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When does a woman go from being single to unmarried?

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Jessica Downey

Coffee addict. The serial single girl. Jessica will give you the what’s what on single life and dating in Chicago.

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A few days ago I posted about how I am not looking to just get married but to also fall in love. It was a post that was very personal to me and I felt good about it. Well apparently from an article I have seen bouncing around, I need to watch myself because I only have about a decade or so before I move from being single to being unmarried. Honestly, I wasn't even aware that there was a time that women went from being unmarried to single. Clearly you learn something new everyday,

In her New York Times column, Maureen Dowd talks about how White House officials chose to label 50-year-old Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan as unmarried (rather than single) to kill the idea that she was gay. Apparently, as Dowd points out, society generally doesn't consider a woman in her 40s or 50s to be single any longer but rather unmarried (men still get to be single at this age though so don't worry fellas).

I guess I am not really understanding why at the age of 40 or 50 we really need to make a distinction. If you are single (whether it be at 20, 30, 40 or 80) shouldn't you be able to say just that?

And yes, I know who really cares if they call you unmarried or single. After all, if you are single you are unmarried and vice versa right? Well, it's not really that simple. Unmarried to me kind of has a negative undertone. It's almost as if people want to point out the fact that a woman is not married. I mean clearly why wouldn't anyone want to be married at that age?

Though who can really say that a woman that is 40 or 50 doesn't still have the desire to get married? Sure I get the whole having kids thing because there is a certain age where women stop having kids, you know, since it becomes biologically impossible. But why is marriage grouped in there? Oh wait, I get it she focused on her career so she just didn't put in the effort to date. Really? Are we still making that claim for women? Isn't that a little 1997?

Can't a woman get married at any age and then therefore still have the desire to get married at any age? Why is there suddenly this idea that she's missed her opportunity or that she was too busy for other stuff? Perhaps she is still waiting for the guy that truly makes her happy. Maybe she's just dated a lot of douche bags (yes that happens at any age).

Who says a woman isn't still desirable for marriage at 40 or 50? I constantly read things about how 30 is the new 20 so when did age suddenly dictate desirability? It doesn't. You can be fabulous at any age. And let me just add that I know some women around this "unmarried" age that are quite fabulous and still single.

So what are women supposed to do here? I mean should you go out and get married to the first man that comes along? At least that way if you get a divorce you can say you were once married (and clearly that has got to be better than never married, right?).

Also, I am not sure if I like what this says about single women under their 40s either. If a woman eventually becomes too old to be called single doesn't that kind of imply that being single is immature? I guess being single is all about being young and fun. Sure, I enjoy my vodka and tonics with a splash of cranberry and all but I can assure you that has nothing to do with being single (or being under 40).

Single is single no matter what age you are.

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8 Comments

Erin Keane said:

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Great post Jess. I'm with you. Why are middle-aged, single men considered career bachelors and women old maids? I guess part of it is anthropology, but intellectually we're way past that. I can't wait until our generation gets into power-gone will be the staid stigmas of career women being lesbians because children aren't their priority.

Jessica Downey said:

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Thank you Erin ! Part of it is the whole label thing. Society is obsessed with what to call you or where you fit in. Though, I will never get why it's cool and sexy for a guy to be a middle-aged bachelor but women are sad and frumpy.

singleinmy30s said:

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It's fascinating how we suddenly go from single, sexy and desirable to being unfortunate unmarried old maids. As much as I love my married friends and I know they love me, I still get the sense that they think my single status reflects an immaturity, a fear of commitment or just plain being fickle.

The truth is, I have dated some douche bags. I have dated some men who turned out to just simply be wrong for me. I have been out there in the game very much looking for a life partner. I'd like to think I am much closer to having found him now than ever before.

But if I don't marry in the next, say 8 years, I don't like the idea of considering myself a "failure" at relationships. I know that I'm not. I am just taking whatever time it takes to make sure I find the right man for me. I can be a successful, powerful and fabulous woman, whether single or not.

