*For the purposes of this post and your imagination, this is my mother
Most people see me as a paragon of calmness; a level-headed, laid back Zen Master. Except that last week, I had a freak out. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a freak out of Danny Bonaduce proportions, but compared to how I normally compose myself, I might as well have covered myself in green paint and beat my chest with Black Hawks.
In a certain light, we’re virtually indistinguishable
It all started when I was waiting in the car for my boyfriend, who was off doing boyfriend things (code for “I can’t remember what he was doing”) and I decided to peruse my Facebook newsfeed. As I scrolled through the mundane ‘1 like=1 prayer’ melodrama, I noticed that one of my friends had gotten engaged. ‘Huh,’ I thought, ‘good for her’ as I dutifully clicked the ‘like’ button.
I continued scrolling. ‘Huh’, I mumbled again, albeit this time in a more high-pitched tone, ‘Katie is engaged too. Oh, and Emma. And Marie just had a baby.’ I sunk back in my seat. I tried very hard to feel happy for these girls I had once attended school with. They’re nice girls and they deserve to be happy. So why was I feeling like someone had punched me square in the uterus?
As my boyfriend nonchalantly sat back into the car, he noticed I was staring into space (at this stage, I was possibly imagining an older version of myself knitting clothing for my sixty cats).
‘What’s up?’ he asked me, possibly expecting me to refer to the fact that he had earlier hidden my Abba Gold collection.
I didn’t want to say anything. Besides the fact that I didn’t exactly know what was indeed wrong with me, I’m not the passive-aggressive, manipulative, reverse psychology type (you know the ones, they’re all over your Facebook) and I really didn’t want Jack thinking that this was all a clever ruse to provoke him into action.
What could I say? ‘Oh all my friends are engaged and having babies and we’re sat here eating drive-thru and debating whether we’ll watch Iron Man or Spider Man when we go home.’
All he would infer from anything I could possible say is that I was pressuring him to propose to me. And that’s not what I want. Don’t say women aren’t complex creatures…wait, who actually says that, ever?
I’m sayin’ nothin’
We’ve been together for eleven years now. We’re in our
mid to late twenties. Marriage just seems like the next step.
Except we can’t afford it. Readers, I’m being so honest with you that you might as well be cradling my head in your lap and singing lullabies to me. We know that we want to marry each other eventually, and we will, but right now, it would seem like a gigantic expense that we couldn’t justify. And marriage seems so grownup and real, sometimes I just don’t feel mature enough for it. I’d be a ‘Mrs’ for the love of Jezabel.
So I have to admit, the marriage thing wasn’t what was bugging me. Nor was the fact that my friends could now probably run a small crèche between them. No. It was the fact that their lives were taking shape; that they had a sense of direction, of purpose. (The following should be accompanied by cheesy dramatic music and narration by Cameron Diaz) I started to feel like I was in a maze and I had no idea which way I was supposed to go.
To my horror, I noticed tears running down my face. Actual real, giant, salty tears. ‘Oh Jesus,’ I muttered, as I used the end of my sleeve to aggressively dab them away. I’m the sort of person who really hates to cry, so when I inevitably end up sobbing I mutter things to myself like ‘Oh stop it, you big baby!’ which actually makes me sob more because I’m being mean to myself. And myself is quite sensitive.
‘Love, what is wrong?’ my boyfriend asked again, this time showing genuine concern. I can imagine a montage of all his misdemeanours playing though his head: toilet seat left up, clothes balled up on bedroom floor, pizza box in living room, expensive conditioner used as body wash, again…
‘I don’t know really. I just… Sometimes I see other the lives of everyone else taking shape at our age and we’re just kinda stuck in this never ending cycle of debt and takeaways. I feel aimless sometimes, I suppose. I know I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a conventional person, but I have to admit Jack, sometimes the conventional looks pretty comfortable.’
I could see Jack’s eyebrows rising and falling, which I know means he as confused as Kim Kardashian in an art gallery.
