Why settling is unsettling

Caroline Grace-Cassidy on her new novel, whose message is: beware the settling stick!

Caroline Grace-Cassidy

Caroline Grace-Cassidy

 

The road map for my new novel was to write for a woman not brimming with self-confidence but brimming with self-respect.

A woman who is desperately avoiding saying “I do” just because “He’ll do”. My pen (Mac book . . . pen sounds better!) poised to prove that Lexie Byrne is completely content with her life regardless of her relationship status.

Why? Because being single as you approach 40 can be seen as problematic . . . for women that is! How it riles me that society still paints single women over 40 as a wee bit desperate. Because that’s a fact. That caricature of us kicking open the swinging doors of the Last Chance Saloon to find our mate . . . beating our chests with the settling stick. While single men over 40 remain unscathed by age. In fact, society’s narrative goes so far as to imply that men over 40, 50 or even 60 are actually considered eligible and a catch. Ha! The hypocrisy!

Modern-day women are busy, getting educated, building careers and that process lasts for years. As we don’t finish school until close to 18 we can’t make these years go any faster to keep our fertility alive and kicking. And yes, there are the obvious biological reasons why women need to be concerned and educated about leaving their fertility too late if that’s the route they want to take (disclaimer: many, many women simply don’t want to have children! Simple as! Shocker, eh?) and yes, it’s a physical concern that men don’t have but does that mean as the clock ticks by that we begin to just settle for less than “the right one”?

In The Unexpected Love Story of Lexie Byrne (aged 39½), my eighth novel, I was compelled to delve into the life of a woman who was approaching 40 yet intent on avoiding being hit with the settling stick. There’s that word again, the what stick, you may ask? Ah, you know the stick – the one where we settle for someone because most of all they are available and tick, tock, tick, tock, the clock is loud! Now, I’m a very happily married mother of two, in my forties. I’ve a big group of super girlfriends – some single, some dating, some married, some mothers, some dog owners, some mountain climbers. I count myself lucky I met my husband very young, 17 and 18 respectively, but some might disagree with this. Here’s what I regularly get:

“But you settled so young.”

. . . and there it is . . . that word “settled”. But oh how it’s changed in meaning since my day.

As a younger woman, settled meant you snuggled up on the sofa-bed with your true love in a flat in Rathmines and a bottle of Ritz or, if you had a part-time job in Quinnsworth, a four-pack of Stag. That sounded pretty perfect to me. However, in my forties this word has a very different meaning, one I wanted to explore in this novel. Rushed relationships, sprints down the aisle, Bugaboos bought before the honeymoon’s even booked . . . and I couldn’t help but question if a lot of marriages were just the settling ones.

Do we still allow fate to play its part in our destiny over 40? Can’t we be in love with ourselves until such a time that we meet “the right one”, he or she, who we simply can’t live without? It appears, for women of a certain age at least, that the idea of true love is deemed ridiculous. Rather silly. Too late in the day, hun.

To settle for less than so society has a box tick for you to me is such a bitter life disappointment. In my research for the book I talked to men and women approaching 40 who met (mainly online) and got on (in their words), “grand” – both with an eye on kids and marriage so off they went up the aisle. . . is this wrong? God, no! But all I’m asking is have they missed out on the chemistry, the butterflies, the passion . . . simply because time isn’t on their side?

I want society to lay off! To lessen the pressure and the judgemental narrative of how we see single women over forty who are childless. Life isn’t about fitting in, feeling part of the norm, life is a beautiful adventure, this isn’t a dress rehearsal so sisters embrace being free and single and know it’s more than OK to be a Lexie! To be heading to 40, living alone, loving life, supporting yourself with a great bunch of friends and never be pressurised to commit, hold out for the one and run for the hills if anyone comes at you proffering “The Settling Stick”!

The Unexpected Love Story of Lexie Byrne (aged 39½) is out now from Black and White Publishing

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