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Women Who Are Comfortably Single at Midlife

I’ve never liked the word “unmarried.” I don’t like “never married” either. As a lifelong single woman, I don’t like to define myself in terms of what I am not. My life is about who I am: what I do, who I care about, what I care about, how I think, and what I aspire to.

The popular stories of our time do not make it easy for single people to define themselves without referring to marriage. And they make it especially challenging for single women with no kids to discuss their lives without mentioning motherhood or family.

The dominant narrative assumes a particular timeline for our adult lives: by a certain age, we marry, and then we have kids. It is considered just common sense that people live that way. What is remarkable is that this way of thinking still has such power when it such a long way off from how people really do live(link is external). In the U.S., for example, fewer than 20 percent of all households are comprised of married parents and their kids. There are more households consisting of just one person living alone. And there are many people who live with friends, or with relatives other than a spouse or kids, or with friends and relatives.

How, then, do single women talk about their lives? Do they define themselves in terms of what they are not (not married)? Or do they defy the party line about what constitutes a “normal” adult life and describe their lives more affirmatively, in terms of who and what they are? Or are both threads intertwined?

A Study of Midlife Single Women

Jennifer A. Moore and H. Lorraine Radtke were especially interested in single women at early midlife, ages 35 through 44. By that age, women are already considered to be behind schedule in finding a spouse and starting a family, and it is becoming increasingly improbable that they will do so.

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