The Awkwardness of Not Having Kids

This week I had two separate, incredibly awkward conversations about the failure of me and my uterus to do what we’re apparently supposed to do. In the minds of many, especially fellow Christians, we had One Job, and we are joint failures, my lazy uterus and I.

Both times, while chatting with some women at work, all of whom are mothers, parenting and kids inevitably came up. I casually stated, almost offhand, something like “since I won’t be having kids of my own, it’s nice to be so close to my little niece and nephew, so I can be part of their lives as they grow up.” And, like always, this derailed the conversational train a bit. Two of the women just stared at me, mouths open, not knowing what to say, while one started into the typical response of “don’t worry, you still have time, I didn’t start having my kids until I was in my 30s! You can’t be more than, what, 29? Are you even in your 30s?” And thus the awkwardness grows.

“Actually, I’m 39.”

At this point, we all just stand there looking and feeling even more awkward. I don’t look my age, so this frequently comes as a surprise. Some brave souls continue on after this revelation with phrases like, “you can still have kids if you start soon!” but most don’t continue.

And I always wonder, how much should I go on after this? Do I explain that I haven’t been in a relationship since my early 20’s, and have only been on one date in the last decade, so the likelihood of finding a man with whom I’d like to reproduce any time soon is minuscule? Do I discuss how miserable trying to online date made me feel about myself, so I just don’t even bother anymore? Do I explain how removing trying to date from the picture has made me so much more happy? Do I dare go into how my body might actually be going through perimenopause early, which would make conception even more difficult? Do I delve into the odd fact that I seem to have missed out on the ticking biological clock, and never felt a strong desire to have my own bio kids, so even when I still thought marriage was a probable outcome, I wanted to adopt? Do I get on my soap box about how expensive adoption is privately, and how I don’t have the resources, financial or emotional, to even try to go through fost-adopt  as a single woman? Do I try to assure them that I’m actually doing pretty well with this not having kids thing, and feel like God’s plan for me is just different than for them, but it’s still good and noble and useful? How can I convince them that this is actually okay, fine, even?

Instead, I usually just blush and feel stupid and try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Embarrassed. And maybe even a bit ashamed. And then I spend the rest of the day wondering if these women look at me as immature, or selfish, or weird, or less than a woman because I can’t join the PTA.

I get it. They love being moms. They find deep meaning in their lives because of their children. And they are great mothers! I love their passion for their kids, and am so glad these little ones have been blessed with such amazing women to raise them! Because of this, I think it’s really difficult for them to imagine a life without kids. For them, even the thought of a life without their beloved babies fills them with sadness. I get it.

But, I’m not sad.

Yes, over the past few years as I got older and my body started to change a bit, and I realized having my own kids was no longer just something I wasn’t particularly interested in but was most likely an impossibility, I felt a bit weird sometimes. Any time choice is taken away, I feel odd. But again, not bad exactly. Just odd. Like I need to wrap my head around it a bit more, that’s all. And when I do think it through, I realize that I’m just fine.

It’s other people who seem to have more trouble with this concept than I do. Especially Christians. Especially Christian women. Married Christian men struggle with the idea of me not ever getting married as much as the women do, but the topic of me not having kids doesn’t really come up with them as much. But man, put me in a group of evangelical mommies, and I stick out like The Demogorgon out of the Upside Down.

