Single forever?
June 27, 2007 4:52 PM   Subscribe

What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids?

I'm beginning to embrace this as a possibility in my life and would like to hear from people who have this situation as a reality, know of people in the situation or just have thoughts.

I'm a female in my early 20s, am not currently dating anyone and have no children. I always thought of marriage and family as a natural progression in life, but the high divorce rate and the marriages of relatives and people I know scare me a bit and now I don't see the whole marriage-family thing as something that is possible for everyone. I do know older women who have never been married or had kids.

I don't want to be in an unhappy marriage just to say that I'm married, like I see in my family and other relationships, where neither partner likes the other one and it's not uncommon for them to casually mention divorce "I should just divorce this man!"

So what can I do now to prepare for the possibility of a completely different life than, I guess, the type I had been thinking of?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (82 answers total) 142 users marked this as a favorite
At age 54, I can tell you that following that path is my greatest regret. It's very lonely.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:57 PM on June 27, 2007 [38 favorites]

1) You're a little young to be giving up on marriage.

2) Unhappy marriages start out happy, certain they will never be one of those bitter couples who "should just divorce".
posted by smackfu at 4:58 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know of a woman my age (40) who never actually decided not to marry, but the choices and decisions she made led her down a totally different path for her life. She is happy with her lifestyle of traveling, working as a guest curator at art museums all over the world and doing things like backpacking through South Asia. I am happy with my life raising children and coming up with new and exciting ways to combine chicken and pasta that my young son will eat. We do, sometimes, talk about how glamorous and exciting I find her life and how comforting and "normal" she finds my life. We just made different choices at certain points in our lives that led us to where we are now, but neither of us give more than a passing wistful look at what might have been.
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:06 PM on June 27, 2007 [13 favorites]

I was where you were when I was in my early 20s. My parents were divorced and my relationships were going nowhere fast. I'm now 32 and engaged to a wonderful guy. Do I have an ironclad guarantee that it will work out, that "til death do us part"? No. Do I trust myself to make good decisions, and have faith that I can handle anything? Yes. I lacked that faith in my early 20s.

Don't grudgingly prepare for a life of solitude. Get out there and have fun, whether you meet Mr. Right or not. There are boatloads of fun things to do and places to go, especially since you aren't tied to a husband and kids.
posted by desjardins at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2007 [5 favorites]

Just wait 'til you stop thinking about this in a purely academic manner and start actually feeling lonely. ;) That's what happened to me at age 34-35.

Good question, and I'm looking forward to reading answers. I've had opportunities to marry and today I'm happy that I passed up each one. But while I'm fiercely independent and really *like* going home to a quiet house with nobody to bother me, I've finally started wishing someone were there. (Queue violin!)

I think the important thing is that you live *your* life to its fullest. Make sure you find out who *you* are, develop your own interests, hobbies, causes, etc, and make *your* life all you want it to be, independent of whether there are rugrats waiting for you at home. Then you will have done all you can do to make your life the best it can be, with or without someone "special" there to share it with you. You'll share it with friends instead.

But you have years, YEARS, I say, to meet someone special while you're doing all those wonderful things. It's way too early to despair.
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:11 PM on June 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

Other than being married and having kids, what do you want to do with your life? Travel? Career? Lots of great dinner parties with friends? A huge study filled with books? Drinking coffee in bed while reading the Sunday paper every week? Going for long rambling walks? Learning to cook? Learning foreign languages? Writing a book? Something else entirely?

I don't really think of marriage as a destination, I guess. It's a process, something that's happening as you continue to live your life; even with a husband or kids, you'd still need to figure out a way to make your life full and fulfilling in other ways, too. So, figure out what those ways are and... just do that.

It may be worth looking at some feminist critiques of marriage, just for a sense of why other women are choosing not to marry, and how they see their lives unfolding within that choice. (I'm sure there are non-feminist reasons for it, too, but I'm more familiar with the feminist blogosphere.) There's some interesting discussion at Feministe on I'm Never Getting Married (you may not relate to the essay itself, but some of the comments are interesting).'s Living Single resources might also be a good thing to look at.

All that said, I agree that it may be a little early for you to give up on what you want. But I also think it's important to know all your options, and to actively choose, as much as is possible, the life that you want to follow rather than just defaulting into it. So explore both sides!
posted by occhiblu at 5:12 PM on June 27, 2007 [14 favorites]

I didn't really address the "seems like everybody divorces anyway" issue. For that, all you can do is the best you can do. Don't ever settle, because that'll doom you to failure. If marriage ever really feels right, do it, do your best, see what happens, and that's all you can ask of marriage. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:12 PM on June 27, 2007

Love comes to people of all ages. My great-grandfather was a widow, after 20+ years of marraige and kids. Around 80, he met his second wife, and had another 20 year marriage, that ended with his death a few years past 100.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:14 PM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

You can resign yourself to a different life, or you can start focusing on making your desired life happen instead of waiting around and then giving up.

What I've personally done when I've hit snags in my life that left me feeling like I'd end up alone or miserable, most recent first:

- Broke off a bad relationship, swore off dating for the mid term, and picked a significant personal fault and worked on it; this led indirectly to meeting my now-wife;

- Starting taking improvisation classes; this led to a string of, er, interesting relationships, and indirectly to meeting my now-wife;

- Quit my crappy job, then calling everyone I knew to find a temporary gig while I rejiggered my life; this led directly to a completely unexpected, lucrative and fulfilling career change;

- Quitting school when I realized it was cheaper to intern for free than through a college program; this led directly to success in my first career (although I eventually abandoned it, see above.)

If you don't have what you want, change what you have. Sometimes it's a direct path ("want to date better people? be a better person yourself!" or "crappy job? quit it!") and sometimes it's indirect ("do a new thing, meet new people, and discover a whole new side of yourself and your life") but no matter how it works out, you should DO something rather than just adjust to the way things are.
posted by davejay at 5:15 PM on June 27, 2007 [25 favorites]

Jaysus - your life should not defined by propagating the species.

Check out quirkyalone and google the term.
posted by sien at 5:15 PM on June 27, 2007

One practical thing, that you may take as a given, so forgive me if it's irrelevant to your life: Make financial choices now that don't presuppose a husband. If you're focusing your career on easy-to-quit jobs in anticipation of being a stay-at-home mom, or ignoring saving for retirement because of assumptions that your husband would take care of that, or making any other financial, educational, or career choice that assumes dependence, stop doing that. If you do get married and decide you want to scale back your career in favor of kids, then that's great, but don't screw yourself over now.
posted by occhiblu at 5:20 PM on June 27, 2007 [9 favorites]

You're awfully young for this to be a worry. You can get married at any age, and be a parent for decades more (don't forget the possibility of adoption!).

Keep in mind, it is possible to have a range of satisfying relationships throughout your life, whether or not you marry -- romantic, platonic, familial. For example, when my first nephew was born more than 7 years ago, I made the conscious choice that I would be an active part of his life -- and it's one of the major things that motivated my move to L.A. from Chicago when my own marriage split up. My being a loving, doting, present aunt (I now have three nephews total) is now a major part of who I am. I am also actively involved as a kind of honorary aunt to my best friend's son. If I never have children of my own, those four boys will nevertheless be a significant presence in my life -- and I in theirs.

