Depending on where I am, I can hear many of the same questions over and over again. In Colombia, “How tall are you?”, “Are you Brazilian?” and “Do you play a sport?” top the list. When I was in my twenties and would travel to Puerto Rico everyone would ask if I had a boyfriend. And if I said “no” they would follow up with “have you eeever had a boyfriend?” Are you curious as to whether I’m a lesbian or plain ol’ unboyfriendable? It didn’t matter that by 25 I already had a master’s degree and was in a position where everyone of equal rank was 11+ years my senior, or that a year later I was purchasing a home. “Do you have a man though?” For a while this line of questioning was reserved for my family and host families throughout my travels in Latin America. But the repeat offender for the last 4 years or so in the US has been: “So um, Melissa how is it that someone like you isn’t married or doesn’t have kids?” This first assumes that those are things I desire. And while I am open to marriage and absolutely do want children, as a society in the US we’re at the point when people can be honest about these not being things they aim for in life. And given the planet’s population growth and rapid destruction rate, it’s not a must that everyone churns out a few offspring, particularly those who have no intention of actually parenting. Also irritating is the idea that marriage is the only type of legitimate partnership. A single type of family form works great in societies where there is a single type of people. The second underlying assumption is that as “a catch” I shouldn’t have too much trouble bagging a man or getting knocked up. And the corollary to this is that it’s by virtue of some hidden defect that these things haven’t happened.
Getting pregnant is simultaneously the most amazing and simplest thing a woman can do. Short of there being problems that would make being impregnated biologically difficult or impossible, we can literally conceive of a human being while asleep or in a coma, with someone we have absolutely no feelings for, or in the case of rape, someone whom we fear and loathe. It’s amazing thanks to nature, but real talk, your human effort should barely even afford you a pat on the back (now nurturing a child in utero is different). It has actually taken more work to prevent pregnancy since puberty. And I feel like folks aren’t very open and honest about how they came to have babies when not blatantly trying. Unless you are in denial or a product of Abstinence Only Education, you know how babies are made. I assert that after a certain point, usually around your early 20s, if you get pregnant, even if you claim it was an accident, deep down you knew you made a decision. No, it may not have been a definite, “let’s start trying” type of thing, but you basically said, “hey, I’m going to roll the dice and see what happens.” You may have experienced Pregger’s Remorse and regretted the dice roll, but you knew that at that moment, when things could’ve gone a different way, you thought, “I doubt that it will happen but eh, let’s see.” So the fact that I don’t have children means that I have made a conscious decision about not wanting to have them up to this point.
And then there’s the marriage issue. I’ve had to drop two married female therapists because when I started talking about men and marriage they started behaving like it was an indictment of their marriages and saying really off-the-wall shit that I’m sure violated some oath somewhere. And this was when I really began to understand that lots of women define themselves by partnership, and by putting a ring on their fingers they suddenly feel valuable, that someone validated their worth. And I know that we all use different mechanisms for seeking external validation (hell, I’m getting a Ph.D.), but I’ve never seen women emanate such unwarranted smugness as when they get hitched. Like getting married signifies they are somehow happy or have been able to achieve something miraculous. But how many times have you peeped the Facebook “happy couple” charade? And seriously, have you conversed with or seen some of the folks who are wed? Many prove that getting married is far from a feat. Staying in an honest partnership that mutually serves, satisfies and enlivens both parties, however, is. Yet folks aren’t as curious about that for some reason. Folks want to know why I’m not MARRIED, even when all signs suggest that life is NOT necessarily better for the married woman.
Here’s my Billie Jean-set the record straight- comment. Had I fewer dope options or been a social conservative I probably would’ve jumped on the first solid thing that came knocking. But a conservative of any kind, I am hardly. And as much as I complain about the boo thangs in my life (yes, boo thangs), I have rolled tough with some stellars. If I could unite the ones I’ve cared for deeply since adulthood they’d be like the Avengers of The Diaspora. I would’ve already convened a world domination meeting around a Godfather-esque table were it not for my concern about lots of awkward moments, mini-brawls, or worse, they’d all get chummy and collectively speak ill of me. Gasp. But I digress. I am willing to concede that as a maximizer (see Paradox of Choice) I have grown increasingly unwilling to forgo many things in a partnership. But I don’t believe I’ve gotten to the point where I can be considered unreasonable. I’m just not trying to settle for something that doesn’t significantly enrich my life because it’s something I’m supposed to do. I know love. And I know love in its many funky configurations. But I’ve learned that on the list of vital things necessary for a relationship, compatibility and timing are right up there with love. I can love you to death but if we aren’t sexually compatible, or you believe that Jesus is Lord, or you think your sperm is forever golden and want to wait until you’re 45 to start conceiving and we are the same age (Homeys, please see this week’s NY Times article http://tinyurl.com/9tpwp2f), or if my monsterness makes you feel like shit, well then it’s going to take far more than love to conquer all.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that at 33 I’m feeling the pressure to “settle down.” And it’s not because of “The Happy Life of…” Facebook montages because, honestly, I have yet to meet a married woman with whom I’d want to swap places. But like I said earlier, I do want children. And these are the moments when Mother Nature and Father Time clothesline and DDT me. Because my exponentially depleting eggs don’t care how many well-off women are getting in vitro in their late 30s and 40s or that Michelle had Sasha at 37 (If you’re reading this Mrs. Obama, HEYY! I love you!!). These eggs are chuckin’ up the deuces. The challenge then becomes whether to stay down for the count and go out like so many settling women before me, or continue to wait for the stars to align (as a friend recently told me she’s shooting for). While it isn’t all about children, this is the thing that is most time-sensitive. I’m enjoying my life in a way that would be damn difficult if I had any hard-core commitments, like a partner or children. But I do want a lifelong partner (if that’s possible) and often imagine what some of my adventures would be like were I to have one. The thing is, I know what it’s like to feel that I’ve found him. I’ve experienced that twice as an adult. That sense that I’d be willing to “hang up my guns” (as my dad says), cast aside all others and roll out back to back against the world with someone. And it wasn’t because I feared Mother Nature and Father Time. It was because at those particular moments, we fit. All was right with the world. While I’m not willing to miss the opportunity to have children because my time has run out, I’m also not willing, just yet, to let fear drive my decisions. Life is too good and there’s no greater loneliness than being with the person you know isn’t for you.