This becomes more and more problematic each year, because fellow single, childless friends drop like flies the older you get, succumbing to marital and parental bliss. Yet here I stay, perpetually single and childless. Happily so, I might add, at least in this episode of my life. So here are a few things it would be nice for other Christians to know about being single and childless:

  • It’s not a sin to be childless or single. It’s not wrong for a man or woman to remain unmarried and without kids.
  • Some of us have purposefully chosen to be single and childless, some of us have just ended up that way, and others of us had no choice. We are complex humans, remember that before “comforting” or “encouraging” us.
  • Some of us are perfectly happy without kids and some are devastated. Please get to know us a bit instead of automatically judging or pitying us, so you can find out how we feel about it instead of projecting what you think you might feel if you were in that situation. Then you’ll know better how to actually encourage us.
  • Not having kids does not make us selfish, lazy people. Many singles are judged as not being quite as responsible, caring, and selfless as their married with kids counterparts. There are many studies that show singles are often paid less and promoted less than their married coworkers because the “not having a family to support” makes them appear less driven or dedicated. In actuality, single workers work more hours and take less time off than married ones. We are dedicated to our families and friends. We often serve in the church, volunteer in our communities, and take care of our lives responsibly all on our own.
  • God has different plans for different people, but they are all for our good and his glory. Please keep this in mind when you struggle to understand the plan he has for your single friend without children. His perfect plan for my life so far just hasn’t included a husband or baby, that’s all. God’s plan for my life has allowed me to grow closer to him, closer to my family and friends, more in love with the beauty of his creations, and has allowed me to bless and be blessed by the lives of hundreds of students.

I look forward to the rest of my single, childless life because I know God has beautiful and glorious things in store for me, along with the difficult things. And, the next time someone throws me into the middle of the awkward “you can still have kids” conversation, I might just get into a graphic biology lesson about the aging uterus. If I do that enough times, perhaps people will stop.

The Top 5 Things I Hate to do Alone

As much as I love having the opportunity to do some things all alone, and often enjoy the peace and quiet available to me as a single person, there are a few things for which I wish I had a permanent date. I realize that being married doesn’t necessarily guarantee a partner for all of the following things, as some spouses are out of town, hate to go to these functions, or are otherwise unable to do so. Still, having a husband or a wife seems to increase the likelihood of not having to go to at least some or most of the following alone.

Eating Dinner Out

For some reason, dining out alone at lunchtime is fine for me. I can bring a book along and have a perfectly enjoyable lunch-for-one at a restaurant or cafe any time without feeling too awkward. Perhaps that’s because there seem to be other people who are ducking out on their lunch breaks at work to catch a moment alone, so I don’t stick out quite so much.

But the minute that menu switches from lunch to dinner, all sorts of embarrassment washes over me if I set foot in an eating establishment all on my own. Though I don’t look at other single diners with judgement, and honestly rarely even notice other diners, I feel rather pathetic sitting there taking up a table for 2 or more while others wait to be seated.

There are times in my life when it’s worth it to suck it up and get over my own feelings of discomfort by just getting comfy at that table and enjoy an isolated dinner, like when I travel alone, or really crave sushi. For the most part, however, I just avoid the dinner rush altogether unless I can find friend or family to drag along with me.

In Los Angeles, this was easier to deal with as I was a GrubHub addict and, at the press of a button on my phone app, whatever food I wanted would appear at my door. If I had a craving for tacos, chicken wings, pie, or even Himalayan food, I could have it delivered right to my doorstep where only the one delivery person could judge me for dining solo. Heck, I embraced this so much that I was totally that woman who’d open the door in my plaid pajamas, Netflix or Hulu on pause, and unabashedly accept a food delivery that could feed an entire family when obviously it was just for me. Now I live in a city where the only delivery available is pizza. Sigh. It’s just not the same. But set foot in a crowded restaurant at 6:30 pm on a Friday all on my lonesome? Never!

Parties

When I was younger, the ratio of single to married friends was very much in my favor. Yet, even then, that moment I walked through the door of the host’s house or entered a venue filled me with a small amount of dread. I’d stand there, looking around to find the face of someone I knew. As an introverted extrovert, parties are complicated for me. I both love and hate them. But as one single among many, I felt less of the odd one out.

Now that most of my friends and family are married, I’m no longer the 10th person to walk through that door alone, but am instead one of a dwindling number. All eyes swing to me, and I don’t have that partner standing next to me to hold my hand or bump my elbow to reassure me that they’re not staring at me like I’m a freak, but just in curiosity.

The other weird thing about parties at this point in my life is that most of them are for, or at least include, children. So not only am I often one of the few who arrive spouse-less, but I’m childless as well. This leaves me out of the vast majority of party small talk among women my age. Honestly, I sometimes feel more comfortable surrounded by the husbands because they are more likely talking about work or politics than kids. Sadly, this isn’t always looked upon favorably. Calm down, ladies, I’m not interested in your husbands and they’re not interested in me, I just want to talk about Star Wars instead of potty training. I wish this gender stereotype didn’t play out so often in real life, but I’ve been stuck in this situation more times than I can count and it never gets any less horrible.

There is also something a bit lonely about leaving a party all on my own. Once I get past my social awkwardness and selfishness, and start to try to find ways to talk to others on the fringes and include them in the larger conversation, parties can be quite fun. Then comes time to leave. These days I’ll often track down the host, give them a hug, and then ghost out of there. Then I get in my car and have to shake off the feeling of being alone again.

Fawn as a bridesmaid, photo by Erik Stalnaker

Weddings

Let me be honest here – I’ve never really been a huge fan of weddings. I’m a huge fan of love, commitment, marriage, and families, but the long, drawn-out, formal ceremony followed by an even longer reception brings out the worst of my attitude and my insecurities. Because I feel the awkwardness of others so acutely, and wish I could make everyone okay, weddings are particularly difficult.

Once again, they were easier to attend when I was younger and went with a bunch of single girl and guy friends. But now, once again, I’m one of the few attendees sans date. I often attach myself to my married friends as soon as I walk in the door, and try not to let them out of my site for fear I’ll be stuck alone in a corner, nursing my champagne, looking pathetic.

Dancing is interesting as well because I actually like to dance at weddings. Just put some Spice Girls on, and there I’ll be in the middle of the dance floor with the bride and all her bridesmaids, grinning like crazy. But then the slow songs come on, and I’m always one of those who has to clear the floor as the DJ makes a big deal about how many decades each couple has been married. In high school and college, I used to swing dance. I took a few ballroom classes, and truly enjoyed them. My brother was my partner much of the time, and we had such a blast together. But again, the older I got, the fewer opportunities were left for a single woman who is socially awkward to swing dance. Classes have a skewed ratio, as do clubs, so there are never enough male partners to go around. And to be honest, the romantic in me always dreamt of having a boyfriend or husband who would dance with me, so now I just don’t do it at all, making that part of the wedding conflicted.

Weddings blend all my insecurities from parties with a culture that celebrates couples to the extent it can sometimes insult singles. Sadly, I’ve heard too many speeches from parents, siblings, or friends that mock the bride or groom for having been single for so long. One too many bad jokes including “we never thought they’d find someone!” or “it’s about time!” has created a PTSD-like reaction in me, including flinching, blushing, and feeling like vomiting as I am often the same age or even older than the bride or groom being so berated. No matter how many times this happens, I am always horrified on behalf of the bride or groom and all singles.

I’m not saying a spouse would make me suddenly love and embrace all the traditions that go along with weddings (don’t get me started on the misogyny of garter throw, or degrading connotations of the bouquet toss) but I do think they’d be at least slightly less difficult for me to attend if I had someone in my corner with me.

Work Functions

Extracurricular functions for one’s work are inevitably uncomfortable for most of us, but being one of the few singletons makes it even worse. Fundraisers, dinners, parties, galas, and other non-work work activities are usually built for couples. “Bring your spouse!” is highlighted on invitations, encouraged, and expected. And then there’s me. I don’t even bother to try to scrounge up a date – I just go stag. Every time.