And there are other ways to play a wonderful, signficant role in children's lives if you don't have any nieces/nephews/young cousins handy -- you could be a coach, or a mentor, or a foster parent. I am a huge believer in the notion that children need a whole range of supportive, trustworthy adults in their lives besides their parents. If children are important to you in the grander scheme of things, you can be one of those adults today.

That said, there are plenty of other things to do, create, and cultivate in your life. It is a huge world, with more possibilities than any of us will ever get a chance to try out. For example, I used to know someone for whom travel was one of the the biggest priorities in her life. She had a solid 9-5 job and wasn't independently wealthy, but she budgeted her money and time so that she could take several trips every year throughout the world. She's been on safaris, climbed the alps, and gone snorkeling in some of the most beautiful waters on earth, and met many wonderful people along the way during her adventures.

Point is, it doesn't require a spouse or child to have a satisfying life. The best thing I can say to "prepare" for the possibility of a life without them is to embrace all the other possibilities that await you. Or to put it another way: you can focus on what might not be, or you can focus on what might be. It's your choice.
posted by scody at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2007 [12 favorites]

It's really hard to comprehend the enormous freedom you have as a single person compared to people married with kids until you start seeing your contemporaries get married and have kids. Sure, you might feel a little dreary when you hit 30 any every one around you is married, but there will also be times when you look at them realize how utterly, irrevocably earthbound they are. Not that there's anything wrong with that (she said to any of her married with children siblings reading this...).

I also think that a lot of women fail to really mentally commit to their financial and career goals in their 20s and early 30s -- they're always figuring that they'll end up getting married and buying a house, getting married and taking that vacation they always wanted to go on. Instead of waiting around, go after those goals directly.
posted by footnote at 5:22 PM on June 27, 2007 [5 favorites]

(oh, and I should point out: there's life after divorce, too. I'm 38 and now in the happiest, most satisfying relationship of my life. Being single at one point in your life doesn't really say anything about what will happen all all the other points in your life.)
posted by scody at 5:24 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think you should really avoid treating kids and marriage as your purpose in life. It is my opinion that the people who treat kids and marriage as their purpose in life end up being the parents who end up depressed and needy when their kids head off to college.

Kids and a spouse should be a part of your overall goals, but I don't think they should be the goals.

So figure out what you want to do, and see if you end up married and with kids. They could be fun on your journey, or you may end up doing it alone. Or you might end up with a group of single women who travel the world and there will probably be a movie about you. The nuns of the traveling pants or something.
posted by ceberon at 5:30 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

NB that in the modern-day Western world marriage is neither necessary nor sufficient for children, if this is a goal of yours. Just out of my ex-girlfriends, two have children (not mine!) without marrying. And childless marriage looks real appealing to me right now.

Be happy with yourself and you may surprise yourself with what you find. After a short and disastrous marriage and years of subpar relationships with women I wasn't especially compatible with, I'd all but given up on the possibility having a good marriage, but a job- and lifestyle-change led to an unexpected opportunity to meet the woman who's the love of my life. (And the MeFi-reading woman I'm living with now isn't bad, either.)
posted by commander_cool at 5:31 PM on June 27, 2007

eat, pray, love

highly recommend.
posted by eatdonuts at 5:40 PM on June 27, 2007

create change in the world. put the energy you would put into spouse/children/family into something tangible that helps in any way, big or small, in a way that speaks to your interests and desires. "legacy" - think about ways you'd want people to remember you, or be self-less and decide that in lieu of the conventional trappings of marriage/reproduction you'll offer the world something that is unique you. don't limit your imagination!

my sister has a radically different political, spiritual, and economic way of looking at the world than i do, and she once imparted the wisdom to "make your mark on the world" without any conditions. although she probably doesn't *get* what I do to make that mark, she respects and encourages me because she knows that I wholeheartedly took her challenge head on and make that mark. neither she nor i have ever reproduced. but we believe our "legacy" will live on in those we have inspired.
posted by kuppajava at 5:41 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

oh, don't give up on marriage yet, just don't worry about when it's going to happen. i've never been married (i'm 30) but i feel like getting your period--it'll come when it comes, and some people bloom later than others. (sorry, the divorce bit doesn't fit into the metaphor.)

i have always treated the men in my life like the sprinkles on the cupcake--they add color and interest to my life, but they don't direct or define it. make your plans for your life (career, travel, and finances--can't stress that enough) and then find a man who gets those things.

and good for you for holding out until you meet the right guy. remember, you'll still be able to have children ten, maybe even fifteen years from now, so you have plenty of time. concentrate on yourself for now. enjoy yourself, meet different men, and sleep with them. you'll be better prepared to make a commitment when the right guy comes along.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2007 [5 favorites]

You're a little young to be giving up on marriage. - smackfu

I don't think it's ever too young to think that perhaps the standard path of vigorously seeking a mate (which is quite a time consuming avocation) during your prime years might not be the best use of your time, or even the best way of fulfilling a need for companionship.

Remaining single (or at least not permanently committed) gives you freedom. When you're in a (healthy) relationship you have the needs of two people to juggle at any given time, and that means setting your own by the wayside. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it will very much limit the opportunities open to you. Mr. Den Beste could decide to become a long distance sailor, move to the other side of the world, throw himself in to a start up, buy a motorcycle, or set everything aside to tackle a major problem in mathematics. Many of those things would be completely irresponsible for someone with an S.O. or family. That doesn't stop people from doing it and hurting people in the process.

Being single does not have to mean being alone. As your friends get married, you'll start to notice how couples form their own sort of closed social circle. The effect's magnitude is even greater when they have kids. It's not impossible to continue your relationships with these people, but you'll have to be understanding of their lifestyle (they've opted for the obligations you'll be free of). I plan to live in a really large city (NYC, Paris, London), where you should have no problem finding other similarly single and childless people. If you decide to live in the suburbs, you'll probably be quite isolated. Then again, all the married people in the burbs are isolated too, they just have someone to bitch about it to.

All that said, make sure your motivations are sincere. I wouldn't commit to not getting married for any reason - I see no justification for that short of misanthropy. I think it's only healthy to realize there is a reasonable alternative to hooking an S.O., counter to the conventional thinking that you'll die poor and lonely if you don't. I look at it as the default path, the one that would take someone really prodigious to perturb me from (because I value that sort of liberty). Maybe that person will stumble along tomorrow. I'm not counting on it. To approach things the other way around seems absurd to me - I'm not at all surprised at how high divorce rates are.

For the record, I'm a little younger than you, and male. I'd imagine you'll face a bit more social stigma being female and single. Guys only have to contend with the confirmed bachelor (*wink* *nudge*) whisperings.

You sound cool. Want to grab coffee some time?
posted by phrontist at 5:45 PM on June 27, 2007 [10 favorites]

Oh, and I have to plug VHEMT, about which I've ranted a lot around here.
posted by phrontist at 5:46 PM on June 27, 2007

A friend once said something to me that has stuck with me many years later. She said, "I don't know if I going to get married or not ... but I know I am going to have the happiest life I can either way." And that's the key really. You should focus on having the best and most enjoyable life you can whether you get married or not. Develop your hobbies and interests, make as many friends as you can, find a job that you love, travel everywhere you want to go. These are all things you should do whether you get married or not.
posted by bananafish at 5:48 PM on June 27, 2007 [27 favorites]

I'm 38, unmarried, no kids, pretty happy. I got out of a long term relationship last year and spent a lot of time being less-than-happy not because I don't like being single but because I had, for a time, shifted my priorities into thinking that being with one person forever was what I wanted. And really, with that person, for that time, it was what I wanted; and then it wasn't.

My point being, you change a lot in your life and while you're right to be thinking about these things at this point (or any point, really) I truly believe you've never really shut those doors (unless you're hellbent on your own biological kids in which case you still have a good chunk of time to make decisions) unless you want to. My life suits me, but after seeing my Mom totally devastated by my parents' divorce, in part because she was unpreapred to be single in many ways, I laid some groundwork early. So, you asked how to prepare. Here is my advice.

1. be financially independent and resilient. Start thinking about retirement funds, socking some money away, saving, thinking about your money for later as well as for now. Don't strss, you're young, but think about your money as if you'd need it to support yourself, forever.

2. educate yourself. Your chances of supporting yourself well increase with a better education.

3. make family out of your friends, some of them anyway. One of the things that I think people worry about when they make a decision not to have kids is who will take care of them when they're older. There are many ways to have intimate type relationships with people in your life who are not your husband/partner/child. Obviously close friends are part of this, but there are also cohousing arrangements, caregiver relationships, church relationships and other ways to interact with people that go beyond what many people think of as "just friends" This doesn't mean that everyone you interact with has to be a soulmate, just that you keep your eye out for the keepers and try to keep them.

4. make friends out of children. You may not know how you feel about kids until you know/meet some. I don't hve kids but many of my friends have kids and I've actively made an effort to be part of their lives. I remember birthdays, I hang out with them when I see my friends (not just talk over them trying to talk to my friends) I give them presents (books!) and I engage with them. When they're older, I'll likely be a place my friends can send their kids to hang out someplace not at home. I like this. I like kids, I just don't need to live with them right now, and I don't have the need to have my own.

5. have goals and honor them. depending on your peer group it can be tricky going down a different path than your peer group. having other goals can help people not fixate on your unmarried or childfree status. It's really no one's business, but it can make social stuff go smoother [or family stuff if you have family that you answer to] if you have a ready answer to "so what do you want out of life?"

6. be flexible and receptive to what life gives you and try to interact with other people like you, not just be a pariah in your set of married/kid-having folks. I found it much easier to be comfortable of some of my more alternative life choices when I got to spend some time hanging out with people who were like me for whom those choices were normal, not weird.

Really at some point your life is what you make of it, it's generally shorter than you'd like it to be and it's yours to create. Do it in a way that brings you joy and creates meaning for you.
posted by jessamyn at 6:01 PM on June 27, 2007 [47 favorites]

You might find this book helpful: Who Cares What You're Supposed To Do: Breaking the Rules to Get What You Want in Love, Life and Work. It is written for women in their 20's and early 30's to help free them society's expectations and figure out what they really want from their lives.

You may also want to think about building a "family of choice" - close friendships and a reliable support network with people you care about regardless of blood or law. If you dont' want to be lonely, look for high quality relationships with friends and/or your extended family and maybe a dog or two.

Finally one of the best ways to avoid divorce is to be comfortable with who you are and to know that you don't need another person to complete you. Then, if you do find a great partner, you will know you getting married out of free choice, because he is worth it, and not just for the sake of being married to someone.
posted by metahawk at 6:09 PM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

I plan to always be alone, any accidental long-term relationships are welcome but unnecessary.

As for kids, most of the sane, rational creative people I've known who have thought themselves to be awesome potential parents have been discouraged to find that the exhaustion of parenting does not leave you at your sanest, most rational, or most creative. I figure that my gift to society is to grow progressively more amazing all through life so that when all these kids grow up and grow tired of the carping, dried-up shells their parents have become, there I'll be to inspire, coach, encourage, and educate. I am helping to propagate what I believe in by NOT reproducing and burning myself out. It's a valuable service and everyone should make me dinner.

I will get to be "uncle" to so many children; confidante and vicarious adventurer for those who are too busy to enjoy their lives the way they ought; poet and lonely lover, jack of all trades, pinch-hitter. I will be artist in residence, traveling nanny, gypsy fortuneteller, and mascot.

There is emptiness and loneliness in every life, no matter how many illusions we surround ourselves with in hopes of proving otherwise. Reach into the wide world and make a place in it; search for fulfillment of your heart and mind and let your lifestyle take care of itself.
posted by hermitosis at 6:37 PM on June 27, 2007 [52 favorites]

What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids?

Anything you want. Live your life to the fullest now, keeping in mind that all the freedoms you enjoy as a single person will come skidding to a halt when you are married with children.
posted by daveleck at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I will get to be "uncle" to so many children

Having now been an uncle for two years, I second everything hermitosis says. Uncles get all the benefits of grandparents without having to actually live through 30 years of raising the people who will give them grandchildren.
posted by spicynuts at 7:09 PM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

As someone who is 31 and forever single, I can tell you that I am sad, lonely, and bitter. I often feel like my life doesn't have meaning. My friends are all off with their husbands and kids and I go home every night to sit with myself and wait for tomorrow. I am active in the community and take a walk or an extended hike almost every day but all my socializing ends up feeling completely hollow. I often dread weekends because, despite doing my best to plan stuff to do, I often don't talk to another living soul for two days and I just want to be back at work to have some human interaction.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:11 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by caddis at 7:27 PM on June 27, 2007

There are no rules that say you *have* to be married in your early 20s. Hubby and I were 26 when we wed; one brother was 49 when he married for the first time. Brother also inherited a daughter and grandkid. Another sibling is 55, never married, but has tons of friends and independence.

And hubby and I decided in our early 30s that we did NOT want kids; other siblings have contributed to Earth's overpopulation. We do not regret our childlessness; rather, we have reveled in it, traveling extensively and having expensive hobbies. Yes, we selfishly spend time and money on ourselves. We also have great friends, wonderful siblings and incredible animal companions.

You can choose to be as lonely or alone as you want. Follow the advice of daveleck, jessamyn, bananafish and others. They seem very wise.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 7:35 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm thirty and female. I have not had a relationship in five years. I have no desire to change that status.

My life is exactly the way I would want it to be. I am in graduate school, working full time, and I still have time to go to interesting places and meet interesting people. I visit the beach and the mountains, go to the theater, the symphony, nice restaurants and art shows. I travel. I do volunteer work in the community.

You don't have to do and be what the wedding and childcare industries say you have to do and be.
posted by winna at 7:36 PM on June 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

Why would you have to get married and have kids? Why not just live with whoever you're in love with? And there are plenty of awesome things to do besides dragging your behind to our boring job everyday to pay for your annoying kids' tuitions, iPods,laptops, and all the other must-haves. You can travel, take on a doctoral program, write a book, learn to cook, hire a 2 day a week butler (probably cheaper than 4+years of college tuition) for a few years, eat goood chocolate, buy nice furniture, make cool furniture, learn photography, help people who have children but have to bust their asses all day to try and earn a decent living....

