Without fail, when you meet new people, you get The Questions.
The Questions are a way polite, well-meaning people try to converse with you. At each new stage of life, the version of The Questions you receive is replaced by increasingly personal inquiries.
When you’re three: What is your favorite color?
When you’re in elementary school: What is your favorite subject in school?
When you’re in middle school: (Actually, everyone pretends you’re invisible when you’re in middle school, and let’s face it—you’d prefer it that way.)
When you’re in high school: Where are you going to college?
When you’re in college: What are you majoring in?
Every year after you graduate from college:
When are you getting married?
When are you having babies?
It’s not their fault—society has trained them to be curious about this.
But as someone who doesn’t know the answer to either of these questions, the situations where I know The Questions are coming are awkward at best, and a Spanish Inquisition across a cheeseboard at worst.
In these kinds of situations, here’s what I want to say but don’t have the presence of mind to in the moment.
Do you know how much I dread The Questions about when I’m going to get married and when I’m going to have kids?
Do you know how much my answers to The Questions are none of your business?
Do you know how surprised I am that I haven’t gotten married yet? And that I’m not mad about it?
Do you know how weird it is to be peers with a pregnant lady?
Do you know how thankful I am to have loving, sacrificial parents, but watching them parent four kids makes me ask if I want that life for myself?
Do you know how telling it is that we, the oldest three siblings in my family, are going to hit 30 without having a child?
Do you know how thankful I am to have a partner that gave me the option of not having a child, of not adopting motherhood as my “one true calling,” of giving me an out so that I don’t have to go back to school for a few more decades and do that whole shebang with judgey moms and mouthy kids and lunches and homework and teen angst all over again?
Do you know how much I enjoy waking up in a quiet house, coming downstairs and making coffee and feeling the 58-degree morning and sighing happily while I settle on the couch to read a book or type my thoughts? Do you know how much I love not having to get a single creature ready for the day other than myself? Do you know how certain I am that I would cause permanent mental harm for anyone who dared to take my quiet mornings away from me?
Do you know how sure I am that my temper could not handle a child without scarring them? Do you know how much I worry about how much I would mess up my kids, what I would do to make them sneak out and slam doors and curse my name to their friends and wonder bitterly why I am the way I am and why I couldn’t love them better?
Do you know how sick I am of motherhood being a foregone conclusion, that I’m supposed to want this, that I am actually a little shocked I’m not ready for it yet, that my mom had two kids and was pregnant with me, number three, by now? That at 29, her life was naps and tiny forks and waking up in the middle of the night for monsters and trying to keep my dad happy and still working as a social worker and seeing the horrors of children who slip through the cracks and trying to patch them up?
Do you know how much I wonder if I’m vapid or shallow because I don’t want to dedicate my life to humanity this way? That I think I have something else to offer people besides raising little ones? That maybe I could speak to other women like me who have passion and fire for doing something that doesn’t involve caring for tiny humans, that mothering can come in so many forms?
Do you know how often I ask myself if I’m going to feel differently later, if I’m going to feel lonely and sad when I see a mother and daughter hand in hand and wonder if I could have that too? Do you know how much I question if I’m going to have something to talk about with people when their kids get a little older, when they start to get trophies and braces and scholarships, will people care that I don’t have a story about my own children to share and empathize with them? Do you know how much I wonder if I’m going to be alone when I’m old, with no one to care for me because everyone who loved me when I was young is a memory?
Do you know how broken I feel because I don’t have an intense longing to hold my baby in my arms? Do you know how relieved I am that I don’t have to get married and conceive a child in the next ten years, that I have let myself out of this burden and I am just so relieved my life isn’t going to be counting days in my cycle and peeing on sticks and taking my temperature and needles and hospital stays and countless gloved hands inside me, all in the name of making a child with auburn hair?
Do you know how much I think about Terry Gross and the life she lives with her husband in Philly, just the two of them going out to eat and going to concerts and she goes to work and she’s completely fine with that, and if it will be fine for me too because it seems fine right now and why would that change? Do you know how much I wish I knew about other women like me, who were older and childless and feel like they’re doing okay? That media portrayed women like this who are living full lives and aren’t wasting away like Miss Havisham?
Do you know how sad I am that we women are divided, again, into such different camps? That if we meet each other and don’t belong on the same side, in Team Babies or Team No Thanks, that we eye the other with suspicion? Do you know how much better I could do to empathize with Team Babies, because this woman, this pregnant lady, this mom, is my sister and I can learn from her and I don’t have to be afraid of her rejecting me because we’re not in fourth grade anymore?
No. You don’t. You couldn’t.
But you know what? That’s okay. I’m glad you asked. Thank you for listening. Can you pass the salami?