Some impressions from the reunion weekend:
There were definitely uncomfortable moments. Running into a group of now-married men I never knew well (already awkward) only to have our conversation revolve around their kids and how they have no social time for anything that doesn’t involve entertaining them. Eating lunch at a “mommys’ table,” trying to figure out what to do or say while they all discussed their children (they didn’t ask me if I had them– it was the elephant in the room). Having breakfast alone one morning next to a postcard-perfect happy family of four, with the father teasing the daughter about her “older” (by two years) boyfriend and the daughter merrily discussing the Christmas present she had bought for her beau. Conversing with some good friends of mine, a couple I generally love, only to have them run down the laundry list of all the wonderful things that are happening to other people– their fabulous weddings, moneyed acquaintances, new babies, extensive vacations, and gorgeous estates.
I also, however, became privy to things that made me feel much less alone in my struggles. I heard about decades-long friendships and work partnerships going down in flames and from people who confessed to me that they had lost all touch with their college friends. Three pairs of college sweethearts are now going through acrimonious divorces, and several others are on second marriages. A never-married man who has been through some family tragedies is now living with and taking care of an ailing parent. One woman confided to me that she turned to a dating service in her late thirties, struggled through infertility after marrying, and finally had two miracle babies past forty. Another friend, who I had warned off her boyfriend years ago, got engaged to him only to have the guy call off the wedding a few days before it was to happen. I suspect that a few of the married fathers are alcoholics, and a few are in the closet. Several people alluded to the fact that the bad economy had hit them hard; others told me of their struggles to find a new job or change careers.
My impression was that the most common age people had kids was 32, which was my magic number. I spoke on the phone with my gay friend over the weekend, and he told me he understands why people have kids at that age. He is in that range and is getting bored with his life and wondering what to do next.
Two of my female friends who have children told me over the weekend that they can’t stand to be around other kids now. Their own are more than enough. Another woman kept saying how glad she was to have a weekend away from hers and that being around babies made her realize she definitely doesn’t want another one. I felt comfortable around these women, as well as lots of other parents who either talked little about their kids, or at least not solely about them, or at least didn’t make me feel like a freak for not having them.
I stole away for a yoga class before the madness of the weekend began and had an interesting conversation with the teacher, who is my age and quite attractive and fit (go yoga). She grew up in my home city, attending college and living in the same place I recently moved away from. At 30, she moved to NYC, and, unable to meet anyone there, decided, at 36, to pack it in and move to the small resort city where the reunion was held. Two months before leaving NYC she finally met someone but carried on with her plans anyway. Eventually they married and he moved out to the resort city. She said it was hard to feel like she was “away from where things were happening” but that she eventually adjusted and is happy in a smaller place.
I also took an evening before the reunion to see a small movie featuring several (vague) acquaintances from my current city of residence. I did feel proud during the weekend that I had made such a big move, by myself, to a difficult city where few had ventured and that I had made some inroads there, however faint. I had listened to a podcast on the plane in which the host said that he and his wife were comfortable being childless in L.A. because people there didn’t really make a big deal out of having kids. Something for me to chew on.
A few final impressions:
One married man talked to me about his ex-girlfriend and said he couldn’t understand why she never found anyone and got married (uh, hello?).
An exceptionally attractive female friend, who lots of guys (including, once, a date of mine) used to drool over, attended the reunion. In an echo of my date twenty years earlier, a married man, seemingly clueless about how this would come across to me, stopped me at the dance to go on and on about this never-married woman and his long-standing crush on her, saying, “Men just can’t understand how a woman like that could fall through the cracks.”
Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. At that point, exhausted by the weekend and demoralized by his comment, I caught a ride home and went to bed, where I tossed and turned and shed a few tired, hot tears. I thought about how hurt I had been twenty years earlier by my date’s interest in this same woman. Then I thought about how badly this man’s comments had stung, despite my greater wisdom.
I realized that, as an average woman, it was no great tragedy to anyone but myself that I had “fallen through the cracks” and that, as a middle-aged woman past my childbearing years, I was of even less interest to the world at large.
I traveled home the next day. During the journey, I realized that I had become okay with not having kids. My impression from the weekend was that only a few seemed to really get lucky in life and get everything they want, and even then, will it last?