The Childless Choice

“Your biological clock is ticking…”

Yes, thanks.  I’m nearing 30, and there’s no possible way I could have ever been told that before.  The choice to have children is a discussion that I believe is far more complicated than simply, “she doesn’t want children” or “she can’t have children,” which seem to be the only two avenues society can conceive for the milestone of procreation.  I can only speak about the former, because I don’t pretend to have any expertise or view for the kind of emotional wracking that wanting children, but not being able to conceive your own, must bring.  Have you ever considered, perhaps, that it is permissible for a woman to not know if she wants children?  No one seems to be willing to consider the major factors and consequences into that choice, instead condensing the argument into a variety of blister-packed judgments.  The inevitable: “Oh, you’ll change your mind some day.”  The threat: “You’ll regret it.”  The pushiness-disguised-as-encouragement: “But you’d be such a great Mom!”

Here’s the thing: I am not the only thing standing in my way.  Men have to — not “should,” not “it would be nice if,” not “as long as they pay child support” — have to have equal stock in the parenting game.  The largest concern that many single women have these days is not whether or not they will have children, but whether or not they will be able to find a man who will support them in that endeavor.  So before you ask me again if I’m ever going to have children, or why I don’t want them, or what makes me hate them so much, or suggest that I’m just scared of the pain of childbirth — consider these factors first.

 

The Example

I need a man who is supportive and committed to me, first, in order to prove that he will be a good father.  It would not be difficult for me to find a man who has the proper equipment required to make a child.  But it requires a much more particular process to find someone who would cherish me first, and then our children.  In the dating world, I have come across absolute hordes of men who say they’re excited to have children one day, and that they like kids, and will teach them to fish, and camp, and scrutinize the game of football.  And yet, these men are unable to make plans farther than 6 hours out from the present moment.  Some of them make a habit of showing up to dinner 45 minutes late, just as I’m gathering my things to leave.  Some of them are fine with being punctual, but have such drastic emotional insecurity that they’re unable to have a conversation about anything that’s not video games, or the shelves of Star Wars memorabilia that adorn their bachelor pads.  Some of that emotional insecurity throws them into a pit of people-pleasing behavior, or into child-like tantrums, or sometimes they just shut down entirely.  Some of them are perfectly confident, and funny, and wonderful — but require any plans to be at the mercy of their work schedule, causing 4 out of 6 dates to be “rain checked.”  I just recently went on a few dates with a man who is very kind and intelligent, but extremely aloof in conversation, causing me to have to “manufacture” any fun that was had for the both of us.  He would laugh at my jokes and stories, and then the table would go silent until I either came up with another funny something to say, or a conversation topic he was comfortable with.  If we can’t even have a normal conversation in a quiet restaurant, how could we have a normal conversation with a child shouting Barney songs at the dinner table?

Quite frankly, the relationship/marriage comes first, both chronologically and in priority.  If a man is not able to communicate with me, respect me, have fun with me, and maintain a healthy emotional state for himself, what kind of message is he going to send impressionable children?  I don’t want my children growing up with constant disappointment because “Daddy can’t make it to your dance recital/baseball game…again.”  Or, “Daddy doesn’t really mean to yell and call people names — why don’t you go play in your room for a while?”  Or, “Daddy isn’t ignoring everyone else, he’s just a little shy.”  The other kicker about having children with a man who isn’t stable is that I am automatically everyone’s Mom/therapist.  I am forced to “have conversations” or “nag” or any other tactic to try and get the father of my children to set a good example.  That, on top of trying to explain my husband’s behavior to my children in a tactful way that doesn’t include the actual truth.  No thanks.  “Having children” isn’t the real question for many women who are getting older and haven’t taken the plunge yet.  It’s “mutual parenting” that becomes the larger worry.  I will not agree to have children unless I marry a man who I trust to fully respect and care for me first, who is able to care for our children when I’m not around, and will fill in the holes in their development that I can’t.  I’ve been told by many to just “give him a chance,” or assured that he’ll grow up or change, as though the Menopause Train is bearing down on me and I should really just get on with it, lest I be run over.  Really?  Is that a gamble you would make with your children?

