If you are a single woman of a certain age with no children, or if you are curious about the lives of such people, I have a memoir for you: Glynnis MacNicol’s No One Ever Tells You This. I’ll have a lot more to say about the book eventually. For now, I wanted to share some of the author’s insights and observations about single life.
Single at weddings
Here are some of MacNicol’s thoughts as her close friend Mauri was getting married and she was contemplating the toast she would give:
“I wasn’t envious of Mauri. If anything, I was envious of our past lives together, and I was mourning a life I was losing. The resentment, I’d realized, was rooted in the fact that I never had any control over this upending of my life…The fact that no one acknowledged that I had anything to be upset about made it all that much worse. It was hard work to root yourself so deeply in life that you could still love people and rely on them, knowing at any point they could made decisions that would leave you scrambling to find solid ground again. This was the better or worse of friendship, undeclared.”
The gist of the wedding toast she gave, where “we” refers to a group of close friends: “We are really the ones giving you away. And it’s hard. And I will miss our life. And I am still so happy for your happiness. And so proud of you.”
The married stranger who feels sorry for you
Here’s a scene from a wedding that I bet many single people will recognize. The “she” in the story is another guest at the wedding who has just learned that MacNicol is single: “She leaned in and placed her hand reassuringly on mine. ‘And don’t worry, dear,’ she said conspiratorially. ‘I know it will still happen for you. There’s still time.’”
The author’s response: “…I found myself resisting the urge to laugh…at the suddenly absurd idea that I was running out of time. I was no longer running, I realized. I was off the clock.” She told the woman, “I think it’s going to be pretty great even if it doesn’t happen.” The woman seemed confused: “…it had likely never occurred to her I could be feeling anything but bad. It hadn’t really started to occur to me until a few days ago.”
What is the comparable occasion for single people?
“…was [I] always going to be a guest star, forever celebrating the milestones of others without ever starring in my own. What cultural markers were there for women other than weddings and babies?”
Single at funerals
MacNicol described the pain of having no one there beside her at her mother’s funeral. “But,” she added, “even now, facing this worst moment alone, I didn’t feel like a failure. I felt like a warrior.”
The people in the single person’s life: Who does spouse things if you are not married?
“…I’d managed to split many of the so-called duties of a partner between a circle of friends. I was the other woman in their lives, and together they combined to make the perfect husband in mine. They loved and supported and understood me. For better or worse. Always.”
Should you build your life so as to avert a feared outcome that may never happen?
Single people are relentlessly taunted about bad things that might happen to them. What if they regret their decisions (for example, to not have kids)? Aren’t they worried about dying alone? Here are a few examples of what Glynnis MacNicol has to say about those kinds of questions.
Would she regret not having kids? Maybe. “But it seemed to me that going through life making decisions on what I might possibly feel in a future that may or may not come about was a bad way to live.”
About people saying they don’t want to die alone: “So many women I knew made decisions in fear of that outcome. As if dying alone were anything but timing and luck.”
“…life was not a savings plan, accrued now for enjoyment later. I was alive now.”
The revelation: Single life is a good life
When a friend asked MacNicol what she wanted, she answered, “Maybe I just like being alone.” Later, she added, “For the first time it crossed my mind that being alone could be a good thing, and not evidence that I was defective.”
Then she realized that the fulfillment she found in single life was not so new: “Had I always actually just preferred to be on my own and not known that was something I could be without it being something I should feel ashamed about?”
After spending some time alone in Wyoming: “I’d discovered that left on my own, away from phones and magazine racks, I was quite thrilled with who I’d turned myself into, and quite up for the task of navigating whatever came next, whatever it was.”