Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trying to Nav. through singledom

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the different bonds people form as part of their life strategy. There are 3 basic approaches a person can take when it comes to incorporating other people into their lives. Approach 1:  remain uncommitted and “go it alone”, 2: find one person (or in some less common cases two, or three people etc), to form a partnership for life and  just take on the world as a dynamic duo (or trio or quartet etc) without ever having children.  3:  have kids and form a family unit. In the last few months (since I called off my engagement), my opinion about which of these strategies is best for me has varied widely on a day to day basis as I’ve tried to figure out the direction I would like to steer my life.

One of the main reasons I had wanted to get married several months ago, when I accepted the proposal of my then boyfriend, was because I wanted to have a child and I wanted said child to have as stable a life as possible, so being married to the father of that someday baby seemed the easiest thing to do. As a 29 year old woman who had a good job, but not one that I considered satisfying or meaningful, I’d felt I was in a position where I could either search for meaning through pursuing a career that would be fulfilling OR I could have a child.

 At the time my dream was to open a bakery/café of my own, where I would spend the day turning raw ingredients into delectable breads and cakes and sell the quirky, witty greeting cards I'd designed at the register … and maybe have a stand-up comedy night once a month. Other than an affinity for baking, I had no particular qualifications or plan to start my dream cafe. I worried that if I did open a café, my business might fail after a few years, or never get off the ground at all, and then I would have wasted the last of my reproductively viable years and have nothing but frustration and failure to show for it.

 On the other hand I had everything I would need to create a brand new human life and by all accounts of my family and  friends who had children, having a child is the ultimate source of meaning and fulfillment. Since I felt my age and financial resources prevented me from having both a meaningful/satisfying career AND a child I figured having a baby as soon as possible was the safer bet.

Later, if I felt I had enough money and time, I could go to culinary school to learn how to use proper industrial baking equipment, apply for a loan and THEN have my bakery when I was in my 40s or 50s, in the mean time my life would feel like it had a purpose because I would be a devoted mother … so that was my plan. I was going to stop feeling dissatisfied with my own life by postponing the pursuit of my goals indefinitely and strive for a sense of fulfillment through the new life that I would create with my soon-to-be husband.

The plan didn't quite sit well with me though. It felt wrong to put that responsibility onto a life that I had forced into existence. It felt like too much to ask of someone to have to exist just so they could give meaning to my life. It was horribly selfish and I knew it.

 I couldn't think of any unselfish reasons to have kids though, and so many people have kids, so that seemed like it made it ok. If everyone else thought it was fine to decide to create a life, then it must be fine. Forget about overpopulation; our awesome purpose giving children could figure that out. Don’t worry about the potential suffering of the child; most people get by without any major catastrophes. So what if I couldn’t afford to stay at home and raise my kid and would have to pay the exorbitant cost for child-care so that some random stranger could spend more time raising my child and shaping them to be who they would grow to be? That’s just the way it works now and people turn out fine.

Despite the weak justifications and nagging worries and guilt in the back of my mind, I could still see reasons to have a child though. I wanted a child because children are cute and loving (and, as I’ve said, give meaning to your life). I wanted to live vicariously through my child and reminisce about school as he/she progressed through each grade. I wanted to teach and shape my child into an outstanding human being who would achieve the success with his/her life and career that I never did (because I’d decided to have a child instead?).  I wanted my niece to have a cousin to play with so they could be lifelong friends. There’re just all sorts of events and milestones to make you feel like a proud parent and having a child just opens up so many experiences to you that you cannot have without a child, so I wanted that.

 Also, I kind of expected my child to grow up to be a companion to me after his/her father died (because let’s face it, my former fiancé was 14 years older than me, didn’t eat particularly well and had made some questionable choices about drugs and his general health when he’d been younger, so I didn’t expect him to live nearly as long as I would). In short, I wanted a guarantee that I would  not end up old and alone.