 Kids Kind of Suck

My best friend has two kids.  They’re awesome, loving, funny little people.  But they’re gross, and needy, and socially tactless, too.  All children kind of suck in a lot of ways, and I require a partner who is going to jump into the fray, and tired-laugh with me as we clean poop off the walls.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would be willing to launder vomit-covered bedsheets so I could take a shower and get the barf out of my hair after caring for a sick child.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would walk up and down the hallway with a screaming infant for 4 hours, without being prompted or begged, so that his wife could have a break or a nap.  I also find that many men begrudge having to spend time alone with their children, and go so far as to consider it “babysitting.”

You want to have kids?  Great.  Then you are signing up for the ride of a lifetime, and your contract states that you do not get to hide in your mancave when Little Timmy has the runs.  Too bad.

 The Ultimate Label of “Mom”

Next time you see a Mom, ask her when was the last time she got to do something for herself.  Her response will probably be something like, “Oh, I got to have a cup of tea last Wednesday — it was lovely.”  It will be said playfully, but for many women, there’s a deep amount of pain attached to those jokes.  I fully realize that having children is a massive sacrifice, but many women find themselves in a situation where it becomes a sacrifice of who they are as a person, an individual.  Many women go years without a break, without a weekend, without even an afternoon to themselves to do whatever they want.  They feel they no longer have that kind of intangible “permission” to have hobbies, and to want to see new things.  Women are not good at saying, “I would like to go do this for myself.”  We need a partner who is going to recognize when we need a break, and offer it to us willingly, without making us wait until we’re at the breaking point of our sanity.  Many women carry an intense, crippling level of guilt when it comes to asking for things they know are necessary for their own health.  I don’t know why, but we do.  And without a husband who will pay a little attention to our state of mind, and remember who we were before the kids came into play, it’s a slippery slope that will lead many women directly into a bog of depression and complete depletion of self-worth.  We become consumed by the label of “Mom.”  We’re no longer “Laura, ” or “Charlotte,” or “the woman who double majored in biochem and engineering,” or “the woman who loved to go to Sunday brunch once a month,” or “the woman who really hates restaurants that allow you to throw peanut shells on the floor,” or “the woman who’s actually an incredible dancer,” or “the woman who hopped 5 countries in two weeks, ” or “the woman who fell in love with you.”  We are the mother of our children, and are seen as nothing else, and we allow it because we feel guilty.

Some of us are terrified of the idea of having children, yes — but not because we don’t think we’d be good mothers or because we’re scared the pain and nausea.  We’re scared of not having a support system, having to beg our husbands for help because we haven’t slept in two days, being looked at differently by our husbands because our bodies are no longer as attractive as they once were.  We are terrified of becoming just another frumpy Mom who gave her soul for the sake of her children, whose past accomplishments now mean nothing, and whose future accomplishments will be saving enough money to send the kids to college.  And we know that without support from our husbands, that’s exactly what we will become as we slowly forget who we once were.

 He Doesn’t Want Kids…

…but I love him.  It’s fully possible that I might find a man who is my perfect match in every way, but who does not want children.  As mentioned before, the relationship and the marriage come first.  If we’re happy and it’s a conversation that we’ve had, I see no reason to kick him to the curb.  I realize that some women want children badly, and that’s great — that can be a very specific criterion in her dating life.  But I do not believe in hoping my prince will someday change his mind, and am open to the possibility of a very happy life that does not involve children.  It’s possible, I promise.  Oh, but you’ll regret not having children! they say.  Fine, maybe we will.  But do you regret not seeing the world’s wonders, lunching under the Eiffel Tower, walking through the tulip fields of Holland, seeing the Pyramids, or SCUBA diving in the Mediterranean with your husband?  Maybe you do.  Do you regret not joining a book club, or learning a new language or how to ski, having quiet nights next to a fireplace, or going on road trips with your husband?  Maybe you do.

 

So when a woman answers your questions about children with some trepidation or uncertainty — cool your jets.  We are not dumb.  We are not ignorant.  More than likely, the woman you’re interrogating is far smarter and more mature than you realize, and she is considering whether or not her world is a good one to bring children into.  We’re ok biding our time until the right situation presents itself to make a decision.  And until that happens, we’re not going to have an answer for you.

