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Ever since I moved back to London I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of the future. Like: is this move the last? Am I going to settle down in this city? Do I have a future at this job? Is this the apartment I’m going to stay in?
But more concretely than that, I’ve been wondering what actual shape my life is going to take. Everywhere I look it seems the issue of children: having them, not having them, not being able to have them – is cropping up. Among my friends, in articles I’m reading, the podcasts I’m listening to. I don’t know if it’s targeted ads or if the topic really is on everyone’s minds right now.
I was listening to a (fucking amazing) podcast about Sex and the City where on one of their (many) tangents, the hosts were discussing the question of having children, or the decision not to. One of the hosts was talking about the idea that some people have children for no better reason than to break up the mundanity of their day to day lives. And while that is of course a terrible reason to have children, you can kind of understand it. At a certain point, she says, you’ve had most of the formative experiences you’re going to have; you’ve travelled to most of the places you want to go, you’ve made most of the friends you’re going to make, you’ve hit (hopefully) the height of your career. So then what? What makes life new and interesting, after you’ve reached that point?
I’ve started to notice a change in the people around me already. I am not exaggerating when I say that, in London at least, every single one of my friends is in a relationship – and a serious one at that. This in and of itself doesn’t bother me, of course – I don’t mean to imply that their relationship is all they talk about, or that I can’t stand spending time with their partners – it’s not that at all. It’s more that I’ve noticed that the impetus behind social interactions is more and more often having to come from me. And I know it’s not that my friends don’t want to spend time with me, or are avoiding me (I hope) – it’s that when you’re in a couple, I imagine you feel less of a pull to fill your weekend with plans, with dinners and brunches and gallery visits and nights out, because by dint of having a partner, you already have plans for the weekend. Even if you don’t do anything, even if you spend all weekend at home bingeing a series or reading your book, the very fact of someone else being present while you do that makes it feel like you’ve done something with your time. People bed down in the domestic nests they’ve made for themselves and they feel less need to maniacally rush about having experiences. Which is fantastic, for them – if I were in that position I would do the same thing. But it feels like the start of a very long, isolated road for people like me. Not that I’m playing my sad little violin and implying I’m never going to meet anyone – maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But these are the first stages of people peeling away from larger communities to make smaller, more insular ones, ones in which friends will only ever be a visitor. The next stage will be these people moving in together, if they haven’t already, then getting married, then, in some of their cases, having kids. And as the friend, you will move lower and lower down the priority list, until you’re seeing your friends once a month, if you’re lucky.
All of this is fine, and great, and understandable. I’m not making this observation from some kind of bitter, jealous place. But it makes me wonder what my life will look like in five years, or ten years, or whenever. If I don’t meet someone, and stay firm in my decision to not have kids, what will my day-to-day reality be?
I think I’ve convinced myself that a life without kids has to be glamorous, has to be filled with travel and gorgeous apartments with art on every wall, has to basically be full of the stuff that is (not completely, but somewhat) not possible when you have kids. I can’t just not have kids, I have to have an amazing life that justifies not having them. That makes up for their absence. And I think that’s what makes me so panicky about the future – am I really going to stay in this job where I make no money, in this apartment shared with four people – is this the fabulous childless life I dreamed of?
But I’m up in Scotland this weekend at a little house on the beach with my aunt and her partner, a couple who work in Aberdeen and drive up to this tiny fishing town on the coast every weekend, a couple who doesn’t have kids and has never wanted them. Theirs is not a glamourous, extravagant life – but they come up here every weekend and read and work and drink wine and cook complicated dinners, walk on the beach and swim in the sea and bike up and down grassy paths. Being here makes me feel that a life without kids doesn’t have to be a justification, doesn’t have to be extra, doesn’t have to be worthy of novels or movies. It can just be perfectly nice, it can just trundle along peaceably – it can still be a happy life. And maybe it’s okay to just let that happen on its own, and stop worrying about a future that I can’t control. Maybe.
One good thing:
It’s 18 degrees and sunny in Scotland. If you’re not from the UK, that’s pretty fucking amazing.
One bad thing:
I have opened (too) many bottles of prosecco in my life, without incident, and I opened one at my aunt’s newly refurbished house and it exploded all over her brand-new fine furnishings. Of course.
On the subject of the aforementioned Sex and the City podcast: