With this letter, I think I'm addressing an issue me and a number of my female friends are facing ... and there are probably more of us out there.
I'm a 42-year-old woman and have never been married, which often surprises the people I meet. I have the usual list of attributes ... attractive, kind, quite intelligent and with a warm and loving heart. I'm educated, cosmopolitan, responsible and self-sufficient ... a very normal, grounded woman who grew up in a loving home.
Why didn't it ever happen for me? I don't know ... I have been looking for a good man since my 20s and have always wanted to marry -- I didn't put career first or any of the usual excuses. I guess it is a combination of choosing the wrong men (or having them choose me), having high expectations, or maybe just plain bad luck. I was never willing to settle. I wanted a husband who was my equal, whom I was compatible with, and whom I could love and respect with all of my heart, as he would me. I didn't think this would be impossible -- many women find Mr. Right -- I just didn't and it never worked out with the men I was with. My friends have a similar profile, and are in the same predicament.
Now the problem. I do not want to be, or like, being single and sometimes I look at a future that seems empty and desolate and it frightens me. There are days when I don't know how to go on -- the sadness runs so deep. I have started to withdraw from friends and acquaintances who have a husband and children -- I feel like the odd one out, and the one who is to be pitied. I won't go to my high-school/college reunions for the same reason. It seems more acceptable to be divorced with kids than having never been married. Dating? After my last disappointment, I assume no one wants to settle down with a 40-something-year-old woman -- an eligible man will invariably choose a younger, more attractive option to date and marry. And the fact that I am too old for children causes me a quiet but intense feeling of grief.
All of this basically makes me feel like the train of life left the station and I'm still on the platform.
I guess my question is, what meaning is there to life without a husband and family? Please don't tell me to travel, do volunteer work, have a rewarding career, etc., etc. I have done all that. I have been all over the world and visited my "dream destinations," I have lived overseas for several years, I have seen wonders both natural and man-made. I currently live in probably the most exciting city in the U.S., if not the world, I have a career, I've gotten my master's degree, I've done volunteer work, I attend church, I have friends and family. Yes, all of this is nice, but my life feels empty, hollow and meaningless. I would have traded it all to have had a normal life with a wonderful husband and kids, and a home. I feel adrift, purposeless and like my life is finished ... though it never even really got started.
How do I find some meaning and purpose in my life? And how do I reconcile the life I have now with with the one I expected, when they are so very different? And how do I face a future that seems like an empty void ... no husband, no children, no grandchildren. Nothing.
Husbandless and Empty
She's not alone in her predicament. A report in the Daily Mail today shows that 20% of women in the UK have missed out on having children. The percentage amongst the university educated will be much higher.
In Australia, for instance, a 2003 research paper showed that the rate of childlessness amongst women with a bachelor's degree was double the average. One third of Australian women with an income over $50,000 ended up childless.
In Canada, a 2009 research paper found that childlessness rose with the level of a woman's education: 11% for women with a high school education and 25% for the university educated.
Most of these women did not want to end up childless:
The intention to be childfree is low among the young. Using the 2001 Canadian General Social Survey on Family History, Stobert and Kemeny (2003) estimate that the proportion intending to remain childfree stays constant at 6 to 9 percent for men and women aged 20-34.
So what goes wrong? Clearly, one factor is a failure to marry. It's still the case that married women are much, much more likely to have children than women who are either single or in de facto relationships. In Canada, 12% of married women ended up childless compared to 26% of women in de facto relationships and 60% of single women.
So you might think that something as important as marriage and family formation would be given a high priority and that women (and men) would be raised to cultivate the kinds of qualities needed for family life. But that doesn't happen as much now. Family formation has almost become an afterthought - something to be delayed for as long as possible. It's left to take care of itself, whilst people dedicate themselves to other life pursuits.
And here's one final thought. Miss Husbandless and Empty wanted a man who was her equal, by which she presumably means a man who had at least her level of education and professional attainment. She wasn't willing to settle for anything less.
But this means that she should have been worried by the social trends which have seen more women than men in higher education and in the workforce. It stands to reason that if women refuse to "settle" by marrying men with lower educational or professional qualifications, at a time when women are earning an ever higher percentage of college degrees, that there will be many more disappointed women wondering why they never met Mr Right.