The Question

Over the long holiday weekend (the university closed on Friday, too – is this real life?) an old friend from grade school – grade school, I say – was in town with his wife and three daughters on a whirlwind road trip, so we got together for brunch. 

He looks exactly the same as he did in eighth grade. No, really. Exactly. Even his wife agreed that he hasn’t changed since she met him in high school. She and I are Facebook friends, which is how this whole thing went down (we went through three years of HS together before I moved). And honestly, you would think there would be awkwardness when you meet for brunch with the guy you had a crush on when you were eight through 14 and who you haven’t seen in 19 years, but no! No awkwardness at all! We chatted endlessly for like two hours! Including that usually awkward time when you’re standing around waiting for your table because the joint is crowded.

The only thing I really didn’t understand was that Jenna and the girls all ordered lunch food. I never understand ordering latter-hour food when breakfast is an option. I’m a breakfast- all-day- long kinda girl. David backed me up, though – ordered almost the exact same thing I did.

His midwestern gentility and kindness haven’t changed, either. Then again, that’s probably because they still live in Indiana. About four miles from where they grew up, actually. He teaches at the Catholic grade school around the corner from where my family and I lived (which was not, to be clear, the one we went to – that was 15 minutes away). Whatever else one can say about the midwest (and I’ve said some stuff), its residents are just good people. I’m pretty sure, in the 15 years I was in Indy and Ohio, the only asshole I ever knew was me.

Oh, wait. I forgot John Kasich.

john kasich

Seriously. I met him on election night 2000. He’d been voted out of  Congress in 1998 and wasn’t yet employed with anything else and he was still incredibly rude. What a dick. Now he’s governor of Ohio. For some reason.

David caught me up on all the folks we have shared history with – some we went to grade school with and some from high school. He and Jenna have dinner once a month with a few folks. Seems everyone’s married with kids, doin’ the midwestern living thing, suburban tract houses in the same zip code as their parents, all things I just can’t relate to. And then he, very pleasantly, asked The Question.

“So! Did you ever get married?”

Wait, you know what? Let me back up. That’s not The Question. The Question is actually one of two:  “Why aren’t you married?” or “are you seeing anyone special?” It struck me that this Question was actually past tense. As in, “Now that we’re on the downward slope of our mid-30s, are you divorced or what?”

None of our friends from Indy are divorced except for one that I can think of. She just bought a house on the street where I lived, which is down the street from her oldest sister, who has lived with her husband in that house for about 25 years. I used to babysit their kids.

Anyway.

I smiled around the inquiry because he was smiling and he was totally meeting my eyes, which told me it was an honest to goodness curiosity and not a judgment. “Nope,” I replied with the return smile. “Never married!”

“Just livin’ the single girl life, huh?” he grinned, nodding.

“Yep! Just…” I was looking out the window at the view of the city from the table, trying not to use those exact words in my response, thinking about how much I actually like being single here, and how much better it is than being single in Indy.

“Well I would guess with your old job, the schedule would have made it hard,” David offered as an explanation for my marital status.

“Well, yeah,” I cooperated, “because the hours can be crazy and you work holidays and stuff. Actually, you wind up dating people you work with, or at least people in the same field, because they understand, you know.”

David’s head was set on Affirmative Bob.

Do this right, I was thinking. Talk just enough, but not too much. Too much sounds kind of pathetic. Don’t let your indignation at perceived judgment make you go into how you’d like to get married someday but you’re nowhere near it right now and you’ve had kind of a rough end to a complicated relationship not too long ago but apparently he’s getting married which what the hell is THAT about and you’re not really interested in having kids even though they would be nice to have around when you’re old if you don’t do such a bad job at parenting that they’d rather smother you with a pillow which you’re pretty sure is why you haven’t had any and hey why are your daughters suddenly crying?

Every time someone asks me one of these Questions, it feels odd to answer. I guess that’s because I always infer judgment from it, when that’s only the case some of the time, and fairly often it’s probably wonder at what life is like when you don’t get married and pop out offspring by 25. It’s a totally different life and people like a glimpse of the other side. Those who are married with kids rarely get that glimpse because all their friends are also married with kids.

It’s like the Rare Species exhibit at the zoo. “Wow, look at that! Do you see it? It’s single and childless. It seems just like the other ones, but there’s something so different about it!”

