I am a 37-year-old female lawyer who doesn't have a partner or any children. From that description, numerous assumptions are likely to follow, inevitably based on the stereotype of the career-driven woman who sacrifices a personal life for professional success. Perhaps it's not even a sacrifice; a partner and kids just aren't priorities when you're pursuing a high-flying career.
There are many independent women in the world who choose a life of singledom. They may be open to relationships that could come along or perhaps they have specifically chosen not to become entangled in love. Once, to have made such a choice would have been considered brave or maybe even eccentric; but the world has changed and women are as entitled to choose bachelordom as the next silver-haired fox.
There are women who are almost solely career focussed and continue to be so throughout their lives. But in that 'career-driven' category are also the women who spend their twenties and much of their thirties pursuing professional success only to realise, as 40 approaches, that they want something more out of their lives; sometimes only to discover that it's 'too late'. Sections of society 'tut-tut' these women with a knowing "I told you so".
There are myriad articles about the average age of first-time mothers increasing; the health-risks (for both mother and child) associated with starting a family later in life; and the 'trend' towards women spending large amounts of money to freeze their eggs as an insurance policy in case they finally decide to have children.
Articles about that last point identify two categories of women who freeze their eggs: those who do so for 'medical' reasons; and those who do so for 'social' reasons. 'Medical' reasons include undertaking the procedure before, for example, undergoing chemotherapy. Discussions of 'social' reasons usually involve references to women spending their twenties and thirties travelling or working or otherwise having fun.
Implicit in much of the discussion is the suggestion that these women have been naïve, selfish or even stupid: they just did not realise how hard it is to fall pregnant after 35 and only discovered that fact at the age of 34 when they paused to take a breath from their high-flying careers and party lifestyles.
Lately, there have been articles talking about the risks of women being given false confidence from seeing the latest celebrity being pregnant, often for the first time, well into her forties. The experts warn women that things may not be as they seem -- chances are the pregnancy involves a donated egg and intense fertility treatment. Apparently calls to fertility clinics increase around this time with women of older age asking: "If Janet Jackson can fall pregnant at almost 50, why can't I?
There may be some women who have managed to get through life blissfully unaware of the difficulties of falling pregnant as you get older, but I would suggest that they are very much in the minority. This is something made clear not only through the media but also in popular culture. I think it is fair to say that pretty much every woman in her thirties who has ever wanted to have children is aware that the longer she waits, the harder it may be.
What I find so frustrating is that many see the single, childless woman in her late thirties as being solely the product of the choices she has made. Judgments often follow. And then there are the usual comments that show up following any article about the older, single female (usually from men who seem embittered from their life experience): women wouldn't find themselves alone if they weren't so goddamn picky.
Of course, we all make choices that affect the paths our lives take, but sometimes life is out of our control. Things just happen and we have to live with the consequences.
For me, having a fulfilling career has long been a priority but it has never taken precedence over my desire for happiness in the rest of my life. I have wanted my own family since I was a child, even before I understood what this really involved. As an adult, I have wanted to find a partner with whom I could build a life and start a family. Relationships don't always work out and, after some false starts, I found my person when I was 33. Both being somewhat cautious people we didn't dive straight into such a significant commitment but we eventually got there. We were engaged and excited about starting the next stage of our life together -- one that we both hoped would include children.
But a tragic accident put an end to that. Last year, my fiancé died two months before we were due to be married. He is gone but I am still here; on my own and not by choice.
A few months ago, over the anniversary of his death, I fled to Costa Rica where we were meant to have our honeymoon. Even with my extremely limited Spanish I understood when the locals asked, with some surprise and curiosity, whether I was travelling on my own. After the first few times my answer was well-rehearsed: Si, solo. Yes, I am alone.
I am now in a situation where, on the face of it, I fit all of those stereotypes of the woman who has put everything else first and has possibly left it too late. I hate those generalisations. Thankfully my circumstances are unusual, but I know many, many women in much the same position. They are in their late thirties; they are bright, funny and attractive; they are financially stable with good careers; they have long been ready to share love with a partner and children; and yet they are alone. How did this happen?
I could go down the path of blaming men and the apparent trend of them delaying commitment -- the Peter Pan syndrome of men who refuse to grow up. I could also blame the internet and the plethora of dating websites and apps that leave men with the impression that eligible women grow on trees.
However, this is only a part of the story. The wonderful single women I know find themselves in this position for all sorts of reasons. Their choices may have contributed to their situation but they are not alone by choice, and there is a difference. While they find fulfilment in other areas of their lives, it doesn't alleviate the desire, the ache for something more. It can be a terrifying thought, realising that you may never have what is more important to you than anything, and that everyone else around you seems to have. I'm not asking you to feel sorry for us, but please don't judge us either.