In today’s Observer (10 July 2011) buried at the back behind the lengthy reports of what, in time I presume will come to be called Murdoch-gate or some such thing, is an article by Tracy McVeigh called ‘Single, female, 45-plus: life, love and friendship for women of ‘a certain age.’
Now, I’m never entirely sure what this ‘certain age’ is… I’ve always, from a mixture of vanity, denial and naivety presumed it to be ‘a bit older than me’. But, turning 47 in the next few weeks I guess that… Tag! I’m it. On the whole, I’ve never been too worried about getting older: I found my 20s terrifying, my 30s bewildering and my 40s… well, it’s been a mixed bag but I’m certainly a lot more comfortable in my skin than I ever anticipated.
What I do find hard in my 40s though is the isolation from my peers because I wasn’t able to have children…
In The Observer article McVeigh quotes Susan Broom (48) who says that: “Last year I had a partner for about nine months or so, and during that time I noticed how I got invited to dinner parties again.”
My experience is not that my friends don’t want me around any more, but simply that the business of their lives as parents and wage-earners and partners leaves them no time for anything other than family-focused socialising, often arranged at the school gate or during the endless pick-ups and drop-offs of children. They bear me no malice – I have simply dropped out of their world and their mind. And when they do see me at a rare party (the 50th’s are just kicking off) they are genuinely delighted and insist that they ‘must have me round’ (an expression that makes me feel as welcome as Rentokill). An invitation which, unless I follow it up and insist on inviting myself, just doesn’t happen. Until the next time they see me that is, when the whole well-meaning charade kicks off again.
I don’t resent this state of affairs – if the boot were on the other foot I would probably be just as blinkered. And indeed, at the most recent gathering of old friends, and as one of the only women there without a partner and children, I found myself shut out from the world of women. All they could talk about was their children. I felt both grief-stricken and de-sexed and, for the first time, realised how much easier these days it is for me to connect with men during conversation. We talk about the world, about ideas. Freaked out, I left early and have since found out that the only reason I did get an invitation this time is that my ex-husband realised I’d been left out and rang up on my behalf to correct it. Something he very kindly didn’t tell me at the time.
McVeigh quotes Broom again: “There are a lot of women out there who are in their late 40s and early 50s who don’t have children, but would happily have had them if they’d met the right person. It’s an invisible band of women, they don’t complain and they just get on with their lives, but actually it’s tough for them.”
These are the Gateway Women. And it’s time we started to pull together and support each other. We are the ones who have the time, the love and the energy to make a difference in this world, and to each other. Let’s do it.
Your friends have children and you don’t. It can be very hard to watch one after the other produce cute little babies but I couldn’t deny them their joy. They moved on to a different place which I couldn’t really share with them despite them making me a godmother four times over. I grew to accept this ‘otherness’ status when I realised that friends can drift away for any number of reasons. And friends can win the lottery (of children or money or health or whatever) and you don’t. Life is unfair, people change. But there is a big world out there that you can have fun with and they can’t. There are lots of people to connect with – with or without children – who are not so child-focussed. In our small village there are over half a dozen women who have never had children and we’re all very different and we are certainly not defined by that status. By all means, grieve for the children you never had and friendships which may have (temporarily) gone by the wayside – then live your life with imagination and lightness. And I try to remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said that ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent’. Now, if anyone asks me if I have children, I just say ‘Not yet…’ I’m 48.
There are also plenty of women who *have* met the right man, but actually just don’t want children.
Indeed there are, and I have no problem with that at all. However, it can be difficult sometimes for women who are childfree by ‘circumstance’ to be quizzed on their ‘choice’ when it wasn’t a choice, just as it’s sometimes difficult to be asked to ‘justify’ the choice to be childfree. It’s an area where people often seem to feel able to make quite prurient and judgemental comments. Are you OK to share your own experience here? Thanks for commenting. Jody x
great observations, loved it !