On not being asked if I’m seeing someone

Graffiti of a green fish with sharp teeth

This conversation can swallow you whole.

Lately, friends and family that I see occasionally—say, once or twice a year—are getting less likely to ask me if I’m dating anyone.

This conversation point used to come up reliably. Now, it seems to be sliding farther down people’s mental lists of things to enquire about.

This is good and bad. On the one hand, I sometimes get tired of the conversations with my female friends in which we endlessly deconstruct our love lives.

Those discussions can be wonderful: fulfilling, revealing, fascinating. But they can also make me feel like my girlfriends and I don’t pass the Bechdel Test—like every conversation has to come back to some dude.

On the flip side, though, when I hang out with someone and they don’t ask me if I’m seeing someone, I’m not sure how to take that.

*

I had dinner with good friends recently, whom I hadn’t seen in several months. After we’d talked politics, movies, family, and work, one of them asked if I had updates about my love life. He said he didn’t want to bring up a sore subject, but was curious to hear the latest.

I told him I was happy that he’d asked. If he hadn’t, I would have felt like he’d given up on my ever finding anyone.

But as with anything involving human intimacy, it’s more complex than that.

I know people who have never, or rarely, mentioned a romantic interest in anyone, and have always deflected my occasional questions away from that zone. I don’t know if they identify as asexual/aromantic, or if there are other forces at play.

In any case, I’ve stopped asking. I do pose open-ended questions, like “So what else has been going on with you lately?” I figure that will invite any stories, romantic or otherwise, that the person wants to offer.

I know someone whose parents ask her, every time they talk, when she’s planning on getting married and having babies. That gets old too.

I also know people who have been single for years or decades, and who simply don’t get asked any more. Is that a relief? Or is it demoralizing?

*

It’s a tricky balance, between asking too often and not enough, showing interest and poking a bruise.

How do you all navigate this?

Photo by Merlijn Hoek via Creative Commons.

Toronto, Part 2: Alone Among Canadians

Wall art showing a boy standing on a small grassy island in a lake, saying "Hello?"

You can feel like this in the middle of 5 million people.

I’ve always enjoyed traveling alone.

It started when I was living in China. In the late 1990s, this was not a welcoming place to travel as a foreigner. Trains and buses ran on incomprehensible schedules. I was once sold a ticket for a train that didn’t exist.

But I loved the freedom of hopping on a bus and going to visit other Peace Corps Volunteers in a town a couple hours away.

Traveling with others can be wonderful. But you have to accommodate another person’s desires, moods, and interests. Traveling alone, I can do whatever I want, at my own pace. It’s luxurious.

It’s also lonely.

Whenever I tell people that I’m going on vacation somewhere, they ask, “Just you?” Saying yes is a point of pride with me. I want to be the kind of person who has the bravery, as well as the time and the financial and emotional resources, to hop on a plane somewhere for a few days.

It feeds my ego to see myself as an adventurer.

This Toronto trip, though, I felt my alone-ness vividly. It’s not that I was terribly isolated during my trip. I stayed in an airbnb (renting a room in a couple’s apartment), and visited with two college friends. At times I was engulfed by hundreds of humans, most notably when I watched the first Presidential debate at a bar.

I vacillated during this trip between enjoying making my own agenda and following my own whims, and wishing I had someone to share the experience with.

Being childfree and unmarried is like that too. I love my independence—I’m an American, after all, and we’re obsessed with freedom and self-direction.

There are also moments when I feel adrift in space. With a really sweet oxygen tank and a viewscreen that delivers Netflix, for sure. But still, just me in my spacesuit, floating through the galaxy.

I wonder what it would take for me to feel truly connected to others. I have great friends and family members I’m close to. Mutual love. My friends and family live all over the world.

I guess I miss the partnership I’ve felt when I’ve lived with a boyfriend in the past. Or even a great roommate. The feeling when you hear them opening the door, and you’re delighted, instead of annoyed to have your privacy violated.

Introvert’s dilemma, perhaps?

