Left Over Women

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I keep hearing the story of China’s “left over women.” Single women over the age of 27 in China are branded “left over.” Chinese media criticize. Chinese families stigmatize. Single Chinese women are filled with fear as their 27th birthday approaches. The cultural heat to marry was turned up after laws allowing only one child per family were put in place. The thinking being, everyone needed to marry and have one child. If people opted out of marriage, and having one child, the population would suffer. Single women began to be called names.

On the Chinese New Year, NPR ran a story about how women are renting men to take home with for the New Year so as to not have to explain being single to their families. Single woman fake being coupled to avoid harsh judgement and criticism. In this story, men are paid large sums of money to travel with single late twenty-something/thirty-something women to their family New Year celebrations. The women quoted in the story are successful career women. Based on the tenor of the interviews, I did not notice incredible angst in their decision-making. They did not have a Hollywood-romantic-comedy-esque desire for the dates to turn into marriage.

The story of left over women leads me to several questions. What does it mean to be “left over?” Do societies understand women who do not marry and have children? Who decides when you are left over? Is the United States that different from China in the categorization of single women? Are men ever considered left over? As a 41 year-old unmarried women, I wonder what happens after being left over? Would I hire a date for Thanksgiving? I am not sure I could answer any of these questions with any amount of certainty.

People used to casually ask me if I ever wanted to marry. That question was a frequent refrain during my twenties and thirties. My grandfather would say he could not die until he saw me married. The “single table” at a wedding still brimmed with potential. The occasional fix up occurred. The questions have generally stopped. I wonder why? Either people have: 1. Learned I go to the beat of my own drum; 2. Decided to focus on their own stories and situations; or 3. Given up hope for me.

I think there is a reason the story of left over women keeps crossing my path. I feel a certain unapologetic sisterhood with the left over women of China. I don’t feel left over. I don’t feel overwhelming regret at the decisions I have made. I don’t feel cynical about a society that does not really know what to do with someone like me. I do feel optimistic that I have a full life that I am living day-by-day. I do feel grateful that I have choices. I do feel loved in meaningful ways by friends and family. Isn’t that what life is really about?

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