Is it possible to lead a fulfilled life if love and family is not in the cards?
December 5, 2011 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to lead a fulfilled life if love and family is not in the cards?

Without going into too many details .. I'm a girl in mid thirties. For a variety of reasons, my romantic relationships have not worked out. I'm extremely picky about the men I date and lately, nobody has piqued my interest for long enough.
I cannot see myself dating someone just for the sex--emotional connection is very important for me and I would hate to pretend otherwise. (Very old fashioned, I know!)
Honestly, I am fine being on my own. While it is often lonely, I simply cannot be with someone I don't love, respect or have strong feelings for. Given the lack of romantic interests lately, I am wondering if I should make myself comfortable with the idea of being alone forever.

The challenge is that all my mental images of a happy life have always included a husband and babies. I am quite successful professionally. I love my career but I'm not sure if it's enough in the long run.

This is not a 'poor me, life has been unfair' question. I am simply looking for examples where people have led happy lives all by themselves.
How did they do it? What did they do? Can I do it too?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
You don't necessarily need a husband to have a baby! A good friend of mine was in a similar place about a dozen years ago, great career, mid-thirties, etc. She got pregnant very accidentally and decided to have the baby. (The bio father agreed with her decision.) She and her son are very happy.
posted by mareli at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2011

Of course it's possible! The whole family=happiness simply isn't a universal truth. Witness the level of dysfunction in so many families.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:19 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Family" is not just who you have a blood or marriage relation to. If you have some good friends and some connection to the community that lets you get out of the house regularly (isolation is not so good long term) then no, you don't need to get married and/or have kids to have a full life.

It's not like those who do those things are automatically fulfilled and happy. It's possible to have the spouse and family and be completely miserable too.

Ultimately, whether you have a good life or not is really up to you, regardless of your relationship status.
posted by emjaybee at 8:28 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am wondering if I should make myself comfortable with the idea of being alone forever.

This could become a self-fulfilling prophecy where you stop caring about and trying to find a partner. Because to me it sounds like you want to have a partner but you're in a slump right now. Maybe the answer isn't settling for a life being "forever alone", but radically changing how you approach dating guys and relationships in general? I'm the last person to give dating advice but if your current approach isn't working, how about doing the complete opposite or just tweaking your approach a little? Doesn't sound like you've got much to lose.

[For the record I don't think having a partner/family is required to live a happy and fulfilling life.]
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:36 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not old fashioned at all. Don't talk so negatively to yourself.

I know "permanently single" people who have found it's the right way for them, for a variety of reasons. I myself am "permanently childless". I will note a handful of points I observe rather than an overarching story. Perhaps others here have more coherent stories.
  • I know lots of people who went "husband and babies" who spent so much time and energy on that part of their life -- it's hard to stop once you start -- that they feel they sacrificed too much. Too many other dreams. You'll not face that pressure. You'll have a lot more time to do everything else you dreamed of doing. So respect that aspect of the path, and do so! Enjoy the world. Travel. Work on what fascinates you. Educate yourself. Acquire skills. Help others. Give of yourself. Meet interesting people. Do whatever else fulfills you.
  • Along those lines: you will have the freedom to be you in a way few people do. You will not have to sacrifice nearly as many personally-meaningful aspects of yourself: rituals, habits, passtimes, pursuits, tastes, the company you keep, beliefs, goals. Get to know who you are, and respect who you find there.
  • "Chosen family" is often important. Your single friendships can be closer and deeper than many people in families have time or energy for. You can do things with your friends (exploration, emotional support, care-taking when sick, sharing space, money or material goods) that families would usually turn inwards to accomplish. The network of people in your life can be richer and more unique than in many.
  • You can also "auntie" one or more children, if the families are amenable, and this role can be very deep in some cases. You can be anything from an apparent "secondary mom" to a more distant but valued source of external validation, support, exploration, advice and security for a child. Many children adore their aunts for this reason.
  • Husband-and-babies is the long-game version of a satisfying love life, but don't be fooled into thinking it solves all the life's problems, or that anything less is "not really love". It's perfectly possible to find someone you love, respect, have strong emotions for and don't marry. In a lifetime of living, you're likely to run into a few. Pay attention to those as they arise, don't try to force the husband-and-babies story onto them, or you could miss seeing and enjoying them for what they are.

posted by ead at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

You sound like you could learn something from the quirkyalone movement. Previously.
posted by modernserf at 9:29 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, it's possible! I am one of those who has actually found love, but is still fundamentally on the non-relationship side of the seemingly deep split in the world's population. It is absolutely possible. Good for you for considering all options.

HOWEVER, mid-30s is too early to give up on conventional if that's what you want.

Double HOWEVER (mid-30s female here) I do have a surprising number of girlfriends in, shall we say, the Metafilter demographic who, in their willingness not to get hung up on marriage&kids, have made choices over time that IMO are reducing their chances at getting something that they really, really want. I don't mean that you should hang your whole life on getting married. But (let's just say) your dream man is an East Coast metrosexual. If you get a job offer in Odessa, TX, that's fantastic...but don't move to Odessa just as a STATEMENT about how alternative you are. Granted, some of my friends gave up at 27. But 35 is also too young to throw in the towel.
posted by skbw at 10:00 AM on December 5, 2011

I am also in my mid-thirties and have been single for the past decade. I have actually gotten to the point that the idea of being in a romantic relationship seems alien. I never wanted a child, even when I was dating.

I have an amazing life, but I'll be honest: it has some very pronounced drawbacks.

First, the entire world is based around people being in romantic relationships, so my coworkers and casual acquaintances spend a lot of effort trying to either sleuth out the romantic relationships that I must be having in secret (a large number of people will assume a single woman in her mid-thirties is a closeted lesbian) or they spend an annoying amount of time trying to shoehorn me into their conception of what a woman should want. It is very difficult to get people to not try and set you up with people or nag you about dating your friends or pity you and offer dumb suggestions. Basically everyone you meet will assume you're secretly desperate to date.

Secondly, it's financially risky to not have a second income. You have to be far more aggressive about retirement planning and budgeting and job choice. You have to make sacrifices if you want to live alone, because people who live together are essentially only paying half the bills that you are because they're splitting them with someone else. I lost my job in August, and while I have a comfortable severance plan and adequate savings, I'm still unemployed and it's frightening. I have friends I can stay with, but that is hardly a long term solution. You have to always have a plan that will survive the grim reality that you don't have anyone else to float you if you sink.

Thirdly, people are set up to have close relationships as human animals. There is a human need for people who care about you, and if your friends are dating or married, they withdraw some of that energy from their friendships (as perhaps they should) and you tend to get pushed back on the priority scale. This means that you need strong commitments from people as friends for your emotional health, but you may not receive that level of involvement in return from them, because our culture tends to deprecate friendship for romantic involvement.

With that said, I have a great life. I do what I want and live how I want and I do have a strong network of friends and we are like family. But there are some pretty serious implications that have to be considered before you make the decision.
posted by winna at 10:10 AM on December 5, 2011 [23 favorites]

I don't think you should decide that it's never going to happen and close the door. Just...enjoy the life you have right now. You might end up meeting someone awesome and getting married next week (my parents got married after three months and have been together 45 years), you might meet someone awesome when you're 90. You might never. I normally would say that you should focus on being comfortable RIGHT NOW, and let "forever" take care of itself.

BUT the only issue that pops up with this, of course, is babies. If you really want kids, you probably should think about whether you want it enough to do it on your own, and how you want to do that, and when -- as Plan B. That's a hard conversation to have with yourself. But never getting married definitely doesn't preclude having children. I know several women who had babies on their own. It was tough without a partner, but they're all really happy.

And there is nothing wrong with deciding that actually you DON'T want to make your peace with never getting married. Honestly I have been in your exact same shoes, and I totally told myself, "Well, this is never going to happen. I NEED TO MAKE MYSELF HAPPY BEING ALONE" when I actually didn't WANT to be alone, I was just trying to resign myself stoically to what I thought was my fate. Deciding that I needed to do everything possible to help fate along actually made me feel A LOT BETTER. (Note: I am still not married.)

