Forever Alone (On Purpose)
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Forever Alone (On Purpose)
While some teenagers had pictures of celebrities and models in the front of their binders, I had pictures of Rosie the Riveter and Gloria Steinem. I have always found inspiration from self-made, independent women. I watched the Disney princesses marry their princes, which was always their version of "happily ever after," but could never seem to relate. My education and my future have always been my greatest priorities, which is why I was surprised when discussing applying to UCLA with a former romantic partner and he remarked, "But I don't like the weather in L.A." He had made the assumption that when I transferred schools I would want him to come along with me, so therefore, his opinion on the weather in LA was something I should take into consideration. That's when I realized that we were on two different pages, and those pages were in separate books. Transferring to a four-year university and pursuing my goals were always more important to me than maintaining that relationship. But he seemed to be convinced that our relationship was going to go the distance, which included marriage and maybe a few kids. The relationship fizzled out pretty soon after that conversation. But that interaction made me reconsider everything I had thought about where my life was headed. Was there something wrong with me for prioritizing my career and passions over getting married and having children? Would I be any less happy or fulfilled if I remained single and childless?
For a large portion of human history, young women have been expected to be married by the time they were old enough to experience their first menstrual cycle. Women who were unmarried past the age of eighteen could be considered a "spinster," a derogatory word for a woman who chooses to remain single. In the 2014 book Otherhood, Melanie Notkin explains, "A woman in our mother's generation was stationed in society by her husband, her children, her wealth, and her traditional family lifestyle" (8). No matter how successful a woman was, she was still considered "less-than" if she was not married with children. To be fair, men have also felt the pressure to get married and have children. Wealthy men in the aristocracies of long ago felt pressure to produce male heirs in order to carry their name into the next generation. But even then, their female counterparts still got the "short end of the stick." Consider King Henry VIII, who married Catherine of Aragon and then divorced her for not producing a male heir for him. Catherine lived the rest of her life in relative poverty, while Henry was able to go through several more wives in his quest for an heir ("Catherine of Aragon" 1). Nowadays, modern women have a far better chance to be successful without a partner at their side, but are still plagued by some of the harmful stereotypes that affected women centuries ago.
Based on movies and television, the two most popular caricatures of single women are the "crazy cat lady," who is too damaged to find a spouse, and the "slut," who prefers a life of promiscuity over monogamy. In an article called "Women: Single and Loving It," Jeanie Lerche Davis interviews Dr. Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist, about living life as a single woman. Dr. DePaulo states: "It's an old-fashioned message that you're better off if you find a man. It's this idea that you can be single, have your big career and all your friends, but that's not the route to happiness, it's not deep or meaningful like marriage is. That's ridiculous. The best friendships often last longer than marriages . . . you don't have ridiculous expectations of your friends like you do a spouse" (Davis 1).
American culture has typically supported the idea that women are better off married, both emotionally and financially. Davis also interviewed Dr. Pepper Schwartz, who has studied sociology and human behavior. Dr. Schwartz explains, "Many women turned to traditional married life because financially they had a difficult time on their own . . . . But now women can get high-paying jobs, which make a huge difference for them" (Davis 2). The image of a career-driven single girl was first introduced to me in the form of Carrie Bradshaw, the main character in the TV series Sex and the City. Carrie had it all, a string of handsome boyfriends, a flourishing career, a huge walk-in closet, and, most importantly, a close group of supportive girlfriends. She was one of the first single female characters that I saw on television to live her life more like the typical "bachelor" character rather than a woman sitting around waiting for a husband. And while I believe it is harmful to idolize such a materialistic and privileged character, I can appreciate that showing a woman who was in total control of both her career and her sexuality is inherently empowering.
I love children. I can't help but make a squealing noise when I see baby toes, and I love walking through Babies R' Us. But at this point in my life, I don't plan on having kids. An article by Beth Leipholtz, "I Don't Think I Want to Be a Mother, and That Should Be Acceptable," let me know that I was not alone in this sentiment. In the article, Leipholtz describes herself as dedicated to her career, and while she loves children, she doesn't see them in her future. She asks: "Why push one good thing aside, something I am passionate about and spend so much time committed to, to do something I am unsure of and am only doing because I feel like I should be doing it, such as raising children" (1)?
Women feel pressure to have children because it is what we are expected to do. Some even consider women who choose their career over having children to be selfish. I believe that one of the most selfless things women can do is make the choice to not have children if they feel that they are ill-equipped to do it. But in most cases, there is a social stigma attached to a childless woman. In a recent interview on NPR, Lauren Sandler, the author of The Childfree Life, talked about being scrutinized for remaining childless. She says, "If women do not choose to have children, our culture does not know what to do with them. They must be lacking something. They must be non-nurturing. They must be refusing to participate in our norms" (1).
