An Unmarried Childless Woman Attends Her 20th College Reunion
I’ve known pretty much all my life that I’m probably missing the Mommy Gene. The only baby doll I ever had was a Baby Alive doll because I wanted to see how the doll created a dirty diaper within minutes. Once that mystery was solved, I was back to Barbie running things from her badass Dream House.
I love Other People’s Kids, I’ve just never really thought of having any of my own.
I’m also someone who’s been born without the Wedding Gene. I’m not saying I’ll never get married, but it’s never been a lifelong goal said in one breath along with how many children you want in a sentence that ends with “and a white picket fence.” I didn’t have the box under my bed that held all the photos of the wedding dresses I always wanted to wear. I never burst into tears when I spied the perfect floral arrangement.
That scene in Sex and the City where Carrie breaks out in hives in a bad wedding dress? That is, other than the fact that we’re both freelancers, the only time in my life I have ever really related to the fictional character of Carrie Bradshaw. I may or may not ever get married.
All of this was complicated coming of age in the South. I went to college in North Carolina, surrounded by other women who wanted careers but who also understood the societal pressures of making sure that a ring had to be on the right finger before the clock struck midnight on the 30th birthday. While I was in college, I dated plenty, had a small addiction to fraternity guys and made all the wrong choices like the rest of my classmates (upside-down keg stands come to mind).
But, when we walked away with our diplomas, I walked across the aisle knowing that marriage and children were probably not part of my plan.
As many of my college friends went on to get married and have kids, I found my personal choices becoming more and more polarizing the longer I remained in the South. A lot of platitudes came my way, anything and everything from “He’ll show up someday when you’re ready,” to “You’re not getting any younger you know.”
Age has nothing to do with it. At a certain point in my life (my 30s, to be exact,) I started to believe the constant chatter around me, thinking that maybe there was something wrong with me. I contorted myself into this ideal, working The Right Job with The Right Company and going to All The Right Places so I could meet The Right Guy. I met plenty of lovely men, had a lot of fun, but I think we just instinctively knew that they wanted a Wife Type, which I am not.
Eventually, those relationships ended.
You can only live as someone else for so long before your own truth grabs you by the throat in the middle of the night and won’t let go. I am not supposed to live that kind of life. I am not the desk-job-suburban-marriage-and-kids kind of person.
When I moved away to New York in 2007, I just wanted to BE for a while, focused on building a better life for myself, to not have to work for corporate America and to carve my own way through life as a writer. The longer I’ve remained in my adopted hometown and the further away from the cocktail party gauntlets I used to face around why I wasn’t married and why I didn’t have any children, the more strength and comfort I’ve gained in my convictions.
When and if I find someone with whom the words “Til death do us part” make sense, we’ll decide together on how to handle that. If kids become part of that mix, we’ll research our options. The life I have built is beautiful and getting bigger every day, all that I imagined it would be. Who knows what the future holds? But right now, I love everything about it.
So, when the invitation came to attend my 20th college reunion, a wave of nostalgia was followed immediately with an overwhelming sense of nausea. Would the questions start again? How many times would I have to keep answering the same questions from before?
I signed up for the activities, booked the flight and rental car, and headed South.
The first thing I’d like to do is give a note of gratitude to Facebook. The magic of the Internet is that many of my former classmates and I are connected, so no one’s marital status or childbearing status is a big mystery.
The second thing? Out of three days of activities, only four people asked me about my status. I had one married couple who wanted to run the Gauntlet of Why Aren’t You Married questions with the standard religious replies (“Well, we’ll just pray that he shows up sooner than later”) and the basic self-comforting comment of “You’ll change your mind someday,” but generally everyone was just excited to see each other and recall hilarious stories of the stupid things we used to do in our younger years.
Although I didn’t get out totally unscathed. I did have a classmate check me for plastic surgery scars. She said that she found it impossible that I have so few wrinkles, considering that we are the same age. I reminded her that I don’t have kids or a husband, which might be why my face remains relatively line-free. And that ended that portion of the Spanish Inquisition.
It was an interesting exercise to attend the reunion, a living, breathing yearbook of walking down Memory Lane hand in hand with others who had walked those similar steps for that four-year span of life. We’ve all made different choices, and most of us seem truly happy with the lives we’ve chosen. We all forgot about children and spouses to remember a classmate who’d died rescuing his son from drowning in the past two years. We were all just happy that everyone was there.
As my classmates showed me photos of loving spouses and adorable children, I felt incredibly happy for them. I listened with genuine interest when my closest friends told me of spelling bees won and walls lined with academic and sports trophies. They’re so happy to be parents and I’m happy for them.
I shared news about my “kids:” the book I’m working hard to publish, a new apartment in New York City, the possibility of bringing on staff to write for my website. It’s nice that the people who’ve known you the longest are in your corner.
When I was driving in my rental car back from North Carolina, I stopped to reflect on what had possibly changed. I’m not sure that the Gauntlet had really disappeared as much as my fear of constantly having to explain myself had simply vanished.
A woman who has realized who she is and what she wants is a force of nature. I’m glad to finally be in that space, unwavering in the life I’ve created for myself, which is a big, beautiful thing that amazes me every day. It was the life I had dreamed of when I stepped into those hallowed halls at the tender age of 18 some 20 years ago. As it evolves, it will continue to bear incredible fruit. Perhaps marriage and children will be among those fruits, perhaps not.
One thing is for certain: I’ll be happy.
OK, so let’s hear it: have you gone to a significant reunion unmarried and without kids? How did you handle it? Let’s gather together in the comments section below.