Just like the awkwardness bred by parties and weddings, going to work functions alone brings out all my jitters. I feel young, immature, and very alone; it’s as if I’m missing some key ingredient to being an adult. Part of this is because I’m often treated a bit younger by bosses or coworkers in these instances because I’m there sans partner. I’ve even been hit on by someone else’s husband when he found out I was single because somehow he thought me saying “hi, how are you doing?” was flirting. Grrrr Argh.

Formal functions are the worst because even the tables are set up for couples. As a single person, I get squished in wherever they have room, often next to some other single person I may not even know. There is often dancing or some other couple-favoring activity. And honestly, these events can be grueling without a partner in crime to chat to all night.

It is here that I feel the most pity from those around me, as year after year, time after time, I still arrive alone. Most of my fellow single coworkers bring dates and eventually end up bringing their new spouse – but there’s Fawn, still alone. Always alone. And everyone knows it. Even if I’m at a point in my life where I actually prefer being single and am perfectly content in it, they can’t help but look at me like I’m just a bit sad somehow. I’ve learned that, since most people can’t imagine being single for their whole lives, they just can’t handle thinking that someone else might be happy this way.

Church

This one hurts the most. Being a single woman at 39 in the modern American church is hard for most of the reasons above plus a zillion more. Just this morning, I went to second service alone because my sister and her husband, with whom I often sit, had to teach a kids’ Sunday School class instead. So, in I walk, getting there just as the music starts and most people are already seated. And I have to go through the same anxiety-inducing decision of where to sit, yet again. Some Sundays I just look for the first person or couple I know and go insinuate myself next to them, whether they like it or not. Other days, like today, I just try to find a seat on the end of a row where I can sit alone. This is never not awkward. Never.

Then you have the thing where you meet a new person and they ask if you’re married and/or have kids and when you say no, they often have no idea what to say after that. The pity I get from some at work multiplies when at church, where many think it’s a theological truth that marriage is better than singleness, even though this is not true. The amount of little old ladies who want to know WHY I’m single is astounding. And then I have to come up with reasons, over and over and over again. Like, well . . . I just haven’t met the right person, or I guess God doesn’t want me to be married, or God’s had a lot for me to do as a single woman, or I have no bloody idea, actually.

All of this discomfort is magnified when trying out a new small group or Bible study. It’s like walking into most of the mortification found at parties, weddings, work functions, and church all together. It would be nice to have a partner by my side who knew how uncomfortable these situations make me feel and could help run interference.

Sometimes, I throw people off at church because I am a single woman who is educated in theology and speaks up. I don’t have a husband to temper my thoughts and for some Christians this is a bit disconcerting. I’ve had men gape at me for daring to speak to them or ask them a question about what they’ve claimed. I’ve had women glare at me for not staying quiet, or for speaking to not just them, but their husbands as well. Again, I am about the least threatening woman when it comes to stealing a wife’s husband! I’m an awkward, overweight geek who has zero interest in married men. Still, in the church being a single woman can limit my ability to have a voice or ministry. Heartbreaking, yes, but that’s how it is.

So, there’s my list of the top 5 things I currently hate to do alone. The church, in particular, needs to work on incorporating singles into its daily life in a way that is less alienating. And we singles need to develop friendships that can get past our single/married status. 

What do you hate to do alone?

The Top 5 Things I Like to do Alone

As a perpetually single adult, I’ve spent a large portion of my life doing things alone. I even lived entirely on my own in a tiny rundown studio apartment for a few years when I first moved to LA. In all these years, I’ve grown to adore doing certain things completely solo as much as I abhor even just the thought of doing others sans company. Today’s blog will explore my top 5 list of the things I love doing all on my own, and next week I’ll tackle the things I hate.

We singles often think about how we feel awkward or depressed without a partner to do certain things with, but are we forgetting the awesomeness that comes from partaking in certain activities without anyone else? The older I get, the more I appreciate the rare opportunity I have to do the following things without one, or several, other people tagging along at all times. There can be great beauty and joy in solitude if approached the right way.

