I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me? By Glynnis MacNicol
As to this editorial below – I for one never cared much if I had children or not. I just wanted to be married.
So I am more than a little puzzled or annoyed by societal attitudes that assume I am pitiable because I don’t have children, or that I must not know my own preferences or my own mind.
Since I turned 40 I’ve encountered disbelief that I could possibly be enjoying my own life. But then there’s the other unexpected gift of this age: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions.
By Glynnis MacNicol
July 5, 2018
A few months before my 42nd birthday, I was out to dinner with friends and found myself seated next to a well-known older male writer.
I happened to be in the final stages of finishing a proposal for a memoir about being a single woman over 40 without children, and was inwardly marveling at the timing of our encounter. I was a fan of his. Perhaps he might offer some wisdom? Words of encouragement?
As drinks were delivered I sketched the outline of the story: No one had prepared me for how exhilarating life could be on my own. I was traveling all the time, doing what I wanted, when I wanted, released from the fear of the clock that had dogged me through my 30s.
Conversely, no one had warned me of the ways in which it would actually be difficult; my mother had been very ill, for instance, and part of the book was about caring for her.
No sooner had I finished than the famous writer placed his glass firmly on the white tablecloth, leaned back and declared: “Glynnis MacNicol, you have a terrible life!”
….I again faced a dilemma I’d been struggling with since turning 40: how to counter other people’s disbelief that I, single and child-free, could possibly be enjoying my own life.
It’s a particularly frustrating Catch-22 for 21st-century ladies of a certain age. If I insisted that I really was having a great time, I was a lady who doth protest too much (men never seem to doth too much in this regard). Politely allow the assumption that I was in a pitiable state, satisfied by the fact that I knew better? That just perpetuated the problem.
I encounter this type of disbelief frequently — and nearly as often from women, although rarely expressed in such a wonderfully direct way.
A year earlier I’d mentioned to an acquaintance that I found it amusing that my married friends often expressed envy over my large new apartment — and that I live in it alone — and was gently told, “they were just being nice,” to make me feel better (I assume about the fact that I was alone).
There was my best friend’s wedding, a few days after I turned 40, when, happily surrounded by my oldest, closest friends, I was assured I shouldn’t worry because “there’s still time.” (This from a guest to whom I’d just been introduced.)
…For a long time I did brush these remarks off. Yet another unexpected gift of my 40s: just how little concern I have for others’ opinions about me. But it’s wearing thin. And increasingly I find myself frustrated by the belief that I, a reasonably successful person by most measures, do not know my own mind.