Thursday, May 1, 2014

Forty is the New Fabulous

I get distracted at toddler story hour at the library. I guess I don't find The Hungry Little Caterpillar as edge-of-your-seat compelling as my daughter, Claire, does. My mind seems to wander to the other mothers seated around the perimeter of the circle. Sometimes, I even get caught staring. Creepy, right? But I just can't help myself!

I marvel at how young the mothers are compared to my forties self. Perhaps, "marvel" is code for covet their flawless skin and the youthful stretches of time that they have ahead of them. But I marvel too. I marvel about how different my path to motherhood has been from a lot of women.

When I was single and approaching 40, I felt different then too. My non-marital status always left me open to strange, unsolicited questions and comments from people that made me extremely uncomfortable. I never said so, though. I think a part of me believed I actually owed them an explanation.

One time, an acquaintance of mine introduced me to her mother by saying, “This is Rachel. We have to find her a man. She’s just so great.”

{My thought: Why do I need a man? Why am I not fine as I am?}

Her mother, then, responded, “How old are you?”

When I said “thirty-eight", she paused and said, “Well…maybe, there's a good divorced man out there for you..."

 {subtext: my advice to you is lower your sights.}

This kind of subtext was always close to the surface when these types of conversations arose. Sometimes, the words beneath the words seemed to scream louder than the words themselves. Here’s what people have said to me over the years {and the subtext that I heard}:

"I don't understand why you're still single!"
  {Why are you still single?}

“It’ll happen someday.”
{I am at a loss about what to say to you, so I offer this lame encouragement.}

“All the good ones are already taken.”
{Settle. Now.}

“You haven’t met the right one.”
  {I can only imagine the bad choices in men that you've made.}

“Do you wanna have kids?”
{I hope not, because there's no way that's happening at this stage in the game.}

“Any man who’s single in his 40’s must have a lot of baggage.”
  {You’re near 40 too. You must have a lot of baggage.}

“Any man who’s single in his 40’s most have commitment issues.”
{You must have commitment issues.}

“What was your longest relationship?”
{You must have commitment issues.}

“Any man who’s single in his 40’s must be gay.”
{You must be gay.}

“Have you tried switching teams?”
{Are you a lesbian?}

“Thought about becoming a cougar?”
{Accept it. You're getting ready to be put out to pasture.}

“You don’t need a man anyway.”
{Make peace with your lot as Old Maid.}

“My brother's still single. Let me set you two up.”
{You'll only have age in common. But, really, can either of you afford to be picky at this point?}

“It’s a jungle out there.”
{Lemme tell you how glad I am not to be in your shoes.}

“Have you tried internet dating?”
{Can’t you get a man on your own?}

Now, I'm at the part of my story where I get to tell the people who said these things what I really thought of their commentary. Yes, some of this list did come true. Yes, I did meet my husband on and, yes, I am now what is referred to as a "cougar". But I did not switch teams, nor did I get put out to pasture.

I happily found love, marriage and the proverbial baby carriage after forty. The current organization of my family feels like a triumph in the context of the lame comments and questions I endured over the years.

But, really, why should anyone need to get married and have children to feel triumphant? 

We are all on our own personal journey with a unique timeline and purpose. Social expectations and cultural norms should not define its direction. When it comes down to it, a person's path is solely the business of her and her God, if she has one. Surely, God meant to include people living outside the nuclear family paradigm.

Personally, I know one little girl who will be happy that things went down the way they did in my life. I can't imagine them happening any differently either.


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