Because What Does a Single, Childless Woman Know About Being Single and Childless?
When I first started this blog some weeks ago, I wanted to keep thing very businesslike and leave out personal feelings and experiences I had as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One reason for this is that I understand people are imperfect and will say or do things that are hurtful, but which are not necessarily endorsed by the organization itself.
However, after much thought and soul searching, I realized that it was not only my right and privilege to talk about personal experiences, but also realized that these could enrich the message of this blog, as personal experiences can speak volumes for how the organization truly functions. A religion can preach a certain message all it wants, but if it’s not functioning on the inside, then something is obviously wrong in their execution of that message.
Being a single, childless woman as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was always a challenge for me, as married couples typically associate only with other married couples, and in many cases they look down on single women. Most JWs assume that women all want to get married, and certainly this is true to a certain extent as most humans want to be in a relationship, but this gives those married women a means of outright sneering at the singles. Many would openly brag about their husbands and relationships and make condescending remarks; “Oh maybe one day you’ll find a man,” or “I just couldn’t imagine being single and alone like you.”
Even the organization itself is often rude and dismissive to single women in particular; one district convention, attended by more than 40,000 JWs, included a public discourse during which the speaker chastised women for looking for a mate, as “there just aren’t enough single [men] to go around.” Can you imagine how embarrassing that was for single women to hear, in front of others, and how desperate it made them seem? Can you imagine how it must have puffed up the men, reminding them that they were some type of hot commodity?
Another challenge with being single is that other single women who will be your friend are often few and far between. Some are very territorial, not wanting another woman around so they can have all the potential single men to themselves. Some are very “spiritual,” meaning they look down on anyone for any reason. Most single women need to work full-time then take care of their home and all their domestic chores, so having time and energy left over to make new friends or plan anything fun is a challenge. If there isn’t another single woman about your own age with similar interests in your own congregation, the chance of having friends at all is slim.
Sure, the organization is always saying that you can and should make friends with others who are in different age groups, but that’s hard to do when none of them will have anything to do with you! Do you really think the 20-year-old kids who are still single know that a woman in her 30s or 40s even exists? The only group that allows single women in their homes is typically older widows. These women are of course very precious, but it’s difficult to be actual friends with someone who never wants to see a movie or go to a concert or even out to eat, and who typically monopolizes every conversation with talk of health problems. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses you are also not allowed friends outside the organization, so it is often difficult and lonely being single and childless inside the organization.
When persons in the religion overlook you and ignore you and ostracize you, this is difficult enough, however, the most hurtful part of being a single, childless woman in the religion for me was the gross lack of respect for women in this situation. Single women weren’t just desperate and pathetic, but we were stupid. No more was this lack of respect demonstrated than when the subject of singleness and being childless came up in conversation. You would think that if you were to get any respect in the congregation it would be when someone was talking about being single or childless, but even in these areas, I was typically considered pointless and useless with nothing worthwhile to share.
Let me give you a few examples. One woman I know, I’ll call her “Louise,” had married when she was just 19 and while still living with her parents. Needless to say, she never had to work or pay her own way. After some 15 years of marriage, three children and a 100-pound weight gain, her husband cheated on her and she decided on a divorce. I met her during this time; mind you, I had been on my own since I was about 18 but never married and always worked and paid my own way. While we were talking one day about how difficult she found it to work and make decisions about things like insurance and home repair, I tried to show empathy for her situation and mentioned that I knew how hard it was to be on your own. Her response? “Well, I wonder who it would be more difficult for, someone who’s been on their own all this time or someone who’s just now alone.”
Oh, of course. I had been alone and working for close to two decades, but it was much harder for her, being unmarried and working for about six months, after spending some 15 years worrying about nothing more than getting dinner on the table. She also had children in the home, so she wasn’t exactly “alone,” but clearly I’m the idiot.
Here’s another example. After I had stopped attending their services and going in their preaching work for some time, an elder that I hardly knew called me at work one day. He asked about my situation and I told him, among other things, about the difficulties of being a single, childless woman in the religion, and how you’re often ignored and ostracized and even teased and ridiculed. His response? He began yelling and bellowing over the phone, “Well you chose to be single! You chose to stay in that situation!”
The hurt and pain my “spiritual shepherd” caused by bellowing at me like that is one thing, but the real slap in the face is that he was actually lying. I had never met a JW man that I was attracted to and compatible with, whom I dated for some time, and then said, “Nope, I choose to stay single.” I never made that conscious choice of staying in this situation; being single was just how my life turned out as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Interesting too that he didn’t acknowledge my words or take them to heart; “That’s how single women are treated? That’s terrible! We need to address that immediately!” Instead, he simply faulted me for being the odd one out.
I want to share one more example, and I saved this one for last because it is the most hurtful, but also the best example of the lack of respect you get as a single and childless woman in the religion. It involves a woman I’ll call “M” who was in her 50s at this time, married with children and grandchildren. I was unmarried and around 40 or 41 when this incident occurred. M was telling me that some of the women of the congregation, all mothers, were going to visit and encourage a bible student because this student, in her 20s and married without children, just found out that she might need a hysterectomy. Note, M wasn’t inviting me to go, she was just telling me about the situation.
And so I mentioned, honestly but respectfully, “I know how she feels. It’s a tough situation.” To which M responded, very dismissively I might add, “Well, I’m sure it’s worse for her and her situation.”
Oh well of course. How stupid of me to think I might understand how a childless woman might feel. Clearly it was up to M, a married mom with grandchildren, to determine which of us childless women had it better or worse. I might also ask, worse how? How is it worse for one childless woman than the other? Even if it were up to M to determine this, there I was, twice the age of this student and not even married, but because her situation involved surgery and mine involved nature, well, I guess that’s somehow better for me. Somehow.
M also felt that mothers were more qualified to talk to a woman who was facing a life without children than I was, despite being old and childless myself. It’s bad enough that they had a woman standing right there, in the same situation as this bible student, and it didn’t even occur to them to ask what keeps me from throwing myself off a cliff, but when I opened my mouth to share a thought about what it’s like to be childless, I was dismissed, degraded, and contradicted.
This situation in the religion was so hurtful, and there is such a lack of available men that many JW women go on to marry non-JWs, but this is a huge no-no. You’re not supposed to even be friends with non-JWs, much less marry one. I personally had remained faithful to the religion and had turned down offers for dates from non-JW coworkers and others, but rather than even acknowledging the life I gave up including marriage and children, elders would scream in my face and deride and insult me for being single. I was also dismissed and disregarded by other women as having nothing worthwhile to contribute, even when talking about the situation of being childless.
I guess this makes sense, because after all, what does a single childless woman know about being single and childless?