“Do you remember what you were like at 26?”
Since I have just turned 57 and often can’t remember why I entered a room, the question posed at the birthday party for a woman just that age made me laugh. And I do remember what I was like at 26.
Coincidentally, I had also just been paging through Huffpost and had been stopped by an intriguing post by Melanie Notkin: The Childless Life. The post is a prelude to her forthcoming book, Otherhood, where the subject is something she calls “circumstantial infertility.”
What Notkin’s book promises to be is a compilation of the stories of dozens of women and men who want so much to be in love, married (or at the very least, in a committed relationship) before becoming parents. Her post sheds light on the heartache over childlessness due to being without a partner, exacerbated by the inexhaustible myth that women and men have chosen not to be mothers -- and fathers.
At 26, I had my dreams for prospective mates. I had the names of my children picked out: Luke, Grace, David, Claire. I remember when I heard that the man I had been madly I love with had gotten his (obviously not so) former girlfriend pregnant. I was 29. After I picked the shards of my heart from the floor, I remember thinking: “Well, I could have done that.” But that wasn’t all that I wanted. I wanted something deeper: love, marriage, and children. In that order. I don’t know why those relationships I had such hopes for didn’t “take.” When I sit down to have my cup of coffee with God at the end of it all, that is one of the questions I’m going to ask.
Compounding the disappointment of those unfulfilled relationships was a Newsweek article in June 1986, “The Marriage Crunch.” Two months before I turned 30. To wit: white, college-educated women who failed to marry in their 20s faced abysmal odds of ever tying the knot. According to the research, a woman who remained single at 30 had only a 20 percent chance of ever marrying. By 35, the probability dropped to 5 percent. In the story's most infamous line, Newsweek reported that a 40-year-old single woman was "more likely to be killed by a terrorist" than to ever marry.
It took me four years and a move to another state to recover from that one.
So I took my broken heart for a geographical cure to the Jersey Shore and channeled my disappointments into a passable business. I never totally abandoned the hope for marriage and family, even gave that relationship stuff a few more laudable efforts. I have to admit, though, this time, my heart was just not in them. When my biological clock finally did stop ticking, while I felt an incredible sadness, I also felt just a little relief.
My affirmation from the cosmos came in the form of a letter I received a couple of years ago, left at my door, from one of the men I had loved and wanted to marry. After more than two decades, in which he was married to another woman and father to two children, he decided to confess to me that he should have married me after all. How dare you? was my first response and my final one. After spending a few dizzy days in an emotional time warp. I closed that door forever.
Now, Notkin’s blog has given me solace.
I am humbly grateful that I never needed to make a confession like the one I received. I admit I entertain backstories of what life might have been like if any of those lost loves had blossomed into a lifelong partnership. I admit I envy my sisters and friends their families. But those moments pass. Today I believe I am right where I am supposed to be.
I hope Notkin’s forthcoming book provides support and comfort for those still waiting for true love to come along. I posted a comment on her blog encouraging those still looking to remain true to their dreams.
Oh yes, I remember what I was like when I was 26. And then some. And I wouldn’t change a thing.