How to Know You're Not Alone in the Otherhood
I have made some of the most endearing, most meaningful, and most everlasting friendships of my life in my thirties and forties. But there was a time when I thought I might end up alone. In my twenties, as the women in my circle of friends married, mothered, and moved on, I felt my world getting smaller and smaller. But before I knew it, I had found new circles, and many new friends and new reasons to appreciate how fortunate I am to have these women in my life.
In the Otherhood, the term I introduced in my book of the same name for those who aren't part of the expected social norm of marriage and motherhood, whether by choice, or like me, by circumstance, our friendships are key. We think of our closest friends as family. Many women of the Otherhood don't live near our parents and/or our siblings. And so at Thanksgiving, we are as likely to eat roast turkey with our group of friends, our family by choice, as we are to toast the holiday with our family by relation.
In research for my book, Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, I spoke with Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Eric is also bestselling author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone and, most recently, he co-authored Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance. I asked Eric about the women of the Otherhood who don't have a partner and/or children and are concerned about ending up alone. Eric told me his research shows there isn't much for us to worry about: "Once women are less focused on their biological clock," Klinenberg explained, "they do a great job at making and maintaining relationships, with friends as well as family members, so even if they're single, they're less likely to be alone. They don't run a big risk of feeling isolated."
Of course, this entails choosing the right friends. What I've noticed in my research interviewing women of the Otherhood is that, like the men we choose to be with, we're selective about our friendships. We choose friends who are there for us when we need a good hearty laugh. Or a good hearty cry. Our friends celebrate our greatest achievements without keeping score. Our friends are the first in line to celebrate our big milestones, and more importantly, they are there to celebrate the little milestones that no one else would of noticed. These friends will like every Instagram sunset we post, the photos of us having lots of fun... even without them, and all the inspirational quotes we share, telling us it was exactly what they needed to hear that day.
These are the friends who know the guys we date by their shorthand names like: the sailor; the biker; the dentist; the Tinder guy; the other Tinder guy; the "so great on paper, but..." guy, et al. And they remember to ask about the guy named Rob. We all know the Rob story. The Rob story probably hasn't changed. But these are the friends who haven't given up hope on our behalf. Because these are the friends who want us to have the love we want because it's been so long. Too long.
"The women you are referring to, the ones who may not have expected to remain single into their late thirties and older, would like to be with someone, just not anyone," Eric told me. "These women choose to live alone over other options. And they are willing to remain alone until the right option presents itself."
With these friends, we're never truly alone. And these friends wouldn't let us ever wish we were alone because we settled for the "so great on paper, but..." guy. And they'll never insist you give a guy "just another try" because they already know how hard you've tried. And tried and tried. These are the friends who trust your gut as much as you do, maybe more. These are the friends who know when the subject of a man has been exhausted, or when it is most definitely "to be continued!" Either way, there's a toast to what's next.
"You, and the women you are speaking of, are not unhappy," Eric confirmed. "And you're certainly not desperate. There are those who might say you are setting your expectations too high, that you should settle for the nice guy, but that's not something you are willing to do, nor should you. And you're not the ones who are Single by Choice, who choose never to have a partner, preferring solitude. Very few people aspire to live alone."
And while we are alone in the sense that we have no romantic partner, Eric Klinenberg isn't worried about women like me or my friends in the Otherhood. Women forge such strong relationships and friendships, he explained, that even if they remain single long past their expectations, they are living the best of their lives.
If we're fortunate, like I am, we have a family who loves us. And while we can't all choose that fate, we can choose the friends who love us. And whom we love. That's why I'm thrilled to "like" every one of the sunsets my friends share on Instagram. Because if there's a sunset to share, chances are, there's a sunrise to follow. And that's how I know I'm not waking up alone.
Parts of this essay were excerpted from my reported memoir: OTHERHOOD: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness (Seal Press/Penguin Canada). Otherhood is dedicated to my friends, the family I choose. I hope you choose to read Otherhood and meet some of these friends. Otherhood received a prestigious *starred review* by Booklist.
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My first book is a national bestseller: Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins).