What's the bright side of being single and childless?
December 27, 2015 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm nearly 40 and have only had a few short-term relationships. For a long time I believed I was content to be single and not have kids, but I recently met someone and wound up liking him a lot, and then it quite suddenly wasn't working and was over.

Since then I've found myself grieving, rather intensely, the possibilities he represented to me - making a home with someone, having a partner, loving, being loved, being able to trust someone, being trusted. Somewhat in tandem with that, even though I have accepted that children are not in the picture for me and in many ways this is a good thing, I'm also grieving the children I won't have.

I generally believe that most things in life are coins with both heads and tails. For example: I'm really sensitive which is often frustrating, the good thing about being sensitive is that it can fuel creativity and empathy if I am thoughtful about it.

What are the good things about being alone and not having children? I want to live my life as if it's just as completely worthwhile as someone who gets to have the experience of being deeply loved, married, and having children. What are my super-powers, as "perpetually-single woman"? How can I focus them to get the absolute most out of my solo sojourn on this planet?
posted by bunderful to Human Relations (37 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
You can do what you want. Whatever you want, whenever you want. You can get an awesome job in a different country, and not worry about whether your partner can get a work permit. You can have a dozen pets without worrying about anyone else's allergies. You can retire in your 50s, without having had jobs that were very well-paid, just because you aren't spending $100K a year to bring up children. You can be the world's best aunt, or teach skills to less-privileged children. You can do whatever you choose to do.

Your life is as worthwhile as you make it. You don't need a partner or offspring to justify it.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2015 [23 favorites]

Not everyone who's married is deeply loved. Being alone means no one will cheat on you or otherwise crush your heart.

Your life IS just as worthwhile as anyone else's. Our society sends endless messages that women can only be fulfilled if they're paired off with someone else. That just isn't true. Your power is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want--if you want to positively impact others, which it sounds like you do, you can spend as much of your time volunteering as you like, or writing a novel, or performing Amelie-like random acts of kindness for strangers, or anything else you can think of. Instead of spending money on your kids you can donate it to charity. You have so many options! Other people are limited by their financial and social obligations to their families.
posted by a strong female character at 1:31 PM on December 27, 2015 [20 favorites]

My advice is to look as gorgeous as possible in every social interaction because teh parents don't have time for that. I know it's a bit shallow but really I'm kind of tired of "you could be the best auntie!!' stuff. Look amazing and well rested, make everyone jealous, don't worry about auntie, your friends kids will barely remember you anyway.
posted by sweetkid at 1:31 PM on December 27, 2015 [40 favorites]

Best answer: Also I would argue that as long as you foster friends, care about others, and have people who care about you, you are never "alone".
posted by a strong female character at 1:33 PM on December 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

The good things about not having kids are being able to read all day long, being able to sleep late, being able to travel wherever you want, not having to hire a babysitter to leave the house, and having some semblance of disposable income. (And even if it's $5 of disposable income, you can spend it on ice cream instead of nappies.)

The good thing about being single is that you never have to compromise with anyone about anything ever. Seriously, do not undervalue this.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:39 PM on December 27, 2015 [43 favorites]

I'm about your age. It's nearly 9 am and I'm still in bed snuggling with my cats. All my friends with kids will have been up for hours already.

Also I agree with those saying marriage doesn't mean being loved. The unhappiest people I've known have been married to people with whom for whatever reasons the relationship had disintegrated to the stage where if the spouse were a random acquaintance, they wouldn't spend 30 seconds with them. But due to the entanglement of finances and missed opportunities due to putting others first, they don't have the energy to leave.

As a single person it's your money, your choice of opportunity, and your choice what to eat for dinner for the next 50 years!
posted by kitten magic at 1:47 PM on December 27, 2015 [8 favorites]

There's a This American Life about being Home Alone. In the opening few minutes a woman who has grown children and who lives alone talks about the joys of living alone, within the context of her kids lamenting her being by herself on Thanksgiving. These joys are simple - eating what she wants, going to bed when she wants, leaving the dirty dishes in the sink if she doesn't feel like washing them, owning her own mess while getting to have the level of mess she wants. She says she doesn't feel lonely and, in fact, is pretty pleased at her age to have her time and space to herself. Now, whether or not she'd relish it as much had she not had a marriage and kids as a preamble to this solitude is debatable.

