When you get to a certain age, people start asking questions like, ‘when are you going to get married and have kids?’ which is startlingly intrusive and presumptuous enough without considering I’m single.
When I was nineteen, I fell in love. I’d just finished school with a great final mark, was in the middle of a gap year studying acting part time, and had, for wont of a less cliche expression, the world at my fingertips. I was getting praise for my performing, my singing voice had finally started to flourish after seven years of struggling to get a note out of it for lack of confidence, and I had secured a place in a BA Media and Communications for the following year, which I intended to take my time with as I pursued acting.
I stood on a precipice, violent winds of too many choices thrashing at me.
This boy was older than me. Old enough for society to call him a man, and he certainly thought of himself as such. I, personally, wasn’t quite so convinced. I don’t mean that disparagingly, though: I liked his boyishness, the fact that at the age of twenty-seven he didn’t own a bookshelf, and slept on an up-market version of a blow-up mattress, and lived in a slightly dilapidated duplex in a student suburb. And I liked that he came from my home town, and we knew some of the same people, and he sailed boats. Even though he towered over me, and his physique was, well, intimidating (by which I mean he was muscle bound in a way that would make Adonis jealous and Narcissus turn his head from the pool) I didn’t feel threatened by him: I felt safe.
I wanted to marry him. In that nineteen-years-old way, I wanted to marry the boy from my town.
He wanted to get married, too.
Just not to me.
He explained to me that even though he thought I was beautiful, and liked me very very much, he was looking for a more adult relationship than he could expect me to give (note: he chose to broach this subject moments after I had slipped into his bed and we’d shared our first kiss. No tongue). He wanted to have a family. Quick smart.
I did point out that there was something of a flaw in the logic of planning kiddiewinks before you’ve found a willing womb and passing up something tangible and present in favour of something, well, hypothetical. As most men tend to when I assault their flawed world view, he acknowledged that I was completely correct, dug his heels in, and refused to budge on the matter.
He was twenty-seven at the time, which is, incidentally, how old I am as I write this blog. And I still don’t understand his logic, but it seems to have worked for him: he was married within six months, and has, like, twelve kids now or something. I occasionally Facebook stalk him, and they’re all very cute, but Dear Lord thank you so much for shoving me out of the way of that bullet!
Not that I don’t want kids. Not that I don’t think Sailor Boy isn’t an absolutely charming and lovely man (and he is, he’s an absolute darling of a human being), but sweet Jesus, I have so much to do before doing that.
When people talk about this idea of ‘spending the rest of our lives together’ I always feel a little uneasy. It’s not commitment phobia or anything, on the contrary: I love the idea of partnership. But this life these people describe, with a tongue-in-cheek white dress, a mortgage, a Labrador, and two kids, looks more like a death together to me.
Again, I want those things. But all in good time, people, all in good time. Weddings, mortgages, Labradors and children are not the hallmarks of commitment. Sure, you probably shouldn’t do them without commitment, but they are not commitment itself.
I want to live nocturnally, breathing the vibrancy of a thousand cities and their music and their art and their theatre, and know that none if it would be so moving, so profound, so disturbing, so enlivening, if it weren’t for having shared it with that guy. I want to hire a cabin in the Scottish Alps and have the whiskey hit us too hard because we’re not used to the altitude and wake up not sure what we did but sure it was transcendent. I want to wander villages in southern France and invite an accordion-playing busker to drink red wine with us and tell us stories that may or may not be true, but agree that it doesn’t matter, because life may or may not be real, so let there be wine and cheese and accordions because we can see and smell and hear and feel those. I want to wonder the next day if it happened or if the little busker were a wine-dream, and scratch our heads trying to remember the wisdom we’re sure he imparted. And when there’s no wine, and no whiskey, I want to feel the bass tones of life’s concerto rip through my guts and his guts simultaneously, and feel the lurch and the head-spin and the rising and the falling and the major and the minor, and stand transfixed, unable to breathe, as one movement comes to a close and another swells and takes off.
I don’t want a man to give me his heart. He needs that to keep breathing. No. I want to know the beat of it so intimately that I can live in step with it.
I want to live.
When I tell my children stories at night, I want them to be my stories, not shadows of an idea stamped on pulp paper and regurgitated into my children’s mouths so I can fool them into thinking I know something about life because I bought them a box-set.
And unless I’m comfortable lying to my children, I have to live the stories first.
P.s. Sailor Boy, if you ever read this, no hard feelings. 🙂