The Real Problem for single women in their '40s
What Yael Wolfe writes below is reasonable but unrealistic: Totally out of touch with the modern world.
She rightly sees a small, closed community as being an effective form of support for all the people in it. And she sees that as a viable alternative to monogamy. I have sad news for her. That ain't going to happen in the modern world
She overlooks the fact -- and I myself grew up in a small, rather closed traditional community -- that such communities require a lot of tolerance and conformity. You have no privacy and reduced freedoms in all sorts of ways.
And I don't want to be too invidious here but the sort of closed, mutually aware and culturally homogeneous communities that she idealizes do still exist in Australia -- among Aborigines. And the level of violence towards women and children in such communities is phenomenal. Stereotypes of traditional societies can be most misleading.
And it is to avoid the limits of traditional society that the modern nuclear family has evolved.
So it follows that many single women in their 40s will inevitably be uncomfortably isolated socially. What is to be done about that?
Many older women find a satisfactory solution in the form of a network of friends. And those friends do help and support one-another. That can be satisfactory most of the time but it is no substitute for the support that a live-in lover can give. When you literally fall over, who is there to help you up? Who is there to cry out to?
So with or without a network of supportive friends, women do have at least some incentive to develop satisfactory physical relationships. But how to go about it? That is the besetting problem for most people today. Good relationships and hence good partners are hard to come by. I am sorry to say it, but the only real solution for most people is tolerance and compromise.
I have a rather joyous relationship with my present partner but we both had to make big compromises to achieve that. It would be inappropriate to go into detail here but perhaps I could mention that she grew up in Europe and still speaks English so badly that I don't get rather a lot of what she says to me. But with goodwill, even that problem can be overcome. To do so has been well worth it
So perhaps Yael Wolfe could look for the good in the "buffoons" she despises and work with what is available. We all have our limitations and it behooves us to respect the limitations in others
Last month, a 46-year-old woman posted a video of herself on TikTok sharing a tearful story about her impending surgery and how much it has brought the pain she feels about being single into focus.
Her problem? She has no one to take care of her but her mother and sister and it clearly causes her distress, as she chokes up at one point so much, she has to pause the recording. She says she still needs her mama, still needs her sister, and you can sense the shame she feels around that.
She later goes on to admit that all her lighthearted jokes about the “buffoons” she encounters in the dating world are actually covering up immense pain, because that’s the “shit” that’s available to her at this point in life when, as she explains, most of the “good men” got married in their twenties and thirties.
When this video went viral, it particularly caught my attention. I am, after all, also 46 and single and have been known to have an occasional breakdown over the lack of partner support in my life.
I watched in horror as the first wave of misogynistic responses hit, in which countless people assumed she was choosy, demanding, crazy, slutty, or just plain stupid which is why she was single at 46 and why she goddamn deserved it.
Yep. We middle-aged, never-been-married gals know exactly what it’s like to be criticized, judged, psycho-analyzed, and berated by everyone from family members to strangers who all assume that our singleness is a problem — and a problem that we created. And you know how that goes…you made your bed, hon, now you gotta sleep in it.
(As if any of this would ever cross our minds had she been a single 46-year-old man.)
But after the angry villagers quieted, no doubt finding someone else to target with their ire and pitchforks, those of us who still had this video on our minds witnessed the second wave of responses from the cultural analysts, the armchair psychologists, the feminists, and the Virgos.
They talked about why her feelings are valid. They pointed out the misogyny her post inspired. They re-debated whether or not marriage has been unfairly vilified. They commiserated about the challenges of being a single woman in a culture that treats single women like second-class citizens.
Important conversations grew from the brave vulnerability this woman displayed. And yet, I’m not convinced that we haven’t entirely missed the real problem.
Once upon a time ago, humans lived in egalitarian communities. No, not neighborhoods. No, not nuclear families led by a man. Egalitarian communities.
Many people are convinced, thanks to clever propaganda, that humans have always lived the way we live today: in a patriarchal hierarchy organized into nuclear families born to heterosexual, monogamous couples.
This is simply not true.
Scientists have been reinforcing patriarchal theories about early humans that mirror and reinforce our modern-day social hierarchies, even in the face of mounting evidence that early humans were polyamorous and lived in clans that actively enforced gender equality. Children were raised by the group, rather than one set of biological parents. Resources and labor were shared. And sexual bonds overlapped.
These social structures achieved a goal for which modern humans should be grateful: the survival of the human race.
Ifan early human were to time travel into the modern world, she would not recognize what she’s seeing.
I’m not talking about technology, or a skyline altered by the silhouettes of skyscrapers, or the sartorial evolution of humankind. I’m talking simply about our social structures.
