant something to my Dad, to know his grandsons, with his name, as good men, before he died. I see my grandfather's thick palms and fingers in my own, and in those of 2 of my grandsons, and I see my ex-wife's chin in a little grand daughter. My sons have been taller and funnier than I have ever been, for more than 20 years now, and are good men, I hope, not in the least, for some summers we spent together.

My father's brother, my only blood uncle, had 3 girls, as his progeny. His family name doesn't survive him, except through me, although my cousins (his daughters) have provided him with 6 grand children. He seems OK with that, but then again, he's never met any of my grand kids.

I won't go to a nursing home, myself, and I can count on my sons never being in a position to have to make such a decision, on my behalf. And I sleep tonight, under a roof with my kid brother, who is a schizophrenic man, and the source of some belated questions about the quality of the genes I've passed down - madness, it turns out, really does run in this family, but I didn't know, and couldn't have known, because of the shame of that history, hidden by my mother, in the moments I became a young father. It was more than 30 years later, partly from my mother, partly from some genealogical investigations on my own, that I learned that my biological grandmother on my mother's side died in a mental institution in Illinois, in 1935, 7 years after she bore, and later gave away to the foster system, the child who would become my mother.

So, far, neither of my boys has heard any voices, nor have any of my grandchildren, although it is still early days in the life cycle of mental illness, for most of my grandchildren. I hope they don't hear voices, or hallucinate, ever; the schizophrenia that might be their legacy from my mother's birth family should end, I hope, with my brother (who never had children), and me. That would be a good accident of my choice to limit my reproduction, and of the gene dilution that a few generations of free romantic choice by stupid young men and women produces, kind of randomly, in America.

But on my ex-wife's side of the family, cystic fibrosis looms. Her brother and his wife had a son with CF, 4 months before our first child was born. The three boys (my 2 sons and their cousin, Steve) grew up together, in Nashville, TN, attending the same schools, and seeing each other constantly at family gatherings. But Little Steve had CF, and died at the age of 14 of a common cold, and his accidental genetic legacy for CF probably worried my boys more than any lurking genetic legacy from my side of the family ever did. After all, they saw that boy die, as young boys themselves, in 1986, and didn't learn the full truth of the tendency to madness that my side of the family carries, until the late '90s, as I learned it, fully, myself. In the intervening decades, we've developed some genetic tests for CF, but we still lack reliable genetic testing for schizophrenia. My sons, long after their decisions to become fathers, could, at least, if they chose, confirm or deny their 1 in 8 chance of being CF carriers for their progeny. They can only wait and hope, as I do, that madness of the schizophrenic variety never visits their children, for perhaps another 10 to 15 years, until the profile of schizophrenia ages them out, and they can relax, in maturity, that it has passed them by.

So, I go on, hoping the best for the future of those who carry genes based on my foolish, uninformed romantic choices as a young man, and if, as an agnostic, I could bring myself to thank the God I have had so much trouble believing in, for so long, I'd thank Him/Her/It that I got off the reproduction merry-go-round with 2, and only 2, brass rings. And I do what I can, every day, to ease the life of my brother, who bears the full weight of some bad DNA, perhaps, as much as his own life choices, in his abnormal brain.

Does my story give you anything to think about?
posted by paulsc at 9:16 PM on April 8, 2010 [16 favorites]

I'm in the exact OPPOSITE situation as wwartolf. Always wanted kids, always thought I'd have three or four. Met the most wonderful man in the world who never wanted kids and still doesn't want them. Chose my relationship with him over something I'd wanted as a child.

It's both liberating and wonderful.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:17 PM on April 8, 2010

I'm 32, so I'm not speaking from past experience, but more looking at the same issues as you are, and I think the important thing to keep in mind is that choosing one path now does not eliminate other paths in the future. Specifically as it relates to being a parent, if for some reason I do not end up having biological children, but then feel it's an important part of my being happy, I can always adopt or foster children. No, it's not what most people think of as typical or ideal, but if you decide down the road that you want a family, you can have one, as long as you are flexible about what that actually means and how it happens.

As for the 50s+ people I know who do not have children, what orange swan said. Those who made a choice not to have kids seem perfectly content, but those who wanted children, but did not have them because of circumstances beyond their control, are wistful about it.

