My little sister got married last week. It was, as they say, a grand affair, with sparkle lights strung through the trees, a dance floor on the lawn, Champagne for days. It took an army of dedicated friends and family to pull it off – everybody was enthusiastic to make the day, the week, the ceremony, the after-party, an absolute ball. And it was. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Throughout the weekend, while I was dancing and eating and laughing and schlepping things here and there, and when I was in quiet contemplation, curled up in bed with my pups, I was thinking, of course, about myself and my own relationships. This time, this thinking, really caught me off guard because it wasn’t what I had expected to think and feel. I was surprised, standing up at the ceremony, holding the bouquet while my sister and her husband took their vows, that I didn’t feel a twinge of jealousy. That I didn’t feel sad for myself that it wasn’t a celebration of my relationship, my success at love. Isn’t this the exact time and place where I would feel those things, I thought to myself?
What I actually felt was relief that it wasn’t about me. That scenario – the big wedding, the three-ring circus of friends and family and dogs and proclaiming my undying love for someone, forever, in front of many, many people in a fancy, fancy, dress – it’s not for me. And the bouncing babies and the swinging toddlers on the dance floor, not even the tiniest twinge of heart wish – it’s not for me. And the talk of renovating houses and day-to-day at the job and one-week vacations and the water heater going out and sending the kids to college – not for me.
I don’t want to diminish or downplay or be discouraging about any of these things, because I do think they are great and wonderful and perfect, for most people (except maybe the water heater going out). Just not for me. Part of me really, really wishes that I would long for, and be content with a marriage and a house and a baby and everything else that we’re all supposed to want and be content with having. But, if I’m really honest with myself, not one ounce of me can get comfortable with a blockbuster wedding, a baby on my hip, a house in the hills: it makes me feel anxious and claustrophobic and trapped.
But, wait, what? How can I of all people, the dating queen, the lovelorn love lost, the bleedy-est heart, now all of a sudden, not want to get married, to settle down? Here’s the thing, and this was the biggest reveal, to me, too, and that’s that I don’t think I ever felt comfortable with that path and THAT’S WHY I AM WHERE I AM. And maybe, just maybe, it was societal norms and familial pressure that made me feel like I was failing at life because I didn’t have these things let alone THE HORROR, that I didn’t even want them.
In conjunction with this realization I wonder: is it possible that the reason relationships have never worked out for me is because I didn’t want them to? Could it be that I’ve picked men that I knew could never be what I needed or wanted because it would then give me a reason to get rid of them, or sabotage the relationship to get out of it? I made boyfriends out of men who admitted on the first date they weren't "relationship guy," serial cheaters, sociopaths, mean and weak-minded men...maybe, subconsciously, because I knew it would never go any further than dating. So nothing permanent would ever develop. It feels like a theory that might just hold water.
I decided a couple of years ago that I never wanted to have kids. Let me rephrase that – I have never wanted kids – but up until a couple of years ago I assumed that I would have kids, because that’s what people do. And I was self-conscious to admit to others that it wasn’t really my bag. But, the truth is, I haven’t ever and I don’t currently have any desire to be a mom, I don’t yearn to parent, so why do I have to? I’m not the friend that is excited to hold your baby, to play with your toddler, the person that offers to babysit so you can go out on a date with your husband. The noisy kids in my neighborhood totally annoy me. For a long time I felt self-conscious about this, like it was completely unacceptable for me to feel this way. People who have kids or who want kids feel really strongly that you should, too. That you don’t know what you’re talking about, that you couldn’t possibly feel that way, for reals. I had a shouting match with my mom once about it. My mom has four kids. She always wanted kids. She felt and still feels like it was the only thing she ever really wanted to do, to be a mom. It is her life’s work and pride and joy. So, naturally, she can’t relate to her daughter feeling the complete opposite. It offends her. She thinks it’s profoundly selfish. And probably, maybe, it is. But, I am comfortable with being selfish if it means I don’t ever have to be a mom. I’d rather not have kids than have kids and feel like I wish I hadn’t. I’d rather be selfish sans kids than selfish with kids. I’m over it; I don’t feel self-conscious about it anymore. It’s a total relief that I can say without hesitation and with honesty and relief – I do not want kids.
So, I decided on the no kids thing awhile ago. And the seeds of the rest of it have been percolating, too. A long time ago, when I was dating in Indiana, I met this guy that I really liked. And he had a cool mid-century modern house in greys and blues and a yard and a dog. But then one day he wanted me to go buy a washer and dryer with him and we got in a big fight. I didn’t want to go. I refused to go. What’s the big deal, he wondered?! I couldn’t quite understand myself. I’m all for home laundry. But, thinking back on it now, I had already owned a home, two actually. And from the time I was 19 I was in long term, major appliance relationships. Nights and weekends I worked on the lawn, I planted flowers; I spent my discretionary income on an outside trash can, a hose. And I hated it. I hated being a home owner, it required too much, made me feel less flexible with my time and space. I was two years out of home ownership and one year out of a long term relationship and I wasn’t ready, with poor Tim, to jump back in to a shared major appliance situation.
I love having a home; I’m a homebody. I like my stuff and to clean and decorate and cook and sew and talk baby talk to my dogs. I excel at the domestic arts and I enjoy them. However, I am not excited by the permanence that home ownership stands for. This is confusing to me, too, but I think it’s about the subtleties. I can make a home anywhere. I am adaptable. I like a new place and a new space to make my own. I’ve moved 20+ times in my adult life, and while I don’t particularly love moving, which can often be scary and jarring, I like a new horizon.
Rocco had lived in the same house and worked the same job for 14 years. I can’t even imagine this for myself. I would wake up on a Saturday morning at his house and be compelled to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. 14 years walking on the same dirty carpet, 14 years of the same piles of junk in the garage, ancient ramen in the pantry, mowing the same patchy lawn; I’d only been there a few months, it was suffocating. When I thought, imagined, our future, I could only imagine it if we moved to a foreign country! As adaptable as I am, I was terrified I'd get stuck in the quicksand of someone else's stagnant, unmoving life.
When Nic and I lived together I felt crushed by the stuff –the house, the two shops, the storage units. I forced us, him, to purge and purge and purge. We had a garage sale every weekend. I loved Nic and I was happy with our relationship, but I think I went to grad school across the country just to escape the heaviness of our horizon. How could we ever do anything, enjoy anything, if we were constantly just struggling to maintain our space, our environment? How could we respond quickly, take advantage of an opportunity, go on a trip, spread our wings, mired in this job/school/chore/bill bog? (We both got out - sold the house - and moved and moved and moved).
I never thought about not wanting a life like “everybody else,” until the last couple of years. I feel like I’m very slowly, but surely, having this gigantic self-realization, in pieces parts, and formulating what that means and how to respond. Clearly, I’m not clear on any of it but I do feel like it’s a revelation and a relief. I have a great deal of work going ahead, because in addition to realizing what I don’t want, I also realize that I’ve never put anything in the place of those things (a non-baby, non-house offers up a pretty big space). What life will I have instead? What do I actually WANT from MY life? The possibilities are endless.
So far this is what I know: I want my life to be a creative, intellectual, emotional adventure. I want to be surrounded by people who are great conversationalists, that are funny and happy but also deep, conscientious, smart and kind friends. I want to be in a relationship with someone interesting and stimulating and clever, who appreciates that I am also interesting and stimulating and clever. I seek the security of a reciprocal loving relationship with someone who believes in emotional, intellectual growth and communion. Nothing needs to be big and grand and expensive – quiet introspection, physical and mental exercise and fresh air are more important to me. The rest is TBD.