Here are the top 5 things I like to do alone:

Shopping

Some of my friends just love shopping together, but carpooling to Target or hitting up the closest outdoor mall is a bonding experience I’d rather forego. Even when I was a teen, I hated shopping with my friends, especially for clothes. As a plus size woman, I know which stores actually have clothes for my body type, and which styles may be worth trying on. When I shop with friends, many of whom are much smaller and have never had to consider that a store won’t have anything at all in their size, they inevitably want me to try stores or clothes that I already know will not work, so I’d rather just avoid that awkwardness and frustration.

When I go shopping on my own, I can shop as methodically and efficiently as I like. I am a list-maker, so heading down the aisles for exactly what I need and checking it off my list quickly brings me great satisfaction. I love getting in and out of the grocery store with what I need quickly and smoothly. My mother, a diligent browser who always gets things for amazing deals, can browse all day. I cannot – I reach my “shopping limit” and just don’t have it in me to go on. Honestly, most of my Christmas and birthday shopping is done online so I don’t have to worry about dealing with other humans and their differing shopping styles.

Even when it comes to larger purchases, like my car or phone, I enjoy shopping on my own. I can do as much online research as I like to find out the exact product I want, what it’s worth, and what I want to pay before heading into the dealership or shop on my own to get exactly what I’m looking for. I didn’t always enjoy doing this alone, and even cried when I was treated badly by a car dealer the first time I bought a car years ago. But, after another decade, I grew more confident and learned how to present myself, and I also learned how awesome it is to just get up and walk out if you are treated badly as a customer, especially if they are treating you disrespectfully for being a woman on your own. Now that I’m older and more confident, I don’t have that problem very often. When shopping with others for these big ticket items, I find myself trying to be polite by deferring to their opinions when I should just go with my instincts. Also, since I do extensive research and know what I’m looking for, it is easier to shop on my own without other people putting in their two cents when they don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

Many of my friends who are married with children have shared with me how much they miss just being able to shop without kids at their heels. For moms especially, shopping can become a chaotic chore. As a single woman, I can browse my way through bookstores (the one place my “shopping limit” is extended) for hours peacefully without having to worry about little ones knocking things over or husbands getting bored. Instead, shopping can become a quiet, enjoyable, independent experience.

Driving

Sometimes, when I’ve had a rough day or am just feeling antsy, I’ll get in my car and just drive. I’ll crank up the music, roll down the windows or blast the AC, pick a road or freeway, and just head out for an hour or two. When I lived in LA, my favorite time to do this was late at night – after traffic got less claustrophobic and the lights of the city blinked on to cast a romantic glow over buildings and concrete.

I remember when my dad was dying, just driving alone through the hills surrounding my desert town at night, listening to Damien Rice, crying a bit, and trying to process my grief. When you live with other people – family or roommates – a drive alone can be the best way to process tough emotions. While it is important to be vulnerable and let others help us when we’re feeling sad or are grieving, sometimes it’s nice to have the space to not have to worry about other people worrying about us.

Solo drives are also excellent opportunities for conversations with God, for crying out to him or singing his praises. Yes, sometimes I talk to myself or to God while driving, so don’t judge me too harshly if you see me driving by chattering on to no one. There is also great catharsis in blasting loud punk or rock music and singing along at the top of your lungs. Seriously, try it, it’s amazing.

Going for a solo evening stroll along a Santa Monica beach.

Beach Strolling

When I lived in West LA, one of my favorite things to do was stroll the beach by myself just before sunset. I’d park in that pay-by-the-hour lot off Ocean Park that the locals know about and the tourists never use, kick off my shoes, and walk along the sand just above the water line. Sometimes, friends would join me for this stroll, which I loved, and some of my best memories are walking with friends on the beach. But other times, it was just me, and it was beautiful.