One last thing, while it may diverge from many people's perceptions about the world, your feelings about this are not so odd. I would say about 40% of the people I know feel the same way as you (this includes men and women). This may change as we age, but I'd say your preferences are fairly common. It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders and a definite idea about where you should be right now. Follow your instincts, stay open to possibilities in the future, and it will all work out.
posted by katemcd at 9:23 PM on April 8, 2010

Best answer: Late 40's man with three terrific children and a soon to be ex-wife. Regrets go both ways. I am sure there are many who regret not having relationships and/or children. I am sure there are many who regret having them. While I do not regret in anyway my relationship and I adore my children and would not trade them in for anything, I can easily visualize having gone your thought about route. My bottom line advice is that this is such an individualized thing that I hope you do not make your decision based on 30 internet responses.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:27 PM on April 8, 2010

Best answer: Over 50. Never married. Childless. Happy.

1. Didn't choose this path - it just happened.
2. It wasn't necessarily my "decision". I've had relationships, just none that ended in marriage/children. And, a necessary hysterectomy at age 35 left me unable to have children of my own. I accepted, adapted, and have no regrets. You play the cards you're dealt.
3. N/A
4. Don't think you have it all figured out early on. Life is a constant series of choices and various paths to take. Who knows how it's all going to turn out?

Consider life an adventure. Mine's not over just because I'm over 50 - I'm more active than ever, work hard, have a host of friends, and look forward to what the future holds.
posted by ourroute at 9:47 PM on April 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am a single woman over fifty offer my perspective.

On children: I made the choice early on in my twenties not to have children. I was very interested in ecology from my high school years, ran a recycling center, and decided not to have children based on the fact that humans are overburdening the planet and pushing every other life form to extinction. Not adding to the amount of resources consumed, especially as an American consumer, was very important to me. I was saddened that the US took a very selfish pathway in the last two decades.

I have been pressured a lot by family and friends to have children. I have been pressured by friends to take responsibility for their children when they found it overwhelming. Many of them envy my freedom.

My mother had five children, and reared three grandchildren. She spent most of her life servicing other family members who really gave her very little in return. I worked in a daycare center for a year to be sure of my decision, and I have not regretted the decision. I expect to have a lot of peer company in my age group and lots of "products" geared toward the elderly that will make my American life so much more comfortable that most of the rest of the world. A child is not a retirement package.

On remaining single: I had a rollicking time during my college days and some great lovers. I settled in to devoting my self to an advanced degree and a high paying job. I never wanted to marry, I am happiest in my solitude and personal space, with conjugal visits when I desire. I was just thinking today of the lives of most women, and realizing what a miracle of privilege it is that I have rarely had sex with someone against my will, or as an economic option. Yikes. I do not pine for a marriage as I grow older. I may seek to be part of a community living arrangement, but retain my independent lifestyle.

Not a day goes by that I don't cherish the privileges of my niche in this historical context. I have a lot of free time to dispose as I wish. I am highly educated, which is very empowering. I have legal rights. I can dress how I please. I have my own income source. I have sexual continence. I have mastered creative skills to a level that I don't think I could have achieved if I had elected to marry and have children.

I try my best to be a good mentor to my all my students as a way of returning the good things I have been given in this life, and I never think of them as my surrogate children, but they do make a great community.

I still find myself very preoccupied with trying to walk as lightly on the earth as possible, and don't regret my lifestyle choices with human impact in mind. I hope this is helpful information.
posted by effluvia at 10:01 PM on April 8, 2010 [35 favorites]

Honestly? The answers are going to be all over the map - some regret, some bliss, and many in between... what do you hope to learn from this? It would be better to ask yourself why you put this to the green. Sometimes people already make a subconscious decision and are looking for confirmation or permission, and select the answers that go that way. There may be some value in such an exercise if you look at objective stats about "regret" vs not, and if, say, you find 80% regret, it may be rational to sway you this way or that, but really, even at 80%, we are all individuals, and you may fall into the 20%. But just looking at the collection of anecdata here... I don't know. Anyhow, with that, here's my 2 cents: mid 40's, wife early 30's, no kids, absolutely no desire for kids. Don't hate 'em, actually enjoy them (in small doses), and are regularly told that we'd make fantastic parents etc. No desire whatsoever.

Re: companions in your old age. Terrible gamble. It assumes so much. Are your kids going to even reach adulthood? And remain on good terms with you? And want to hang out with you? And be in a position to hang out with you - what if they live 5000 miles away, or are broke? What if they end up in prison? What if they hate you? What if you find you have nothing in common with them?