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Pop Quiz

I consider myself a seasoned veteran in the realm of online dating.  I have tried all of the major sites, written and re-written my “self-summary,” and waded through years of doubt and guilt, constantly questioning my own standards and the motives of others.  It’s a complicated task, dating — and like most people, I’ve tried to streamline the process as much as possible, weeding out those who I will not be compatible with before I invest much time into them.  Some people make calm, well-considered additions to their profiles, such as, “I DONT DO DRAMA SO IF UR A HO WHO DO DRAMA DONT GET NEAR ME.”  Others might add preferences to the multiple choice questions asked, such as only marking “Athletic,” “Hot,” and “Slim” as their preferred body types for a partner.  But I, never one to follow the general traffic pattern, have taken a separate approach.  It is inflammatory and offensive to some — but it is precisely those people whom I wish to avoid.  In practice, it has worked flawlessly for my purposes.  If I find someone on the Internet that I think I would like to have a date with, my method comes in two parts:

1) I must speak with the person on the phone before meeting.

2) They must take my 3-question quiz.

The Phone Conversation

Why do many people choose online dating?  Because they’re not stellar with social interaction or live conversation.  The kicker is that (in theory) you’ll eventually have to participate.  These are skills that are difficult, yes, but unavoidable if you’re looking for someone to spend time with.  It is frequent that someone is quite eloquent while typing or texting, but have absolutely nothing to say when speech is required.  You can try and make your case for “people who are just shy” and “well what’s wrong with that,” and my answer to all of your arguments will be that that’s not what I want.  That’s not what most people want.  If I’m going to spend a significant amount of time with someone, I need them to be on a similar level of communication skill.  You can be shy and a little reserved at first — but you’re not allowed to be silent and continue to hide behind the Internet’s skirt.  The phone conversation ensures that they are capable of relaying thoughts and opinions via vibration of the vocal chords, which, in my book, is required.

In addition, people these days don’t seem to understand that dating is not really about common interests.  I don’t care if you love football, or build and paint miniatures.  What I care about are the facts and potential implications behind those interests.  I need information about you as an individual, and what you need from me, as an individual.  Since the idea of dating (for most) is to find someone with whom you would like to spend the rest of your life with, living in the same general space, and talking to each other every single day, I need deeper, more concrete information.

If you really like football, it might mean that you used to play and really enjoy a physical challenge, and respect the athletes who play professionally.  Or, it could mean that you’re extremely competitive, and you get a buzz from Your Team winning over Their Team 4,006 points to 12.  Or, it could mean that you’re really concerned with maintaining an image or a status in a group of people, and you participate in watching and talking about sports with them because you’re nervous that they won’t like you if you don’t.   All of these, and combinations thereof, are options.

If you really like to build and paint miniatures, it could mean that you might be a person who needs a lot of alone time to feel balanced.  It could also mean that you’re really artistic, and need someone who can really appreciate the creations you put time into.  It could also mean that you’re rather antisocial, and prefer the company of yourself to others, and only want a woman around when you’re bored.  All of these, and combinations thereof, are options.

As an adult, you need to be able to recognize these things in your own personality and then articulate them to people you want to date.  If you cannot do that, it will show in grand and terrifying ways during our phone call when I ask you, “so, what do you enjoy so much about Korean horror movies?”

The Quiz

Is quizzing people unconventional?  Yes.  Is it potentially scary or frustrating for the quizzee?  Sure.  Does it give me a wealth of information about that person’s personality, attitude, and abilities?  Absolutely.  I am not going to divulge the three questions that I ask here.  But I will tell you that they are general intelligence questions, set to a fair benchmark of life experience and knowledge.  They are not obscure questions about 1940’s noir films, nor are they calculus equations.  Also, potential suitors are told well in advance of even speaking to me for the first time that there are questions involved before the first date, so there is no surprise.  If you agree to the phone call, you have also already agreed to the quiz, which serves two different purposes.