Two parents and their children living alone in tiny, isolated tribes? Sexual relationships that exist in vacuums, bound by legal contracts, that are supposed to thrive over the course of three to seven decades? An absence of the consistent presence of older generations? Working all hours of the day in order to procure resources that will only benefit a handful of people?
And what happens to the people who were not favored by the fickle hand of fate and did not get the chance to opt into couplehood? That’s a lot of solitary people who just ended up outside the tribe.
And how does today’s culture look upon them? Tough luck, sister. You had your chance and you blew it.
Our time-traveling early human would shake her head. This is not how a species survives.
Asa middle-aged single woman, I can tell you that getting sick, or being physically vulnerable (i.e. recovering from surgery) is one of my worst nightmares.
Being ill or physically impaired in any way as a single woman is a special kind of hell. We are already living our lives without the benefit of the emotional support that our coupled contemporaries have, struggling to pay the same bills that couples struggle to pay but without a partner’s second income, and often feeling pressure to do more than our fair share of labor at work or within our families of origin (i.e. taking care of aging parents because we allegedly have so much more time on our hands than our married siblings).
And then we get sick, and it all comes crashing down.
There are no social supports for single women recovering from injury, surgery, or illness. There is no one around to cook for us. Check on us. Call an ambulance in an emergency. Help us get around.
When I had the flu in 2016, I was so violently ill, I couldn’t stand up long enough to cook for myself and by Day 4, I was so weak, I fell and blacked out on my way to get a glass of water.
I suffered through Covid last year all by myself, curled into a ball of agony for ten hours, desperate for the comforting presence of another person to comb their fingers through my hair and assure me that everything was going to be okay.
And I recently endured an on-again-off-again illness that flattened me for the better part of three weeks, during which time I had to drive myself to the grocery store in the midst of a 101-degree fever so I could pick up some medication, and had to stop mid-aisle and bend over in order to keep from passing out. I cried when I got back in the car and realized I still had to make it home, somehow.
So yes. There’s a reason why 46-year-old women are crying in their cars.
But it isn’t because we’re single. It’s because our modern-day social structures are broken.
Let me be clear: this woman has my sincerest compassion. I have been there. I will be there again. This isn’t easy.
But I think she has misidentified the problem.
There is no problem in her life that was caused by her singleness, including needing help after surgery. Everyone needs help. Everyone needs care. Everyone needs social support. Everyone needs a safety net, backup plan, and yes, an occasional caregiver.
This woman seems to feel ashamed that she has to rely on her mother and sister for this care, instead of a husband. This is actually a good thing — there is nothing wrong with relying on our family of origin for help and support. This is how it was meant to be.
But in our culture, there is only one acceptable way to receive support: through a monogamous marriage. Anything else — particularly when it comes to women — is seen as a failure.
I’d also like to point out that this woman basically explained one of the fundamental reasons why she’s in this position in the first place, though without realizing it. Lamenting about her experiences with the “buffoons” she’s dated is a very real issue that countless women are facing today. Dating culture is toxic for women — nearly every abuse is excused or rationalized away. And that’s the product of a society that hates women. That is not her fault, nor any other woman’s fault.
But worrying about missing the boat with all those “good men” who got married in their twenties and thirties? I have to question that. What does “good man” even mean? A man who doesn’t treat women like shit? I hate to say it, but I know plenty of husbands, the ones who got married in their twenties and thirties, who treat their wives like garbage.
Further, we know for a fact that half the men who got married then (or at any other time in life) will be divorced at some point, so really, there’s no such thing as missing the boat when it comes to finding a life partner.
This woman’s singlehood is not the problem. The problem is that our culture has literally turned its back on single women. It keeps us close enough to benefit from all the extra labor we perform in the workforce and our families of origin, but it makes sure to let us know that it isn’t going to be there to support us when we need help.
Look at the evidence: We don’t teach people to check on their single friends when they’re sick. We don’t think to leave a pot of chicken soup at their door or offer to pick up some groceries for them. We don’t even text them every morning to make sure they’re still alive (yeah, I’m kinda serious) and reassure them that they are on our minds.
We’re taught to spend our time prioritizing the care of our husbands and children. Our single friends made their beds, remember? I mean, no offense, but who has time for that?
Would early humans have done this? Just left someone who was ill or injured to be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger? I suppose they might have, depending upon the severity of the circumstances. But I suspect that typically, everyone banded together and took care of one another. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t still be here a couple million years later.
Today, though, all it takes to show a single woman where she stands in the hierarchy is one bout of Covid or a simple operation. Then we discover that we’ve been left in the woods while the tribe moved on to more fertile ground.
We can lament all we want about not having a partner to stay behind and help us — god knows, that’s a totally legitimate response. But really, we ought to spend our time pondering how our social bonds became so rigid and callous.
We’ll fare just fine without a spouse, after all. But we’ll never survive without community.