I’m irritable. In general, but more to the point, right now. The filters I have set so carefully in place are…shall we say…stressed. As are we all. Here’s the thing. I have a constant dialogue in my brain–dialogue? Monologue. Lots of time, it’s just anxious chatter about how I’m fucking up. But, otherwise, it’s a snarky MST3K voice sniping about everyone and everything around me. I’m pretty good at keeping it under wraps for the most part–except when I’m driving. I have bad road rage. Or rather, I used to have bad road rage. Taiji has helped with it a great deal–but then it comes bursting out at the exactly wrong time. I’ve had this issue all my life so it seems as if I overreact to something small after all the rage has built up inside me.
I was taught never to show negative emotions, especially anger, by my father. He was the only one allowed to be mad, and he was very unpleasant to be around when he was raging. He would make his displeasure known one of two ways–either by shouting at the top of his lungs or by completely ignoring you. I don’t mean just not speaking to you, but looking straight through you. Unfortunately, I’ve perfected that ability, and in my case, it’s my way of escaping an unpleasant situation if I’m trapped. It’s my safe space, and I’m really good at blocking out everything.
Side Note: I know the silent treatment is not a good thing. It has a bad rap, and deservedly so. However, as someone who has been trapped in situations in which I cannot win, it’s the least-worst of all the bad options. When I was a kid, I was scolded about whatever. If I tried to protest, I was told not to talk back. If I sat there without saying anything, then I was attacked for the sulky look on my face. I felt as if I couldn’t win, so the only thing I could do was have a blank look on my face while being yelled at.
I’ve been thinking about relationships lately because, well, I’m not sure exactly why. Probably because it’s the end of the year and I get introspect as the year comes to a close. Thinking about it reminds me of how I realized I didn’t want to have children. Well, not really, but the aftermath was similar. The decision itself was easy. It was as if the heavens parted and the sun shone directly upon me. If I liked sunshine, that was. I didn’t have to have kids! I was filled with relief and went about my merry way.
Or I would have except I naively shared this decision with people who asked me about children and when I was having them. I was a young woman in my early twenties, so this came up more than I wanted it to. To me, I made a decision that only affected me, and that should have been that. Instead, I had people question my decision making several gross claims that were firmly rooted in sexism even if I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. This was in the early nineties when it was still preached that a woman’s #1 job was to be a mother.* It was the main tenet of both of my cultures, and I got so much pressure from my mother, but that’s another post for another day.
I was so young and naive to think that I could dare state that I didn’t want to have children without any blowback. Mind you, it wasn’t something I brought up out of the blue, but I was honest about it if someone brought it up. The reactions I received ranged from condescending–you’re too young to know/you’ll change your mind–to anger. Yes, I actually had people think I was judging them for their decision to have children because I said I didn’t want them. Honestly? I didn’t give a shit about their reproductive choices–just mine. But, I was pushing back on the status quo which made some people very unhappy. More to the point, I acted as if it simply did not exist, which really shook some people. In reflection, I realized that people who followed the status quo without thinking REALLY did not like those who didn’t.
I gave dozens of reasons why I wasn’t going to have children depending on my mood. I was too selfish (true), I was too hot-tempered (true), and I didn’t have the energy (true). My go-to snark answer was that I would be screaming, “Get the fuck away from me! Mommy doesn’t want to see you for three days”, and I couldn’t afford paying for a lifetime of therapy–but it was basically true. I don’t like being around other people all the time or having anyone depend on me (except my cat, and even he pushes it when he meows incessantly in my face in the morning for breakfast), and something I didn’t admit to many people was that I could see myself abusing a child. Not purposely, but because I snapped.
It was all faff, however, because while it was true, the simple answer is that I didn’t have children because I didn’t want them. I never have, and I only thought I’d have them because that was what I was supposed to do. I cannot tell you how free I felt when I realized I could choose not to have children, and it’s a feeling that has only intensified over time. Over a quarter of a century later, I am happier than ever that I don’t have children. There was only one time I briefly considered it, and it was because my mother engaged a 15-year campaign to get me pregnant from the time I was 25 until I was 40. During the heyday when she was nattering at me yet again about how motherhood was whatever she said it was because I blanked out every time she mentioned it, I had a flash thought of, “Maybe I should get pregnant to shut her the fuck up.” Fortunately, I immediately realized that was a fucking stupid reason to get pregnant, but it was a rough fifteen years.
One of my daily stories is Doctor Nerdlove. I read his website, and then recently discovered (remembered) he also writes for Kotaku. I’ve been bingeing past articles, and there are a few themes that have stuck with me that I’d like to explore. Before I do that, I would like to say if you’re a dude who is struggling with dating issues, please read Doctor Nerdlove. He is on point 98% of the time, and his writing is clear and easy to digest. It’s refreshing to see a dude just lay it on the line and be quite frank when the letter writer is acting like an entitled prick. Do I agree with him all the time? Of course not, but I think his general principles are sound.
The first principle I want to explore is his belief that love is hard, but it’s worth it. That’s a gross generalization, of course, but it’s pretty much the bottom line of his advice to people struggling with dating for a variety of reasons. It’s mostly dudes wanting to date women, but there have been other permutations as well. His bottom line is that, yes, the dating pool may be harder for some (say if you’re a fat woman of color who dates men, for example), but that love in any shape or form (as long as it’s healthy) is worth it.