Personally? I lived alone for many years, was very introverted and didn't hang out a lot with friends. I indulged my own interests, read a lot, listened to the radio, went out and did whatever I wanted to do, had a career that involved working all day and then performing at night, partying a fair amount, did not get into a committed relationship until I was in my thirties. (I didn't know enough to love this part of my life at the time because I was always searching for a partner, but that's another story.)

There were things about this life I really miss and things I don't. I don't miss drinking too much and wasting a lot of time. I do miss not having to answer to anyone, not having anyone to be responsible for, doing literally whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to. I do not miss my depression that accompanied this life, and I do not miss feeling very lonely and uninvolved in the world and unnoticed sometimes. I do miss being able to disappear into the city sometimes, miss being able to have nowhere to be and much more unstructured time. But I don't miss not being tied strongly, with a certain kind of love, to other people. To put a fine point on it - once, at the beginning of a three-day weekend during which I had no social engagements, I slipped in the tub and caught myself on the way down just before banging my head on the side of the tub. It occurred to me in that moment that, given how I was living at the time, no one would miss me for over 48 hours, maybe not even until the smell wafted out into the hall. Macabre, but how I felt at the time.

Now, I'm a mother to a three year-old and a wife. Do I wish we could pick up and go on trips like we used to? Yep. Do I enjoy traveling with our kid? Yep. Do I wish I could regularly sleep late? Yep. Do I get to sleep in some mornings when my husband gets up with our kid? Yep. Do I miss being able to read for loooooong stretches? Yep, but now he's getting older those stretches I do get time for my own hobbies and independent interests are getting longer and, again, my husband and I work together to make sure everybody gets time to themselves. Do I wish we had more disposable income. Absolutely. Do we wish travel - when we get to - wasn't so expensive. God, yeah. Are there times I'm really, really grateful and ecstatic that I'm cared for and have people to care for? Without a doubt. Are there times when I think of what life would be like if I were a single woman, over forty, living alone and doing whatever I want? Oh, yeah.

Life isn't either/or. There are things about each of these ways of living that are wondrous and things that suck, and there are loads of unknowns in each scenario, too. You have, as a single person, more freedom, more chances to seek out and pursue experiences. But as a coupled person, with kids, you have many sources of enrichment, of gratitude, of awe, as well. They're just different, and many are shared. Many things are possible as long as you remain flexible and are kind to yourself.

Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 2:04 PM on December 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

To be clear, I didn't mean that you need to be an awesome aunt or teach children to make your life worthwhile. You get to choose what to make of your life - worthwhile, meaningful, fun, exciting, challenging, intellectual, interesting, peaceful, calm - whatever you want it to be. But it comes from you, not from anyone else.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:05 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Being married isn't a guarantee of security, and it's a crapshoot even with the best of intentions. The short time I was married was the loneliest, most stressful, and most disappointed point of my life. What you see on Facebook and Instagram is never the whole story.

I just quit my job & will spend most of this next year traveling with my awesome dog. I love the amount of freedom I have and the amount of trust I have in myself.
posted by mochapickle at 2:08 PM on December 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

I got married for the first time and had a baby when I was 44. Before that I was busy living my life, doing all the stuff I wanted to do. Now I'm doing other things. There are many things I miss about my single days and there are things about my life that are better now.

It's normal to want what you want and to be sad if you don't have it, but just because you don't have a partner now doesn't mean you'll never have one. And, you don't need a partner to have a child. You can have one on your own; you can become a special friend or "auntie" to a friend's child or be a Big Sister through a social organization. You can volunteer to help kids learn to read, coach softball or help run a community garden. There are many ways to have rich relationships with children without actually parenting them.

