Living alone means…

Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist

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Was searching for the source of a quote about how sharing with someone doubles our joys and halves our sorrows (there are so many different sources mentioned that I can’t determine where it actually originated) when I came across this one:

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need.” – Margaret Mead

Reminds me of a wonderful reflection on living alone that appeared in this blog a few years ago. And my comment on it: “As author Alice Walker so aptly puts it, when you have a live-in, that’s at least one side of you that’s covered. When you live alone, you’re vulnerable on all sides.”

So let’s see. What does she mean when she says “sides,” and which one is supposed to be uncovered when you live alone?

Financial is one side. Though it may also be true for a single partner in a percentage of married or cohabiting couples, we singles mostly bear the full costs of everything we do and are solely responsible for maintaining our home, clothes, etc. We don’t generally have people  volunteering to throw in a percentage of their salary to help.

Social. We may, and if we’re lucky, do have enough pals or friends we can go places and do things with. To have company out in the world is usually a blessing; to have company at home can be a mixed blessing when you’re not in the mood! But in any case it can take extra courage to pursue life’s little adventures when you have to do it alone.

Physical. When you live with someone, you have another person to share a hug with when you need one. In romantic relationships you’ve got regular opportunities for sex. Singles must work to find hugs among friends or relatives, and/or we can get and give physical affection with a pet.

What else? Spirituality is something we all choose and experience alone.

Emotionally could be where she’s suggesting the “uncovered” side occurs when you live alone. You may have one or more close friends you can turn to for support, but you always have to find them first. They’re not there to see and hear your pain when you get the devastating phone call about a lost job or the death of a close friend. They’re not wondering where you are when you’re late, and they’re not there to be glad when you get home (another thing pets can help with!).

Do you feel vulnerable on all sides? If you believe that life is a series of lessons, then it’s easy to see that living alone can be the larger context for the kinds of lessons you never have to face when you always live with someone. Just as living with someone gives you lessons you can’t get any other way.

There are joys and freedoms to being coupled just as there are unique joys and freedoms to being single. When the day comes that society values both equally, there will be no need for organizations like SWWAN.

Cropped screenshot of Rosalind Russell from th...

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Ever notice how the most interesting and exciting stories (in books and movies) usually involve an independent woman, generally unmarried? think about it–even in the day of Rosalind Russell. Read my review of her movie, Sister Kenney.

[Many thanks to Wendy and Rosemary for helping me sort through the issues for this post. And check out their website: www.mysinglespace.org]

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Movie review: Sister Kenney – Could you really not work as a nurse if you were married?

Recovering slowly from a recent nasty bout with pneumonia, I’ve just been treating myself to reading and movies. Surprised to notice what looked like a really good movie on television today called Sister Kenney. I’m thinking, can I be turning on the TV so early in the morning? Yeah, desperate times…

Rosalind Russell stars in this 1946 story of a nurse who intuitively developed a way to treat polio that brought many children back to health–without horrible casts and splints and braces. Fascinating story of how the medical establishment censured her, fought her clinics, and generally made her life miserable for 35 years. But people kept bringing her their kids, so her reputation grew. One doctor friend supported her all the way, and eventually a few orthopedic docs in Minnesota began to listen to her.

Screenshot of Rosalind Russell from the traile...

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Fascinating tidbit. According to the movie, she couldn’t get married, because if she did she would no longer be allowed to practice nursing. I tried looking this up—didn’t know if this was a law or just an accepted convention of society. Apparently a very tiny percentage (like less than 7%) of married women worked before WWII. So it may have been that she was simply expected to stop working if she got married. But anyway she chose her work helping children over marriage to this man who loved her. What I can’t figure out is why he just went away instead of staying to spend their lives together. Probably because back then if you weren’t married you also didn’t get to have sex—unless you were a loose woman.

Great story. Great distillation of the struggles that women have had to go through to achieve their goals/dreams. Though it takes a few liberties with the facts, the movie adheres to the spirit of Sister Kenney’s life.  The star Rosalind Russell actually became friends with the woman herself when her niece was treated with the Kenney treatments. Here’s the actual history.

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The ever-shifting status of women—and how many are marrying

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ant...
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For centuries in American history women were not legally considered people. Today, though we think we’ve “come a long way, baby,” there’s a guy, Justice Antonin Scalia, on the Supreme Court who says he still doesn’t think women fit the legal definition of “people.” Judge, are you for real?

