real life

Why is it so dangerous to be 42, female, and single?

Being single is a viable lifestyle. Just ask Kate.

When Kate was in her late 20s, she ended a significant relationship with a man she loved. There was nothing wrong, exactly. He was sweet, smart, and funny. They were happy together, she was happy — except for a creeping anxiety that closed around her heart every time they talked about their future. Her friends started getting engaged, married and knocked up around her. She stayed single long enough to realise that she was enough on her own. She was complete. 

That story isn’t mine, but it could be.

It actually belongs to sensationally successful writer Kate Bolick, who is now 42. And, she tells me from a New York Winter, she’s more committed to the single status than ever. She’s content, self-possessed, creative, and free.

Admitting that is dangerous, though. When Kate publicly argued that women should be happy single, she made men angry. Angry enough to threaten to kill her.

In 2011, at 39, Kate wrote an article for The Atlantic called ‘All The Single Ladies’. It’s the intelligent woman’s single manifesto; equal parts public introspection and fastidious research. And it was groundbreaking. Millions of people read it and publishers squabbled to offer Kate book deals.

The reaction was complicated, though.

“I heard from hundreds and hundreds of women after that story,” she tells me. “It was like nobody had ever told them their lives were acceptable and they were enough, so they got in touch to thank me. And I guess it’s true, we don’t, as a society, talk about the condition of singleness with any seriousness. Women were just so grateful to have that conversation.”

It’s safe to say Kate’s characterisation of men as ‘deadbeats’ or ‘playboys’ may have, ah, pissed some of them right off. Here’s the introduction to her now-legendary piece:


Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing). But this strange state of affairs also presents an opportunity: as the economy evolves, it’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family—and to acknowledge the end of “traditional” marriage as society’s highest ideal.

“What’s your position on marriage now?” I ask Kate. “And if I was to say the words ‘can you have it all,’ does it make you want to shoot me?”

There’s a pause, and kindly, a laugh.

“I’m 42 now,” she says, Kate to Kate. “I’ve been thinking very hard about it. I’ve been in love, but I may never get married and I don’t know if I’ll have kids. We have to stop thinking about ‘it all’ because that impossible goal is just another way we are terrifying women. There shouldn’t be one template for how we run our lives, we are all as humans, figuring it out as we go along. It’s a drastic misunderstanding, for example, that most women are desperate to have kids. I’m ambivalent about children, and I used to be ashamed about that. Not anymore.”

Read Kate Leaver’s single manifesto: “Single is a relationship status of its own”.

I’m 27. My society-issued timeline says I should be getting ready to settle down. Sometimes I can hear so many clocks ticking, it’s deafening. Biology, convention, security, it’s just the way things work, etc etc. Right now, I’m not in love, I’m not making a baby, and I’m not in a relationship.

When Kate says “I don’t let the pressure of those timelines dictate my life, why should I, why should you?” I really hear it for the first time. I listen, and I want to give her a megaphone. When the simple idea that a woman doesn’t need a man is revolutionary — give this woman a megaphone.

Kate Bolick will be appearing in several events at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House on the 8th March: A panel discussion about How To Be A Feminist and a talk about All The single Ladies. View the festival’s full program and purchase tickets here.