Somebody asked "how are you more likely to be in a facility if you have kids"... well, duh, kids cost money - tons and tons of money... and time, time away from your career or money generating activities which again impacts your earning potential. And so you may end up with very little money for your retirement - and boom, there you are. Also, I'm too lazy to dig it up, but research indicates that kids do take it out of you physically - even if you are a male - the more kids you have, the shorter your lifespan. Of course, there are tons, and tons and tons of exceptions, and 115 year old women who had 20 kids etc., but stats are stats.

Happiness. Again, there's research out there, that shows that people who have kids are on average slightly less happy than childless people - this based on specific questions and regular reports, though when asked, they may not think so. In other words, kids are not a route to happiness - though again, exceptions etc., etc., etc., but stats are stats and so on.

So really, ultimately, only you can answer these questions. Do you long for kids? Do you think of how you want to transmit your life wisdom to another being? Do you wish to give of yourself selflessly, and experience what it is to actually think more about the well being of somebody else than yourself? One of the greatest psychological revelations for people is to find "wow, I spent my life only thinking me, me, me - how mind-blowing to think "I'm not the most important - my child is".

I don't know if any one person's perspective will be persuasive. Maybe you need to find your own way - that's been my experience... I used to ask people's opinions a lot more - then I found that so very often I had strongly different take on things, and I started trusting my own instincts more. Trust your own take - you have to ultimately live with yourself.
posted by VikingSword at 10:08 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

"... Trust your own take - you have to ultimately live with yourself."
posted by VikingSword at 1:08 AM on April 9

Especially, if you never have children.
posted by paulsc at 10:29 PM on April 8, 2010

Best answer: I'm almost 50, married, no kids, and happy on the whole.

1. I didn't expect to get married although I did hope to find someone to spend my life with. But given my lack of beauty and social skills, I wasn't counting on it. I figured I would just have the best life I could, all by myself, and planned accordingly. Motivation: I couldn't assume I'd find someone to take care of me, so I'd better learn how to take care of myself. I'm glad I found someone to love and be loved by, but it was more of a pleasant surprise than a major life goal.

2. No kids, no regrets. Neither Hubby nor I have ever wanted kids and there's never been any waffling about this. I think people who are ambivalent when young are the ones who end up with regrets when old, not those who are sure.

3. N/A

4. Learn to take care of yourself, be independent, and live for yourself. Nobody else can live your life for you, and you can't count on anybody else (even kids, if you have them) to take care of you. It's wonderful if you happen to find someone to share your life with, but don't count on it. About half of US marriages end in divorce, according to this CDC data, so even if you do get hitched it may not last very long - and you're back to taking care of yourself again.

4 redux. Take care of your body - age and gravity will kick your ass so do everything you can to stay healthy. Brush, floss, get regular checkups. Alcohol is not your friend. Neither are drugs, tobacco, and junk food. Walk or ride your bike, ditch the car if you can. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. You get the idea - a lifetime of tiny little healthy choices really adds up in the end. You'll thank yourself when you're my age.

Life has a way of subverting most plans but from what I've seen with my friends, the careful (planning) approach seems to work out better than just winging it. You may not end up with the life you expected, but it will probably be a pretty good one because you made careful and considered decisions all along the way. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 10:33 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

The thing is, you do NEED "children" ... of some form or other. That is, creative, evolving projects which require much nurturing at first but eventually take off on their own unique trajectories (influenced by your initial nurturing but not bound by it).

Myself, I'm 50 with no human kids to argue politics with, co-sign loans for, bail out of jail ... but my many "children" (ie: my various creative projects, initiatives, what-have-yous) are mostly mature by now and up to all kinds of weirdly wonderful stuff. They might even end up taking care of me (both financially and emotionally) in my dotage.
posted by philip-random at 10:57 PM on April 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Children can be wonderful. They can also be huge disappointments (according to my father during our two or three nastiest fights ever).
posted by bardic at 11:36 PM on April 8, 2010

Best answer: About half of US marriages end in divorce, according to this CDC data

Common misperception. People like to bandy this number around, but there are flaws in it.The marriage rate is about twice the divorce rate per year, yes, but those people getting married in a particular year aren't usually the ones getting divorced that year. So what percentage of those people who marry in 2010 that will get divorced isn't exactly clear.

As for your situation, xm, if you are comfortable this way, then go with it. However, sometimes people suffer from too much planning. That can lead to some regret, but it can also make people a bit neurotic (not saying that's you). You say you "need to pick one direction", but how about trying to just relax and go with the flow for a little bit?