Jessica Downey said:

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You are absolutely right! Thank you for such an awesome comment! Being single is not about being afraid of relationships or being picky or immature (I often get the same feeling as well). I think it's great that you have realized that some men just aren't for you or douche bags, some people never do. I often wonder why people assume that those that are married, even those that are married to the wrong person, are more successful at relationships than a person that is single. That's never made sense to me.

dazediva said:

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This is a brilliant post.

Society has this way of pushing stigmas on to people; and trust me being a part of the Indian community - it gets thrown on from all angles.

Being single is a choice that each of us have (male or female) and its our right to exercise that choice. Just because I haven't found a man that I can see myself waking up next to for the next decade does not mean I don't want to or will never get married. It just means that I haven't found the guy I want to spend my life with.

Society deems it acceptable for men to be bachelors until they are old, wrinkly, grey and pot bellied ! But heaven forbid a woman is single past 30 (this is in Indian societies) then all hell will break loose ! She's suddenly become 'not so attractive' even if she's the hottest woman in the room because her age deems her too old to be married !

Sexist I tell ya !! societies are sexiest in ways they can't even begin to comprehend

Jessica Downey said:

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Thank you so much! It is totally sexist (and really annoying) and I don't think people realize it at all. Sometimes I think that people feel women should just feel lucky to have a man that wants them. But if the feeling isn't mutual how can you feel lucky and how is that even fair to the man? I am far from picky, but I genuinely want to be with a man that I adore and love (silly me).

Liyhann said:

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I'm so angry I can barely get through all these posts. In fact, I only skimmed them. It is downright irresponsible to be saying that there is no truth to these time worn platitudes about women and their marriage status. It is absolutely true that most single middle-aged women ARE sad and frumpy. If you are not married by thirty you ARE being fickle, immature and fickle! The people that DON'T "realize it all" are the idiot 20 somethings who think that if they only wait, "Prince Mr. Right Charming" will come along. What I've learned after 3 years dating and then 13 years married to a great guy that I left to find my "real Mr. Wonderful" and then 16 years of abject aging loneliness is that there IS NO MR. RIGHT. What all those marrieds have figured out much quicker than you, is that it is all about a "Mr. & Mrs. Wonderful Way we work on our marriage." In other words, it has nothing to do with the person you choose and everything to do with the commitment you both make to each other to stick it out. It is very very VERY sad, that people run around claiming to be "happy I'm single" or "I have a right to wait for Mr. Right!!" And then you suck other women into your little fantasy land and then they, too, are STUCK one day OLD & FRUMPY. You have no idea how horrible it is to be alone and unmarried or single or divorced or wtf ever at age 50. Stop this crap and encourage each other to look seriously at guys that are interested in YOU. STOP LOOKING FOR MR. GODDAM RIGHT! The world is the way it is for more reason that philosophies about what "should" be. Wake up! Even if you are in your 30s. There is STILL time for you!

Jessica Downey said:

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I think it is unfair of you to make such harsh statements, especially when you openly admit that you only skimmed the comments here. None of the comments really had anything to do with finding Mr. Right (at least not in the Prince Charming Mr. Right sort of way), nor did my post. It was more about the negative label that is attached to women who are not married at a certain age.

I also think you are making some pretty harsh assumptions about the way that I live my life and the way that single women in general live their lives. I am almost 30 and I am far from fickle. For me, it is not about finding the perfect guy and I am not single because I dump guys for silly things like being too short or wearing the wrong shoes. I just want to find a guy that I am genuinely happy with, that is Mr. Right to me. I don’t think it fair to be with a guy just because he is interested in me.

Of course marriage is about making things work, but just because you are married that doesn’t mean that you magically have a happy life (or a happy marriage). It also doesn’t mean that the person that you are married to is putting in the effort to make it work either.

There are plenty of middle aged women that are far from sad and frumpy. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with anyone saying they are happy being single. Life works differently for everyone. It might work one way for you but an entirely different way for someone else. Life is far from black and white.

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