The Feminine Mystique was a runaway international bestseller in the 60s. Even though it had its faults, it was a beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of American housewives who felt stifled and unseen. Stephanie Coontz gives a useful analysis of the book and some interesting insights on the status of women in America in the 50s and 60s versus their status now. She admits that times were particularly prejudiced against women then and mentions how single women were in some ways freer than married women—married women were basically subsumed into their partners’ legal identities and had few rights of their own.

Even though laws discriminating against women have improved in the U.S., rates of marriage are still dropping in almost every country around the world. Here are a couple of New York Times writer’s opinions on the subject of how marriage is faring these days and whether the frequency of marriage, or lack thereof, has anything to do with the state of business. Reading the comments on the Freakonomics post (second link) is like peeking into the minds of people on different sides of the question—one says happy single women = lower marriage rates. Another says

Love and Marriage
Image by Hammer51012 via Flickr

the easily availability of pornography has had a big influence on rates of marriage. Hmmm. Really?

Oh, well, it’s interesting stuff if you have a few minutes to read. Like anything you try to “prove” with statistics, there’s always another angle you can view it from. So here’s to you, fellow single working woman—and who cares what observers say about our status!

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Not your same old New Year’s resolution

太极拳
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Do you ever allow yourself to step back from your life for a little while? I mean really step back. I recall having been on a few retreats in my life—the memories of which are still vivid. But it’s been a very long time. When I heard that friend Leah had been creating her own retreat—without going anywhere—I was intrigued.

I asked her if there were any insights or observations she’d like to share with SWWAN readers about her 3-day hiatus from all electronics and outside communications. Gulp, I started getting a little freaked just thinking about not being able to pick up the phone. Anyway, here’s what Leah Young reports out from her experience:

My 2011 Reboot…
For more than a few years now I have wanted to spend the time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in reflection, on retreat.  Up until this year, that yearning had gone unfulfilled, often overtaken with glittery but forced holiday festivities.

This time I decided to seize the opportunity for solitude.
“RETREAT IN SESSION 12/29-1/1.  NO ENTRY.”  The sign I created declared this truth to all who darkened my doorstep during my three day hiatus time.  A few close friends and family had been forewarned that I would not be available.

This was my “me” time, well me and my little four-legged companion that is.  His Royal Highness Prince Jazz never left my side for long.  I successfully managed to maintain my meditations amidst his trying to engage me in some serious play.  He survived my Chakra Toning with several curious glances and failed attempts to get me to cease disturbing his rest with my, uh, noise.

I allowed myself to flow through the time, journaling periodically and taking consistent breaks to move my body to the rhythmic sounds of Mediterranean & Flamenco influenced music.  I accompanied the movement (my iteration of uninhibited dance) with tapping and Tai Chi routines that I’ve learned from my teacher this past year.

No cell phones, landlines, Internet, or texting for 20-22 hours a day.  I did check in with my mother who is travelling and called a friend on her birthday.  No Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Overall, it was bliss.  I slowed the axis of my world long enough to become clear about my intentions for this newly dawning year and my continued journey of transformation.  No empty resolutions, just clear intention.

  1. I am allowing myself to co-create my life more mindfully.  I will use my words and actions to support my desired end results.  I will waste no time, energy or focus on that which I do not wish to experience.
  2. I forgive myself for all my transgressions & I forgive all others theirs against me.  I move forward open wide to love, joy and peace.
  3. I surrender the how and focus instead on gratitude for all that is mine now.
  4. I will continue to challenge myself to step into and embody the unique gifts divinely bestowed upon me.

In other words, I intend to move forward embracing life with zeal and vigor.  Three short days away from the hustle & bustle allowed me to recharge and reboot.  If you haven’t taken some quiet time for yourself, I encourage you to do so now.  Whether it is an hour, a day, a week or more, YOU are worth every minute.  Happy New Year!

Think about it. What would you do with even one day free of outside “stuff”? Here’s a little retreat checklist from A Woman’s Field Guide on how to craft your  own retreat. Is it harder for a single woman to do this than for a woman in a relationship with a kid or two? What about for single moms? Who knows. There are obstacles for all of us in taking personal time out; it’s a challenge to get past them, perhaps especially the interior, mental barriers we often erect.

I’m scared, but I’m moving this idea up to number one on my to-do list. Thanks, Leah. Happy new year to all.

Leah Young, a relationship expert with more than 20 years experience is the Confidante™ at callaconfidante.com, founder of ClubC4 a community for singles, relationship examiner for the Las Vegas Examiner online and publisher of the LightVision™ Post.  Contact Leah at confidante@callaconfidante.com

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Burn away the negative

(c) FreeFoto.com

The mystery and wonder of fire. Photo supplied by FreeFoto.com

We forget sometimes the unprecedented miracle that occurred when humankind first discovered fire—and learned how to make it and preserve it. What a long way we’ve come today to nuclear power, wireless connectivity and the extraordinary power of the Internet.

