Wednesday 27 May 2015

The Loneliness of Adult Women

A married reader wrote the following comment in the combox of one of my "Mother's Day" posts a bit late, so it wasn't automatically posted. When I saw it, I decided not to post it, in case feelings were still raw. It honestly didn't occur to me that married mothers would get upset with Single and childless readers for venting when I told them they could go ahead and vent. It's not like the Catholic world has many places for Catholic Single women to do that.  Next year I will put up warning signs, and suggest that mothers skip my blog for a week while we childless women swim about in the bitter puddle of our tears.

Here's the comment, which was sent to me in an email afterwards, so I respect that the writer really wanted us to read it:

As a 33-year-old mother of three young children, I just wanted to chime in and say that my experience of being at home with the children is that it is incredibly isolating and lonely. I love, love, love my daughters and wouldn't change a thing, but I have very few people to socialize with. The playgrounds are empty M-F 9-5. My neighbors who are retired and home during the day have no interest in interacting regularly. I work from home, so my only work interactions are e-mail communications. I was the first of my group of friends to have kids, and, sadly, most of my single friends abandoned me. There were quite a few women that I last saw at my first daughter's baby shower. The saddest part for me is that my non-Catholic friends have been more likely to put in the effort of maintaining a friendship after I became a mother than my Catholic friends were. BTW, I never gripe about any of this (or anything else) on Facebook; I reserve my "things that might annoy my friends posts" for the occasional, mild pro-life post. So, while there are certainly some mothers venting on Facebook and not returning the calls of their single friends, there are some of us who privately deal with the daily challenges of mothering young children and who jump at the limited opportunities for two-way friendships.

I think this comment deserves more than "Cry me a river, married mother of three" because--except for the internet stuff--it could have been written by my own mother in 1978.  She found being at home with us "incredibly isolating and lonely."  Her high school and college friends were not Roman Catholics and did not take the traditional marriage-babies-homemaking route. They lost touch, mostly, and there were no other young women around to replace them. My mother joined the Catholic Women's League and had bridge parties, and the other members were a generation older than she was. 

Meanwhile, homemakers were right out of fashion. Feminists in public office even called them parasites, and the chattering classes made nasty remarks about marriage being legalized prostitution. And my convert mother was not embraced by the comfy old Catholic world of inevitable pregnancies and constant baby clothes swapping because it no longer existed and hadn't yet been born anew.  

So I know perfectly well that married women can feel very lonely and miss other women, especially other women their age, many of whom are doing things that sound a lot more Important (from a worldly perspective) and Fun. It would not have occurred to my mother, I think, that it might have hurt my father's colleagues' childless wives on a very deep level to see her young face, and her pretty house full of children, and her apparent rejection of the rat race/hamster treadmill they had embarked on. The working world, supposedly paved with gold, was still not all that nice for women in the 1970s. 

Of course, the colleagues' wives usually did have children, but they were busy.  And one thing I have learned from moving to Edinburgh in middle life is that when you are an adult woman it can be hard to make friends with other adult women. Single or married, women over 30 are just too busy.  Any time they can spare for socializing with other women goes either to workmates or to their best mates, who are never going to be some foreign lady who washed up on Portobello beach six years ago. 

I have one (ONE) born-Scottish female friend, and now she lives in England. All my other female friends came from Scotland from somewhere else. The married ones are married to Scots. They are either at least a decade younger than me or at least a decade older than me. And it was a long time before I made Catholic female friends, or any female friend whose shoulder I could literally cry on. (In desperation I called up a childless friend my mother's age and wept to her, which was certainly the right thing to do.) And my attitude to that was, in a nutshell, Duh. That's what marriage means. That's why you have a big party after the ceremony: you're not just celebrating with your family and Single life friends, you're saying "Good-bye."

I learned that from the Anne books. When she married Gilbert, Anne had to LEAVE Avonlea. Anne had to make new friends. Anne very rarely saw her old college friends.  Anne hung out with a much older woman, Miss Cornelia Bryant, and had to wait a long time to make friends with a woman her own age (Leslie). She spent most of her time at home with her children, her husband and her housekeeper. Of course, she was involved in church activities and the Ladies' Aid. I am not sure what the Ladies' Aid was, but they most definitely did not go out for cocktails and girl-chat.

It is unusual to hang out with a pack of women your own age once you leave university and begin work and/or raising a family. Married or Single, this really isn't going on that much. (My best Catholic friends at home get together once a year: when I turn up.) If I do go out for a drink, it is almost always with Hipster Isabella, who is 24. If I run off across the fields to visit a neighbour, it is almost always to my MP's wife, who is over 60.  Most of the  women whooping it up in Edinburgh pubs on weeknights are either in university or well over 40 and possibly alcoholics. 

The solution to the loneliness of adult women is partly for people like me (and Lucy Maud Montgomery) to tell younger women to expect it. Even if you don't take up responsibilities, most of the women your age will, and that means all-we-girls-born-in-Year-X party-time is over. 