The possibilities remain endless on this front! This is the fun option if you know how to work it. Or else you're just sitting on your duff being lonely and boring.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:40 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm 29. I've spent several years in long-term relationships, and several years out of them. The years out of relationships have been the happiest. I actually shudder at the thought of being trapped in a marriage and saddled with the responsibility of raising children. There's nothing wrong with being single, and there is absolutely no need to have children. Humans will reproduce just fine without your help until the oil and/or water runs out.

"So what can I do now to prepare for the possibility of a completely different life than, I guess, the type I had been thinking of?"

Live. Have lots of friends, or have a tight-knit group of close friends. Travel, live in far-off and exciting places, taking comfort in the fact that your culture and family allow you to live this way. If you'd been born in a different time or place you might be beaten merely for entertaining this idea. Seize the opportunity you're given and run with it. Take the money you're not spending on a breeding program and put it toward a retirement that you can spend traveling the globe.
posted by mullingitover at 7:41 PM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

"What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids?"

Be grateful that you see these things as options instead of requirements. Not having kids will allow you to be a bit nuttier than average, and give you a chance to have plenty of great stories to tell in 20, 30, 40 years. You can take risks you otherwise wouldn't take, and if you crash and burn (often times a worthwhile endeavor for the experience alone), you won't have to deal with the issue of "how will this affect my children?"

Not having children can also be ideal for people who are very low-key, love to relax, and don't want to enter the rat race. Perhaps I'm just lazy, but I enjoy having the option of working part-time if I want, when I want.

I'm in my thirties. I have a longterm boyfriend whom I love very much. No plans for marriage or children (ever!)

Not having kids has allowed us to move to new places at the drop of a hat. I've found a job I enjoy that I don't think I would have been able to find if I had children (mostly because of the weird hours and the time commitment it requires.) I do recognize I have a "need to nurture", but you know what--you'll find there are tons of children (and adults!) who could use your nuturing instinct, and they won't necessarily be your own.

I personally don't feel a need to get married. I do, however, find that I am inclined towards monogamy, and am delighted to have someone in my life that I can trust, whose company I enjoy, and can share my life with.

Hope you find what works best for you.
posted by 1fish2fish at 7:42 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

consider living with friends (roomates) if you don't expect to ever live with a romantic partner. you can even have meals together and all that if you like. it's not for everyone, but for many it might offset some of the major disadvantages of being permanently single (ie loneliness and boredom).
posted by lgyre at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Anon, just remember that if you choose, there are possibilities for romantic relationships outside of the marriage track. It's not as if choosing not to marry necessarily implies that you'll be involuntarily celibate or such for your entire life.
posted by thisjax at 7:55 PM on June 27, 2007

I'm 38 and agree with both jessamyn and Foam Pants. I'd only add a couple things: No matter what you do, some people will assume you're closeted; and that I think sometimes it's like being an only child.
posted by rhizome at 8:08 PM on June 27, 2007

Oh, and you don't have to make a decision right now. I never did. I've had long (5+ year) relationships. You can also think about whether this is just being-OK-with not being in a relationship
posted by rhizome at 8:11 PM on June 27, 2007

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me.
I am shielded in my armor.
Hiding in my room,
Safe within my womb
I touch no one
And no one touches me.
I am a rock.
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain.
And an island never cries...

You don't have to get married. You don't have to have kids. But don't isolate yourself! Surround yourself with people. Learn from them. Make friends. Write pen-pals. Join forums all over the place.

As Wilson on House once noted, "people don't fear death. They fear dying alone."
posted by misha at 8:12 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

What I've learned as I get older is that serial monogamy doesn't necessarily increase or decrease your chances of ending up with a life partner.

Some of my friends are always in one relationship or another, but no one seems to work out for that long. Other friends really enjoy being single, and have cute studio apartments filled with books and art projects and fill their lives with friends and family. In the past couple of years, I've seen both types of friends meet the right person and marry them. My formerly perpetually single friends were never broken or unmarriageable, and I don't think they had higher standards for life partners. They weren't even more introverted. They just either disliked, or never got the hang of, casual dating.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:21 PM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

So what can I do now to prepare for the possibility of a completely different life than, I guess, the type I had been thinking of?

Its not clear to me whats so different about marrying and never marrying. As a single person you still get to have relationships with people, even long-term ones right?

Some folks above have told you they're miserable being single but I bet if you poll the married audience (and got honest responses) you'd also get a mix of miserable people and joyous folks.

So perhaps this married/not-married thing is not the deciding factor? The deciding factor is being surrounded by people in your life - family, friends - who you are close to. This can be your husband, a great friend, your siblings, your cousins...

I'm single, approaching 40, and my life has been fantastic! That doesnt mean I haven't been lonely but you know, some of those periods of loneliness have even been when I was in a relationship - because I felt trapped perhaps and that my partner didn't understand me.

I'm lucky to have a lot of close friends. Friends who I would trust absolutely. I'm also lucky to have an enormous family (34 first cousins!) and though many of them are jerks, a few of them are just amazing. I am uncle to their kids. I have been Best man at their weddings. I am godfather to their children.

Maybe I'll get married. Maybe I won't. What can you do to prepare for the possibility? My answer is: Nothing different than what you should have been doing already - cultivating deep ties with the people around you.
posted by vacapinta at 8:26 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids?

The simple answer is that you do all the awesome stuff that breeders miss out on. For a start, you have far more time & resources that can be devoted to embiggening your own experience. Have kids, and the next 20 years or so of your life are pretty much guaranteed to be chained to the spot.

Some people manage it, with difficulty I believe, but the second you take the breeder route you might as well close off most possibilities for further study (including the just-for-the-fun-of-it variety), travel (especially in developing countries, involving physical challenges like trekking, or any long-term travel like Cape Town to Beijing overland), serious, time-consuming or expensive hobbies or pursuits (no building & sailing your yacht around the Pacific for you!), most things remotely dangerous (hangliding, motorcycling etc), or switching careers to something less lucrative but more fulfilling (ever thought of volunteer work in the third world?).

There is a trade-off, sure. I think it's summed up nicely in the quip that both groups of people - those with kids, and those without - each feel sorry for the other group. I would add that they might each feel a tinge of envy, too.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:31 PM on June 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm 20, so I'm not sure if you want advice from someone younger than you. But for quite a while now, I've been thinking marriage (or permanent partnership, or whatever) may be out of the question for me, and I'm pretty much okay with that. I've come to terms with it over the course of years -- so yeah, it'd be nice to be loved, but just as Brian Peppers is unlikely to find a snookums, so am I. Not everyone gets loved; that's life. It's possible to enjoy yourself anyway.

I plan to do a lot with my career. I'll be able to take a job that I love and am good at, even though it doesn't pay well, because I'll be able to throw myself into it, spend more time doing it, and probably get a second part-time job doing the same thing. Anything I want to do outside of work will be possible, but my choice; I won't have to come home on time every night for family commitments that don't interest me.