But the magic of fire is as mysterious and moving as ever. Meditators recommend gazing at a candle flame to set your mind free of daily disturbances. Working fireplaces command a premium on the housing market—despite our radiators, forced air and electric heat sources, there’s no denying the warmth and comfort a fireplace can bring. Winter solstice celebrations center on using fire to consume the negative things we want to forget about from our past year; acorns represent the great good in store for the year ahead.

As with the winter solstice, fire is an important part of celebrating the new year in many places. In Scotland, where for ancient religious reasons people were for many decades prohibited from celebrating Christmas, they celebrate Hogmanay with fire on new year’s eve.

I got together with another single working woman friend last night and ate hummus and peppers and drank wine while we talked the evening away. We’d already done the fire ceremony on the solstice but we talked about doing the ritual regularly as a way of reminding ourselves to let go of the unwanted.

So whether you went out and partied last night or stayed home—with or without a friend or a fireplace—think how good it will feel to truly release any negative thoughts and energy from this past year. Write those things down on slips of paper, then light a candle and let the fire burn away those thoughts, habits, memories. If you’re wanting to change a habit, make sure you’ve got a different one to put in its place. We are, after all, creatures of habit and if we drop one, there’ll be a big hole in our routine. So better fill it with something better. Naturally, that’s easier said than done. Here’s a cute post from the PsyBlog on how long it takes to form a habit.

Like, let’s see, I spent nearly 30 years doing aerobics almost every morning of the week. In the last 10 months I’ve gotten out of the habit because the chiropractor asked me to stop (we’ve been working on repairing and rejuvenating my body after hip replacement surgery). Hmmm. I’ve got at least 61 days left to get in the habit of my newly allowed exercises…

Here’s a lighthearted bit to usher in the spirit of 2011. Hope it brings a small smile on this first day of what promises to be a momentous new year for you and for me—and the fifth anniversary of SWWAN!

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Holidays – your favorite time or your worst nightmare?

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It’s that time of year for candlelight and warm beverages and heart-warming stories. Do you have happy memories from your childhood holidays? So many people don’t–and it often makes their adult holiday times less than enjoyable.

I’m glad to say my childhood memories are mostly positive. With nine living kids in my family let me tell you, when we came down on Christmas morning, it looked like heaven had opened up and dropped a giant bag of presents on us—all piled under and around the multi-color lighted real tree. Even though none of us received a lot, the combination of a few things for each of the nine of us added up to what looked like a mountain of treasure. Plus, many of us were close enough in age that we could look forward to potentially sharing goodies with each other. Another favorite tradition for me was getting the honor of moving Joseph and Mary one step closer to the manger each day, then putting the baby Jesus into the scene on Christmas eve. Oh, and of course singing hymns together that night.

Do you start celebrating early so you can get more fun out of the season? In Chicago we have a radio station that starts playing only Christmas music from November 1st on! Do you try to make your present-day holidays fun despite not-so-happy memories? Or do you just struggle to get through these days and hope not to get majorly depressed? Are you religious and hope to spend extra time attending services? I’ve sung in a choir at a few times in my life—I have some fond memories of singing during Advent and at Christmas night celebrations.

If you’re single and don’t have a family (or have one that you don’t care to see) while all your friends disappear into theirs, this time of year can be crummy. If you’re single and want to create a special time, find some other single women (I know it can be hard; some single women are reluctant to identify themselves as such) and plan a story-sharing evening. Make it a potluck gathering so no one person has to do too much work. Share good memories of holidays. Share ideas for making the end of the year special and for celebrating the beginning of the new year. Encourage each other. Get to know each other better. Plan something fun together—bake something together. Go ice skating if you’re still young enough, or drink hot toddies if that feels better. Or maybe drink hot toddies and then go skating… Doesn’t matter. Whatever feels good is good.

What do you do for fun or satisfying ways to make this time of year special?

Patinoire du marché de Noël : Plaisir d'hiver 2006

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Customer service joys of online shopping

Printing press from 1811, photographed in Muni...
1811 printing press – Image via Wikipedia

I love the Internet. I think it’s the most powerful invention since the printing press for allowing the average person–especially women!–to learn about and do a world of things without having to be rich or powerful.

I am grateful to be able to shop on the web. It means I don’t have to bundle up, trudge out, pollute the atmosphere with gasoline, smoke, etc. (even though my car just passed its biennial test, it still contributes exhaust emissions) by driving  somewhere, and then wander around in stores for hours to find something I want.