We moved on smoothly from that and it really was lovely to see them all and catch up. That evening I spent several hours with other members of my own species (I’m so glad I moved into this neighborhood). Saturday Sister and BIL 1 and Twin Nephs came to visit for the first time since I bought my house. A few of my neighbors – none of whom had been at the previous night’s gathering – stopped by late for drinks as Twin Nephs slept soundly. Three of them belong to the other species, but they’re cool with my genus. When all is said and done, I like both varieties just fine almost all the time. But it’s nice to have other members of mine around… even if we never get around to propagating the species.

 

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13 thoughts on “The Question

  1. How cool that you got to meet up with someone from grade school! I think people who are happily married, with or without kids, tend to think you can’t really be as happy if you aren’t in their situation. There is something to be said, though, for not being responsible for anyone else’s happiness but your own. It’s good to be content in whatever situation you find yourself in, and it sounds as if you are, so good for you.

    • It was definitely cool, and I’m so glad we could do it. I think David and Jenna are very happy. Sadly, that’s not true of everyone, and I think those who are weary do wonder what the Other Life might have been like. If I had Baby Fever like a lot of unmarried women my age have, I think I’d be miserable.

  2. Whenever I get one of those questions I do feel like they’re thinking, “You seem normal, but you’re not married so…”. My parents have started to say they’re fine not having grandkids (I’m 37 not dead, and I was married once for heaven’s sake!) Talk about awkward. I’d like to have kids once I meet someone special, but every now and then it’ll be Saturday morning and I wake up at 10am and spend 2 hours just reading in bed and think, “I really like this.” Like Coming East said there is something about not being responsible for anyone’s happiness but your own.

    BTW “why are your daughters suddenly crying?” Hilarious!

    • Ah! Please don’t be offended when I say you fall into the category women our age are relieved by, in some stroke of irony: “well, yeah, he’s not married and he’s 37, but at least he’s been married before… so he’s not afraid of it.” You’re ahead of the game, my friend!

      Are you the only child? I’m so glad my two middle sisters got married at 22 and each have two kids (so far) and the youngest is only 23. It takes the pressure off me to bear grandchildren.

      • I have noticed the sense of relief when I tell people I’m divorced, LOL! As for siblings, that’s what is even funnier, my sister is 5 years younger, but never married. So they make the child comment to both of us. 🙂

  3. It’s interesting that both of us had grade school friends visiting this week, although to be grade school friends, our have to be substantially older than yours. I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone one of your two questions … whether someone is married is pretty far down on my list of what I need to know. As far as kids go, our friends have pretty close to perfect kids … brilliant, successful. happily married and producing grandkids … while ours have been more difficult. We agreed, however, that we understand completely why someone would choose not to have children.

    When my daughter got married, at the reception the bishop (she married a Mormon) said something about how it was time for them to get busy making babies. From the look on Muri’s face, I knew exactly what she was thinking … “it’s none of your GD business.” We both feel whether people have children or not is personal and no one else’s business.

  4. Absolutely true. I enjoy throwing people off when they ask these questions. If they ask why I’m not married, I ask them why they are. If they ask about babies, I tell them they shouldn’t assume I can or want to have children. (Something similar to this is what finally got Dirty Old Man Dave to clam up.) They’re often chastened. It’s kind of fun. Plus, not only is it none of anyone’s business… it’s also potentially a painful question, and I find it’s insensitive to ask. There are too many people who are unable to conceive or carry to term, for example.

  5. How did I miss that you did time in Indiana? Did I just forget this? Hmmm. The majority of my friends from Indiana are on their second marriage. Both my best friend and high school boyfriend became grandparents at age 47. There are so many reasons I left. Even though I’m not your species, I’m not theirs either. I guess I’m a sub-species.

    • Yes. Grandparents in your 40s is a Thing. I think you kind of are a sub-species, but it’s one I can see myself joining eventually (though hopefully not with five kids under college age – you’re a better woman than I, even though the kids are awesome).

  6. I think people often ask questions like this to validate their own decisions. Because – let’s be real – most marriages aren’t exactly blissful. So I think people feel a bit threatened when they realize they did not have to end up in one. And it ends up coming out as judgmental. But maybe that’s just me.

    Also? I will ALWAYS eat dinner for breakfast. Had a hotdog with sauerkraut this morning. You can keep the eggs.

    • Okay, that last part? Only way you and I are NOT the same person. In which we are actually the inverse. I think this is some sort of universe-balance thing. First part? I think you’re spot on.

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