Sometimes I get a comment or email from Single women about fitting in with Married women, particularly Married women with children. The Single women feel like misfits, as though the Married Women with Children are the social norm. And maybe Married Women with Children are the social norm, in that office or that parish.
To visualize this I have to squint into hazy memories of the past because my life is full of Single people without children. My parish--well, actually it's not a real parish but the maximum 70 local people who prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass--is full of Single people. Some are university students, some are middle-aged artists or professionals, and some are elderly.
Some are special-needs adults who will never marry. Some are old-fashioned British bachelors who honestly think marriage means being shackled to a madwoman with a rolling pin. Some are widowers or widows. Some are retired schoolteachers or other professionals who never in their long lives married. Most of the Singles of my parish simply aren't eligible.
I sometimes wish B.A. and I had been married in the parish, just for the novelty it would have afforded the congregation. However, there is now a younger married couple, and they provided us with a baptism last year.
Notice I say "A". We have married couples with adult children in the parish, but only one young couple with babies, so far, although there is a father who brings his three children but not his (rumoured Protestant) wife. And thus--hold on to your hats--it is the young married pregnant woman with a baby who is in the minority. And although she is beautiful, intelligent and fun, she is not a regular at the parties held by the middle-aged segment of the parish, sometimes attended by the students, which are fueled by alcohol and often last until 2 AM.
Married women with children are largely cast out of the Single Eden of drink, late-night parties, spontaneous travel and quiet time. Usually they love their children, but sometimes they feel wistful for the old days, especially if the old days involved flirting and clubbing and other things responsible married-women-with-babies do not do. Unless they have a job, their social lives are sharply curtailed and revolve around their husbands and kids. They feel starved for adult conversation, and they wait all day for their husbands to come home and have adult conversations, only to discover that the men have had enough of adult conversation for the day and just want to watch the news in peace.
Married women with babies and jobs do have access to adult conversation. However, they are also stressed out of their minds, possibly because their bodies (and babies) are telling them that this sucks and they ought to be home with the babies. And thus, they need to complain to other women (which is the one of women's natural ways of coping with stress: men have "fight or flight"; we have "fight, flight or b*tch") who might understand what they are going through. This means other married women with babies.
I spent a year or so in a female-dominated government office. It was a dull job, although I was grateful for the pay, and I soon applied to go to graduate school. Graduate school, incidentally, is full of Single women or married, childless women. In many a graduate department, you are not made to feel bad for not having children. You are made to feel bad for wanting children. Still, here I was in this mostly-boring office,greeting disabled welfare recipients (some of whom were disabled because they were addicted to crack, poor things) and working in the file room with women without deep intellectual interests but with children. But I did not feel like a misfit.
I did not feel like a misfit in part because, admittedly, I had a boyfriend. And I did not feel like a misfit because I had friends outside of work, most of whom were Single themselves. And I did not feel like a misfit because I was more-or-less comfortable with who I was and with my own life, a life unlike that of the women in the office. And I did not feel like a misfit because, even though they talked about recipes and their children, I could enter easily into those conversations. The children (teenagers) were interesting, and the recipes good.
When I first started working in offices, I was a big fat--well, thin, actually, a small thin intellectual snob. This showed up on my face, so as you can imagine I was not very popular with the not-so-intellectual women, just like in elementary school. However, by the time I was in this government office, I had learned that not-so-intellectual women had a lot to offer me.
One woman in this office, who had dropped out of school under the legal age, taught me a lot about kindness, and she was an absolute genius at calming down crazy people off their meds. Another woman, a C&E Catholic, challenged my then-dodgy theology; to my shock, I realized that she had looked up to me in matters Catholic and that I had disappointed her. Another woman entertained me with stories about Poland; all the brides in her village rented the same wedding dress from the same shop. Another woman, who had had servants in India, showed her cultural vulnerability by refusing to help the rest of us carry boxes. It would have broken her heart to move boxes, but the other women assumed she thought she was better than the rest of us, and that is fatal in female-dominated work environments, as you no doubt know.
The point to all this verbiage about my old office is that it is never a matter of a Single woman in the abstract trying to get along with Married-women-with-children in the abstract. We live our life in concrete circumstances, with concrete individuals, all of whom are different. Meanwhile, some Married-women-with-children envy Single-women-without-children as much or more than they occasionally pity you, and if they pity you out loud it says more about the Married-women-with-children than about you Single childless girls.
There are also environments where Single women, or partnered-women-without-children, are the norm. It is quite normal for a woman of any age in my parish to be Single. It was quite normal for women in both my Canadian and American theology classes to be Single, and of course most of the men were unmarried too (but usually priests, religious, or with SSA).
My advice on how to handle situations where Single you are surrounded by Married-Women-With-Children all day is, firstly, to see the women as people other than Married-With-Children and, when it is possible, engage them in conversation about shared interests and to actually listen to what they say.
Secondly, it is crucially important to have interests outside this environment of Married women. Some Married women will be interested to hear about your Single adventures and opportunities, whereas others will voice their panicked feelings that they are missing out on Life by telling you how lucky (or selfish) you are. Do see the value in the opportunities you have as a Single woman.
Thirdly, if you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Some office and school environments are simply toxic, and the majority vent their frustrations on the minority, particularly the minority that seems unfriendly, like the poor formerly-rich Indian lady who wouldn't carry boxes. If you are that unhappy, leave when you can, and learn from past experiences how better to get along with office mates. (NB If the problem is that everyone is discussing their sex life, then have a word with your manager. You don't have to work in in a hyper-sexualized environment, and if people mock you for not being sexually active, this is a form of sexual harrassment. Sex does not belong in the office.)
Fourthly, there is a growing awareness in the Church that Single people are being neglected. I'm not the only Catholic writing and talking to and about Single Catholics. Keep looking for resources for Single Catholics and don't lose heart. The Catechism states that unmarried people are "particularly close to Jesus' heart".