But if you don't ever get married, of COURSE you can still have an amazing life. Look at Diane Keaton, for example. And there are a ton of people who do get married and are miserable. When I was complaining to my mother about being single, she told me that it's much better to be single than to be married to the wrong person, and I think she's right. Plenty of people have been married and miserable, and lots of people have been single and very happy.

So, solider on, I say.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Family = not necessary
Love = (I would say) necessary.

(Now, where love comes from is varied, and you should not think love = husband/family because it doesn't. But try to be flexible and realistic. If things haven't worked out, did you want them to or not? Sometimes we can be a riddle to ourselves. Sometimes we need to just work on that. Maybe for a little longer even than others may think. The advantage of 'having someone else' though is you get to bounce your life off them and see it from their perspective, which can help you to get better at living. But above all you should strive to be happy, whatever constellations of relationships brings you there.)
posted by From Bklyn at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2011

I think it's probably possible for some people.

I have come to the conclusion that it's not possible for me; that is, that a life alone would be less than a life with a partner and possibly a child. My life with my husband is simply better than my life during my single days ever was (and I lived it up in my single days). For me, I've concluded, that loving romantic connection is what life is all about in the end. Friends and parents, wonderful as they are, didn't quite cut it for me (though I need them too). Which I suppose is unfortunate for me, in a way, if our relationship ever disintegrates or he dies first.

I think the question isn't whether it's possible for some people, the question is whether it's possible for you. It does sound to me like you are one of those people who would be enriched by a (good) romantic partnership, so I wouldn't give up if I were you (and I didn't give up when I was you).

Best of luck.
posted by semacd at 11:52 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, me! I have been thinking over the last few days how my life has turned out very differently from my expectations. I would never have predicted that I would become a lawyer, live in NYC, have the friends I have, or be single at my age. Despite not having a long-term romantic life partner, I feel fulfilled by my work, connected to my friends and family, and happy/lucky/amazed on a daily basis. I vaguely plan to have a baby in five years even if I am still single and raise it as best I can on my own, but I know well that plans can change and I am slowly growing used to the idea that I might never start a family of my own. I think the one thing I do that most contributes to my feeling that what I have is enough is that I make a very intense effort to make time for my friends no matter how busy I am with work. If I can be happy single, you can be happy single! Try to let go of the idea that you need to find a partner to fulfill some vision of what your life should be. If you're happy, that's what matters!
posted by prefpara at 11:52 AM on December 5, 2011

But never getting married definitely doesn't preclude having children.

before pulling the trigger for getting a child, through whatever means, on your own you may want to consider what having a child would mean in terms of eventually getting married. never getting married may not preclude having children, but having children may preclude getting married.

i'm not saying it doesn't happen, and i'm sure there are many metafilter readers are proof that you can first be a single parent and then find a partner. but i don't think it would be controversial to say that having a kid will make it more difficult to get married later.

(sidenote: have you tried focusing on men who already have kids?)
posted by cupcake1337 at 1:12 PM on December 5, 2011

I don't think it's possible to be happy without marriage and/or children if that's are what you actually want, unless you finds some sort of community and worthy cause/social outlet for love that you find just as fulfilling.

Back in the day unmarried women joined religious orders, spent long hours as patrons of the arts, worked for orphanages, etc. and found a satisfying measure of fulfillment that way. They rarely lived alone, and were connected through their family and community to multiple opportunities for service.

Say what you will about the economic and social autonomy women have attained since then-- the secular modern options for unmarried career women who would love to have a traditional family life but do not can be alienating. There is no built-in support system, and that's a critical factor.

So IMO living alone, working for a primarily non-humanitarian cause, and being disconnected from your desire to nurture will pretty much guarantee you unhappiness if you in fact really do possess a nurturing spirit.

In the absence of having a family of your own, my advice is to find a substitute family (social community) based around a good cause/brainchild into which you can love and put your all.