-It weeds out the insecure ones.  This is by far the most helpful benefit of the quiz.  The quiz, in the grand scheme of things, is nearly meaningless.  It’s a silly little thing, and one of the questions doesn’t even have a right/wrong answer.  Really, none of them do if you’re creative enough.  But the pressure to perform and impress can be overwhelming for some guys, and the risk of failure too great.  One gentleman who took the quiz became angry after I asked the second question (he had answered the first with no problem), and began berating me for being a man-hating bitch, and accused me of solely wanting to make him look foolish.  Another gentleman answered the first two questions and told me that the quiz was pretty fun.  I then asked him the third, and after over-thinking it for a few minutes, he became highly emotional, and explained to me for 10 minutes about how he had been bullied in 4th grade by a kid named Lance.

Only one gentleman has ever said, “you know what, that’s a little too peculiar for me.  No thanks.”  I greatly respected him for making his choice based on his own comfort level, and I wished him luck in his future dating endeavors.  Less than ten minutes later, he wrote me online again and said, “due to the fact we’ve written this off, I’m curious what the questions are anyway?”  I explained to him that unfortunately, the questions were for potential dates only.  He then proceeded to condescend me, saying, “Just as a heads up, for us level headed and confident people, it comes off as a red flag. … You may be doing it to avoid bad dates, but may lose out on other great dates because of it.”  Among a few other things he said, the oh-so-subtle implication of “what you’re doing is stupid, all the smart people think so,” was enough for me to bid him a permanent adieu.  Although I was tempted to ask, “if you’re so level-headed and confident, why dodge the quiz?”

Insecurities are a part of life; everyone has them.  But I believe adults should be able to prioritize which threats are real, and which are constructed in our own minds.  Answering three normal questions from some girl you’ve never met, and who you have no obligation to meet anyway, should not be a threat large enough to induce a temper tantrum, tears, or passive-aggression.

-It weeds out the less intelligent ones.  “How dare you assume some people are less intelligent than others!  For shame!  I’m never reading your blog again!”  Ok.  Now that that’s addressed, let’s move on.

If you’ve ever worked with the general public, you know that some people either don’t pay as much attention as others, or seem to exist in a constant haze of ignorance.  If you haven’t worked with the general public, just go peruse any hashtag on Twitter.  Some of these people are good at concealing their true mentality online.  There are plenty of services that will write your online dating profile for you, so that you make a better impression.  If someone chooses to use one of those services, that’s no problem — but this is why I have a quiz.  I have wasted too much time explaining ridiculous things on first dates to people who just don’t bother to look around, or who are incapable of absorbing outside information.  I have explained that coffee comes from a plant.  I have explained what the little tab is for on your rear-view mirror.  I have explained that a different city hosts the Olympics every round.  I have explained that you have to hold a compass parallel to the ground in order for it to function.

annoyeddog

I fully understand and appreciate that these are not qualities that everyone looks for in a partner — but they are important to me, and I find it highly unlikely that I’m the only one.  My methods may be overly formulaic and rigid, and many consider my standards to be “too high.”  But after a hundred dates with the wrong guys, what do I really have to lose now by using an out-of-the-box method?  A date with the guy who promises me that I’ll regret not dating him?  Thanks, I’ll make a note of that.

Earwigs and You: Personal Discovery through Metaphorical Dermaptera

Earwigs.  Pinchies.  Forficula auricularia.  Grey Matter Manglers.  We all hate them, right?  Those nasty, skittery insects with mammoth butt-pincers who seem intent on chasing you, and burrowing through to their new home in your corpus callosum by way of your ear canal.  They are nasty, terrifying, and will now likely haunt your peripheral vision for a few days.

OMG, what’s that on your neck?!  Just kidding.

What if I told you that you might be keeping these guys as pets?  Not only that, but you may be dropping them into your ear yourself.  Ok, so not literally, but you may be metaphorically allowing your head-pudding to be violated by subconscious earwig-like mental items.  Not only will you freak people out and eventually lose all your friends, but your mind will become more and more infested with pinchy mofo’s who control your actions and your words.  What in Hell’s blazes am I talking about, you ask?  I’m talking about “just.”

