I like this article from The New York Times, ‘I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?’
I don’t write much any more on the topic of not having children because it’s a long time since it has felt like an issue in my life. Like Glynnis MacNicol, on that front I’m relieved to find myself
released from the fear of the clock that had dogged me through my 30s.
MacNicol is a single woman with an enviable lifestyle and a strong support network. I wonder sometimes what my own less colourful life would be like if I wasn’t ‘lucky’ enough to have my partner, to be married. Does it protect me a bit from the prejudice that people still harbour towards the middle-aged non-parent?
I know that in my suburban Catholic office environment I’m a bit of an oddity because at 46 I don’t have kids. Generally I don’t really care what anyone thinks (if they even think of me at all); as MacNicol says, it’s
yet another unexpected gift of my 40s: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions about me.
However, one of the things that does disturb me is the very un-21st century prejudice that many people still harbour towards those who are ageing without partners or offspring.
I hear it often at work when people are discussing certain older individuals who sometimes draw negative attention to themselves. Following a dissection of the person’s particular peccadilloes, there’s often the added qualification of “And he/she lives on his/her own….no family….“, with meaningful side-eye.
I’m guilty of it myself; in the midst of gossip I’ve occasionally asked: “Is he/she married?” or “Does he/she have kids?“, as if this would make them more ‘normal’. As if the person is somehow more exempt from weirdness or pity if they are partnered up and have children.
MacNicol is a successful writer ‘inundated’ with close relationships. I’d have loved to read that she’s a humdrum office worker surrounded by colleagues whose desks and noticeboards are heaving with photos of children (my office looks like a fertility clinic waiting room).
However, several of my friends are office-working, single non-mothers in their mid-forties and they seem no more or less happy in their day-to-day lives than anyone else. If they have an off-day at work and really piss someone off, does the gossip in the corridor get book-ended with those weighted words that a parent would never be subjected to: “Yeah, and she lives on her own you know…“?
It’s insidious and regressive, and I wonder why it lingers so tenaciously in our dramatically changing times.
As I get older, less accommodating and more jaded with office life, prone to frequent eccentric outbursts, I feel surer that being married is all that protects me from full-on cat lady status. Or is that just in my head?