There is no door that suddenly slams shut at 40, or any other arbitrary age. Live your life, set out your goals, work towards attaining them and always be fabulous. Say yes more than you say no. Don't write yourself off. You have to believe that the best is yet to come and your best self has yet to be realized.
posted by Kangaroo at 2:11 PM on December 27, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. I was you twelve years ago. I won't lie. I occasionally (maybe once a month for 10 minutes?) grieve the loss of the 'dream' - a husband and children and a home together. But then I get back to what I was doing which could be any number of things, many of which would not be possible if the dream had become reality.

And I also remember that the 'dream' is a fantasy. Marriage and children and home do not equal happy ever after. My mother lost a son (and I a brother) and her decades-long everyday grief is far in excess of any grief I feel about not having kids and the dream home and husband.

It's not too late to be married. I first got married in my early thirties and divorced around your age. We didn't have kids (he had 4, and a vasectomy, and he wasn't good father material) but we had a good time while it lasted although at times I was the loneliest person in the world despite lying next to my husband. I have since had another relationship that lasted almost as long and I gained a lot from that too. I expect to have at least one other deep and loving relationship before I die of old age and I might also get married again, who knows?

And as for kids - this is how I solved that one. Because I am single, I decided to return to university and get my masters in teaching. So soon I will have more interactions with kids than I will know what to do with. I've redrafted my will so that my meagre assets are donated to a school for indigenous girls. And now that the kids of my friends are young adults themselves, I have access to a whole new range of friends that may not have happened with kids of my own.

So I understand your hurt and confusion. It is something that you have to come to terms with. And it's not only women, I have a male friend in his early 40s who is also lamenting the loss of the dream of a companion wife, children and home together. But women have it much harder because we are acculturated to believe that a large part of our female worth on earth is to procreate and perform the heart functions of a happy home.

So women like us have two challenges. First we have to challenge this reduced sense of worth in ourselves and in society. And second, we have to challenge ourselves to succeed in our single-hood. We have to say 'it is what it is' and then go about making life for ourselves totally on our terms. I see myself now as an explorer and adventurer of my own life. It's exciting and I am loving it.

However, you and I are on either side of a hormonal dividing range. You are moving toward heading up that range, crossing the peak and coming down the other side. That future journey up will be challenging in so many ways particularly if you really wanted children. Give your self room to really reflect and grieve if you need you, but accept the change. It has a lot of good in it.

Finally, fall in love with yourself. Again and again.
posted by Thella at 2:16 PM on December 27, 2015 [42 favorites]

If you have the time and the patience, you might want to visit the crazy-long-but-valuable Emotional Labor thread. If you have less time or patience, just control-F to the parts about Crone Island. There are a lot of women out there, right here, who have gotten to a place where all they're looking for in life is a nice place, a few supportive women friends, and maybe a margarita maker. And they got to that understanding by being in enough relationships.

Happily single is definitely a thing. And since we outlive men by quite a few years, it's almost inevitable. But - just like married people, who don't automatically feel fulfilled with their families, either - we each have to build it for ourselves.
posted by Mchelly at 2:21 PM on December 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

You can live in as big or as small a house or apartment as you want. You can live in a neighborhood or area with horrible public schools because you don't have to send your family to them. You never have to clean up someone else's shit or puke or other bodily fluids. You can go on vacation. You can make plans at the drop of a hat. You can decide to change careers or move across the world or do whatever without impacting the lives of children. You can own nice things without fear of them being broken. You can stay in shape and maintain your own health much more easily.

I mean, the list goes on.

If you want to be involved in children's lives, you can always volunteer with a community service. It's not an all-or-nothing decision.

Marriage is also no guarantee of security. Married people can be abused and neglected and mistreated by their spouses, same as non-married people. The divorce rate is hovering around 48-53% with most divorces initiated by women. I personally prefer to lead my relationships on a no-contract basis in my own life. If someone treats me well I continue to spend time with them. If they don't, I stop hanging out with them. No legal entanglements to encourage me to stay with someone long past the expiration date.
posted by deathpanels at 2:23 PM on December 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Good things about being solo:

You can travel when you want, where you want, do what you want when you're there.

