Introversion, existentialism and the older, single woman.

Yesterday, I was thinking about being a life long single woman without children. Only 15% of the US population is made up of single women. It suddenly occured to me that I have lived my entire adult life in a “purely female inner world.” The first popular feminist of the modern age was Simone de Beauvoir, who was also a life long single woman who never had children. When she wrote her book, The Second Sex, in the 1940’s, very few women were college educated and living single, independent lives. Given that the percentage of single women is still so small, and that women living alone is a very recent historical phenomena, it stands to reason that this would be a rather difficult position from which to navigate one’s life. The televison show, Sex and the City, was popular, in part, because it showed the challenges single women face in managing their lives alone. But, much to my dismay, the series ended with all four characters partnered. I thought Ugly Betty was actually a much more positive representation of a single woman’s life. At the end of the series, she was still single and was moving forward in her life as a highly skilled and competent magazine editor. Looking back over my life, I don’t know if I actually chose to be alone, or if this was simply part of my destiny. One does have free will, but it is not only one’s ego or will that determines the course of events. It sometimes seems like my solitary life was preordained, that I was chosen to be in the vanguard of a certain type of evolutionary process. In her book, The Change, Germaine Greer is highly critical of de Beauvoir’s later work, in which she complains about getting old. But now that I am getting old myself, I understand and sympathize with the place de Beauvoir was writing from. Older women who married and/or have children, experience aging from a different perspective than a single woman. I am not implying here that either experience is better or worse, but am just trying to point out that the experience is different. I am very aware that popular culture tries to gloss over the aging challenges of the older, single, childless woman by promoting the adoption of social activities that involve traveling or volunteering, or anything that falls into the general category of “being active.” The message seems to be that this type of woman needs to get out and be around other people or she will be viewed as pathetically lonely. This advice does not take into consideration the fact that single women do not easily and naturally fit in with married couples or that a single woman will automatically feel comfortable around the “mostly extroverted” people who enjoy group activities. I once went on a cruise to Mexico and felt extremely alone despite the fact that there were many activities to be involved in on the ship. I suppose this is an example of how some people can experience the feeling of loneliness most acutely when they are in the midst of a crowd. In general, when I feel lonely, it not because of a lack of companionship, but rather a lack of representation of people like me in society. It is the lack of seeing “my kind, my group, my clan/tribe/counter culture” represented in the world around me, or worse, the pain of seeing “my kind” ridiculed and shamed. I recently watched a British movie called, Another Year. It was about a long time married couple’s relationship with an older, single woman friend. Throughout the movie the married couple kept trying to find ways to more comfortably relate to the single woman. But over and over, their attempts to forge a deeper friendship failed. At one point the couple decided that the easiest way to get the single woman out of their life was to hook her up with one of their single, male friends. What struck me as I was watching the movie was the implicit assumption that the single woman’s “singleness” was a problem that needed to be solved. And, the simplest answer to this was, of course, to pair her up. But the single woman wanted and expected to be friends with the couple as she was. I have experienced this several times when single woman friends get married. All of a sudden, my singleness is perceived as a “deficiency.” One of these women actually hooked me up with her ex-husband in order to, in her words, “make both of us feel better.” But after going out for awhile, neither her husband or I felt any better, or missed her company any less. One of the definitions for an existential feminist is: “A female who makes considered choices regarding her way of life and suffers the anxiety associated with that freedom, isolation, or nonconformity, yet remains free, demonstrates the tenets of existentialism.” Many of the books and articles about single women focus on the superficial aspects of single life, but for me, being a life long single woman is really not about these superficial things, it is about having made a choice to live apart from the dominant culture as a free, lone, female. I don’t need condenscending platitudes from talking heads about how to make the best of my single life. What I need are intelligent, well-thought out philosophical discussions on female freedom in the modern world.

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18 thoughts on “Introversion, existentialism and the older, single woman.

  1. Great post; I shared it on Facebook and it resonated with a single, childless, middle aged man, who said he felt the same way. As women, we might think that men are exempt from social pressure to pair off, but perhaps they are not. Regardless, thank you for putting your experience into words. I can see heads nodding around the world.

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  2. I am a 52 year old introvert male that has never married, and I have likewise encountered much of the same things as you have. I probably would marry or live with the right lady, but so far the jobs that I have had prevented me from having a social life. How does an introvert guy find an intelligent introvert country lady?

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  3. Beautifully articulated. I could have written that bit about “my kind, my group” myself. So true. And don’t forget that some of us who are single and childless now may have once embarked on marriage briefly before realizing that it wasn’t for us. Just because I haven’t remained single all my life doesn’t mean I’m not truly single at heart. Excellent post.

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  4. Although I’m married I can relate completely. I am not just introvert, I’m a loner and it seems to “deepen” as I grow older. My take on relationship now is really that I’d like to lead my own life sharing the house with a nice person, and the last bit isn’t a requirement – as in, if he decided to move out I wouldn’t go looking, I’m very much self contained. And yet I always seem to have to answer to those who diagnose me with social phobia, telling me it would be good for me to go out and do/see things that aren’t even remotely interesting to me. I’m not shy, I can talk up a storm to any stranger in a supermarket. I make people laugh. But I’m really tired of having to defend my proirities…

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    1. Thank you for calling yourself a loner and saying you are tired of having to defend your priorities. The social stigma of being alone, being a loner, and wanting/needing private, personal space needs to end. I am not shy either and have no social phobia, yet I feel pressured to be “out around people.”

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  5. Beautifully written & thoughtful. I’m not a lifelong single but, in my case, I feel as though I’m always bumping up against the tyranny of scheduling. I enjoy spontaneity. And it’s always irked me that married people are sometimes afforded an enhanced social status, as if they have a seal of approval because they are partnered. Married or single, who cares if you enjoy one another’s company and share interests? Cheers.

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  6. Great post. I can relate. As a fellow introvert I am glad I have stumbled across such an interesting blog. I will keep reading.

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  7. I just found this blog. I have not married and no kids either, though I’ve been “paired” at various times (currently not) but oh it does grate me when married people are condescending about their “togetherness” and my respective “aloneness”. But what bothers me the most is that when good women friends who previously would talk to me about anything and everything get married, they often stop talking to me about their inner lives, as if now that they have “found” their person, they no longer need me to talk to…. ? I don’t know but I don’t get it. I accept it I guess, but as soon as I think someone is “feeling sorry for me” about being alone, I retreat.

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  8. I truly don’t understand people who exclude others because of relationship status. I think it’s cruel and I think it’s narrow minded and boring. I am a 48 year old woman who has not been married but has had my share of love relationships. I’ve been single many years and need lots of alone time. Single or not I would never ever reject anyone who is single! I would never even think to make them feel odd or weird or anything. I don’t think being single is necessarily a horrid state or coupled bliss. To me single people make life more interesting and fun…more often more fun than marrieds that is for sure! I have a sister…one who is not friendly or kind to me. After she had kids she not only excluded all non childed persons but she also rejected a girlfriend because her kids were older! My goodness…I am not that way at all.

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