I plan to invest. There are so many things (material and non-) that I want money for -- albums and books and a really good education and a decent living space. I need to be able to provide for all those things by myself. I also want to wind up with as much money as possible to give to a cause that I love.

I plan to be able to entertain myself. I'm perfectly happy spending the weekend by myself listening to music, reading books, cruising the internet, or just chilling out with my own thoughts. I also plan to keep myself entertained on a larger scale -- learn to cook really well, do more with my music, travel, live wherever I want.

I plan to have a network of friends. I'm not exactly sure how this will play out, since I keep hearing how groups change after friends start to go the marriage-and-kids route. But my current friends are far from being the same age or at the same place in life, and I think that distribution is likely to continue.

I plan not to have kids. You could make the choice to be a single mom on purpose, and I'm sure some people find that life rewarding. But I'd be childfree under any circumstances.

I plan to have cats -- but I already have the key rule in place: no more than two, no matter what. I refuse to be the crazy cat lady. But it's nice to be greeted you when you get home, and snuggled up to in bed at night. And pets are great at loving you; their only condition is that you keep the food coming.

I plan not to become bitter. The old maid is always viewed with pity, and I don't see any reason I should be bitter or pitiable. There are always steps I'll be able to take to improve my life. If I'm not happy with one city or job or hobby, I can change to whatever interests me more. The key is that these plans can always change; none of this (well, except the maximum-of-two-cats rule) is set in stone.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:34 PM on June 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

UbuRoivas, does breeder=heterosexual to you?

I'm 39 and I've known since I was fifteen that I didn't want kids. There are several children to whom I've been very drawn--some to whom I'd LOVE to be their Auntie Brujita, but I know I couldn't deal with the full time reponsiblity.
posted by brujita at 9:52 PM on June 27, 2007

I'm coming from a different direction, I suppose. I didn't plan on getting married (26 and been married since 20). I don't plan on having kids (still don't).

My default life plan was what you're now considering.

That's changed a little bit; but oh well. Still and all -

Marriage does not equal children. Ponder this. A wedding does not a pregnant woman make. Yes, it is *usual* to get married and have kids (or so the fairytales tell us), but personally, I find marriage in and of itself sufficient fufillment.

Looking for Mr Right is a good way to be miserable. Enjoy Mr Right For Now, dump Mr Wrong at the first opportunity, and maybe keep around a toyboy or three. If you end up happily married, great! If you just play the field for the rest of your life, great! If you decide that romance and all that stuff isn't really all that personally rewarding, great! Live it one day at a time, enjoy it for what it is, and try to be happy in the moment.

Hang out with your friends. My husband and I are a bit weird - we share a lot of the same friends (almost none of whom are married) and we spend a lot of time with them.

Take up a hobby - or six. There are lots of really fascinating people out there you'll have the time to meet and get to know without the burden (financial and timewise) of children and a mate.

You are free - revel in it! You have limitless potential - make the most of it!
posted by ysabet at 11:02 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

brujita: I suspect it's being used in the childfree community's sense of the word, rather than the queer community's.
posted by Arturus at 11:03 PM on June 27, 2007

UbuRoivas: Your statement indicates that third world volunteer work isn't open to parents. I would like to disagree with your opinion.

My husband, youngest of three, was born while his parents were doing missionary work in India. His eldest brother was born just before they left Australia to start their work over there.

Additionally, my brother in law, with 4 children under 8, is planning on doing missionary work in China or India in the near future.

... Personally, I'll stick with volunteer work in my own community. But I'm a wuss like that.
posted by ysabet at 11:05 PM on June 27, 2007

It's been really helpful and important to me, as someone who doesn't want kids and at 26 is dubious about marriage, to have a couple strong female positive role models (in their late forties and fifties) who are single, on fire, artistic, beautiful, independent, and have no kids. One had been briefly married then divorced, and the other is now living with her boyfriend with no intention to marry, but both are happy, fulfilled city-dwelling creative women. Every time I start to wonder about whether I'm ever going to get married, i think of those two women and go "eh, that's cool if I'm half as awesome as they are at their age."

So maybe seek out some older single childless women and talk to them about their perspectives on it.
posted by np312 at 11:42 PM on June 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

brujita: breeder was meant in the sense of anybody (gay or straight) with kids (biological, adopted or step).

ysabet: i never said that volunteer work, building your own yacht, writing that great novel etc are closed off to breeders. i said that "some manage it with difficulty, but you might as well close off the following kinds of things..." it's challenging, but not impossible.

(a part of me secretly feels that one of the unconscious motivations for people to have kids is to serve as an alibi that excuses them from living that kind of rich & broad life that they once dreamed of. the fact that some people manage it even with the burden of dependants says more about their own energy & ambition than it does about the pressures of childrearing)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:43 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

er and by "single" I meant "unmarried," my bad...
posted by np312 at 11:43 PM on June 27, 2007

One downside I noticed for my parents was that once they had my younger brother, they fell out of contact with most of their friends. If you never have kids, you have the opportunity to maintain many more friendships, which will keep you from getting lonely.

But your question strikes me as so fatalistic that I would urge you to rethink your attitude. Just because you may not have the stereotype of a family, doesn't mean you will be alone either. If you *want* kids at some point, there's nothing stopping you from adopting or taking in foster kids or going down to the sperm bank. If you fear marriage for its own sake, there's nothing stopping you from having relationships - even long term, monogamous ones.

In short, don't see the landscape of your relationship/family life in such stark terms - either marriage and biological kids or nothing. Take your time, figure out what you want, don't worry so much about where you will be in twenty years.

I think what makes people lonely in the long run is that they close themselves off, they stop seeing the possibilities for human connection because they are looking too narrowly.
posted by mai at 11:52 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

(oh, and ysabet: no offence intended, but i think missionaries are a bit of a special breed)
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:53 PM on June 27, 2007

What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids? Whatever you want.
posted by b33j at 1:34 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't want to be in an unhappy marriage just to say that I'm married

I'm happy to hear it, and I think that attitude is often the difference between picking a good mate or not. Live your life to the fullest, and if someone comes along give them a look, but don't lower your standards.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:34 AM on June 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm in that situation. 31. Unmarried and childfree by choice.

You can do whatever you want. That's the rocking wonderfulness of it all.
posted by pieoverdone at 5:59 AM on June 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

One thing to consider when older people tell you how fabulous they feel their feel their life has been is that there is survivor bias. Basically, unhappy/depressed people tend to remove themselves from society. When you test age cohorts, until you get into advanced ages where physical decay starts to significantly reduce people's quality of life and happiness, successive cohorts tend to rate their satisfaction higher because more and more of their peers with tendencies towards depression have been eliminated.

The takeaway message from this is not to assume that growing older will somehow make you feel happier. Instead, growing happier will help enable you *to* grow older. Find something that satisfies you, now.
posted by meehawl at 8:01 AM on June 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best advice I was ever given:

Live your life with the goal to make it as rich as possible. Explore career options until you find one that makes your heart beat faster and feels like fun instead of work. Explore hobbies, churches, volunteer opportunities, travel, taking classes, etc., and find things that make your heart feel alive.

Don't saddle up with a partner unless he can convince you that he's worth interrupting your rich life for.

And then accept what life brings you. You may have to make sacrifices to make an awesome relationship work, and that's ok. It's not for naught if you change careers, quit that awesome job, abandon that hobby for the time being. Things have a way of circling back around, and priorities change. Accept the things that come to you openly and warmly. Enjoy every moment. Seek a rich heart-life. And see what happens!
posted by orangemiles at 8:14 AM on June 28, 2007 [20 favorites]

np312: I'm in serious need of similar, older, fabulous and single women. How did you come across yours? I'm all ears. Thanks! ~ss
posted by smallstatic at 9:11 AM on June 28, 2007

Don't make any decisions because you feel society dictates it. Follow your heart and you will have no regrets - even if they don't work out. On the other hand don't let fear talk you out of any decisions. Most regret in life comes from either doing what's expected or not doing what you fear. You are in your twenties, the decade where you figure out what you want in life. Find the things you love and inbue yourself with them. You can never love another unless you love yourself first.
posted by any major dude at 9:12 AM on June 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Uhm ... as mentors. ;) thanks!
posted by smallstatic at 9:12 AM on June 28, 2007

Pretty much whatever you want.
posted by electroboy at 9:39 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

What do you do with your life if you never get married or have kids?

Whatever you want! Isn't it great?

I'm 36 and single, and while I remain open to possibilities, I don't have any plans or desire at the moment to change that.

I won't tell you that I'm never lonely, but it's rare enough, and I figure no one is happy 100% of the time. There are times when I imagine having someone else to share my life with--but that comes crashing down when I further try to imagine living in the same domicile with someone else, and all the changes in my lifestyle that that would entail.

I value my freedom too much to make that seem likely. I can't imagine calling someone and telling them I won't be home until late, just because I decided at the last minute to go to a movie or a concert or just spend a few hours browsing in a bookstore. I don't consult with anyone else before making vacation plans. I answer to no one but myself.

I'll concede that it's possible that someday I might meet someone that I value more than all the freedom I'd have to give up to be in that kind of a relationship, and as I said before, I remain open to that possibility. But it's difficult, at best, to imagine, and it's not something I'm seeking out, nor particularly desire.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:53 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm 32 and haven't been in a relationship for more than 8 years. It will be hard for me to not project my experience when replying.

When I was in school, I always wanted a boyfriend, but no one ever took interest in me. I pined away silently for various people over the years. Then at 18 I met my first boyfriend, and went from long-term relationship to long-term relationship until I was 24. Since then I have been alone.

I have talked to friends over the years about my feelings on this and I have got back a lot of the same things I've read in this thread -- that I should live for myself (what do you think I've been doing all this time?) or that I should work on myself (again. and anyway, i know lots of fucked-up people who found someone to love them) or that I shouldn't WANT to be with someone just to BE with someone. Nothing anyone said satisfies, because no one could possibly understand how I felt, because they just hadn't been alone as long as I have.

I don't even want marriage and kids -- I don't plan to ever marry, and I'm ambivalent about the kids, it would depend on who I was having them with. But it's a completely natural human need to desire companionship, and I do. I love my independence -- I need a lot of personal space and privacy -- but that doesn't mean I don't want someone to back me up, someone who'll kiss me and hug me, someone to have sex with (not gonna pretend that's not important), someone who's on Team Loiseau.

It was once I hit 30 that my situation really became bleak. It sounds cliche but at my age most everyone has paired up. I have on many occasions wondered if somehow my time has passed and I will be alone for the rest of my life. I have cried a lot about why I feel like such a strong and worthy person but no one has fallen for me in over 10 years.

I guess the only saving grace is that we forget. We keep pursuing love because we forget how much it hurt the last time it ended, or we forget how awful rejection is. I can't even tell you how many people I've crushed on and been rejected by in the past 8 years. But I like someone new and here I go again, putting myself out on the limb, because it's imperative, because even though it's terrifying, the potential reward is worth the risk. (please send positive vibes!)

I guess the worst fate is probably to have given up. I have a lot of questions about why life is what it is and why my life is how it is, but at least I can say it's not because I didn't try. I think that applies to a lot of things about life. Small comfort, but it's something.
posted by loiseau at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2007 [17 favorites]

People keep going on about the relationship angle, but I want to amplify something a person or two has commented on but that seems to have been buried:

Plan and take steps to be self-reliant financially. This is something every woman (and man, for that matter) should do, no matter what their preferences are.

You are asking an extremely practical question: 'How do I do things differently if "the standard script" doesn't turn out to work for me?' The thing that will give you the most flexibility in that case is simply not to live your life with bags packed at the door, waiting for marriage to signal the point when you focus on all those grown-up financial responsibilities. And if you do set up a household with someone else, well, nobody ever sat down to think about buying a house or planning for a child on the way, and thought, "I sure wish I hadn't been so good about savings and retirements contributions!"

I never saw getting lonely or bored as an issue. I have friends and family, and really value my alone time. Also, I have developed interests over the years that I've pursued freely, so I find there is always something interesting to do.

I am 40 and not interested in marriage or children.
posted by caitlinb at 2:06 PM on June 28, 2007

I want to chime back in to echo caitlinb's comments about financial planning.

I have very, very few regrets in my life, but at the top of that short list is my regret that I didn't take better care of my finances in my 20s. A combination of being flat broke out of grad school and a vague sense that finances would magically get taken care of "at some point" (probably by getting married to someone who made more than I did) prevented me from getting serious about debt reduction (which meant I destroyed my credit), as well as savings and retirement planning, until my early/mid-30s, following my divorce.

I'm happy to say I've now got excellent credit, I'm on track to be out of debt by the end of the year, and I've got finally got a decent chunk of savings and a solid retirement plan in place... but the fact is, over the long run I will have lost tens (and possibly hundreds ) of thousands in compound interest that I would have otherwise had if I'd started even modestly investing in a retirement plan ten years earlier. (Not to mention the long haul it took to dig myself out of the debt/bad credit hole I initially created for myself.)

In short: don't expect anyone to take care of you -- not a husband, not Social Security, not the lottery fairy. Instead, realize that you can take care of yourself. The gift of financial intelligence and security is one of the greatest things you can give yourself. Don't put it off.
posted by scody at 3:22 PM on June 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

I won't tell you that I'm never lonely, but it's rare enough, and I figure no one is happy 100% of the time. There are times when I imagine having someone else to share my life with--but that comes crashing down when I further try to imagine living in the same domicile with someone else, and all the changes in my lifestyle that that would entail.

I value my freedom too much to make that seem likely. I can't imagine calling someone and telling them I won't be home until late, just because I decided at the last minute to go to a movie or a concert or just spend a few hours browsing in a bookstore. I don't consult with anyone else before making vacation plans. I answer to no one but myself.

I'll concede that it's possible that someday I might meet someone that I value more than all the freedom I'd have to give up to be in that kind of a relationship, and as I said before, I remain open to that possibility. But it's difficult, at best, to imagine

I'll second that, with a proviso that living with friends can provide all the domestic company you need, without the obligation to keep them informed of your whereabouts, or factor their wishes into how you spend your time, so you get your space as well.