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Image by scottobear via Flickr

And I guess the experience of getting poor customer service seems a little less horrible if if happens over the phone than if I have to see a person’s face while s/he insults or ignores me.  Last week I had a really crummy experience with a tech support rep at Verizon Wireless.

Ever get one of those folks who treats you as if you’re a complete idiot? And then ignores everything you say about what’s happening? Grrrrr. I even asked for a supervisor and she wouldn’t pass me on! After an additional 5 minutes of being discounted and condescended to (by someone who by now I knew either didn’t understand or simply chose not to believe what I was telling her)—and after telling the woman I thought she really ought to look for a new line of work—I got to speak to a supervisor (after an extremely long wait on hold). She listened to me, fixed the problem within 30 seconds, and apologized very politely for the rep’s behavior.

This morning it happened when I wanted to cancel part of an order from a clothing store I patronize. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You are not coming up on the computer.” Re-spell my name. “No, you’re not in here.” Give her my address. “Nope. There’s nothing under your name. Did you order from ‘OneUpXYZ’?” I say, no I ordered from Roaman’s (apparently the parent company of OneUpXYZ). “Well, you dialed the wrong number. This is OneUpXYZ.” I said, wait a minute–I called the number right here on the Roaman’s website for customer service. “Well, you called the wrong store, and there’s no record of any order under your name in the computer.”

I tried to calm myself to suggest another way of looking it up, but she wasn’t listening. After another, “We have no order for your name in our records,” I felt compelled to raise my voice. Ma’am, I said, please look it up by the order number! She finally heard me and listened while I gave her the order number. When—surprise, surprise—she found my order under my name, address, and information, I contained myself. I asked why in the world my name and order information wouldn’t show up when the information was clearly in there. She pretended I hadn’t asked the question. Just asked me what I wanted to do. I said you know, it’s amazing to me that a customer service rep would choose to argue with me about my having placed an order instead of trying to come up with a way to  find it and then ignore my request to understand possible reasons why the information couldn’t be found. She ignored me again. I was incensed–and I was tempted to simply cancel everything, but I really wanted that denim skirt.

I hope that you will have a marvelous Thanksgiving week. And may your experiences of poor customer service—online or in person—this holiday be few and far between.

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Virtue, thy name is “spread thy baking tasks over time”

'Cavendish' bananas are the main commercial cu...
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Okay, I’ve had this passel of bananas browning on my counter for the past week. They oughtta be good ‘n’ ripe now, I tell myself yesterday as I start washing the dishes piled in the sink from the last few days. It’s time to make that recipe I planned on when I deliberately bought way too many bananas (hey, the Costco on Elston has great prices!) for me to eat.

Been waiting for the moment when I am not under a high-pressure deadline for a project. But I also have to psych myself into the mood to dig out the flour and sugar and baking powder/soda. Anyone know an easy way to remember which type goes in which kinds of baked good? Which leads me to think about baking and how the types of baking recipes I’m even willing to consider are all fairly simple. None of this puff pastry, handmade pasta or piecrusts, or brioche (oh, yeah, I never touch yeast after a couple of truly mediocre efforts many years ago when I was still a married, stay-at-home mother). Yet I love things like banana bread for my breakfast, and I can make it so it feels really healthy. So why do I resist baking so stubbornly?

I’ve decided it’s not that baking is so hard. It’s first because my ingredients are usually buried in the back of some cabinet or closet—where in the world did I put that stuff when I moved?—which means I can’t just start. I am passionate about being able to do what I want to do immediately when I decide to do it. None of this running out to the store because I don’t have any vanilla or my brown sugar has hardened into a block of concrete. And then there’s the dozen-plus bowls and utensils I’ve got to dirty up—and wash afterwards.

So last night I still have some energy left at 6 pm. I think, I’ll put the butter out to soften tonight. If I pour the sugar on it, it won’t be too exposed. Not sure what happens to butter if you leave it out a really long time. I read somewhere that when you leave margarine out for days/weeks it never gets moldy or  anything–meaning it’s truly plastic. So I guess butter must eventually mold or get sour.

1/2 lb butter, 1 c sugar, 1/4 c water and 1 tb...
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And did you know that unsalted butter (the kind I like best) doesn’t get as soft as salted butter? Even though I soften it all night (and sometimes all the next day if my timing gets screwed up) I still have to beat the hell out of it with my long-handled wooden spoon in a valiant effort to cream it with the sugar. None of this using oil, or melting the butter. And none of this using the electric mixer. Somehow I’ve convinced myself the texture of the finished product is better if I expend all that energy by hand instead of taking shortcuts.

