In her poignant new memoir Otherhood, Melanie Notkin writes about those of us on the receiving end of that question. And how, despite the fact that nearly half of all American women of childbearing age (married or not) do not have children of their own, we are often treated as an anomaly.
“The independent, childless woman does not feel like a qualified member of the social order,” Notkin writes, “But rather is made to feel hopeless, hapless and just plain old less than everyone else.”
As the fortysomething Savvy Auntie Founder powerfully articulates, women of the Otherhood are scrutinized for their choices — and continually a target for unsolicited (albeit well-intentioned) advice. In sharing her experiences and those of other women at this crossroads, Notkin provides a long overdue voice to this growing demographic. Along the way, she reveals a persistent gender-based double standard when it comes to expectations of settling down.
How much has been written over the years about Jennifer Aniston (pre-Justin) painting her as lonely and one step away from spinsterhood? Interestingly, no media outlet has portrayed the also unmarried George Clooney as worthy of sympathy or, for that matter, needing to change his dating style.
But when you’re a woman of a certain age, it seems like just about everyone has an opinion about why you are ‘still’ single and childless — and what you should do about it.
This unsolicited advice comes from both loved ones and strangers alike. Notkin encounters a potential business partner who doesn’t hesitate to tell her within minutes of meeting him what she needs to do if she wants to become a mother. I had a similar experience when my boss’s boss overheard me mentioning a recent date.
“You better hurry up and meet someone before your eggs dry up,” he said bluntly.
As if I needed reminding of that. There’s no shortage of media and pop culture warnings for women that our fertility has an expiration date. Or, for that matter, assumptions about why you’re childless.
“If you wanted to have children,” a friend’s wife insisted, “You would have by now.”
In Otherhood, Notkin talks about this tendency to blame single, childless women for being too picky, too career focused, etc. We are often lumped into one of two categories: single by choice, living a Sex And The City lifestyle, or miserable and desperate to find a mate.
As Notkin observes, the reality for most of us isn’t so black and white. We are living full, productive lives. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want someone to share it all with, or that we haven’t tried to find a mate.
Otherhood beautifully articulates this often misunderstood journey. It gives the single, childless women hope and encouragement by reminding us – we’re in very good company.