‘Sooo, I didn’t do anything?’ he asked gingerly. I leaned over and kissed him.
‘No,’ I smiled through my tears ‘you didn’t.’
Great, I noted wryly to myself, now he thinks you’re on your period.
As we continued our journey home silently, Jack dispensed some pretty good advice.
‘You should talk to your mother. I think it would help.’
At the time, I wasn’t sure. At my age, Mam had a house that she fully owned, a child and she was married. I don’t even own a subscription to my local video store. But as I mulled over whether I should ask my mother for advice that night in bed, I resolved to ring her the next morning. I told myself that she’s a pretty good listener and if anything, she would comfort me.
So I called her and told her that I was doing good but that lately I’d felt a little down. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m known for being the one in my family who normally dispenses the advice rather than receives it, so my mother was a tad surprised. I also felt slightly guilty that this didn’t exactly appear as a ‘real’ problem. There are people out there in debt, suffering from depression or ill, and I’m just some middle class white chick with first world problems. Still though, I knew she wouldn’t want me feeling so aimless and underwhelmed with my life.
‘I don’t know how this has really happened’, I began (although I did know, and I silently narrowed my eyes at an invisible Mark Zukerberg) ‘but lately I’ve just been feeling like I’ve, I don’t know…like I’ve wasted my twenties. Like my life hasn’t really even begun yet. I mean, I love Jack and I’m so happy with him, but I feel like a home for us, and children and all that, is so far out of reach. And everyone else seems to be settling down. And when you were my age, you were married, with a house and a kid and you had everything. I just feel like I’m missing out on all that.’
There was a long silence at the other end of the phone. Great, I thought, I have literally bored her to death.
I heard her take a sigh. She began: ‘firstly, when I married your father it was 1980. In Catholic Ireland. I had a job but I felt I had to leave it. Times were very different. I was expected to get married. There was no such thing as living with someone first, and women were expected to have children.
You don’t have those expectations anymore. You get to keep your job, which you love. You don’t have to have children by a certain age to keep your parents happy. And you’re angry because these societal expectations are gone? What is that?!’
She was half laughing, half incredulous.
‘You are so lucky. You’re not tied to a property. You’re not expected to play the part of dutiful housewife. Don’t get me wrong, I love the three of you (my siblings and I, I’m guessing) more than anything, but my god how I would have loved some more time. I would have loved to eat pizza on the floor (how does she know?) and come home at eight o’ clock in the morning after a house party, but I couldn’t. I had responsibilities. And I was so young.
And, my dear, you are forgetting the most important fact of all: if my life was so perfect, why did our marriage break down? Hmm?’
She was right. My father and her had separated a few years ago. Was she saying that it was because they married too young? Was it because she didn’t get to experience enough of life in her twenties?
‘Look’, she interrupted my reverie ‘I was happy. I was. I had three beautiful children. And you can have that too. Except you can also go and live some of your life first. Who says marriage and kids qualifies you as an adult, hah? Ok, so yes, you still wear Minnie Mouse onesies, but you’re a grownup with or without marriage and babies. And you’re doing a pretty good job at this adult malarkey. You have a career, a stable relationship with a great man and you seem happy, most of the time. What more could you want? The grass seems perfectly green where you are.’
‘Im crying again,’ I mumbled. And I was. The warmth of her words surrounded me like a blanket. As I say there, ensconced in her rationality, I knew she was right. She’s my mother; she’s always right.
I need to be thankful that I live in a society and in a time where I’m free to do as I like (within reason of course, yes I’m talking to you: the guy removing his clothes and planning to run naked through Walmart). I also realised that I just need to calm the eff down. I’m twenty-six. I still sleep with a nightlight on after watching horror movies. I don’t think I should be thinking about babies juuuust yet. Of course, it’s a personal thing, but I have to admit, I’m pretty content with life at the moment. There’s plenty of time for marriage and children. I don’t need to waste these years by inventing societal pressures.
Until then, I’m going to continue putting dresses on my male Westie because, well, I can.
And also, this is me: