Friday, August 11, 2006

On Ambivalence and Substance

Ha! Now you're stuck with my opinions again. :-)

First, today's t-shirt (and yay! Finally a stay-at-home-in-shorts-and-t-shirt day): One of my telecom trade show freebies. It's a heather gray shirt with a big drawing of a purple eye on the front with the words "You'll see." On the back it says "I'm optimized, are you?" I think it's from a network management software company, one that probably didn't survive the telecom bust. The eye drawing is very cool -- so cool that I sat through a boring sales presentation at the trade show just to get a shirt.

I have yet another soapbox, maybe a soapbox within a soapbox. It's another episode in my "so-called fluffy books really can make you think" rant. I just finished reading Emily Giffin's Baby Proof, which is about a woman who doesn't want to have children and the effect that has on her marriage when, after they've been married a few years, her previously like-minded husband changes his mind and decides that he would like to be a dad. In her book tour Q&A and in her workshop at RWA, Giffin talked about how this was one of those near-taboo topics for women, that if you declare outright that you don't want children, you get labeled as selfish and shallow, or maybe immature.

Meanwhile, the opposite also seems to apply, especially for single women, and really especially for single women in their mid to late 30s. If you dare say that you really would like to find a husband and have children, then you're called shallow, anti-feminist and, particularly for the older women, desperate. While I'd agree that outlining your wedding dreams and the number of children you want isn't good first date conversation material, just about the fastest way for a woman in her late 30s to send a man running is to even admit that she wants marriage and children (the men in that age range who have decided that's what they want are more likely to be dating much younger women). There was even a column in the new issue of Glamour talking about how women shouldn't be looking for husbands. I totally agree that you need to be happy within yourself rather than looking for someone to "complete" you, and you shouldn't put your life on hold just because you're waiting for Mr. Right to show up. After all, I'm the chick who's traveled alone to Europe, who has solo season tickets to the theater and who owns my own home.

But it does seem weird that while women are encouraged to know what they want and to have a concrete plan for going after it in almost everything else, for two of the most important decisions a woman can make about her life the only acceptable position is a kind of ambivalence. You get hell from one side to come out and say you don't want marriage and/or kids, but you get an equal kind of grief from the other side if you dare admit that you really do want marriage and/or kids. I guess you're just supposed to shrug and say "if it happens, it happens."

I will admit to a bit of ambivalence on my part because I do like my life. I like my space, I like my autonomy and I like quiet, and it would be a huge adjustment to incorporate another adult into my life, let alone an infant who would be a total responsibility. On the other hand, there are a lot of things I think I would enjoy even more with someone to share them, and I love children and think I'd have a lot to offer as a mother. It would be an adjustment I'd have to make, but I think it would be an adjustment that would ultimately be rewarding.

I've heard it said that if I really wanted it, I'd have it by now, but I'm not sure I agree. I'm certainly not so desperate that I'm willing to lower my standards, but I don't think my standards are unreasonably high. I don't have any regrets about anyone I let get away. There's no one I've rejected or avoided in the past that I wouldn't have rejected or avoided even if I'd known I'd still be single in my late 30s. There were a few I thought might have been good candidates, but they rejected me, and that's probably a bad sign for our long-term potential. There was one guy I met right out of college where circumstances got in the way (he got transferred to Malaysia right after we met, and this was before the Internet was widespread, so we didn't even have e-mail to stay in touch, and I never saw him again). There's only one guy from my past who I'd really like to run into again, and even there, once I realized I did want to see him, I tried getting in touch with him. I even offered to return a book a mutual friend who'd moved out of town had borrowed from him and used that as my excuse to contact him. We played phone tag for a while, talked once, he mentioned putting my contact info in his Palm Pilot, and that was six years ago. I still have his book. I guess he wasn't interested.

I suppose if I'd really been "desperate" I might have tried harder to meet more people, but it's not like I've been sitting around waiting for Prince Charming to ring my doorbell. I spent about seven years going to the huge church with the "meet market" singles group. I spent five years working at a medical school and more than six more years working in the high tech world. I've volunteered on Habitat for Humanity building projects, and I've delivered food to Habitat building sites. I've run in and volunteered at 5K races. I've done charity clean-up days and community theater. I've been in two science fiction book clubs. I've gone to baseball games, university alumni events and science fiction conventions. And I've gone on too many blind dates, with just about everyone anyone ever wanted to set me up with. I've even e-mailed that anchorman I have a crush on.

So, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, it sounds like the whole snob-lit vs. chick lit debate all over again, with too many people trying to tell others what they "should" do for their own good instead of allowing them to choose what's best for them as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. And I don't think you can call a book "shallow" if it makes you think this much about your life, the universe and everything. Funny, the next book I tried to read was a weirdly pretentious literary piece calling itself a "reality novel" in which the author kept interjecting bits from her own life that inspired or were related to parts of the story. I made it through about four chapters, but by then all that happened in the story was the main character moving out of one apartment and heading toward another one. Meanwhile, the author specifically mentioned chick lit as an area where authors had failed readers by offering shallow emotions. I thought the concept of essentially doing a commentary track on a novel was interesting, but it might have worked better if she'd had more to say other than talking about a particular mattress she really liked (which I guess isn't "shallow" somehow). Whatever. I gave up on the book and picked up a Terry Pratchett book, which is proving to be much more entertaining and which will probably end up saying a lot more of substance about society.

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