Life is pretty unpredictable, and all the planning in the world can't prepare you for everything it will bring.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:16 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can make all kinds of choices when the opportunity is not looming on the horizon. However, things change. You change. Opportunities change. I think you'd be better off not saying to yourself 'this is something I will NEVER do'. Your life will be much easier if you don't have to hold yourself to a promise that you made to yourself. Do what you feel is right at the time ie. concentrate wholey and solely on what you want now and make decisions as they come to pass. I have many friends of all ages, some with children, some without. Some regret not having children, some regret having children. You have to do what feels right for you, and then you have to live with the decision you've made.

I'm 42, have two children, and am a single parent. I don't regret having my children at all, but I never expected to have any because before I had them I couldn't imagine myself as a parent. And yet here I am. Og knows what the future will bring. At the moment, for instance, I can't imagine myself ever being in a relationship again. But who knows? I'm not saying no no never but I'm not saying oh yes please someone come along.

I really believe the best thing you can do for yourself is to be open to choices. Then you're free to do what you believe is best. Remember, there ain't no rules in this life. I have friends who are happy with being childless and relationship free, and others who have a relationship and no children, and still more who have children and a loving partner.

Really, it comes down to what path you choose and what will make you happy. Don't be bound by what you were determined to be in your younger life. You have the right to be free and to do what feels right for you. You may choose to do something that you regret later on but in the end it was your choice, not something that you felt you had to do because that was what you wanted when you were young. Be open to change, that's all the advice I'd give you (since you asked).

Actually, you didn't really ask for all that so I'll give you my sister as an example (although she's only 44): she never wanted children of her own, has never had any and never will. She's concentrated on her career, although she does have a partner, and has never expressed any regret. She has horses, dogs and a fulfilling life. She is happy.
posted by h00py at 4:21 AM on April 9, 2010

Response by poster: Just to clarify again..

I am not doing a survey here to make a decision. I can clearly see the pros and cons of either case and I know what I want right now. (My decisions are also not carved in stone!). But, I am ever interested in hearing about other people's experiences. Also, I am looking for two things- single AND childless- not just either one. I don't know any 50+ men or many 50+ women I could ask this, without being rude anyway, which is why I've posted this here. Another thing that fascinates me is that people who are 50+ now would be younger at a time when, I assume, it would have been much harder to make this decision- more pressure , less motivation (women possibly less career-oriented?- no offense to you if this is a silly assumption but I know my mother's generation has a different perspective altogether), which then makes me think that their motivations and convictions would be much stronger? And I want to hear all about it... If you went down that path, I want to know 1-4 as it applies to YOU.

posted by xm at 5:48 AM on April 9, 2010

Best answer: I'm going to be 50 this year. I never wanted children, but accidents happen, and I ended up having one when I was 20. I raised her as a single parent, and it was very hard. When she finally got out of school and established in a good job, I was elated at my new freedom. She's been living in her own place for about 10 years now, and has been completely independent for about 5. Although I've always lived my life to the fullest, for the last 5 years, I've finally felt like I had the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted to, etc.

And guess what? I kind of regret not having at least one more child. The combination of turning 50 and having people in my family die, and seeing people my age starting to die off, has made me think about my own life and death. And it occurred to me recently that when I'm on my death bed, the only thing that will really matter is the child I'm leaving behind. All the trips I've taken, the art I've seen and created, the music, the great books I've read - none of it really means squat at the end of the day. You can't take it with you, as they say. The only thing that lasts is the people who's lives you've affected. The thoughts, morals, ethics, humor, philosophy, etc., that I've passed to my daughter, that she will pass to her children, and on and on.

YMMV, of course.

(An odd thing about all this is that in the last 4 years, I have finally found my soul mate, so it's not the thought of "dying alone" that's causing these thoughts.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:58 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sister fits your bill but is extremely hard to get in touch with; here's external commentary.

IMHO she went through about three stages.

In her thirties->early 40s she seemed pretty happy with what she was doing (focus on career, no kids, from time to time shed mention going on dates but never seemed to be "dating" anyone).

In her late 40s she went through a period where imho she was regretting that stuff; from the outside seemed like a variation on the midlife crisis, except that instead of buying the red convertible she started dating up a storm (nothing worked out).

Once that blew over she was back to seeming content with her choices (and remains in this phase), but somewhere along the line she acquired a patina of general fatigue she didn't have previously, which is especially noticeable in comparison to other women her own age who went the married-and-kids route.

