It started in my mid-twenties. At first it was a slow trickle, then the downpour exploded. Almost all of my friends started getting married. I was a bridesmaid so many times that my local tailor started offering me a “frequent bridesmaid” discount when I would arrive with a new dress to be altered. I wore purple dresses, green dresses, and a terrible, Disney princess-styled pink dress. I spent weekend after weekend going to showers, bachelorette parties, then weddings. My calendar was full of other people’s love.
Most of the time, I was glad to take part in these events. I became skilled at negotiating gift registries and oohing and ahhing as the brides-to-be unwrapped their blenders, duvets, and kitchen knives. These were big moments in my friends’ lives and I wanted to be there with them.
As I witnessed friend after friend get married, I clung tighter to the relationship I was in. I became more accepting of my relationship’s shortcomings and convinced myself that the man I was with was right for me. He had to be, didn’t he? I was almost 30 and believed that I needed to get married because everyone else was. It was time. It seems that my boyfriend of the time may have felt the same way. We got an apartment together and talked about the future. We lived together until I was 29 and he came to his senses. For many reasons, the relationship was not right for either of us. We parted ways.
At that point, I had to figure out what it meant to be completely single amongst my married friends. As I had become used to hanging out with them as couples, it wasn’t that weird. I adapted to the situation and knew that married, single, or otherwise, my friends were still my friends. When I would bring a new man I was dating into our group, they always tried to be welcoming and accommodating.
Soon after all the weddings, my married friends began getting pregnant. It started with friends I did not spend much time with. People whose company I enjoyed, but for whatever reason, only saw every couple of months. Every now and then, I would hear from one of them with the big news that they were pregnant. This was foreign territory for me, but if my friends were happy, I was happy for them.
And Then Came the Babies…
Here and there, I began attending baby showers. The first one I went to was for a friend who had already had her baby. It was more of a “welcome baby to the world” party. What I didn’t know then was that when a woman has a new baby, she spends most of her time secluded and trying to nurse. I barely saw my friend at this shower and spent the afternoon making small talk with strangers who had brought their children to the event. At this time, I was going through another breakup. The shower made me see how far I was from ever having the life that these people had. The life I was supposed to have. It all made me extremely sad. I remember quietly crying in my car when I left the party.
Around a year later, one of my best friends announced that she was pregnant. This was a friend I was extremely close with. I spent a lot of time with her and her husband and was surprised by the news. A few months after this announcement, a second close friend told me that she was pregnant. Then, a third friend announced her pregnancy, then a fourth. News of pregnancies just kept coming.
I found this overwhelming. It was one thing for friends I didn’t see that often to have babies; it was another for the close friends I spent most of my time with. At this point, I started to panic. I had been laid off from my job and was in a relationship that was not as fulfilling as it should have been. I spent hours alone on my couch, wondering what was wrong with me. Everyone else was married, had a house, a job, and was about to have a child. I had none of these things. What was my problem? Why didn’t I have anything at all? These were difficult days. Days spent alone with my thoughts, comparing myself to my friends’ lives and coming up short. Days wondering why I was such a societal freak.
The babies started to arrive. When my first close friend went into labor, I was the one she called. I advised her that yes, it was okay to make her husband skip a meeting at work so he could take her to the hospital. She went to the hospital and some of our other friends and I quickly followed her there. That night I slept on a gurney in one of the hospital’s hallways. Early the next morning, the baby arrived.
I held the new baby and was amazed at how a new person had magically appeared. The day before, this tiny person had not existed. Now, he was real. It was mindblowing to me. How did a human simply appear?
Baby after baby was born. I watched as my friends popped out children left and right. This went on as a relationship I was in slowly disintegrated and I got laid off again. I continued to feel like something was wrong with me, that I was a freak. That my world had moved on without me and I was going to be left behind. I thought that once all my friends had children, they wouldn’t have any desire to spend time with me. That their children would become their world and I wouldn’t be part of it.
Because I wasn’t working at the time, I got to see firsthand what it was like to have a newborn. My friends were home on maternity leave and often needed help. I saw that when you have a new baby, your life no longer belongs to you. Everything is about your child. My friends no longer slept and could not be away from their babies long enough to take a shower. My best friend would often call and beg me to come watch her baby so that she could brush her teeth. I found it all very new and strange.
Selfishly, the more I saw of these situations, the more relieved I felt. Yes, my friends all said it was worth it to have their babies. That having a child gave them a feeling that could be matched by no other. At the time, I didn’t understand this. I still don’t. My highly intelligent, fun, competent friends were reduced to zombie-like, unshowered, sleepwalking, milk dispensers. Their every thought and every move centered around their babies. They could barely function. The more I saw of this kind of life, the less interested I was in having it as my own. From my point of view, it looked pretty terrible.
Their Lives Revolve Around Their Children
This was the start of the era I currently live in. My friends’ lives still revolve completely around their children. The kids have schedules for when they get up, eat, nap, take baths, and go to bed. Some of my friends are loose with these schedules, some are unyieldingly rigid. What this means for me is that my friends can no longer leave their houses after dark. Some of them even think that 5:00 is too late to go out for dinner. The way I see it, their lives have been exchanged for their children’s lives. They are no longer allowed to be the same people. The more I see this happen, the more I like my life as it is.
While this is obviously fine with my friends and they seem to love it, to me, it looks awful. I am able to do whatever I want, whenever I want. My friends are shackled. They can’t do things like go to the Fourth of July fireworks or see a movie. They no longer have interesting stories about things they have done. Instead, they have news about playgroups and new teeth. Everything is about the children, all the time. Their fun and enjoyment of life seems to be only vicarious. If their kid goes to the playground and likes the slide, then it is viewed as fun for the parent. This makes little sense to me.
I want to keep having my own fun. To go down the slide by myself and enjoy it. I want nights filled with deep sleep, not screaming. I want to go to dinner at 7:00 like a normal person. I don’t want to spend all my money on day care. Seeing how other people’s lives completely change when they get married and have children makes me cling to my own life. I appreciate it the way it is – filled with mundane and experiences that belong to me.
My friends did not leave me behind when they got married and had children. I still see them a lot. Now though, I have to go to their houses and wait while they put their children to bed. With some of these friends, I participate in their bedtime rituals – reading books and helping the kids take baths. Instead of an outsider, I feel like part of their family. On the other hand, I have made new friends who do not have children. Some of them are married, some are single. These are friends who can go out after dark, friends who can have direct fun instead of vicarious fun. Friends who can decide to leave the house when and if they feel like it.
I feel lucky to have so many people in my life. Seeing firsthand what it is like to get married and have kids made me see that it’s not the life I want for myself right now. From my point of view, it looks excessively difficult. While there is still societal pressure to want these things, I don’t feel the same sort of pressure to have them. I don’t worry that I’m a freak. Someday I would like to get married, but I’m not sure that I will ever want children. For now, my life is fine the way it is.