Photo by me. See my other Toronto photos on Flickr.

Which Way to Go?

Two paths in a wood diverge around a tree.

Photo by Carsten Tolkmit via Creative Commons on Flickr.

I’m deciding whether or not to keep this website going.

Over the last six months, I’ve been posting rarely. I like what I’ve written, but it’s been feeling like a chore.

Several factors are contributing to this.

I’m not thinking so much these days about being childfree/childless/not having kids. It’s still a big part of who I am, but I’m also seeing routes to becoming a parent someday (whether as a stepmom, or through fostering/adoption).

This may not happen. I enjoy my independence.

But I don’t want to define myself by what I don’t have, and am not. And as I continue to date and meet new men, I don’t want them coming here and making assumptions about where our future together could go.

Also, my mind is busy with a variety of new subjects. I’ve started taking graduate business courses, and am becoming fascinated by the power of capitalism to create and solve problems.

I’ve joined a laughter club, and somehow am now a co-leader.

I’m still deeply involved in a codependent love-hate relationship with Boston.

There’s a lot going on.

More and more, this blog is feeling like a box, built to contain something I’d rather set free.

I don’t believe in leaving websites up gathering dust. But it makes me sad to trash it!

What should I do? Some options:

Rename the site and revise the “About” so it doesn’t have a childfree focus.

Leave it up as an archive.

Hit the Delete key and move on.

Advice?

Photo credit: Carsten Tolkmit via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Dream of a White Cat

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Image by Leon Rice-Whetton via Creative Commons.

I’m scared of cats, so it’s probably not surprising that one tried to rip my guts out in a dream the other night.

It was fluffy and white, kind of like the spoiled gourmet kitty from the old Fancy Feast commercials. But there was a manic gleam in its eye.

And it was strong! It put one paw on my chest to hold me down, and then used the claws on its other paw to rip my belly open. I woke up terrified.

Deep hidden meaning

I pondered what this dream might signify. The cat was aiming for my stomach and guts. That made me think about fertility. Specifically, getting older and losing my ability to become pregnant.

I’m fine with not having kids, if that’s how things play out. I can also see myself adopting a foster child, or becoming a stepmom. Or finding a partner who enjoys being childfree.

But getting pregnant is a glorious mystery. Am I really happy leaving it to other Sherlocks to solve?

valentina-cat
Image by Valentina Storti via Creative Commons.

Ghost of a chance

I firmly believe that there are many ways to lead a strong, satisfying life. And many of them don’t have to include parenting.

Still though. It will be heart-rending when my body lets me know it’s no longer going to be easy to conceive. Having that choice taken away will be tough.

Dueling creatures

The cat of infertility, of aging, of diminished choices is glaring at me from the corner of my subconscious.

What fierce animal in my psyche will chase it away?

Stepping Up

A couple months ago, I moved in with my new roommate Aimee and her dog Darla.

This is Darla:

darla-1

I love living with these girls. Having my own place was awesome too, but it got lonely sometimes. It’s wonderful to come home to a positive, enthusiastic roommate and a dog who thinks I’m a superstar.

My friend Holly refers to Darla as my stepdog. I know what she means, though it’s definitely a slacker version of being a stepparent. I have all the benefits of having a pet, while Aimee handles all the major responsibilities. (Though I have been helping out with taking Darla for walks sometimes.)

This all made me think about potentially becoming someone’s stepmom someday. I’m probably not going to ever get pregnant, but I could fall in love with a guy who has kids from a previous relationship. In fact, a lot of the single men in my age group (30s and 40s) are divorced and have anywhere from one to (yikes) four kids.

The more I think about that idea, the more I like it. I’d make a great stepmother–though I know it must be extremely complicated and challenging in ways I can’t even conceive of.

For now, though, my stepdog is more than enough to keep me fulfilled.