In terms of sacrificing freedom, one idea that I take as almost axiomatic about people who are happy enough when single to remain so for extended periods is that once you get used to a certain amount of freedom, and are used to filling your time with worthwhile & enjoyable activities, it's very hard to find space to fit anybody else in without sacrificing something. You therefore have to evaluate seriously whether the sacrifices are worth it, especially considering that relationships are not all roses & sunshine, as they might appear from the outside.

My weekly after-hours schedule, for example, involves one lazy, domestic dinner night with family & housemates; two nights of martial arts training; usually one night at the art gallery for freebie movies, talks & exhibitions; leaving only friday & saturday nights to attend concerts, plays, movies, parties & so on, if I am not already exhausted or wanting to catch up on an ever-increasing backlog of reading or movies etc recorded during the week.

Through all of this busyness, I find that I have so little time left over for pursuing projects, enjoying the outdoors or maintaining contact with bunches of friends - more activities added to the snowballing backlog - that it's almost impossible to imagine when & where I could fit a partner in, unless they either slot seamlessly into my existing activities, or fulfil the role of what my father calls a 'saturday night girl'. Anything beyond that, well, as Devil's Advocate puts it, "I remain open to that possibility. But it's difficult, at best, to imagine."
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think a bit of the perspective from the other side might be helpful, or at least provide context: I'm married with a child. At your age I was very dubious about the whole thing, having just had a serious several year relationship from college end. Now I can't imagine another life and I don't desire being single or free from the responsibility of a child at all. BUT:

I also can't imagine getting married for any other reason than that I was and remain god damned fascinated by my wife, in love and wanting every day to figure out her utterly intriguing enigma (I'll never succeed).

I can't imagine having gone into parenting without having first experienced a powerful certainty that helping to bring a child into the world was something I wanted.

AND: I'm still just as much in pursuit of "what do I do with my life" as I ever was! Marriage and a child has not replaced the need for personal endeavor, personal development, personal fulfillment at all. If anything, having a child has made me feel more committed to seeking things that seem real and important to me, because that's a context I want my son to experience through me. Focus on finding what is important to you, staying interested, learning, and refusing to live in fear. Regardless of what happens in relationships it's the right path.
posted by nanojath at 10:55 PM on June 28, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm in my mid-30s. I have had a few relationships but I have been single for the vast majority (90-95%) of my life.

First off you're young, a lot can happen. Now some people know they are not for marriage but that doesn't quite sound like you. Don't adopt a belief about your interest in a relationship because you feel discouraged. Be honest with yourself. If you want a relationship but you're depressed about the possibility of it not happening or it happening and then not working out, acknowledge that. It would be a shame to pretend that you weren't interested and to thereby avoid the possibility that would bring you happiness. This goes against the grain of the preceding comments, but it is worth pointing out that right now you are at your peak 'equity' for what you have to offer a man. Please don't take this to mean you are condemned to old maidhood if you don't get attached in the next 90 days. Of course you aren't.

I do note, and not just from the comments here, that it seems rarer for people to make sacrifices of some of their dreams and goals for the sake of a relationship than it was 20 or 30 years ago. People become even less likely to do so as they get older and they invest more emotional energy in their goals.

Some people want experiences, some people want intimacy, and some people want solitude. You do have to choose. And it is possible to make some compromises. But you still have to choose. So, be honest.

Assuming you know you're going to be single, here's what I advise. Take your finances seriously. Prepare for your retirement. Assume responsibility for yourself. This means not only securing your own retirement but since you won't be partaking in someone else's benefits take care of health and disability insurance for yourself. Think long term for education and a career.

The social aspects are trickier to navigate. If you are an introvert like many of us are, it is easy to get isolated. I have moved a lot throughout my life. The longest stay in one place was a bit less than three years. This hasn't been my smartest move. It's difficult for me to make friends and I rarely make a good impression in a crowd. If you are like this as well, staying in one spot and nurturing the close friendships you have will prove worthwhile. When you do best one on one or in very small crowds you will get much more quality social time with old friends and it will be easier for you to meet new people through those friends. But if you do just as well in groups of a dozen as in groups of four, moving around won't carry this downside. Also remember that the older you get the harder it is to make friends.

Keeping a journal is something I wish I had done. When you don't have someone you have shared your life with, someone who has been a witness, there is a lot you forget. I've had a lot of experiences that I have never talked about, never shared. There are many details I'm hazy on and a number of episodes that I know I don't remember quite right. Be a good witness to your own life. This isn't quite as important if you stay rooted as people and places will serve as markers. But if you plan on going place to place, take a note or two, snap some photos.

If you start to deal with loneliness long term it is easy to fall prey to self-hate. From the above testimonies it's pretty clear that not everyone does so. Cool. But for those of us who long for more intimacy, romantic or otherwise, and do not find it, it can come around. I'm not a big fan of the word spirituality, but that conveys the only effective answer to self-hate. And I know self-hate is not an issue only for singles. Still, I can't help to think that we might be a bit more prone to it from frustrations over lack of contact and the societal expectations that are put upon us. Be grateful for what you have and be specific in what you are grateful for, e.g. the play of the shadows on the road, the feeling of spreading jam on bread, etc. Be compassionate towards yourself. Consider some kind of meditation practice. This isn't about some cosmic judge, it's about being in good relationship with yourself.

I think the way I have been single, as in alone with few friends, is a bit different from some of the other comments, where it is single, as in not married but with a rich social life and long term partners. Your own social abilities really do make a big difference here. My own life would be richer with deeper relationships. I don't think it's very likely for me to have those kinds of relationships but there are other ways to respond to that desire to be heard. If this sounds like you, take the time to listen to yourself; you might want to even if this doesn't sound like you.

My best to you.
posted by BigSky at 11:14 PM on June 28, 2007 [13 favorites]

A friend of mine, in his late twenties, is actively pursuing the single for life lifestyle. And it's not because he wants to be a bachelor and play around, it's because he knows he'll be happier uncoupled than coupled.

So, I'll pass along his book recommendation:

"Singled Out" by Bella DePaulo, which is about singlehood & "singlism".
posted by 100watts at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I do want to chime in and say that from my oberservations, having children is going to impact your career ambitions WAAAAY more if you're female than male. Things may have changed from the 50's (and are continuing to do so, thankfully), but from speaking to friends and acquaintances, unless your future partner is actively committed to the daily routines of childcare, your career goals will be put on hold for at least the earlier years of your child's life.

Some women are ok with that, and discover raising children is more important to them than anything else they will ever do.

Some women aren't. Resentment and tensions in the marriage ensue.

Make sure you know how important your career goals are to you.

If there are career-oriented women here who have a different experience, please enlighten me if my observations are incorrect.
posted by 1fish2fish at 8:01 AM on June 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

1fish2fish, there was a study recently that confirms what you're saying, at least from the institutional standpoint; women with children tend to face more discrimination and get lower pay offers than childless women, childless men, or fathers (who actually are advantaged in these areas because of the kids).
posted by occhiblu at 9:13 AM on June 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have one quick comment now before I talk about this more indepth.

This is actually one thing that I find worrisome and scary in being asexual.

