Most people don’t realise that asking a childless, partner-less woman in her 30’s why she finds herself in such as state is mortifying at worst, irritating and marginally hurtful at best. There are a myriad of reasons why this is the case and you need to consider exactly what it is you are inferring by your question – and in most cases I think you’ll find the question was better off not being asked.
My brother got married recently, to a wonderful girl that I am blessed to call my sister (in-law). Both are in their mid-late 20’s. The reception saw an onslaught of people that I (a) hadn’t seen in a long time and (b) had never met. And yet there was one common thread to all the conversations I had that was impossible to miss.
“Soooo, you don’t have a partner?”
(inferring that I am facing the impending doom of spinster-hood)
“Well, you have been very busy, focused on your career… that must make it hard to find that special someone?”
(implication being that I have made a huge mistake by using my brain & my skills; that I am cold, heartless and must rush (as though my ovaries depended on it) to rectify said mistake and increase partner-finding prospects)
“Have you thought about having a family of your own? Time’s running out you know!”
(inferring that if I don’t immediately get fertilised, some mythical deadline – known only to the person asking – will rush up and pass me by, leaving me barren, wandering alone and baby-less in the wilderness of Singledom)
I wonder if it crossed the minds of those people that despite my smiling, cheery outer persona, that question might just cause a little sting inside? Is it really possible that they would think those same questions hadn’t crossed my own mind and forced ME to ask myself why? And what’s more, is it really anyone else’s business?
My standard response to the queries went something like this:
Them: “Soooo, you don’t have a partner?”
Me: “No. (scoff). I study Architecture. It would take a very patient man to cope with me and that!” (forced, somewhat humourless laugh)
When you’re in your 20’s, you think you have all the time in the world. And I spent most of mine dating people who were completely inappropriate or just plain wrong for me… you know, the typical good girl / bad boy thing. It’s been done to death. Same ol’, same ol’. I was your classic ‘defender of the underdog’ and ‘no-i-swear-he’ll-change’ girl. I think in truth I was only in love once and even then it’s touch and go. I would get hooked on the fantasy of the ‘picket fence’ but (subconsciously) make sure the actual opportunities were just out of arm’s reach. I believed in love in all its glory and repeatedly had my heart ripped out, stomped on and in one case, completely annihilated. I don’t blame them. I blame me for being too naive and not smart enough to cut through the crap.
It wasn’t all bad. I did meet and spend time with some lovely men who, perhaps in a different space-time continuum would have been future-husband and baby-maker material. But at the time it didn’t feel right because I had too much to achieve and too much self-reflection to undergo. I just wasn’t where they were at. I wanted to be. I really did. I just wasn’t.
The crux of the problem was that I wanted to have it all. Ever since I was a young girl, I have been told – by my family, the media, romance novels, educators, feel-good movies and all other outlets of mass dissemination – that I COULD have it all. Women can do anything, be anything, have everything… ummmmm. No. They can’t. I think they spoiled us with that knowledge. That knowledge made me believe that I could build a successful career, live life, have a ball… and then when I was good and ready, snap my fingers and have Prince Charming fall into my lap; naturally, at the optimal age for white weddings and combining gene pools.
Despite the fact that I wouldn’t be having a stock-standard white wedding because I’d want something designer-ish and cool, and despite the fact that the career I spent so much time and energy on has now taken a back seat to further study… I’m not even close to obtaining ANY of the above mentioned things.
I’m going to be very honest. I do have regrets. There are things I wished I had said and done that I didn’t do. There are things I said and did that I wish (to everything holy) that I could take back. But I learned something valuable from each and every situation and I was able to add to my arsenal of self-esteem and self-respect. I’m also going to be very honest and tell you that I do want a husband – in spite of the many car-crash relationships that have preceded this current phase of my life, I still believe in love. Wholeheartedly. The pain & heartbreak of the past has not compromised my ability to love and be loved in the future. In a partner, I want a lover and a best friend. That is all. No bells, no whistles, no fanfare or Hallelujah chorus. My 20’s taught me that simplicity should be a core value.
I do want a family. I do want babies. I haven’t sacrificed my ability to have children by prioritising my career over motherhood. My life was insanely busy before I got sick. It was a lifestyle I would never recommend to anyone. At any one stage I would be juggling multiple design projects and saying ‘yes’ when I really meant ‘no… I can’t handle anymore’. I would be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for my boss or my clients or my trades and it was, in a word, stupid. It was a stupid way to live because whilst I was doing what I loved, I wasn’t in control of my life.
Now, after 2 and a bit years of soul-searching and reminiscing, I’m ready for the next chapter. But I still don’t want people asking me why I haven’t skipped ahead to the happy ending of my book.
I’m not cold-hearted, selfish, spinster-hood bound or any such (ridiculous) thing. I just haven’t found the right person yet. I’m 31 years old. I believe that getting married and having a family should only be an option once I am as sure as I can possibly be that this person is the right one to do those things with… as sure as I can be, short of getting a signed declaration of approval from the Universe or having to sit the prospective partner down before a panel of psychologists / loved ones or potentially running background checks. I did allude to the fact that I had made some diabolically bad partner choices. haha.
There were 4 of us girls out to dinner last Friday night. Only one of us is married. During the stock standard lamentations that occur when 3 single girls are in the same space, the girl who is married said something that has stuck with me ever since. Her advice? – “Do not settle. Forever is a long time. There may not be fireworks at the start but those fireworks grow as you grow to love someone. The fireworks that come with bad boys aren’t what you need in a husband”. I’m paraphrasing but that was essentially the message.
She’s dead right. That’s exactly what has been running through my head for the last 12 months at least. Do not settle. And more importantly, just relax, be happy and live. If this is all supposed to happen for me, it will. I have no doubt there is someone out there who will find my quirks amusing, my self-deprecating humour charming and my talents something to be proud of rather than envious of… there will be someone out there who thinks my curves appealing, my intelligence is a turn-on and who finds me beautiful for all the right reasons. Trying to rush that process to fit into someone else’s plan of what my life should be like at this point just isn’t going to happen.
For those who are wondering, I am not unhappy, I don’t get lonely and I am not desperate to (a) find a partner or (b) conceive before all my eggs die off like salmon after spawning. I’ve learned lessons and now I just feel like I know the rules of the game a little better. I’m not waiting for anything, I’m not putting my life on hold. I am actually the most settled I’ve ever been, I am throwing myself into my Architectural studies because I want to share my skills in a meaningful way (after I wade through 4 more years of study)… Most importantly, there is nothing wrong with me. I am a vivacious, attractive, young woman with everything going for her.
Next time, before you ask ‘why’, just be a little more aware that us 30’s women have a lot more going on than you think. Please don’t make me feel I need to rush my life to meet an imaginary deadline or society’s ‘ideals’. I’m fine just where I am.