Also, if you have nieces and nephews, you could be the doting favorite Aunt.
posted by devymetal at 1:14 PM on December 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Remember -- nothing is lonelier and more isolating than being stuck in a lousy relationship.

It's certainly possible to live a fulfilled and happy life single and child-free. It's every bit as much of an adventure as building a satisfying life in a family unit, just different. There are fewer models for it, which requires you to be more thoughtful and creative in figuring out how to go about it, but that gives you a lovely degree of freedom to construct a life that suits you.
posted by Corvid at 2:43 PM on December 5, 2011

Except for being male, I'm absolutely you.

I went to 2-week workshops every summer (in my case, classical music). They're the ideal environment for quick formation of relationships with like-minded people, with the huge advantage that you only make a 2-week commitment. At the end, it's automatically over unless you choose to extend it.

My wife and I have been together for 30 years. No kids (we were too old), but a lifetime of companionship and love.
posted by KRS at 3:10 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not 100% up to you as to whether or not you find someone. You can start dating online aggressively if you want to, but there's no guarantee you find someone before your eggs expire. You could swear off men forever and accidentally meet someone while you're trapped in an elevator. It's a freaking crapshoot. What I think it really boils down to is that you're living in limbo. As far as you can tell for the foreseeable future, you are likely to be alone and staying that way unless life intervenes. And you're looking for a way to cope with that. It's kind of like this thread: there's nothing you can do about on some level and it either happens or it doesn't and you wonder either way.

I guess it boils down to "hope for the best and plan for the worst." Live your life without focusing on what's missing from it. Do what makes you happy if you can't have the Happy Family Platter (or can't have it "in time."). Make the decision for yourself if you want a kid if it doesn't come with a husband-- that's the one thing that is more under your control. You don't have to swear off of all men entirely forever in order to figure out how to cope with uncertainty, just be all "Well, if it happens, it happens, but right now I'm going to do what I want."

I have to concur with winna about a lot of what she said: the world is designed and intended for couples, and when you don't fit in on that level, there are a lot of problems. And it's really irritating. But on the other hand, it's a lot less stressful in other ways to be a single woman. Life revolves around you, not all of the caregiving you are doing for a husband and children. (I am reading The Gift Of A Year right now and there is a lot about how it's okay to want to do something for yourself rather than always feeling like you need to be caring for other people and giving up your desires for others. This is a huge theme in most "women's literature," really.) If you want to still have adventures in your 30's or 40's and you can figure out the finances, you can do it without having to account for others. You can make your life interesting, you can dedicate it to things you like doing. And you don't have to feel guilty about it. There's also plenty of people who do have the Happy Family Platter and are still miserable in one way or another, so that isn't a guarantee of happiness unless you've got the right people. Better to be single than to settle so you can catch a guy Just In Time, I think.

Referring back to that book I'm reading again, there's one woman in it who was really burned out on dating, so she decided to take her year to relax instead of always forcing herself to be on the man hunt. Eventually she recuperated, decided she had plans for her work instead, did those, and later met someone anyway. your life as is.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:18 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Having a husband and children is no guarantee of a happy life. A preconceived notion of happiness is a recipe for disaster, especially if it comes with a timetable.
Life is complicated and messy and for the most part just happens.
Figure out what you enjoy, what you find satisfying, what excites you, what you are passionate about, what gives you comfort, etc. ad nauseum.
Don't define happiness and success by external things and don't confuse fulfillment with a mythical, perpetual state of bliss.
posted by provoliminal at 3:23 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I absolutely believe that it's possible to lead a fulfilled life without a husband/wife or children. I think the key to doing this isn't dooming yourself to the "Oh well I won't find anyone" but instead thinking "if I find someone I do, if I don't, them I am fine with this too."

The best way to lead a fulfilling life in my opinion is to get and try to stay on your life path. Do a career that you enjoy, find hobbies that you enjoy, travel to places you want to go and meet with positive, engaging and wonderful people.

Keeping negativity and other people's bad/unhelpful/unnecessary opinions out of your daily life is also important.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:32 AM on December 6, 2011

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