To which I’ve been asking myself, “But is it, though?” To be clear, I’m not saying that lifelong love can’t happen. It can. My BFF met her husband when she was fifteen and has been with him for nearly thirty-five years. They’ve had many hard times, but nearly thirty-five years, one daughter, and one move out of state later (still miss ya, K!), they still love and support each other. My other bestie recently met the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and I’ve never seen him happier or more comfortable with himself.
So, I’m not saying it’s not possible or that people shouldn’t strive for it if it’s what they want. The last part is key, though, because it’s too easy for people in this society to think that a long-term monogamous relationship is the be-all/end-all. To be clear, the good not-doctor is not advocating either of these things, necessarily. But it’s still baked into a lot of the questions, and I would love to see people really dig into this expectation. I’ve done it myself over the years, and who I am now as far as romance goes is so different than who I was when I first started dating (I was 16).
Today, I read a piece in the NYT by a dying woman, Amy Krouse, Rosenthal, called You May Want to Marry My Husband, and it’s a personal/love letter for/to her husband. It’s a lovely piece, and I think most people will be stirred by it. Those of you who know me well can probably tell that I’m speaking in a very measured tone, which should alert you to the fact that I’m about to add a ‘but’ to that statement. Really, it should be expected because it’s not much of a post if I’m just going to gush how great this piece is. So, those of you who don’t want a somewhat grumpy post about love and relationships, you probably want to turn away now. Consider yourself forewarned.
As I was reading, I found myself wondering about his flaws. He didn’t seem like a real person to me from the post, and no, I did not want to marry her husband. One, because I’m not the marrying type, but two, because I never believe the advertisement for a product. That sounds incredibly harsh, and I don’t really mean it that way. It’s just that when you read personals, you know that the person is putting their best foot forward. When I tried the personals, I would emphasize my love of literature, my tats, my nontraditional outlook on life. And sex. How much I love sex. Which is a lot. I was witty and funny and my words sparkled.
What I didn’t mention was that I was severely depressed and barely moved from the couch for days on end. I’m alternately clingy and cold, and I can hold a grudge like nobody’s business. While I endeavor to be understanding and empathetic, I can be judgmental as hell on the inside. I don’t like people in general, and I can only take people in very little doses. In addition, I’m a slob with a tendency towards inertia, and sometimes, I have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from my house. I’m generous, but I keep tabs in my head of the favors I do. I bottle up my emotions until I explode, and then I scorch the earth with my fury. I’m passive-aggressive, and I’m conflict-avoidant to an unhealthy degree, though I’m getting better at being more direct. I’m moody, and overly-sensitive in taking offense, and I sulk way more than is seemly for a woman my age. All of these things are important for someone interested in dating me to know.
Back to the piece. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What would he do if I refused to talk to him for hours?” “What happens when I want sex for the third day in a row, and he’s just too tired*?” “How will he react if I push him to do a chore he doesn’t want to do?” In other words, tell me about his flaws. Tell me what I’ll see when I peel back the layers and get past the superficial. Tell me what he’s like when he’s sick or cranky or just not feeling tiptop. Does he leave two squares on the toilet roll and not replace it? Is he short with the kids when he’s feeling tense?
I never played with baby dolls when I was a little girl. They never appealed to me, nor did actual babies. They were screaming, squalling, dribbling balls of snot, and I didn’t like them at all. I also never pretend-played having a wedding with my Barbies. I know many little girls dream of their perfect wedding, but I didn’t care about it at all. The only thing I did with my Barbies was cut their hair after coloring it black, and I made them have sex with each other. All that girly shit didn’t matter to me, and it wasn’t until a decade and a half later that I realized I was supposed to care deeply about these issues. When I was twenty, I realized that I didn’t want children. At all. It was a weird revelation because I just assumed I had to have them, given the societal pressure as well as the maternal pressure. When it ht me that I didn’t have to have them, a feeling of relief overwhelmed me. I didn’t have to have kids! It was as if a life sentence I didn’t know I was under had been lifted. I didn’t think it was a big deal until I started telling other people, and I was met with a range of reactions from disbelief to condescension to anger. That’s when I realized that what I did with my body was deemed to be communal property, and I heartily rebelled against that. I also bristled at the idea that I didn’t know my own mind, that my biological clock would one day overwhelm me, and that all I would be able to think about was squeezing out babies Duggar-style. It made me indignant that other people thought they knew me better than I knew myself, and even if it was true that I would change my mind at some point, why couldn’t they accept that at the time, I didn’t want to have kids?
As it was, I never changed my mind. I’m forty-five years old, and the only time I had even an inkling to have a kid was when my mother wouldn’t stop pushing me to procreate. It got so bad, I thought of having a kid just to shut her up. Fortunately, I realized that was a phenomenally stupid reason to have children, and I never thought about it again. It’s hard not to say this without sounding defensive, but the only time I think about not having kids is when someone else brings it up. I love not having kids with a glee that is unbecoming. It’s not because I hate kids; I don’t. I just never wanted them. Plus, I knew I’d be a bad mother, though I’m a pretty great ‘crazy aunt’. Once I hit forty, the question of my fertility became a moot point, much to my relief. I did have an impulse to send out cards to people who were sure I’d have kids gloating over my child-free state. It passed, thankfully, and I went on my merry way.