Such a seemingly simple word, but along with his older brother, “only,” they are capable of destroying your relationships and your self-esteem.  When used in a certain context, “just” and “only” create a castle, indomitable and fierce, from which you will launch volleys of flaming arrows at the people around you, and where you will sit comfortably “safe” on your Throne of Passive Aggression, with the glittering Crown of Self-Victimization digging deep grooves into your forehead.

“I was just trying to help.”

“I’m only trying to be honest.”

These words are far more complex than most realize, and are simultaneously offensive and defensive, which puts your conversation partner in an uncomfortable position.  These words automatically assume and suggest that you are under attack, and that you must defend your position.  They also wrongfully assume and suggest that whoever is speaking to you is the attacker, and is therefore the, “bad guy.”   So both you and your conversation partner are forced into a position of trying to protect yourselves from insult and hurt (you by assuming the other person intends to hurt you, and he by trying to defend against the intangible label of, “assailant”), and making sure that your point is understood…without hurting the other person…while still communicating effectively…but not insultingly…

How does this destroy relationships?  In reality, you (the Earwig Charmer) have positioned yourself to be mostly in control of the situation in a couple of ways:

1. You have attempted, and likely succeeded at making the other person feel guilty.  For what, exactly?  Nothing.  You have made that person feel guilty for disagreeing, or giving you constructive criticism, or having an idea that differs from yours.  By manipulating their emotions, you have created an environment in which you have restricted the actions and words they are comfortable using.  Example:

Boss: “Hey, Team Member.  I see you stacked the boxes of things over to the NNW.  I think they would be more out of the way if we stacked them farther to the SSE.”

Team Member: “Oh, well I was just trying to unpack them as quickly as possible.”

You see, rather than just accepting direction from The Boss, our Team Member friend has already taken offense to the alternate suggestion, and assumes that The Boss is belittling him for his choice of location for the boxes of things.  It’s oh-so-freaking-subtle, but that’s what makes this mindset so dangerous; people who make impersonal requests or comments manifest as nightmare marionettes within the passive-aggressor’s mind.  Over time, if you use this tactic with the same person many times, they will eventually become frightened to speak to you, because every time they do they will feel horrible and wrongfully accused and under attack, and there’s nothing they can do to defend themselves.

2. Why can’t they defend themselves?  Because you’ve already made yourself the victim.  It sounds a little bass-ackwards, but self-victimization is a defense mechanism.  Someone can’t hurt you if you’re already hurt.  They can’t power-play over you because you’re already the victim.  By degrading yourself and lowering your own self-esteem (putting imaginary earwigs in your own ear), you have tried to avoid more emotional damage by emotionally damaging yourself first.  You have made yourself seem weak in an effort to control how much someone is capable of hurting you.  The most difficult part about this entire situation is that we develop these passive aggressive defense mechanisms because we have been hurt before – so we hurt other people in order to avoid being hurt.  By other people.

3.  Although the underlying fodder is still emotional defense, “just” and “only” can also be used in a more malicious method.  It can be used to degrade and invalidate another’s opinion or feeling with swift and crushing force.

Person: “I feel very angry that you got hammered at my birthday party and threw up on my bed.”

Other Person: “I was just trying to have fun.”

This power-grab insinuates that Person’s feelings of anger are less important than Other Person’s desire for and goal of having fun.  It’s a sneaky, hurtful way to avoid responsibility for one’s actions, and will likely cause Person’s self-esteem to take a nose dive.  Because language is so volatile and creative, Other Person could even change his response to displace even stronger blame, perhaps with something like, “I was just trying to celebrate with you.”  This implies that not only is Other Person innocent, but Person is an ungrateful hack who does not appreciate the effort put into an event that was all for him.  This is obviously an extreme example, and it should be mentioned that the most hurtful method of employing this evasive tactic comes in small, gradual doses over a long period of time.  Almost imperceptible to most people, insinuation is the ninja of defense mechanisms.  It slithers in through the attic of your soul and quietly peppers your confidence and self-worth with shuriken.  The consistent invalidation of someone’s feelings, particularly in extremely small doses that are difficult to detect, can wreck souls.