You can decorate your living space exactly as you wish, without having to compromise with the aesthetics and practicalities of a partner or children.

You can really dedicate yourself to whatever pursuit you like without distraction or interruption.
posted by vunder at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Re-read the Emotional Labor thread. Even the best and happiest marriages, and "easy" kids, demand so much emotional labor of women, and rarely give back all that women give out. Being single and childless means that more of your emotional labor can go to where YOU choose - including yourself. Marriage is not the cornucopia of bliss that many people imagine it is.

Don't put your life on hold, saying "When I get married I'll do X." Travel, eat off the good china, decorate your dwelling for the holidays - don't deny yourself nice domestic things because you are single. It's an old and corny piece of advice for women to cultivate your interests but it does work.

One thing I in particular do is try to pay attention to my grooming and health. I don't want to get put into the "frowsy and socially lacking" pigeonhole that a middle-aged single woman with cats can sadly be typed as. YMMV, obviously, but it puts a spring in my step to look and feel my best.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

I've got a 5 month old and I now see how many life dreams are juuust that much more out of reach for me. The "for fun" psych degree that I've dreamed of; the EU citizenship I'd love to cash in on, or the month long meditation retreat that won't happen for another 20 years... my dearest girlfriend is child-free and just flew to San Diego for the weekend. Because she can. Whereas I couldn't even apply for a new job position because junior wouldn't go to bed until 1030pm last night and by the time he did I was too exhausted to do much more than brush my teeth and go to bed at 1045. This is after having been barfed on and cried at all day.

I'm not saying I don't love my kid etc etc., but I'm an older mom and now that I am on the other side of the child-free / bechilded divide, I wonder why the hell I venerated offspring so much in my early 30s. They just don't complete you, not in the way it's advertized; they are a fun hobby but there are a lot of other hobbies out there.

PS. Just because you might not have kids does not in any way preclude you from having an awesome supportive loving relationship. You will have other opportunities to make a home with someone. I am sorry this particular guy didn't work out but don't grieve too much. You never know what is around the corner. You could be a step mom! Best of both worlds :)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:48 PM on December 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I'm really sensitive which is often frustrating, the good thing about being sensitive is that it can fuel creativity and empathy if I am thoughtful about it.

Since the time I moved in with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, and then within 2 years had a baby, until she went off to college last year, the only times I've had quiet moments alone in which to be thoughtful and/or creative were the few months I was unemployed and my daughter was in school and my husband worked outside the house. Now he works at home, and although the girl is away at college, I STILL rarely have a moment alone.

Treasure the amount of control you have over your time and space.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:00 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to say something that may be a bit (or a lot) different, because IME much of what's usually held up as a benefit of not having a spouse or family is just plain wrong. For example, you may not actually have more time/money/freedom than your married-with-kids counterparts. Single women are often the ones who end up caring for their parents or other relatives, or they work more hours or have multiple jobs (not neccesarily leading to more money) and they're given less time off. Or they volunteer/take classes/organize lots of social events and end up with a crazy schedule because single women are exhorted constantly to make friends, learn things, improve themselves, "get out there," etc. (Sometimes when people tell me all the things I can supposedly do by virtue of being single with no children, I think they're confusing me with someone who has no adult responsibilities and a large trust fund.)

So the main benefit that I have seen from not fitting into society and failing to do what's expected of you (or what you expect of/want for yourself) is that it gives you a perspective on life that most people don't have. Being an outsider for so much of life, getting to observe rather than participate, you start to understand relationships, disappointment, freedom, human behavior, and so many other things in ways that rarely get expressed in mainstream media or typical conversations. This is can be frustrating, as it always can be when you're in a minority. (That's the other side of the coin.) But if you value knowledge, it can also be really powerful.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:09 PM on December 27, 2015 [65 favorites]

I also ascribe to the belief that if you cannot find meaning independently in your own life, having children will not imbue meaning to it. Children grow up and have to live their own lives and suffer the same struggle to create meaning for themselves. Passing this struggle on from one generation to another never answers the question of what actually that meaning is. Each person has to find the answer within herself.