I don't remember her at the time ever saying she was unhappy or regretting her decisions (in any of those phases), but she's not much of a talker. I suspect the tiredness set in as cumulative stress from not having any sort of backup or help, but again not much a talker.

I gave her two pieces of advice during her dating phase. One was that she ought to be realistic, which in this case meant considering a broader category of men than she did (she would only consider men within a narrow range of her own age who were at least as accomplished as she was); the other was she ought to be more careful about drawing a sharp line between her in-office mannerisms and her out-of-office mannerisms (to explain: when she got her start she felt she had to be a real tough honcho to get anywhere, but after awhile couldn't or wouldn't turn down the abrasiveness when not working).

Good advice? Not sure -- she didn't take it, and at this point given that she seems content-enough with her life it's hard to really waggle a finger and say I told her so, you know.
posted by hoople at 8:48 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Okay then, straight answers. I'm male, 50, single with no progeny.

1. What was your motivation to take the path?

Sometime in my 20s, I looked myself in the mirror and decided to stop trying to do what was expected of me (by family, friends, society in general) and commit to what I genuinely felt was the correct course for me. This did not specifically mean swearing off looking for a life partner, having children etc. It did mean committing to my career, my passions (but not my indulgences). That is, I decided to follow my inner directives to where they might take me.

2. Did you regret your decision to stay single/not have children later in life?

No. I don't do regrets. Seriously. They're an absolute waste of time. I gave up on them roundabout the same time I looked in the mirror. Of course, there's things in life I'd do differently knowing what I know now but that doesn't define as regret, just wisdom.

3. If you did, what is it that you regret the most?

See above.

4. What is the best piece of advice (practical not philosophical, blunt and not politically correct) you would give to your younger self?

I can't boil three decades of adult experience down to one piece of advice. So let's call that the "piece". Life is many, many things but it's never simple. Small decisions sometimes trigger huge consequences. Major earthquakes sometimes don't even challenge your balance. I guess it gets back to #1 above. Listen to those inner directives and trust them. They probably won't take you where your conscious mind thinks you need to go, but they will get you exactly where you need to be.

Oh, and money's best thought of as fuel. It's only purpose is to be burned, hopefully toward some positive destination.
posted by philip-random at 8:53 AM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Most people are only happy if they have a strong sense of direction in their lives. There are exceptions. Some lucky individuals live in the moment. They're off skydiving and mountain climbing, and I wish them the best. But I need direction.

Direction is a vague term, and it means different things to different people. But those meanings overlap. I'm talking about what some people (not me) call "purpose." To some, it's working on major projects (e.g. writing novels). For some, it's excelling in their careers. For some, it's changing the world.

Most people get depressed if they don't have a goal. If they are wandering aimlessly or just sitting around, watching TV all the time. And the thing about kids is that they give you instant direction. They fill your life with responsibilities, goals, meaning, etc. Of course there are parents who still feel they lack direction. But I do think that, for many people, there's something really defining about saying, "I'm a mom" or "I'm a dad."

I'm not either. I doubt I'll ever be either. (I'm in my 40s and my wife and I have no plans to spawn.) I AM one of those people who needs direction. Luckily, I have it.

If I were you, I would think about this. In other words, I would broaden your thinking beyond kids. "being the planner that I am, I need to pick one direction," you say. Sounds like you know yourself.

If you spend your life busy with projects that fulfill you as you're working on them, I doubt you'll have regrets. I never have any. I don't have time for them. I'm too busy. When I'm 70, I will be just as busy, because that's me. They day I stop working on something will be the day I jump into the grave and shovel dirt over my head (so I guess, even then, I'll be working).

So, find your flow...

And remember the words of Al Swearengen: "if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans."
posted by grumblebee at 10:49 AM on April 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

Don't fit your categories, so no advice or insight, but thanks for posting such an interesting question. A dear friend of mine is similar; very committed to her careers and causes, absolutely no interest in raising kids (though she wouldn't mind a relationship). She seems happy and fulfilled to me; she also has an excellent deep network of friends who act as her family, which seems pretty key also.
posted by emjaybee at 12:43 PM on April 9, 2010

Best answer: Families of Two by Laura Carroll is a nonfiction book that asks older childless people the same questions you asked. iirc, none of them regretted not having children, and most of them were really happy they hadn't.
posted by Nattie at 7:11 PM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

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