Okay, I did it. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. Christmas music is  playing on my customized Pandora Internet radio station. I just finished cleaning up the dishes and utensils and have taken the banana-oatmeal bread out of the oven. Do I feel virtuous? Absolutely. Am I going to have a hard time waiting until it’s cool enough to have a piece for breakfast. Well, duh.

Anyway—as we all learn eventually—the trick is to break up the dreaded work into tasks that can be spread over time. Oh, yeah, and maybe I’ll try to carve out a space to keep all my dry baking stuff in one spot. Maybe this way I’ll get a few more of those goodies baked for friends and family this Christmas.

And have many more opportunities to feel virtuous, too… ” )

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Never quit adventuring

Seattle, Washington, USA.
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By manleyaudio (originally posted to Flickr as Sunset in Seattle) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Guess between going and recovering from the vacation in Seattle and the new heart issues I’m up against, I’ve been directing my attention more inward lately. But today I want to talk about living life as an adventure. My trip to Seattle was to visit someone I met and bonded with almost instantly more than 15 years ago—my dear ever-single, adventuring friend Barbara.

Seattle is set in the middle of the mountains, is very near the ocean, close to the desert, and loaded with rivers, lakes and other random bodies of water. It’s on the side of the mountains that gets all the moisture (read: fog, mist, rain), so there are tons of green plants everywhere. It’s a great place for a person with a sense of adventure to live—you can visit a cosmopolitan city in the morning and be in the mountains by afternoon.  It seems like a perfect place for my friend to live.

Something so soothing about spending quality, unhurried time with a soul sister. I hadn’t seen Barbara in 13 years, and we don’t correspond much by email or otherwise. But I knew—based on how delightful our last visit was when we spent several days driving up and down the magnificent California coastline—we’d have a great time. And indeed we did.

Barbara not only has the same first name as me, but she’s read and studied many of the same books and ideas in her life as I have. She also holds similar positions on many social and political issues. Plus, we’re very close in age, and our birthdays are only a day apart—both Aquarians. How often do you meet a friend like that—and click completely with?

Barbara was very close with her mom, who just died about 3 years ago. She essentially has no family left and is looking at retiring soon, but she’s not the least daunted. She’s approaching the last segments of her time on earth with the same sense of adventure she’s always had about life. She’s put a downpayment on a regular-car-parking-space-sized RV that she plans to travel the country with when she retires.  She’s checking out all the informational and support groups—thank God for the Internet for us single women!—like WomenRV. And look, I found this one for single RV women!

All I can say is, we single women have been living the adventure of navigating life on our own for however many years. It only makes sense that we’ll find something challenging and exciting to do in our later years. I’m looking for adventures close to home—like finding the forest preserves in the Chicago area so I can take a walk in the woods even though I live in a huge city. I’m trying to get my brother to bring his tent and camping equipment and go with us on a weekend camping adventure.

A photo I took of a lion at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Image via Wikipedia

Spent the afternoon at the Lincoln Park Zoo yesterday—they’ve really fixed that place up since I last saw it 40 years ago. What a treasure to have only 5 bus stops away from my apartment.

I’m sorry; I know I’m rambling. But you get the point. Don’t quit having adventures, no matter how old or tired you get. They don’t have to be far. Just make sure they’re somewhere outside your everyday routine.

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Single moms and their kids battle recession

Mother holds Child
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I was somewhat surprised to read in a Legal Momentum e-newsletter that single mothers have traditionally always had a higher unemployment rate than the general population. Now they say the recession’s having an even greater negative impact. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) say the unemployment rate for single mothers was 13.6% in 2009 compared to 9.3% for the population as a whole.

I know how hard-hit so many two-parent families have been by this recession—several in my family had to have the stay-at-home mom go out and get a job. And having been a single mom myself who fought like hell to pay the bills and find a new job after losing  my employment in two earlier recessions, I find it painful to think about the struggles of the single mother in today’s brutal economy. First, they are women, which means they are already more likely to be paid less than men for similar work—in every type of job, from WalMart greeter to corporate executive. Second, unlike two-parent families there’s no second person to bring in backup income. Third, since a single mom already has an important second job—raising her kids—it may literally not be possible to take on a third job or find money to pay for child care even if she could.

Whether you make $20,000 a year or $100,000, whether you’re a working married mom or a single mom, as a parent your goal is to give your child the best possible life. When I read about how families are supported in other countries such as the private/public partnership to provide child care for all kids in Finland, it makes me sad that we don’t feel more of an obligation to help all of our country’s children receive the care they deserve while their moms work or look for work.

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