Yes, I know it probably sounds trite, but it is true.
posted by a strong female character at 3:10 PM on December 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

Wow, where do I begin. So many things. For starters I'm planning two trips, both to places I've never been to before and I'm super excited about seeing, one of which is to scope out a city I might like to move to. Whereas some folks I know are going to Disney World for the eleventh billionth time because kids and grandkids.

Living alone in my own place allows me to have control over my environment in ways that are best for me. If I'm too cold, I turn up the heat. If I want to eat paleo, I completely control what type of food comes into the house. If I want to decorate a room a certain way, I do it. It's a beautiful, comfortable, judgement free, healing sanctuary (well, minus the judgement I tend to heap upon myself). I never have to put up with anyone else's BS in my own home, which is nice to come home to at the end of a stressful day.

Being deeply loved is a powerful experience, but nthing that there's no guarantee of that from either marriage or parenthood. Developing healthy self esteem, compassion and empathy for oneself is more fundamental.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:21 PM on December 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: (I'm going to avoid the word "single" here since I think it implies something that people living this way are not: alone. Relationships are a big part of many people's lives, even if they do not wind up as part of a couple in the sense that "single" is often situated in contrast to.)

The first super-power of a not-conventionally-coupled person is that of choice. Of flexibility. Of variety and freedom and richness of experience. Of the ability to do one thing one day, and another the next. Or one week, or one month. You can live multiple places. You can change to multiple jobs. You can redecorate. You can travel, learn, become absorbed, and let these events affect you deeply without worrying about balancing them against your Partnership or Plan. You can follow your whims, curiosities, passions, moods.

The second super-power of a not-conventionally-coupled person is space. You can control the spaces you occupy in a way others cannot. You can leave situations that aren't working for you. You can care for your own spaces and habits, your own sanctuary. You can establish and enforce boundaries based on your own needs. You can perceive your own needs, because you are able to make space for them to emerge. You are not backed into a corner, pressed out of existence by the demands (however benign-seeming) of others sharing your space.

The third super-power of a not-conventionally-coupled person is that of friendship, and in friendship I include "FWB" and a variety of chosen-family relationships we don't have other good words for, but that can include all the intimacy, passion and connection of a spouse, and are only marked in our culture by the contrast between the depth of connection and the absence of a formal contract. Such relationships are, by definition, more voluntary and more closely, consciously and continuously aligned with a person's will. This gives them a special warmth, honesty and uniqueness of form. To quote Mary Wollstonecraft:
Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time
Two further caveats are worth adding: First, that each of these super-powers takes time, practice, luck and will to fully perceive, grow confident in, and make the most of. They do not come into focus immediately or automatically; they must be embraced. Second, that as DestinationUnknown says above, they coexist (especially for women) with a certain precarity and material lacking that makes the "choice" super-power seem cruelly oversold. But I agree with her assessment -- as much as it's meaningful for a wealthy, divorced male to agree -- that a difference in perspective can be powerful and rewarding on its own, even if some of its potential consequences remain unrealized in practice.
posted by ead at 3:30 PM on December 27, 2015 [28 favorites]

Best answer: This is why I sometimes hate this time of year. The endless societal messages about how life "should" be - filled with lovely children, an adoring spouse, many close friends of long standing, blahblahblah, is cranked up exponentially around Thanksgiving and Xmas. It is designed to make you feel that you are not good enough, you are missing out, with a not-well-disguised undercurrent of "if you buy this, you can have all that." And there's always the drumbeat of "there is nothing worse than being alone for the holidays." That is all sheer bullshit, but it is SO HARD to ignore.

Xmas Eve it occurred to me: I am sitting in a cozy room that is decorated just the way I like, in the house that I own and rule, drinking wine, with my feet up and a purring cat in my lap. I don't have to answer to anyone. I don't have to clean up anyone's mess. I'm healthy, warm, clean, clothed, dry, safe, and fed, and none of this is in any great danger of changing. I have the next three days off to do whatever I like, and then I will work at my perfectly cromulent job that pays me adequately if not well.

I am soaking in what most humans would consider unimaginable privilege. I have more freedom and control of my own life than 99% of the women who have ever lived on this planet. I'd like more close friends who live nearby, but that's a temporary quibble. It could change next week. (And sure enough, the next day I met a half-dozen people at my neighbor's house who instantly felt like my tribe.)

I have learned through misery and grief what I do not like and what I will not put up with. I have had the time to discover the things I like to do, and I have the ability to do them. Part of my purpose is to show other "unconventional" women that there is more than one way to have a satisfying life.
posted by caryatid at 5:05 PM on December 27, 2015 [41 favorites]

Best answer: Today is my 44th birthday. I am solidly sure I won't have the children I've always wanted. I have a more warped way of feeling better about it all - I look for bad kids and then thank my lucky stars they aren't mine. Tantrumming kids, screaming kids, unruly kids, bratty kids, arrested kids, kids in the news that kill their parents or siblings, kids who throw shit fits because they can't have a toy they'll never play with anyway, kids who never talk to their parents, kids who always talk shit about their parents, entitled kids... None of those will ever be something I'm required to deal with.

The dream is so often not close to reality. Spend some time imagining bad realities and it takes some of the shine off the dream.
posted by cecic at 5:11 PM on December 27, 2015 [14 favorites]

I mean, ultimately, right, the tradeoff is that you receive the exact equivalent amount of time, money, energy, emotional resources, and commitment that a child would consume, and it is yours to do with as you choose. You could devote that to taking trips, learning languages, building strong sustaining friendships - or to your career, or to your art, or to the environment, to education, to local politics, to social justice.

Personally, I believe that to live a fully meaningful life, you do eventually have to choose to sacrifice a substantial portion of that life to something greater than yourself. The thing that most people choose is children, and while that is certainly worthwhile, many, many people do it mindlessly, just because it's the thing everyone around them is doing; I often wonder how many people - women especially - would make that choice if there wasn't such a massive amount of social pressure on them to do so. What you have, instead of children, is an extraordinary amount of freedom. It is not a superpower, exactly; it is a great responsibility and a great gift.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:37 PM on December 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

You never have to be the wife that doesn't know your husband's Tindering while you're attending to your guys' newborn. I have a friend who is on Tinder and one night we figured out how many guys messaging her were actually in relationships, not expecting it could be found out. It was sad. One was a new dad, 2 weeks on when he started messaging my friend. He was also a newlywed. Pretty gross.
posted by discopolo at 9:55 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Your life is ALREADY as worthwhile as someone who is as someone who "gets to have the experience of being deeply loved, married, and having children." The external forms of our lives have nothing to do with that. They do not make us happy or fulfilled. They do not create or uncreate worthiness. That's the terrible and wonderful truth of it.

Marriages can go sour, or turn into loveless habit. Children can grow up to be distant, or dislike you, or turn into awful people. It's not a guarantee of anything. Life is sometimes hard, and lonely, and awful. Life is sometimes sweet, and amazing, and beautiful. Everyone gets those moments. You too.

You are allowed to be happy, right now, just as you are. You are allowed to find fulfillment in whatever you choose. You are allowed to deeply love yourself and your life.

Whenever I'm feeling mopey about this stuff, I channel my inner "wise woman of the woods" and remind myself that there are plenty of women who do not partner up or have children who are powerful, and kind, and wise, who smile enigmatically like they have unraveled some secret of the universe, which they probably have.

You are going to be fine. I believe in you.
posted by ananci at 11:04 PM on December 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

Look amazing and well rested, make everyone jealous, don't worry about auntie, your friends kids will barely remember you anyway.

Ugh. How disgusting, don't "rub in" how much better you look than those gross moms with no time to shower or sleep. *eyeroll* (and for the record, I remember many of the adult women I spent time around as children, and many of them influenced who I am today. How antisocial to claim being an "auntie" is valueless!)

