There, it’s said. Weekends can be absolute hell as a single, childless woman. “They creep up on you,” said one friend recently.
Many of us are so busy with work commitments and after-work activities Monday-to-Friday that we can’t wait for the peace and quiet of the weekend in order to recover. And then, when we wake up on Saturday morning to an empty bed, an empty house and an empty weekend, it doesn’t feel relaxing; it feels hideously oppressive.
Alternatively, we pack our weekend schedule to the gunnels with activities and appointments only to feel burnt out and resentful and end up having to cancel half of them in order to get some downtime. Possibly the burnout is in part caused by the fact that as single, childless women, almost all our activities are self-organised, self-attended, and usually require a good deal of social and emotional resilience to cope with, let alone enjoy. Activities with old friends can be pretty thin on the ground as so many of their lives now revolve around their own families, and so often we find ourselves in a room full of people we barely know, doing our best to ‘make an effort’.
For example, a (now quiet) blog that I used to be a big fan of The Bitter Babe (tagline: Never Married, Over Forty, Slightly Bitter) shared the author’s exhausting schedule of a full-on job, theatre groups, dance classes, gym, and internet dating… Just reading it used to make me want to lie down in a dark room with a damp cloth on my forehead!
There was a period in my life a decade ago when I found myself living alone, working alone, not in a relationship, childless and pet-less. I didn’t plan it but, rather like the perfect storm, the circumstances crept up on me to form a tsunami of isolation. Of loneliness. (There, loneliness, another word we’re not allowed to say out loud).
I had chosen to live alone after several years of renting bedrooms in other people’s homes after my divorce. I also chose not to date as I’d been in a relationship almost continuously since I was a teenager (including being with my ex-husband for sixteen years) and felt bruised and uninspired by it all. But I didn’t choose to be childless, pet-less or to be working alone at home. Things collided: a business partnership went sour, my landlord wouldn’t allow pets, my infertility and unwise choices in partners post-divorce had left me childless, and most of my friends were wrapped up with partners and/or children.
It was possibly the toughest period of my adult life, and I thought my divorce was as bad as things could get. But nothing prepared me for the sense of dissolving into oblivion that I experienced in that isolation. It made me understand why solitary confinement is used as a form of punishment.
I was haunted by what I called ‘the void’ – a visceral sense of being engulfed by my own subjectivity. It was absolutely exhausting just ‘being me’.
When I’d go out for a drink with the few friends that were available, I’d encourage them to talk about their own lives as much as possible; when they’d protest that they had been talking about themselves too much I’d say, “No, please carry on! You’ve no idea how bored I am of the inside of my own head!” And I meant it.
Solitude and isolation are very different beasts. I have always loved solitude and was happy playing alone as a child as my imagination was pretty good company. But isolation is different – isolation is unchosen. However, with the support of a gifted therapist, and the insights gained from my ongoing training to become a psychotherapist, I weathered the storm. And when I surfaced I found that the void was nothing to be scared of and that, rather than engulfing me, it actually contained power, joy and creativity. Making space for this darkness in my life regenerated me in a profound way.
I wanted to share a video with you that I found during my dark night of the soul, and which alternately annoyed me and uplifted me, depending on how I was feeling that day. Filmed by Andrea Dorfman in Nova Scotia, it features Canadian poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis, and it’s had over 8 million hits on YouTube. Yep, that’s 8 million other people who can’t say that sometimes they’re lonely either…
Since I came to terms with not having children, the whole tone of my life has changed. I’m no longer waiting for it to start, or for someone to help me get it started.
I’ve understood that for me, creativity equals meaning, and that meaning is what I was craving. What I was missing. What I was mourning. I thought only a child could fill this space, but I was wrong. Although there will always be a scar on my heart from my childlessness, it’s one I’ve since learned how to live with. A scar is very different from a wound.
I’ve learned that meaningful work, contact with other childless women (online and in-person) and friendships (old and new) are what sustain me, and so I nurture them.
NOW, WHY NOT…
Watch Jody’s 2022 TEDxGateway talk ‘Social Plankton: Why Single Non-Mothers are the Fuel of the Future‘ and/or her 2017 TEDxHull talk, ‘The Lost Tribe of Childless Women‘.
Download a free chapter of my book, Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children (2nd Ed. 2020. Bluebird/Pan Mac)
Come and make new local childless friends at a Lighthouse Gathering – organized via our online community Lighthouse Women, these are local, members-only in-person (and/or online) social groups in the UK, Ireland, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia & New Zealand
Book a place on a Gateway Women Reignite Weekend – our friendly, life-changing transformational weekend for childless women looking to embrace the life unexpected (UK/EU, USA/CAN, AUS/NZ).
Explore Gateway Women’s global resource list including books, blogs and organisations including books on dealing with loneliness and the experience of the single & childless woman
Listen to some of Jody’s many inspiring podcast interviews and get your preconceptions about what childless women ‘are like’ changed!
Check out our role model gallery of more than 600 inspiring childless and childfree women – there are so many ways to live a life without children other than the disempowering stereotypes we meet in the media