I find my mind reaches a peaceful kind of clarity by the ocean which it rarely finds elsewhere. With my toes in the wet sand, the breeze in my hair, and the view of seagulls, giggling kids chasing waves, surfers way out where the whitecaps start, and the lights of the ferris wheel on the horizon, these walks alone were therapeutic. Again, I would find myself talking to God, though this time not out loud (I’m not that crazy yet).

In the last decade, quite a few big life decisions I’ve had to face were mulled over as I sat on the sand, looking out over the Pacific as the sun began to set. Infinity is easier to process when there is no end to the horizon, and big decisions seem more palatable. The edge of the ocean is a great place to spend some time alone.

Reading the Chronicles of Narnia alone over tea at the Vaults and Garden cafe in Oxford, England.

Reading & Writing

I was that nerdy kid in high school and college who abhorred group projects and would rather just get my work done on my own. I knew I’d either get stuck with a bossy partner who wanted to take over but do it worse than I could, or lazy students who’d make me do all the work. Either way, it wouldn’t be good. As an adult, I still feel this way.

One of my favorite things to do alone is read and write. I have some friends and family who also love to read, but even then it’s better alone because they can’t distract me, and I can’t distract them. When sitting in a room with another reader, inevitably one of us will end up commenting on something to the other and concentration is broken.

When the weather is good, it’s lovely to go outside in a garden (Descanso Gardens is great for this), or the backyard, iced tea or water in hand, and read for an hour or two. Cafes and coffee shops are perfect when it’s colder. I read well with ambient noise that doesn’t include people talking directly to me.

I also like to journal, but am rather shy about it so rarely do it when others are around. Since I’ve lived with family or roommates most of my life, I often wait until everyone else has gone to bed to write. My mum kindly set up a little desk for me in the guest room as my “home office” so I can blog peacefully in the back corner of the house without interruption.

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite places to be alone.

Traveling

One of my absolute favorite things to do alone is travel. I also enjoy traveling with friends and family, so this isn’t exclusive – I’m pretty much going to love any chance to explore new places. But, traveling alone does have some of its own perks.

As someone who is very aware of those around me and how they are feeling/reacting to the situations we’re in, traveling with others can be particularly stressful. I feel responsible for helping those I’m with feel comfortable and have a good time whether I’m actually responsible for this or not. Perhaps this stems from the fact that much of my world traveling has been as a chaperone to 50 high school students when I actually was responsible for them!

When I travel alone, most of the stress is removed. I know how to pack, how to deal with airports and transportation, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to food and places to stay, so when it’s just me, I don’t worry as much.

Traveling in groups is also difficult because everyone has different tastes in what they like to do. When I’m on my own, I can wander through museums for as long as I like, or plop myself down in front of one painting for an hour. I can discover an old cathedral and kneel to pray silently. I can stroll through cemeteries and libraries without worrying that people will think this is an odd hobby to have. I can sit at a sidewalk cafe with a cappuccino reading or journaling, people watching, and just enjoying the scenery.

Traveling alone also affords me the opportunity to stretch myself socially as well, which is stressful indeed, but good for me. When I travel with friends or family, I am usually just with them. When I travel on my own, I tend to stay at places like hostels or communes, where I am forced to interact with other people and make new friends. This is incredibly difficult for me, but also one of the most rewarding things in my life, and I now have friends all over the world who are dear to me because of experiencing new cities and countries together as strangers.

Some of my deepest spiritual moments have occurred while I traveled alone. Without the comfort of friends and family, it is easy to get lonely and feel a bit lost when traveling, especially in other countries and on other continents. It is in these times that I turn all the more to God and his word, finding comfort in knowing he is with me, finding joy in knowing I can always rely on him.

Traveling alone is not for everyone, and must be approached carefully, especially for women, but I have found those trips to be some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

The single life has some amazing benefits and we should remind ourselves of them more frequently. Much of what is spoken or written about singleness focuses on the negative side when some things are tremendously fulfilling and sometimes even more lovely when we get to do them on our own.

What are some of the things you enjoy doing alone?