All the Single, Old, and Childless Ladies
Writer Kate Bolick has published a long piece in celebration of women choosing to grow old and single, without a man, and with or without a child. Titled "All the Single Ladies," it is actually about one specific lady -- Kate herself. It is about choices that Kate made or didn't make, back when she was still young enough to make those choices.
The article reveals more about Kate's regret and sense of loss than she is likely to comprehend. But it is actually a tale of an entire society's loss, percolating slowly across its length and breadth, in all the single, old, and childless ladies passing through time like sleepwalkers.
Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. A decade ago, luck didn’t even cross my mind. I’d been in love before, and I’d be in love again. This wasn’t hubris so much as naïveté; I’d had serious, long-term boyfriends since my freshman year of high school, and simply couldn’t envision my life any differently.But after going through the sad tales of turning down exceptionally fine men so as to give herself more time to "find herself," and discussing how hard it is to find men who are worthy of her at this stage in her life, Kate decides that she sure as hell doesn't need a man anyway. If she wants to have a kid without a man, who's gonna try to stop her?
Well, there was a lot [we] didn’t know 10 years ago....We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.
That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not? _All the Single Ladies
But who is she kidding? If she couldn't "settle" for a man when she was younger because she needed to sow more wild oats, or because he wasn't perfect enough, is she really going to take a chance with parenting a child? Because the child is sure enough not going to be perfect, and if she finds herself needing a little more time to find herself as a parent, the child is not going to go away for a few months or years to give her that opportunity.
When too many people in a society grow old and childless, the potential -- the future -- of that society withers on the vine. The generations of the unborn begin to haunt the false over-cheeriness of the singles gathering in bars and pubs.
There is a sense of oddness I often feel in the presence of large numbers of gay or lesbian folks. Good folks, cheery folks, happy and friendly folks. But usually childless, and too often needing to make up for that, subconsciously. I am starting to see the same thing whenever in the company of people who are like author Kate. Childless, aging, spinsters in denial, who must at all costs compensate for their lack of a child.
And so all the spinsters -- male or female, gay or straight -- must be the children they never had -- or never acknowledged. Cosmetic surgeons certainly never had it so good. The youth fetish becomes a lifelong pursuit, until it grows into an obsessive and expensive obscenity.
There is a flip side to the coin, which we have discussed here previously. The "Parents of a Certain Age" who make the decision in their late 40s, their 50s, or later that "dammit, I'm gonna have a baby," and follow through with it. There are many more of these than there used to be, but not nearly enough to make up for the childless Kates that our culture is spinning out into the void. Reproductive technology is making it easier to make such late life decisions, and freezing your youthful sperm and eggs -- along with surrogate mothers -- makes it even easier.
Of course, there is the child (or children) that must be raised properly. We can always hope that the midlife crisis survivors have acquired at least some wisdom along the way, compared with how they were when they were younger and more vital. Their time on Earth is growing shorter with every day, and most of what they have not learned by now, they will never learn. Ah...except for the lessons that come from parenting itself. Those are perhaps the most important and poignant lessons of all, and they are learning them so late!
Lionel Tiger described this developing phenomenon best in his 2000 book, The Decline of Males. Neither Kate Bolick nor any other writer since Tiger, has revealed the basis for the phenomenon so accurately, nor revealed the future of it so clearly.
The core advanced populations, the ones that have made so many advances in science and technology, are fading away. They are becoming old, and childless, like the ladies one sees...