Over the years I've never quite been able to resolve for myself the "you should't need a man" comments that come my way. Of course I don't, I think! I never I said I did. There's a quote out there that's something along the lines of: don't wait for a man to bring you flowers, go out and tend to your own garden. And I get it. And I like to think that since graduating college I've done a hell of a lot of tending to my metaphorical peonies and dandelions and cherry tomatoes. But the whole man bringing you flowers thing? Well, it isn't really about the flowers. It's about the person on the other end of that bouquet.
The feminist in me bristles as the double standard of women-don't-need-a-man-but-poor-Jen-Anison-that-she's-never-found-one.
And because I've been thinking about it a lot, and because I think I know some pretty remarkable women, I asked them to sort through their own feelings and spit out some words.
And boy am I glad I did.
Alisha is one of my very favorite people in the world. Seeing her, even if it's once a week, always feels like Christmas morning. She's smarter than I am, and more no-nonsense, and hell of a lot of fun.
What follows is her response:
I recently (embarrassingly recently, if I'm being honest) realized that I was being very judgmental about women my age who were deciding to procreate. I'd hear about a friend (or an acquaintance, or anyone under thirty, really) who was giddily posting ultrasound pictures on Facebook or posing for a maternity photo shoot complete with bunting and handcrafted chalkboards and my gag reflex would just start acting up. It was like their motherhood was a personal affront on my very modern, progressive, independent choice to not procreate at this moment in time. Show me a baby shower cake filled with secretly pink (or blue!! which is it?!) frosting and I'll show you my Judgy McJudgerson face.
What's funny about this is that I really like babies and kids. I actually work with them every day in my job. Babies are the greatest, and say that with zero irony. I want one someday! I just don't want one right now, and I say that too with absolute and total sincerity. So the minute someone on my Facegram or Instabook or Whatever pops up with a blurry overexposed alien-fetus image with the caption: "COMING THIS FALL!!" I simply can't control my reaction of: "What is she thinking?!!"
Of course, what she's thinking is: "YAYYYYYYYYYYYY" but I can't wrap my head around that. And the reason why? Even though every rational part of me knows that someday I too will be wielding an ultrasound photo excitedly around in front of all my friends, I can't imagine anyone would want to do such a thing outside of my personal prescribed life-timetable for how it should go.
This is a very human response. We all have it. When I decided to marry my very long-time boyfriend/roommate at the age of twenty-seven, I got more than a few surprised looks from more enlightened friends who couldn't dream of a reason to tie the knot so young anymore. And I mean, fair enough, ladies. Honestly, I get it. Welcome to the future! We can marry or not marry when and how and whom we choose; we are tap tap tapping away at that pesky glass ceiling in vast hoards so that it may shatter and our daughters will look up and see the glorious, unobstructed view of our spinning galaxy, equally distributing prosperity to both men and women of all colors and creeds.
No, we are no longer expected to find a man, marry, and settle down with kids. And thank god for that, because some women would prefer to find a woman, not marry, and maybe get a couple dogs instead. There are loads and loads of people who aren't cut out for, or are in any way interested in monogamy. Still others who identify as uninterested in romantic partnerships and decide to seek out loving networks of friends to fill the very human need for social support.
But there are lots of people out there on this earth who seek lifelong companionship of the heterosexual variety. When men seek out the path of monogamous life companionship, it is celebrated and the man's desire is never questioned. He is a man, and therefore can of course do whatever he wants, so if he has chosen to do this, it must be because he wants it and with his strong, masculine hands he scooped it up for himself!
But oh, that sneaky double standard of sex. Of course men can do All The Things without having their motives come into question. But women have so much more to prove. Even now, I feel the shadows of all our grandmothers and great grandmothers looming over us, whispering: "Remember how hard we fought. We fought so you could get that Musical Theatre degree and wear shorts and vote." When women want, seek, desire a man to share a day or a life with, it is predictable, weak, backwards-leaning, probably going to ruin her career, something her parents want for her tsk-tsk-tsk.
I never particularly thought I would marry at what is considered a young age in Manhattan, and pretty much right at the national average elsewhere. I always, even as a kid, imagined that I would be a cool funky aunt like my Aunt Monica and then find some brooding older interesting gentleman on my world travels and we would elope on my fortieth birthday on my yacht, while drinking champagne that came from my own vineyards in France. Imagine my surprise when I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with someone in my twenties. And that not only did marriage feel right, and good, and like coming home, but it was what I wanted to do. I chose it and I scooped it up for myself with my strong, feminine hands.
So I have become wary when I feel myself judging my happy, hormonally-glowing friends who are expecting. Just because I am placing all my own fears of what pregnancy means for a modern woman on their lives, does not mean that they have not made strong, intelligent, clear-headed choices about their bodies, lives and careers and decided that a baby would be part of it. Right now.
I don't want a baby yet, but I know what that desire is like. And that desire is like the desire to mate for life. To find the other swan out there who will link necks with you. Searching for that companion is a small part of anyone's journey, but it is a valid part. I don't believe in soul mates. This topic is something my husband and I bonded over long before marriage was even a flicker of an idea. He said that he had dated a girl once who believed that everyone had a soul mate and she was determined in every relationship to try and cram herself into the exact size and shape of the other person's puzzle piece to see if she would fit. Like Aristotle, she imagined that her true love had been severed from her body in some distant past and her life's goal was to seek her missing half. I laughed and said that I couldn't imagine that such a thing could be true.
Life is too big and messy and interesting and complicated and people come both in and out of our lives with far too much purpose for there to be merely one small puzzle piece that I must find or be forever unwhole. My husband loves puzzles. I don't, but I enjoy watching him solve them because of how his eyes rapidly scan for color, size, and shape with an intensity and concentration that is like watching someone play the piano or paint a picture.
To solve a puzzle, he has told me, you have to begin at the edges. Work inwards. Sort the pieces by color. Decide which parts you want to tackle first and which details you will fill in later. Puzzles are made up of many pieces. They are beautiful both before and after they are completed. I think our puzzles are sometimes never completely filled in- maybe no one's is.
We have to choose the parts of the image we want to tackle before anything else happens, and which details must be filled in as we go. Sometimes people come along, join you for a glass of wine maybe, and help fill in a few pieces here and there. Sometimes someone shows up with those pieces you thought must have gotten lost under the couch somewhere.
I'm going to try to stop standing over other people while they finish their puzzles, but it's so hard sometimes not to. I can't believe I've just spent this long developing puzzles as a metaphor when I don't even like them. And I know exactly who is going to think that's completely hilarious.
alisha's previous guest post for me: on living alone
read more of her genius stuff here.