I decided I wanted more than to not be alone though, so I broke off my engagement, thus (at the very least) tabling the possibility of having a child. Having children vs. not having children wasn’t the ultimate deciding factor in my calling off my engagement though. My decision ultimately stemmed from the fact that I wanted more from my life and more from my life partner than I would’ve had if I’d stayed with my ex-fiancé. I could have settled down with him and had a perfectly content life, but it would have been settling… down…

After I got through my weepy, self-doubting, self-pitying, “oh-god-what-if-I-just made-the-biggest-mistake of-my-life?” phase and transitioned in to acceptance of my singledom, I was overwhelmed with the possibilities for my future and I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to integrate other people into my new life. Having a child was certainly not a motivating factor for me at that point though. A child was not going to be my vehicle towards finding a purposeful existence. If I had a kid, it was going to be at some point after I felt satisfied that my life was meaningful and fulfilling already.

I wished I was the kind of person who could be content with savage independence. I wanted to be significant enough to myself to not need another. It would be so clean and liberating. There would be no frustrating and tedious arguments about mundane daily life, no one to scold me for drinking out of the milk carton or demand to know why I’d just left my socks in the middle of the living room floor. I wouldn’t have to settle for compromises; everything could be my own way.  How I spent my free time, how I spent my money, where I went on vacation, what I ate for dinner and when, would all be entirely up to me if I could just ditch that stupid nagging need for companionship. 

It would be a selfish lifestyle in certain ways, I felt - making so many decisions without considering anyone else, but in other ways it was also a very courteous way to live; without burdening anyone else with the need to console me, care for me or compromise and yield to my wishes. I would indirectly be doing a favor to others. I wasn’t ever thinking that I would want to suddenly abandon my parents and the rest of my family or cast off all of my friends or anything like that, but if I could be fully self-sufficient, it seemed that it would actually improve my relationship with others in my life. Without having to consult a significant other’s schedule or finances, I would be uninhibited and able to spend time with the people in my life more freely. It would be great… if I could manage to convince myself that I didn’t need to be in a romantic relationship with anyone.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the freedom of going it alone, could ever be enough for me to settle the nagging of loneliness and vulnerability inside me. Maybe someday I’ll be confident and strong enough to ignore my longing for a companion, but at the moment, I can’t help but worry about being alone and long to feel like the person I love will always be there for me when I need them. If I didn’t have a partner in life to rely on, hiccups in life could turn into major catastrophes. There would be no one to help me get by if I suddenly lost my job or was injured to the point where I couldn’t work for a significant amount of time. No one would be there to hold me and console me at night if a tragedy befell someone I loved and I wouldn't have the joy or comfort of feeling unconditionally loved and unconditionally loving someone else.

 I happen to like helping others and enjoy surprising someone I care about with a gift or card and I love sharing secrets and inside jokes with people who are particularly close. I enjoy cooking and sharing meals with someone each night, spooning at bed time and trusting someone enough to have sexy and/or intimate time with them. – those shared experiences make me feel significant… and in spite of my dream to be fully independent, I quite like to matter to other people because other people matter to me.

I recently enjoyed an amazing week in Hawaii with a friend, his wife, father and sister in law and part of what made it such a great week (aside from the fact that we were in tropical paradise) was that I felt like I got to be an honorary member of a really happy cohesive family. Each person contributed to the “family” in various ways, volunteering to cook, or clean or just adding an interesting element to conversation, but no one was a burden on anyone else. Everyone took care of his or her self as an individual, but offered to strengthen the “family” unit by contributing to the group. My friend and his wife don’t have kids and they may never have kids, but he told me they were just happy to “share their life experiences with each other”. They have each other’s backs when needed and lend help to one another on a daily basis, but they still manage to each be very independent people, traveling on their own at time and pursuing their own projects and goals and coming together with family and friends occasionally to form a happy little unit to share a vacation or visit with.

 I was struck by the balance they’d achieved in their relationship – they have the security and joy of each other’s love, they have strong bonds with their existing families and friends without needing to have kids and they both function as individuals. To me, they seem to have the perfect union. I hope someday I can achieve a similar situation as my friend’s for myself, but unfortunately cultivating that kind of a relationship is not as simple as deciding that is how I want to live my life, so for now I’ll just have to try to embrace my independence, enjoy the pursuit of the perfect partner, and check to see if any of my roommates want to spoon with me when I’m feeling lonely.  

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