I am on the road to being childless by choice. There is a thread on the Blue right now about the ambivalence of motherhood; it's a LONG haul and very easy to resent it after, oh, the first five or ten years. You may not have more money than your paired off friends, but you are SO free. Anyone in a committed relationship or family fantasizes about freedom.
posted by easter queen at 11:31 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a single 28 year old woman with three cats and zero interest in finding a romantic partner, this is a very, very reassuring thread. Thank you for sharing your story. The overwhelming social pressure to couple up tends to make me uneasy about even mentioning the possibility that I will end up single and childless, because I can't stand the instant pity others feel for my perceived loneliness. Many people have never questioned the "single = lonely" narrative and it can feel isolating to do so. The positives mentioned in this thread are deeply comforting.
posted by landunderwave at 12:02 AM on December 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

(How antisocial to claim being an "auntie" is valueless!)

I read that comment as more of a backlash against the whole "don't worry, you can still be a great auntie!" thing that gets trotted out to childless women again and again. I find that statement rather patronising, as it sounds to me like saying those of us without children should find fulfilment by making ourselves useful being a relatively minor appendage/helper/second class presence in other people's' children's lives. Well, if that's what we want to do then fine but we shouldn't feel obligated to play that or any other role if we don't want to. Personally I don't want to be anyone's maiden aunt and that's a valid choice as well.

As for the "looking rested" part of the comment, I took that as being firmly tongue in cheek. Of course rubbing someone's nose in what we have that they don't is awful, but realising that in some ways we're very lucky is a great way to come to terms with not "having it all".
posted by hazyjane at 12:19 AM on December 28, 2015 [32 favorites]

As the person who posted about not being an auntie and looking great and well rested, yes it was a bit tongue in cheek. The "you could be an auntie" line is trotted out whenever a woman is feeling anxiety/sadness about the possibility of not raising children. Saying they could just be "the best auntie" instead of having a bond with their own child, If a child is what they want, is fairly patronizing yes. Also well rested was definitely tongue in cheek.

We tell too many women they must volunteer, be aunties, etc as penance for not having had children.

Also OP, if you haven't found out your fertility stats you might want to do that, IF you end up going for the having children/marriage or not shebang it's good to know where you stand with that.
posted by sweetkid at 5:39 AM on December 28, 2015 [9 favorites]

On the other other hand, if you adopt the "aunt" role yourself (rather than having it pushed on you by people who frame it as a consolation prize), it can be pretty great. I agree, it needs to be a choice, and it needs to be an investment, and it needs to center on being a good friend to a child's parents (part of what I dislike about the "aunt/uncle" discourse is the way it tends to make children the center of the universe - they're people! with value in their own right!) Being a part of a child's life without having to deal with the daily grind can pretty great, if you're inclined that way. My mom's younger sister adopted the "aunt friend" role, and if she'd lived closer, would've been a treasured part of our daily lives.

Actually, my mom's family is an interesting case study. Mom got married young and had a bunch of kids, her older sister never married (or hasn't yet) and never seemed interested, and her youngest sister really struggled with the fact that she was single and not going to be a mother. Now, in their 50s/60s, my mom has a (rundown) house, limited prospects for retirement and OH MAN could she tell some emotional labor stories. My parents have a good marriage, but she knows (at a conscious enough level to let things drop in conversation) that there's a lot of stuff that she might otherwise like to do that she doesn't because of my dad (e.g. their one international trip was not really good). She struggles to keep up with non-family friends and regrets that. (There are lots of things she enjoys, like her granddaughter, and church, and her job, but even a woman with a largely happy family situation is living a life, not a dream.)

My mom's younger sister got married later in life, retired to Florida with her husband, and is loving her disposable income and active social life. Mom's older sister has taken at least one international trip a year for as long as I can remember (this year's was a safari), has an active social life, and a clean, quiet house that's in good repair.

From a purely selfish perspective, it was really great for me to have examples of women who had good adult lives outside of a nuclear family situation. I'm headed down my eldest aunt's road - I'm not interested in kids or marriage. It was good to know that that was an option.