Women have the potential to be so much more than just a housewife and mother, not that those aren't admirable occupations. Childless adults are not something to be scoffed at. They are making the decision that they feel is the best for them. Too often, children are born to parents who didn't have a conversation about whether or not they were ready for kids. In 1997, "There [were] some 100,000 children living in foster homes across the country" (Engeler 1). Many of them were given up or taken away from unfit parents. Because of these circumstances, these children will now live a much harder life than what they would have had with parents who genuinely wanted and could support them. Having children is not something that everyone should do, and society as a whole should stop bullying those who make the choice to remain childless.
The most common response I've gotten when I've told people I don't plan on getting married and having children is that I am going to live a less happy life. But does having a romantic partner and children really make a person that much more satisfied? Dr. Bella DePaulo doesn't think so. In an article written for Psychology Today, she reviews various studies conducted about happiness in relation to marriage. She states, "For happiness, there was no difference in happiness from just before the wedding until just after. Over time, on the average, happiness did not change. Participants did not get either happier or less happy as the years of their marriage marched on" (DePaulo 1). So basically, married people are just as happy as they were before they were married. Single people may never experience that brief "blip" of happiness that comes from the act of getting married, but other than that, it doesn't seem like they are missing out on much.
When it comes to having children, there is debate about whether or not having them (or not having them) is the recipe for a fulfilling life. Arthur Stone of Stony Brook University claims, "People with kids have more joys and happiness as well as more negative emotions, like anger, worry and stress" (Netburn 1). Children can bring immense joy, but also immense stress and frustration. Having a child is in many ways an emotional rollercoaster, and the cost of getting on that ride is staggering. According to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in order "To raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18, it will cost a middle-income couple just over $245,000" (Hicken 1). These estimates are higher for wealthier couples and lower for lower-income couples, but no matter how we slice it, having a baby is expensive. This information only encourages my opinion that I do not need a partner or children to find happiness, and, in some ways, might be better off on my own.
Being single and childless may seem like a lonely existence on paper, but I've found that there are many other ways to feel fulfilled. First of all, being a childless woman in America is not really the anomaly it is portrayed to be in popular culture. According to Melanie Notkin, author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, and All Women Who Love Kids, "Nearly 50 percent of adult females in the Unites States are nonmoms" (1). Notkin also discusses how satisfying a relationship with nieces and nephews can be. She even coined the anagram "PANK," which means Professional Aunt No Kids, and supplies an example: "I don't have kids of my own, but I have five amazing nieces and nephews, a beautiful goddaughter, a fabulous career, amazing friends, I travel a ton, and I always go to the best restaurants in the city. I'm a PANK" (2).
This sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I don't think I can handle the commitment of having a child of my own, but that doesn't mean I don't like kids or wouldn't enjoy spoiling a niece or nephew. However shallow or selfish it sounds, the way I plan on living my adult life doesn't really work with having children. I want to spend time working on my art and exploring the world. Eventually, I could see myself ending up with a long-term partner, but that's only if that person could keep up with the lifestyle I want. I don't want to compromise myself for anyone or anything.
I conducted a survey on Facebook asking my female friends what was more important to them: marriage and children or pursuing their passions/careers. In total, forty-one young women participated. Out of those young women, 83% said pursuing their passions/careers was more important to them than marriage and children. I imagine these results would be much different if I had been able to conduct the survey forty years ago. I am lucky to belong to such a progressive generation that believes that women can aspire to more than an apron and a diaper bag. But with that, I don't believe that one choice is better than the other. Wives and mothers contribute so much to the world we live in. My mother, a single parent, gave me the best life she could, and I wouldn't be the strong-willed young woman I am today without her support. And while I can't see motherhood or housewifery in my future at the moment, that doesn't mean I'm ruling them out completely. Ten years from now, I could be with someone that I wouldn't mind spending the rest of my life with, and maybe I'll decide that my genes are too good to go to waste. But for now, my priorities are with my career, my art, and ultimately, myself. And while society may try to tell me otherwise, that's perfectly fine with me.
"Catherine of Aragon." Tudor History. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. <http://tudorhistory.org/aragon/>.
Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Women: Single and Loving It." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
DePaulo, Bella. "Marriage and Happiness: 18 Long-Term Studies." Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Psychology Today, 15 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Engeler, Amy. "Will these kids ever be wanted? The new adoption crisis." Redbook. July 1997: 76+. Student Edition. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Hicken, Melanie. "Average cost of raising a child hits $245,000." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
King, Kayla. "Love and Relationship Survey". Survey. Facebook. Facebook ©, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.
Leipholtz, Beth. "I Don't Think I Want to Be a Mother, and That Should Be Acceptable." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 22 July 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
"More People Choosing To Be Childless, But Still Facing Stigma." All Things Considered 15 Aug. 2013. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Netburn, Deborah. "Having kids increases your life-satisfaction? Yes, if you wanted them." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Notkin, Melanie. "An Intro to Savvy Aunthood." Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide For Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2011. 1-5. Print.
Notkin, Melanie. "Introduction to Otherhood." Otherhood. Berkeley : Seal Press, 2014. 1-8. Print.