Adult women get lonely. End of.  And Single women don't usually have the time or the patience to hang out with mothers of young children.  Chatting with a woman who keeps interrupting you to talk to her children, over and over again, gets boring unless you love the woman and would listen to her read the telephone book if that was the only way you could see her. It's a miracle I can think of two women-with-children friends I love that much.*

As for how to alleviate the loneliness, I recommend joining groups of women who share your basic way of life, and not expecting them to be your age or born-and-bred locals or whatever. My mother joined the Catholic Women's League. I got involved in Polish cultural stuff. Most of my mother's friends are still older than she is. Most of my friends here are fellow foreigners. 

And of course there is the internet.

*Update: It would be a kindness if married women with babies and small children invited Single childless female friends to supper, however. Don't do anything special or extra. Don't worry about the house. The Single friends, if they accept, will be flattered to have been asked and they will learn a lot about the reality of your life over supper. Not to put to fine a point on it, they will go home feeling awed or at least a little sorry for you and rather more cheerful about their Single state. 

Update 2: It just occurred to me that if you love hanging out in big groups of women, I know of a really fantastic all-female community with 32 members so far.


  1. I was very lonely in my late teens and early twenties, mostly because I didn't really know any serious Catholics my age. So I sought them out. It worked. I now know tons of faithful Catholics my age (I'm nearly 25). Most of them are unmarried and un-engaged.

    I don't really know what it is to crave female company. I live with my sister and I have plenty of female friends. Most of the time I wish there were more men around. But if I ever get married I will probably start to miss women a lot. I hope that if I get married I might be able to live near my sister or sisters-in-law (if I like them and vice versa.)

    An Opus Dei women's centre might be a good idea for women who want to make female friends. I'm not heavily involved in my city's branch due to work clashes, but plenty of my friends go there a lot.

  2. If it makes the married mom feel any better, I'm coming from a very similar
    situation, sans the children. (Not by choice.) My husband and I moved miles and miles away from our friends and family, he works crazy hours at his job and I work from home, so the vast majority of my time is spent in our apartment by myself. And the only Catholic women's groups in the area (actually, the only Catholic groups that aren't for children, families that belong to the school or homeschooling families or just plain weird and unattractive Bible studies) are mom's groups that I can't join. Single women are at work when I'm available to do things (And it's hard to develop a deep friendship with someone when the only way you can see them is by having them over to dinner with both yourself and your husband), and stay-at-home moms are generally uninterested in getting to know new friends unless they have children of the same age. (And I do understand!)

    I'm not saying all of this to belittle her loneliness at all (I do feel bad for her!), but maybe it will help to see that at least one of the commenters on that post is coming from a very similar situation. I have the greatest of respect for the sacrifices that moms make and I don't think anyone who commented on the post was under any illusions as to the sacrifices that moms make, or trying to belittle them in any way at all.

    It's simply that I’m constantly hearing praise for the sacrifices that parents make and it's such a wonderful thing for once to hear someone acknowledge the unseen sacrifices and sufferings of the childless and unmarried and be given a place to vent a little about some things that moms do that drive me crazy. (But I’m sure I drive other people crazy too!) I really wouldn’t have said a word if I had thought about the fact that moms might see it and be hurt.

    And, Auntie Seraphic, I think this is my absolute favorite post that you’ve ever written!! I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if there’s something wrong with me that makes it so hard to make new women friends :P and reading this was a huge relief! I’m going to bookmark it and read it whenever I’m feeling especially lonely.

    I love the Anne of Green Gables reference! I hadn't thought of it that way before.

    I have joined a great group at the local library, and I’m getting to know some lovely people, but it is a very slow process sometimes!

  3. I'm so glad you found a group! Oh, heavens, YES, it is a slow process.

  4. Hear hear to Update 2!
    I have two fairly good friends, both recently married, both expecting, and I myself feel completely at sea - will they be busy? What if they're really tired, stressed, doing stuff with their husbands, etc, etc (they're not yet close enough that I would just show up anyway, as if it was my sister..)
    The answer of course, is just do it anyway! But, we singles would like to still be part of things, whether it be coffee and crying babies or doing your dishes for you while chatting.

  5. Yeah, just call em' up and say "Wanna free dishwasher to come by today?" I always feel sad when married mothers apologize for the state of their houses. Mothers of the world, your friends really don't mind! We don't think it's you throwing the Cheerios and toy dump trucks around.

    I LOVE visiting my married-mother-of-three friend. I really love it. I could sit in her sitting-room all day holding the baby as a hurricane of little boys and toys and parenting go on around me. It's extremely awesome. Of course, I wish she and her husband didn't look so dead last time, but the baby was only a week or two old, so I don't think they are normally that tired. At least, I hope not, for their sake.

    1. This is exactly what I do with mother friends. They just love it when I do the washing up while they try to put the little one to sleep. Then, once baby is (hopefully) napping, we have a cup of tea and a chat.

  6. Can I just encourage women of all states in life to not take for granted the good friends that you make over the years?

    A few years ago, I moved away from the town I had lived in for over a decade. I left behind a dear friend who was single when we met, but married and had kids in the time I knew her. I loved her dearly, loved her children as a doting aunt, and tried to be a supportive friend in her homeschooling mom circumstances.