I think my superpower is time - not that I have enough of it, or anything, but what I have is mine. I can be as generous or as selfish with it as I want because my obligations to others are limited, and the people I spend time with appreciate it (unlike children, who take it as their due). I'm the friend who can be flexible for my parent friends, can stay out all night with my non-parent friends, and can drop things to spend time with someone who needs me. And I have a relatively manageable holiday schedule - I only have the two sides of my own family to think about, not them plus someone else's. It's a small thing, once a year, but anything that reduces complications right now is welcome.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with grieving the things you want and thought you would have. But there are benefits to not having had those things, too, and you'll find what works for you when your grieving is over. Take care and be kind to yourself.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:34 AM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh I thought of another thing. You will always know how to do things. I've known so many women, aged from 30s to 80s, and I mean smart, educated, working women, who upon their divorce or the death of their husband realized they don't know how to function in daily life. You are never going to look at a property tax bill or a clogged drain or a flat tire and feel totally helpless. Yes, it's super tiring to always be the one to fix (or hire someone to fix) every problem. But it's not frightening in the way that never having called the phone company or pumped gas IN YOUR LIFE would be frightening.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:25 AM on December 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

Hi there. I have a partner who has three kids from a previous marriage. I never nurtured a desire for kids, and it was a big adjustment to think that I would suddenly become a stepdad. It was a tough transition, but that was almost a decade ago. Along the way, I've had a few very legitimate soul-searching moments in which I questioned my willingness and ability to be in this position. I still struggle with the lack of control I have over my own schedule. There's just no way around this, and over time it's led to friendships and habits (both good and bad) withering. The same idea extends to considerations about everything from money to hobbies, to places we can eat, to travel options, to... anything and everything--with kids, it's all run through the kid/parent filter.

But there's an upside here, too. I think it would be healthy if more people would get comfortable with letting go of the idea that one has to have biological children of their own. In my situation, which is a common one, I essentially had an overnight transition from voluntarily unpartnered queer man about town to a father of three kids aged 6 to 13. It was like the universe saying, surprise, you had no idea you wanted this but here it is! There's a full and rewarding universe out there for step-parents, foster parents, adoptive parents--partnered or single. Channel your heartache into reminding yourself that there are indeed kids out there who have it bad and could use your help and guidance and love, and they aren't contingent on you making a baby from your own body.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:13 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I really appreciate all of your responses - whether tongue-in-cheek or earnest. This has been really helpful and I have a lot to think about - Thank you!
posted by bunderful at 3:45 PM on December 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

This might not apply except for a special slice of the population, but one thing I love about currently being single is that I can take more risks. I can take financial and legal risks that married people can't. Here's the part that's slightly creepy, but that I feel day to day -- I have much less aversion to violence than a typical mom with babies has (due to the hormonal and cognitive changes of a typical mom, etc.) so I can be as ruthless as I want in the business world, and occasionally in the social world. (That said, I do expect to have kids/family in the future, at which point I'll likely accept the limitations.) Ymmv.
posted by omg_parrots at 10:17 PM on December 28, 2015

Your ability to love is not over now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to be loved is not over now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to meet other people and form meaningful relationships is not ruled out now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to meet a person to love deeply is not ruled out now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to meet a person who deeply loves you is not ruled out now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to marry someone and share a life is not ruled out now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to bear a child biologically is not impossible now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to bear a child through IVF is not impossible now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to adopt a child (or children!) is not ruled out now that you are nearly 40.
Your ability to get out there and be nearly 40, bunderful, is your superpower.
Your ability to get the absolute most out of your solo sojourn on this planet depends on it.

Psst... seek out a circle of friends who are late also bloomers. We are legion!
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 6:44 AM on December 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

In lieu of an answer, and because there are so many different and personal and interesting and helpful answers already, here's a short poem for you, it always comes to mind when I think about the what-ifs of life and grieving the possibilities I didn't have or didn't take, I hope you like it too.
posted by bitteschoen at 11:01 AM on December 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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