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The Four Pillars of Adulthood

tinkerbell
Image courtesy of JD Hancock, via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Most Americans do four things before they’re considered a mature, successful adult:

  1. Graduate from college.
  2. Get married.
  3. Buy a house.
  4. Have kids.

While the order is somewhat flexible, if you don’t achieve these milestones, you’re not considered a grownup.

Of these four, I’ve accomplished #1 (college). The other three are iffy.

I have a lot of ambivalence around marriage. It’s moving when two people commit their lives to one another. And it can be sooooo hard for that to work out well.

I’ve already written about self-identifying as a renter, not an owner.

And just from the name of this blog, you can tell #4 is not a priority.

So I’m a wicked underachiever. I don’t even have a car, for crying out loud. I might as well be living in my parents’ basement.

But other actions I’ve taken have transformed me.

  • I joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Asia for two years.
  • I wrote a screenplay. I’m writing another one.
  • I’ve loved with all my heart, and had my heart shattered–and rewired.

The truth is, I’m quite a conventional person. I work a 9-to-5 job, pay my rent on the first, buy things on Amazon. I play by society’s rules.

But going by the four pillars up top, I’m an outlier. A rebel. Call me Peter Pan, because clearly, adulthood and me? Not such good friends.

What about you? Are you an American grownup? How do you feel about that?

Childfree Ways to Keep the Family Going

As someone without kids, I feel a special responsibility to preserve my family traditions. Is that weird?

For example, I spent Memorial Day here, on my family’s farm in New York.

fields-6 copy

A bunch of cousins met up there to talk about ways to keep the farm in the family, rather than selling it.

Some of my younger cousins talked about how they want their kids and grandkids to be able to visit and play on the farm. I want that too–for them, not for me.

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Since I won’t be preserving the family genetically, I need to do it in other ways. By being the cool auntie who hangs out on the farm with my second cousins once removed. By modeling for the younger generations that there are life paths other than marriage and parenting.

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In the 1800s and early 1900s, there was a tradition of “spinsters” living on the farm–unmarried women, who pulled their weight by working in the kitchen, maybe weaving on the loom.

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I wonder if they felt fulfilled, like they had their place and thrived in it.

Or if they always wondered what else might have been.

Or maybe both?

Why I’m Proud to Be Self-Centered

selfish

Photo by Cathy Cole (Fire Monkey Fish) via Creative Commons on Flickr.

One cliché about people without kids is that we’re self-centered. But shouldn’t that be a compliment?

I’m not talking about the traditional meaning of the word, which is close to “selfish” or “self-absorbed.” But let’s break “self-centered” down a bit.

Shouldn’t being “centered in myself” be good? It sounds like being grounded, knowing who I am, and having the strength from that to reach out to others and support them too.

In our culture, though, being self-centered means being interested in yourself at the expense of others. And this is a criticism often turned upon those of us who choose not to have kids.

Being childfree helps me remain self-centered, in my re-imagined sense of the word. If I had kids, I wouldn’t have much time to meet with my writing group, have phone calls with my friends about their love lives, or take the train to see my parents. I could still do those things, but they wouldn’t come as easily.

For my friends who are parents, their sense of self expands to include their kids. That’s beautiful. But a solitary sense of self can also be both strong and loving.

Childfree friends and allies with kids–join me in a pledge to get more self-centered! To know ourselves, and rely on ourselves, so we’re strong enough to do more good in the world.

Here’s an interesting essay defending parenthood against charges of selfishness.

On Googling Exes

The other day I did an online search for some ex-boyfriends. Afterwards I felt like I’d just binged on candy: hollow inside, and with an acidic taste in my mouth.

Was it nostalgia that made me Google their names? I certainly don’t want to revive any of those relationships. They’re long over, digested by both my brain and my heart. I’m with a new guy now, and life is fulfilling.

But my exes have been blundering through my mind lately, like half-hearted zombies. One lives right near my friends in their new neighborhood and we walked by his house when I visited them. Another is a new dad and Facebook is plastered with photos of his cute offspring.

Does being childfree make me more vulnerable to nostalgia and wondering what might have been? It hurt me, a tiny bit, to see my ex holding his baby and beaming.