I WOULD like to have such close bonds in the future, and
it seems like in our culture,
people are not willing to have the closest of bonds without sex/birth/etc,

Which means, I have noticed it is the trend/tendancy for people not to accept as 'family' anyone to whome they are not related by either sex or blood -
as someone from the smallest of blood families,
and who may never have sex, this is scary.

People often tell me that I will 'get my chance' - but it is not the chance - it is the fact that I have NEVER met someone to whom I am sexually attracted, and I do not know that I am even capable of feeling this, whether it is due to simply being a nonsexual person or to issues of my own I do not know.
posted by electric_bonzai at 7:17 AM on July 2, 2007

Electric_bonzai, a lot of people have friends or confidants who are as close or closer to them than family. Having close, intimate friends is actually supposed to be the single biggest factor in reducing mortality among the elderly. As most of us age, our libidos will wane or disappear entirely, and all that will be left are the bonds of family and friendship. While family may trump friendship for some people, for others it will be the reverse. If this keeps you up at night, I'd suggest you make friends with people who've chosen to be single or childless.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:49 PM on July 2, 2007

Go and stay for a few days with a friend who is married with small children.

Do you envy her, or are you glad you're not her?

I just had this experience recently (stayed with a friend who has two children under 2) and it very much cemented my desire to never, ever have children.

Not that they were horrible or anything--on the contrary, they are adorable and intelligent, and really quite fun to be around most of the time. She also has a lovely house and a very nice husband, and is able to stay home and take care of the kids.

However, I did not have even the smallest drop of envy for her, and I'm glad for my life and the choices I've made. I'm 32, have a job I love and a great place to live, BY MYSELF.

I also have a very sweet boyfriend but I have no plans to move in with him any time soon.

So I guess my advice to you is to make a life that you love with just you in it, and then you can make room for a spouse or children if they come along.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:27 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is an incredible amount of great advice and wisdom in this thread.

I'm 37, female, and in a relationship. But I've been single for long periods, too, and have a really full life and am generally quite a happy person. The puzzle for me hasn't been how to be happy single, it's been how to be happy with someone else.

However, I want to say something that isn't well represented in this thread, and that is this: If you believe you want to have children, or may want to, take that seriously. It does need to belong in your life goals.

I feel I may have naively made the mistake of thinking that if I led a happy life and stayed involved with the world, marriage and children would 'just happen' naturally, as they seemed to for my own parents and for many others. Except, they didn't. I made the mistake of being a little lackadaisical about the fact that those were actually goals for me, but I didn't pursue them with the same seriousness that I did my other goals, because it seemed to fall into some mysterious realm outside of logic and planning. But I've learned that's a false impression.

Had I taken those as goals more seriously early in life, I would have quit dating people earlier when it was clear things weren't headed in that direction. I would have avoided dating people who expressly said they didn't want a family. I would have dated more often and more people. I would have been open about the idea that I desired to be a parent. Instead, I focused so overmuch on my own goals and pursuits that I find myself now delayed in the relationship skill and family department. And the biological clock is absolutely real - at this point, I'm dealing with the pressure of having put everything else first for 20some years, and now having to decide with only a couple years or so left, of whether having my own children is worth the many sacrifices it will entail. Even if I do go that way, it means a complete upheaval of my life within a short span of a couple years.

I'm not saying you need to want or have children. I am quite comfortable being free and the idea of spending another 40 years travelling more and pursuing more education is immensely appealing to me. But having run things that way for most of my adult life, I'm only now realizing that there is a sacrifice involved either way - one which I would have been unable to appreciate at a younger age.

So I advise you to think about it. If you look into your 40s and 50s and older years, and see yourself with your own children and perhaps grandchildren, doing family activities and extending the generations of your own bloodline, then honor that. There is nothing unfeminist about the goal of having a family, and though it will certainly impact career and finances, there are excellent reasons why people make those sacrifices. But don't treat it as something that will "just happen" or "just not happen." What happens to you will largely be the result of your choices and actions, and only partially because of chance. It is good to be prepared to survive and thrive as a single person, because you are an individual responsible for yourself. And it is something you can also look forward to, if you want it. But at your young age you don't have to resign yourself to it. It's a fantastic way to live if you choose it, but a miserable one if you really wanted something else and never pursued it.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on July 11, 2007 [11 favorites]

We belong to the same age generation, and I sometimes wonder the same as you. Although I don't think anything will completely alleviate my concerns, I recommend this book to you because it helped me see me a more positive outlook on my future, specifically with regard to family, love, being single, and marriage.

This is NOT a self help book, but it's about social trends, in addition to the author's own experiences researching the book and being single into his 30s and 40s. Some of what may be reassuring: He talks about the advantages there are in being single and delaying marriage, and how younger adults who develop good, close friendships can have longer and more fulfilling marriages.
posted by catburger at 8:39 AM on July 13, 2007

I am the "anonymous" who posted this question.

Thanks to everyone who replied. There was some great advice in there. It was my first AskMe post and therefore I opted to go for anonymous.

Anyway. The follow-up is this: For religious reasons, premarital sex and cohabitation with a SO are not really an option. So my question wasn't really about what to do with your life if you're not legally married (because some respondents thought that the paperwork was my hang-up).

To those who replied originally (or anyone else), does this information change what you advised me (as anonymous) to do?

Again, thanks everyone.
posted by PinkButterfly at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2007

Given access to your posting history, a comment I'd offer is that you should think about the degree to which this whole arena of consideration is being driven by your parent's horrible-sounding marriage. My guess would be it is factors inordinately into your ambivalent feelings about marriage. You might get more out of working through your feelings around this than chewing on the rather open-ended question of what do I do with my life to make it meaningful and fulfilling, which honestly, everybody has to deal with whether they have a spouse and kids or not.
posted by nanojath at 2:29 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've heard interesting things about a new book, Singled Out, by Virginia Nicholson. It's about the two million British women (aka the Surplus Women) who did not get married as a result of the deaths of British men in their age group during WWI. Could have some insights.
posted by Amizu at 3:31 PM on September 26, 2007


Since posting that question about my parents, I have examined how much their relationship has influenced me and you are right. I think it has clouded my view of what a relationship can be.



Someone also recommended that to me in MetaTalk so I may have to check that out. Thanks.
posted by PinkButterfly at 4:52 PM on September 26, 2007

There are a million things you can do with your life. If you decide not to get married and raise a family, that leaves 999,999. Many people choose the marriage-and-kids route, but that doesn't magically make it the most valid -- or for that matter, one iota more valid than the other choices.

That said, if you want to get married, you undoubtedly can if you take action. I know a guy who, in his late twenties, set out to find a woman he could marry and start a family with. He did so within a year, and they have now been married for more than a decade and have two kids. Don't wait around for marriage to happen to you, go out and find a husband.
posted by kindall at 10:51 PM on September 26, 2007

The best piece of advice I can give you: Make sure you make the most of your friendships while you're single.

When I was in high school I used to daydream about how I was gonna share an apartment with my best friend in a big city and how much fun we would have.

We ended up graduating and going to colleges in different states and though we're still best friends we live thousands of miles apart and she's married and I'm engaged and although I'm happy where I am in life it makes me sad to think our little plan for our exciting grown-up lives is probably never going to happen now.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

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