Passive aggressive behavior is meant to punish and hurt the other people who may have hurt you in the past, or who may hurt you in the future (read: EVERYONE).  That is its purpose and function, and yes, that is what you are doing.  You are hurting people.  They may be authority figures, they may be your parents, they may be people that you love and adore, or they may be total strangers, but by “just trying to protect yourself,” you are causing similar emotional damage to what someone once caused you.

I most often see instances of “just” and “only” in situations where no one is making jabs at anyone.  They are innocuous circumstances that quickly become hostile via one party’s insecurity and inability to deal with pre-existing emotional baggage.  Whether or not you have actually been insulted does not matter, there is never an excuse or an appropriate time for passive aggressive behavior.  If you feel hurt, betrayed, disrespected, condescended, made fun of, wrongfully criticized, whatever, it is your responsibility to acknowledge those feelings and deal with them in a respectful, clear manner.

Now that I have a nosebleed from trying to explain this very important topic, here’s the bottom line: Getting hurt or offended sucks.  But hurting yourself because you’re afraid of other people hurting and offending you, which hurts and offends other people is just as creepy and disgusting as earwigs.

Don’t Want Yo’ Shit

Stop buying me stuff.  I don’t want your concert tickets, or some “stylish” piece of knitted cloth, or some piece of shiny metal with shinier rocks attached to it, or the latest tech gadgets that will be irrelevant in 6 months, or any other material object that does nothing for my SOUL.  Each time you offer me something or ask me what I want for Christmas, my heart breaks.  There is no value in these shallow offerings of tangible crap, and if you think I’ve been ignorant to your game, you are gravely mistaken.  The sad likelihood is that you don’t even notice or understand your own game, and will continue hunting for love and acceptance through something that lives in a bank account or was made in Taiwan.

You ask me what I want–the answer will always be, again and again, your time.  Don’t you dare get me something that fits in a box of specific dimension; I want your attention.  Your conversation, your eye contact, your engagement, and temporary, exclusive access to your Wernicke’s.

I realize that your “gifts” make it easy and painless to connect with another human being.  With a gift, the cognitive stress of listening and responding is eliminated.  With a gift, your most-important life remains basically unaltered, with the exception of the 9 minutes you wasted shopping online.  Gifts are a perfect, socially acceptable response to nearly every situation, so you can never be blamed for being inattentive.  They’re an ideal replacement for any messy apology, as well–you can mop up any indiscretion with the lick of an envelope or a click of the “Place Order” button on FTD.com.  If you’re feeling inadequate, a gift can easily express your message when words are too difficult to find.  Need a good distraction? A gift can easily divert from those silly little secrets in life that are best left unnoticed.

When it comes down to it, gifts are a lovely way to degrade and ignore someone.  When someone isn’t worth your time, effort, love or honesty: send a gift.  Send a teddy bear, or a card, or a check.  They come in all forms: everything from Tiffany’s boxes to “favors.”

But there’s another perk to gift-giving, isn’t there?  That heady element of control and obligation, the scot-free condescension, the unbridled power over those who are less wealthy.

I paid for dinner (you owe me).

Here, let me help you out of a bind (you owe me).

Surprise! I bought you that {item} you had your eye on (you owe me).

I support you financially (you owe me).

You somehow believe that gifts don’t always have to be free for the recipient, although you’ll never state the terms.  Maybe you’ll expect a direct payback, or perhaps you’ll just hold onto your emotional collateral for the future.  This method not only allows you an investment with high expected ROI whenever you wish it, but also allows for the immediate dismissal of the previously mentioned ignorance and degradation.  “How ungrateful! After everything I’ve done for you.”

Minimal effort to maintain relationships, the illusion of authority and a limitless Get Out Of Jail Free card? No wonder you’re so generous!

Call me an ingrate, call me ignorant, call me poor.  Call me benighted, call me ridiculous, call me rude.  Call me whatever you wish but know that without the depth and humanity of a real relationship, you will not continue to own the title of friend, companion, father, mother.  Your gifts do not excuse you from honest interaction.  Your gifts do not garner you automatic respect.  You gifts do not replace your presence in my life, and are unacceptable as such.