    When I moved, it was like our friendship no longer existed for her...she kept standing me up for phone dates because she was on the phone with her homeschooling friends or at a birthday party with her homeschooling friends, or at the co-op with her homeschooling friends. I tried to talk about this with her, and I did understand that she was very busy, but ultimately I felt like she didn't value my time, my responsibilities, or my friendship enough to honor her promises to stay in touch (by keeping specific appointments that she herself had made with me).

    I'm trying to state this as objectively as possible, but it's still very painful to me that such a good friend, someone I had tried to support through thick and thin, could apparently toss aside our friendship so easily.

    I have found it difficult to break into the "mom clique" in my new home, and after the experience with my former friend I thought maybe moms weren't where God was calling me to put my friendship efforts. I saw who was reaching out to me and explored those possibilities...not people I likely would have thought of had I still been trying to befriend the moms. Yes, it's a slow process.

    I have a renewed appreciation for old friends, flung to the four corners of the earth but still accessible through modern technology, who've hung with me through the years. Sirach has it right when it says that a faithful friend is a treasure.

    1. And I should add that I know not all moms are like my former friend, and I know not all singles hang in there with their married/mom friends. This experience just showed me that friendship is something to treasure, not to take for granted, to protect to the best of your ability in your circumstances. Don't just assume your friends "will always be there."

    2. I'm going to go out on a limb and say don't give up. My beloved married-mum-of-three pal is a TERRIBLE correspondent. She doesn't write, email or phone. She almost never updates her Facebook page, let alone read her email! And since we live thousands of miles apart....

      But I know she loves me, and I love her, and we spend as much time together as possible when I'm back in town.

    3. Thanks for the encouraging word!

  7. Interesting tid-bit...Dorothy Day titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness (about her life as a single, woman who spent her days taking care of other people's grown up children) from a conversation with her daughter Tamar about the the loneliness Tamar felt as a young mother of many small children. Two very different lives- but neither one had a monopoly on loneliness.

    So every one's got something...when I leave my married friends homes after a lovely dinner and evening with them and their children I might be lonely to be leaving alone and that it was just a once in a while thing and not my daily life and they might be lonely to be left at home again with other adult company being a once in a while thing for them as well.

  8. I like this post, Seraphic. For the most part I think loneliness is just part of the human condition and, if you accept it bravely, is a wonderful way to meet God and commune with Him.

    As a single female, I dealt with the loneliness problem when I moved out on my own to a new city by going to the local Catholic young adult group. I am so shy, it was so hard and unnatural for me to go that I would have near panic-attacks on the drive there. I had to brave many awkward interactions with people very different from me and of all different ages, many evenings where I was obviously not accepted in the core group, many times where I vowed I'd never go again because it was so humiliating. But I kept stubbornly trying for some reason, and eventually it paid off - I got a good group of girl friends out of it in my adopted city. And, the whole process encouraged a growth in humility (if I do say so myself).

    I agree with your assessment of age and not to care about having same-age friends: as my peers get married, my girl friends tend to get younger and younger than me! But it's fun, they're in the same stage of life as me and keep me uncynical. I can also impart some of my quote-unquote wisdom to them. My advice to everyone is: just get new friends if you find that your old friends are inaccessible due to a changed status of life. Yes, it's hard - but keep trying! Your old friends will eventually seek you out again, and if you are truly friends, you can pick up where you left off! And it's wonderful to have a mixture of old and new friends.

    Despite me having many wonderful friends, I am still very lonely. I still face many evenings alone, many mornings and many days alone. And you know what? That's okay! I now see it as a precious gift that encourages dependence on my creator all the more.

  9. Domestic Diva27: Can I just encourage women of all states in life to not take for granted the good friends that you make over the years?

    I am the 33-year-old mother of three, and I am not sure that my previous post got across what Domestic Diva has stated so succinctly. Good friends -- married, single, children or no -- are good friends. It may be work to maintain them, but we all benefit from friendships with people in different life stages. Thank you, Domestic Diva.

    Also, I am so very, very glad that Seraphic is posting about the loneliness of all adult women. It's something I didn't know to expect and am having a hard time grappling with. Hopefully, if women know to expect it, they won't spend as much time as I did thinking they were doing something "wrong."

    Christine W.

    1. "Good friends...are good friends. It may be work to maintain them, but we all benefit from friendships with people in different life stages."


      And it IS very helpful to realize that all adult women experience loneliness. I did not expect it at all. I also thought that as a single, I must be experiencing it while marrieds/moms are not. (My mom did experience it, since she lived the life Seraphic described of her mom, but so many young Catholic moms are choosing the life my mom did and bonding together, seemingly alleviating their loneliness.) Not that I wish loneliness on anyone; it's just good to know that I'm not alone in feeling lonely!

  10. Thank you so much for posting this! I have it bookmarked, and am going to reread as often as needed. I'm unmarried and not dating, but I live with a good friend, and am close to my mom and sisters who live nearby. I have a loose circle of other friends, but always am sad that everyone seems to be so busy all the time or to already have enough people in their lives.
    Like Christine W. above, I never expected this and am only beginning to realize that it's not "just me." This post and the comments are really encouraging - thanks!


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