All this month we’re calling out our shame. We’re bringing it into the light so that it turns to dust. This week a very brave friend of mine has decided to call out her shame of being 40, single and childless. Here’s her story.
Tell me how you came to be 40, single and childless.
I’m single, childless and turning 40 next year and yes, I do feel the shame of judgement on this. It just isn’t the done thing is it? If I’d have chosen to be 40, single and childless then I doubt I would feel any shame around it. However, it wasn’t in my life plan.
I got married at 28, said my vows and meant them. Having been brought up as a Christian, those vows were important to me. Then my husband left me. Not once but twice. I was 32 years old the first time. He had a crisis and left me for six months. I really wanted to make it work as I felt the shame of being in a potentially failing marriage at 32. The shame of having to tell my family that my husband had left me was huge.
We got back together after six months and gave it another go. We were together for four more years. In 2014 a family tragedy brought back those old feelings for him; of life being too short and he freaked out and left again. He tried to reconcile things with me a little later but I said no. I just couldn’t live like that, constantly worried about whether he would walk out on me again when the going got tough.
I’m extremely close to my family and the shame of having to go back and tell them that he had left again and we would be getting a divorce was all consuming. The shame of it happening twice. The shame of my friends and family accepting him back with open arms and no bad feelings after he left the first time, whilst he made less and less of an effort with them.
Just telling people you’re getting divorced brings up so much shame. I completely understand why people just don’t bother. I have friends who are in unhappy relationships and probably shouldn’t be together, yet they feel the weight of the shame of a failed relationship looming, so they soldier on.
It’s been four years since my divorce. I’ve dated since but nothing has really stuck. My friends are great and they check in regularly but this too can bring shame to the table. Most of them are married with kids so there’s the shame of being the ‘single mate’. Certain conversations and situations can trigger a reaction. I’m constantly being asked ‘Are you dating anyone?’ or my favourite ‘How are you still single?’ I know they only want the best for me so most of the time I indulge them but sometimes I just want to scream ‘This isn’t a bloody lifestyle choice! I haven’t chosen my life this way. I just haven’t met the right person yet and I don’t want to settle.’
When I feel people pity me, it brings a lot of shame. It’s really hard having to constantly justify myself every time someone asks about my relationship status and I have to say ‘No, I’m still single.’ But what’s even worse is when I meet someone and I think it’s going somewhere, I tell a few friends and family members, only for it to go pear-shaped. Then I get the ‘How are things going with XXXX?’ and I have to tell them that for whatever reason that person didn’t want to be with me either.
Then there’s the shame of wondering what the hell is wrong with me. Why if everyone is telling me that I’m gorgeous and a great catch, does this keep happening? I get disheartened, go into blame and self-pity and wonder why I’m bothering. I get to the point where I don’t want to tell my friends or family anything anymore, as don’t want to have to keep explaining and justifying myself. But then I get accused of being a ‘closed book’ and not sharing! Whatever I do just doesn’t feel right.
I do feel the shame of being single at 40, but being childless, believe it or not, has never really bothered me. If I’m honest, I’ve never really wanted children. But then I have to deal with the disappointment of other people when they can’t get their head around the fact that I don’t want kids. I feel the weight of others expectations of me. I’m sure that a lot of the time people don’t believe me. I attended a work do the other week and a colleague asked me if having children was an issue for me. I mean, how dare he! This is personal bloody information! If a man is 40 single and childless, he’s a bachelor living the high life. Women however, are judged. It’s difficult to remain professional when all I want to say is f@(k off!
It’s taken a while, but I’m genuinely happy being single right now. I’m not desperate! When I do settle down again, it has to be with the right person and I’m ok holding out for him. So leave off yeah?!! Ha Ha! If I’ve learned anything in all this, it’s that you need to be really careful who you choose to commit to.
Who or what is it, that makes you feel the most shame? Is it the judgment of others? Societal ‘norms’ for woman? Or something else?
The shame comes from me. I can’t put it on other people. My family and friends only want the best for me and I know their questions are coming from a good place. Even work colleagues are only trying to make conversation. I know people don’t realise how hard these questions can be as they’re genuinely concerned for me. It’s my bad. My shame. Nobody can make anyone feel a certain way. It’s how I deal with these kinds of questions, mixed up with what society expects of me, which brings the shame. Like I said before, if I’d chosen this, I wouldn’t care and I probably wouldn’t feel the shame. But there are so many more expectations around marriage and kids for woman. Society expects certain things at certain times and I feel this pressure. It’s ingrained in all of us. Maybe that needs addressing. It has a lot to do with shaking off the shackles of a patriarchal society I think. In this context it’s hard not to feel a failure. I know I put it on myself but the shame comes from the feeling of family/friends and society as a whole judging me.
On a good day, there is little or no shame. I’m more than willing to be the source of my friends entertainment and regale my dating disaster stories. On a bad day I go for the dramatic response. Sometimes when people I don’t know very well ask why I’m single I tell them that my husband left me…twice. Just to shut them up. Just to get them to feel some of the shame in asking, that I feel in telling. Sometimes I know my friends and family can’t win. Depending on what day it is, I can get shitty if they ask, and I can get shitty if they don’t ask. But this is to do with the shame. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk about it at all as I feel so much shame in my dating failures.
The whole online dating thing is hard work. You can only do it in spurts when you’re in a good place. Constantly trawling through men is quite cold and a lot of the time, they’re just looking for a hook-up. When I tell them I’m not interested in that, it’s another rejection. It’s another negative experience. It’s more shame. These experiences can compound and become quite intense all at the same time. So I’ll jump back out of it for a while and try to do things to re-boot my self-esteem.
How do you think you can move through and past your shame? Is it to get married and have kids? Or do you think you could be shame free and shameless without doing this?
I can be shame free without the marriage and the kids. I need to remember that the shame comes from me and not from other people. The next time I’m feeling shame, maybe I just need to call it out and say ‘Look, I feel ashamed that I have to keep saying I’m single’ and see what the response is. It could be the start of a really interesting conversation. I know most people will say that there’s nothing to feel ashamed of. Half of them are probably a little bit jealous! But it’s my reality and I’m living it 24/7.
For me it isn’t the kids thing, although you may not believe me! It’s the companionship. Knowing there is someone there who has your back no matter what. Someone to come home to and share the small stuff with, as well as the big stuff. That’s the thing I miss. And there’s no shame in wanting that. We all want and deserve to be happy.
What changes, learning or self-development do you think you need in order to be shame free?
Most of the time I’m good. There are just certain triggers that set off the shame and it’s nobody’s fault but my own.
Swerving social media is a good start! I feel real shame there. Shame for not being able to post the ‘loved up couple on holiday’ photos and shame for feeling so negative towards the people that post them. Shame for recoiling at those smug couple and baby photos and shame in myself for feeling that way. Social media really does have a way of making me feel like a failure.
What would help? The next time I’m feeling shame, maybe sitting with it and thinking about it, rather than dismissing or burying it. I know I need to explore and observe it rather than engaging with it so much. I have a group of single mates who I really lean on. When I’m with them, I don’t feel like such a freak.
The best thing for pulling me out of a shame hole is thinking of all the things I have to be grateful for. I have a fulfilling life. I’m really healthy and active and I have an amazing group of friends and a very loving family.
I know my situation could change in an instant so I’m just keeping an open mind and heart and seeing what happens.
Do you have a shame story you’d like to share? Call out your shame and let us know. Comment in the box below or get in touch via our website or Facebook page.