I’m glad he has that happiness. But it’s also slightly alien. It’s like he’s cracked a code I’ll never decipher.

The fact that I don’t particularly want to crack that code doesn’t stop the twinge in my guts at the family portrait, the affectionate comments from his friends, his bountiful harvest of “likes.”

Any of you fall down this rabbit hole recently?

Christmas as an Ending and a Beginning

Image
Image by Leo and Diane Dillon, via Wikipedia.

Every year, on December 23, in southern New Hampshire where I grew up, my dad and I go to a tree farm to cut down a Christmas tree.

We follow the German tradition, and open our presents on Christmas Eve. Instead of electric lights, my mom puts candleholders on the branches, and we light 12 candles on the tree for our celebration. That’s why we get our tree so late: so the branches aren’t dry and won’t catch fire.

I didn’t know until I went to college that what we were doing was somewhat exotic. My friends from California and Hawaii were blown away when I told them about the live candles: “Isn’t that dangerous?” They liked the image of us sawing down the tree–my dad on his knees in the snow, easing the teeth of the saw into the frozen trunk, until the small tree tilted and snapped free of the ground.

My role for many years was to hold the tree while my dad cut. I’d stand there with my gloved hands wrapped around the needly central column–the tree’s spine. I’d feel the tree shaking as my dad severed it from the earth.

During my pagan phase in my 20s, I loved this process more, and also felt guilty. We were sacrificing a living being–not living like us, but alive. This seemed both beautiful and sadistic. I pictured the tree gasping for oxygen, sucking down the water we gave it like someone breathing through a straw.

I know that the tree we cut each year doesn’t feel pain, and doesn’t have consciousness, at least not like our own. But it is still a sacrifice. And it’s fitting to think about death, and endings, as the old year dies and the new one is born.

Now that my dad and I are older, we’ve traded positions. I’m often the one down on my knees in the snow, forcing the saw’s teeth through the wood, and freeing the tree from its tether to the ground.

I don’t have kids and most likely will not. I’m an only child. When I’m my dad’s age, if I get there, will I be cutting down a tree alone? Will I enlist a buddy to help me?

What if the family tree ends with me?

* * *

This year, my dad and I drove in the freezing rain to our usual tree farm, on December 23. We were greeted by a hand-painted sign: “Closed for the season.”

Knocked for a loop, we cruised the back roads until we found a small family store with pre-cut trees for sale. That family had also retreated indoors, away from the harsh sleet. Payment was on the honor system: put the money in the locked box, the sign said.

We did, and wound up with the most gigantic tree we’ve ever had. It looms in my parents’ living room like a benign giant, frozen to a statue by Narnia’s White Witch.

A close family friend died a few weeks before Christmas. His wife, also a dear friend, joined us on Christmas Eve, where we were sad and joyful together, both at the same time. The tree presided, glowing over us.

This poem by the New Hampshire poet Charlie Pratt (another beloved family friend, who died in 2012) captures what I’m feeling right now:

Villanelle

The land turns round as does a potter’s wheel.
The potter’s fingers press against the clay
To find the form that formless mists conceal,

Marry the imagined and the real.
Hollows rise up, great walls fall away,
The land turns round as does a potter’s wheel.

All we dream of, all we touch and feel
Spill topsy-turvy in the potter’s play
To find the form that formless mists conceal.

You can strip the orange of its peel;
Skin the meaning from the words I say.
The land turns round as does a potter’s wheel.

Scatter the deck, gather the cards, and deal.
What is the game? Bets on the table. Pray
To find the form that formless mists conceal.

The clay is thrown. Now let the clay reveal
How to tell the darkness from the day,
To find the form that formless mists conceal.
The land turns round as does a potter’s wheel.

* * *

On a lighter note, I just found out that local zoos are asking for donations of Christmas trees, because the elephants like to thrown them around, strip off the needles, and use them as back scratchers.

May your New Year be full of nature and friendship, and endings that lead to new beginnings.