Preface: As my siblings and I continue to mull “what to do with Mom,” a discouraging refrain has begun to sound. Apparently, because I live alone and have an unorthodox work schedule, others tend to “volunteer” me as the most likely candidate to live with my mother. That is not feasible, primarily from an emotional standpoint: My mom and I are deeply, spiritually connected, but our earthly ways clash more often than not. What follows is what I hope can serve as an inroad to understanding: I know that my family is not alone in the decisions surrounding this stage of life.
Between the ages of 18 and 40, I was consistently coupled: Three longterm relationships occupied those decades—one of 5 years, one of nearly 6, and one of almost 10. The last and longest was, ironically, with a man 10 years younger than me. The first (and, truthfully, still mourned) was with my college-and-slightly-beyond boyfriend; and the middle situation was deflating… and inarguably harmful to my physical and mental health.
So, as I entered my 40s, I found that I had very little steam left for opening and sharing my heart. I tried: speed dating; fix-ups; friends who perhaps could be more; co-workers; fellow students, etc. Of those, I allowed two men a glimpse of my vulnerabilities and desires: One turned out to be simultaneously involved with someone else; the other eventually revealed his less-than-serious intentions.
Yet, during this time, I had gone to massage school, opened a burgeoning practice, and soon thereafter began graduate school. Unfortunately, one week after I returned to school, my father became seriously ill; nine months later he was dead. School became a welcome focus, and I fared well; upon graduation, I earned the rarely given highest honor for academic achievement and promise.
Three months later, I began a Ph.D. program—something that I had, throughout my Master’s work, clearly stated was not part of my plan. And although I worked hard and well for my Master’s, it meant that I never fully grieved my dad’s passing. Six weeks into the doctorate program, I broke down, left school, and never returned. I was lost, scared, and disconnected.
After a couple of years of part-time work in various fields, I regained enough confidence and perspective to once again establish a massage business. That went well for a few years, until a hand injury forced me to step back. Once again, I was unmoored, but not entirely daunted. Within that same year, I began to acquire a number of petsitting clients, and a new business was born.
I recount this CV narrative, in order to demonstrate that a single woman’s life is not empty: On the contrary, we have more time to explore and undertake a wide range of pursuits. Our schedules may not match those of traditional families, but they are nonetheless occupied and active.
My experience with those who live within a more traditional framework—married, kids, 40-hour work weeks—is a disappointing one. At times, the disappointment gives way to resentment, if not outright anger. Through their eyes, I live a free-wheeling life, unencumbered by others’ needs: In their minds, should I not then be available to help them?
My response to that is that most of my adult life has been in the teaching and helping professions. My students and clients receive my expertise, my loyalty, and my compassion. We grow to respect each other mutually: Our lifestyles are not a factor in that equation.
When I am able to achieve objectivity with regard to others’ judgment surrounding my single status, I recognize that they are swamped: They may well wish that they had more time for their own dreams and goals, with less time spent carpooling or compromising. I thoroughly understand how that may be enervating.
While my singleness was not a choice initially, it has become one. After more than 10 years of purposely passing on looking for a mate, I no longer want one. I now can say that I choose singlehood.
And most who are married with kids and 9-5 jobs chose that route. As in other areas of life, each person has the right to choose. Whatever that framework may be, another aphorism persists: Live and let live. Because I have elected to live alone, cry alone, and rejoice alone does not mean I am friendless, and certainly not anti-social or unproductive. Because the betrothed share households, plans, and cars does not mean they are robots, or dreamless. If we can respect the choices of others, we each will come away with peace and perspective.