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?

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8 replies »

  1. “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.”

    It’s called learned helplessness, and it is an actual psychological issue. It genuinely IS harder for people like her to suddenly be thrust into a life like that with no prior experience when you have had the advantage of nearly 20 years of living as an actual responsible adult. Not to mention the fact that she also had not one, not two, but three children who depended on her, and you had no one depending on you.

    Imagine being dropped in the middle of the Amazon jungle, hundreds of miles from civilization, without a clue how to survive out there, and meeting an indigenous tribe who have only known the jungle life and are therefore expert-level survivalists. Yes, you can learn to be a survivor too, and maybe even thrive, but you still have to LEARN. They don’t. Life is tough for them out there too, but it is the only life they have ever known, and they have mastered it.

    I have known both people in your position and people in Louise’s position, including several relatives, and there is simply no contest. Two friends who suddenly had to fend for themselves ended up having breakdowns; one ended up being taken in by in-laws while the other checked into a psychiatric hospital for a few months because neither could deal with all of the responsibilities of uncoddled adulthood bearing down on them after decades of total ignorance and freedom from it all.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. The competition for attracting a brother is fiercely guarded. But do you think single females without children are being treated like crap? Wait till you become a single mother WITH a child after a legitimate divorce. Oh you should see how they treat these ones. Married (insecure) sisters always have seen single females (with or without children) as a threat because somehow they feel that we are interested in their husbands. I’ve experienced all stages of singless, marriage and divorce throughout my 20 years of baptism as a single woman, married twice, then divorced twice with a child from my 1st marriage. They treat us like we have some sort of communicable disease. Even married elders are afraid to talk to single sisters because they’re afraid how their wives might react. I can recall the countless times when I couldn’t finish my sentence before a married elder started to walk away. It’s pathetic, hypocritical and downright wrong. I have been inactive for about 3 years and won’t be stepping foot into a KH again anytime soon.

    • I agree with you being a younger widow in the KH. I had sisters say smart things to me as well. I regular pioneered and made it clear I was not interested in getting married again and wore a wedding set to support this an keep brothers at bay and still I had married brothers flirting with me on the sly. Some of the wives knew their husbands were flirts but would treat me the widow sister, who was an exemplary sister as the enemy and close their eyes to their husbands behavior simply because of their marital insecurities!!!
      I pray Jehovah takes care of us who leave and remove those with responsibilities that exploit others in the congregation.

  3. I can completely relate to you. I was raised in the truth since the age of 9, but I left in my 30s. One of the reasons why I left was because I was treated like a second rate citizen since I was not married, thus had no children. Any time I would try to talk about my frustration of not being able to find someone to have a meaningful relationship with, I was told I was not praying hard enough, perhaps Jehovah has decided not to bless me in that regard, why can’t I be happy being single? The worst was when several articles, and then people would parrot it, that you need to be ‘happy with your lot in life.’ I hate that phrase with all my heart. Additionally, if you were single and were NOT pioneering, you were regarded as spiritually weak. I absolutely loved the reasoning I would constantly get: Single sisters have more time on their hands since they don’t have husbands, so they can work AND pioneer. Wait, what? Seriously? If I’m single, that means that I have a single income, not two. So yea, I DO have to work full time.

    I’m so happy I’m not involved with this religion any longer. While it pains me that my family will no longer talk to me, I feel much better about my life. I’m about to graduate college, I’m engaged to a wonderful man, and I have a fulfilling life.

  4. Hi Alex, u are such a great writer!! You tell your story in such a way that I can’t put my tablet down once I’ve logged in. Keep it up dear, its serving as a form of therapy for me. I am still “in” with an elder as a husband. We served in bethel for 5yrs and we were asked to leave becouse I sank into depression and could nolonger ‘perfom’ well in my assighnment. Honestly my hubby is a very loving man and treats me like a princess and I love him dearly. The thing is I nolonger believe all the crap we are taught at the kingdom hall. I don’t believe the GB is directed by holly spirit nor the fact that JWs are the only true religion. I am trapped, I have attempted suicide 3 times in the past. I am very depressed and have been on a number of medications.

    Going to the kingdom hall is so stressful for me and field service is a nightmare, how can I possibly take ‘good news’ to people when I feel awful and sad inside. And remember I AM FORCED to do this, as an elder’s wife I some how have to keep appearances. I am realy tired, it would’ve been better if I didn’t have depression. But my condition is making things worse and very difficult for me to just go with the flow and point blank pretend.
    Whats even more sad is that my hubby does not take it and always tells me to hang in there and “wait on Jehovah.” I once tried to reason with him on the blood transfusion issue, I have never seen him that angry with me in all the 8 years we have been married and we ended the conversation with him labelling me an apostate. I vowed from that day onwards to never bring up any thing against the governing body, whom he clearly confuses with God. What a mass I’m in! I regret the day I got baptised at 13 years old!
    Thank you so much for the therapy it means a lot to me, sometimes I go through your blog and read your uplifting stories DURING meetings just to keep my mind off. I hope one day I will master the courage to leave and risk my marriage but for now I am still a trapped wife.

  5. I feel so sorry to read this, but I fully agree. This is exactly how it is. I have children, but after divorce I realized how invisible women are in the congregation. I used to be elder’s wife and suddenly I was nothing. What a slap on my face and wake up call, enormous difference. No need to say, I am out now, and luckily worldly people at my work value women. Today I fully appreciate that. I hope all the best for you!

  6. what was the reason you stayed. did your family belong? I cant imagine what on earth draws people to this organization there is absolutely nothing attractive or interesting about them.

    • Yes, my family is all “in” except my stepfather, and he was very abusive so I wasn’t close to him. When you’re raised a JW, it’s very hard to leave, and when they recruit new members, they only talk about paradise and always put on their best face. It’s called “love bombing” and cults do it all the time. They don’t tell someone on their first visit that they shun family and rape victims, beat their children, etc. It’s very sad.

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