29 Apr 2015

on marriage, children and wearing a blue dress

Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I will send you a note later about the specific difference between those writers who possess the natural confidence that is their birthright, and those fewer writers who are driven by the unnatural courage that comes from no alternative. It is something like this–some walk on a tightrope, and some continue on the tightrope, or continue to walk, even after they find out it is not there. — Maeve Brennan, in a letter to William Maxwell (via).

A few weeks ago my best friend’s nine-year-old daughter and I were playing. Our play consists of her sometimes weaving pink ribbons through my hair or me helping her assemble an imaginary set for a show she’s intent on producing (she’s creative, this one). That day, after I affixed one of the many glittery crowns she owned on her head, she asked, Are you ever going to have children, Felicia? I admired her moxie, the way in which she’s able to navigate terrain that one could consider a minefield. Adults exercise politeness and discretion in a way that can sometimes be numbing, and it was such an odd relief to hear a child ask something so plainly–just because I’m the only woman she knows who doesn’t have a child of her own. My best friend and I exchanged a look, and I replied, No, C. I don’t plan on having children. She appeared pensive, and after a few moments she nodded her head, said, okay, and we continued on with our play.

I did love, once. Yet it was love that was easily altered, one that had slowly come apart at the seams. But for a time we lived a terrific photograph, and spoke of glinting diamonds, me swanning about in a white dress and children winding around my calves. This life, while part of a defined plan I had for myself, felt distant, foreign–an uninhabited country for which I needed a visa and complicated paperwork for entry. I never took to the idea of being owned by someone else; I never considered changing my name. I never imagined myself in a white dress (I prefer blue), and I’ve never truly felt the maternal ache and tug as many of my dear friends who are mothers, describe. Back then I viewed marriage as less of a partnership and more of a prison, but I imagine that had much to do with the man in my life. Back then I slept on top sheets rather than between them, and I was forever poised for flight. Back then I didn’t want children because I was certain I wouldn’t be any good at it considering my history.

After a couple of years of playing house, this great love and I experienced a drift and while he went on to marry and have a family of his own, I never once thought I’d missed out on my chance, rather, I was relieved. I treasure my solitude, my freedom. I didn’t want to be harvested. Back then I had so much work ahead of me, work on my self, my character, that I knew I wouldn’t be much good to anyone else. I knew I had to make myself whole and complete before I gave even a sliver of myself to someone else.

“I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self.” —Edith Wharton

Kate Bolick's SpinsterI came across Kate Bolick’s Spinster not from her widely-read Atlantic essay (I miss out on everything), but serendipitously through a Times book review. I nodded along with Bolick, and found her to be an “awakener” (a riff off Kate Chopin’s The Awakening), much like the ones she describes in her book. Over the past few years I’ve been so consumed with cultivating a good life, in living through the questions, in being a sponge when it comes to knowledge and culture, that I hadn’t stopped, not even for a moment, to consider the fact that I’m in my late 30s and am still not married. I’ve witnessed scores of my friends fall in love, marry, bear children, and I feel joy for them, rather than envy. And I’m also privy to the unseemly side of coupling–of people who talk about being incomplete without having a partner, people who feel like a failure because they haven’t fulfilled a role ascribed to them, and my heart breaks because no one person will ever complete you. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to come into the game, whole; you’ve got to hold your own cards, be willing to play your own hand.

It doesn’t make sense to come to the table with a few cards rather than a deck.

Nearly all my friends my age are married–most, happily so. Acquaintances congratulate engagements and pregnancy announcements with a welcome to the club message, as if these points in time gain you access to some sort of privileged society, which rings odd and exclusionary, at best. I don’t view marriage, or the decision to have children, as checks in a box or private clubs where one is finally granted trespass, rather I think of them as individual choices we make. We meet a great love and decide to marry, or not. We meet a great love and decide to have children, or not. We never meet a great love and the world as we know has yet to collapse. Or, perhaps, we don’t make love a vocation. Maybe we just live our best lives and play out the hand.

She was the only one of the lot of them who hadn’t gone off and got married. She had never wanted to assert herself like that, never needed to. —Maeve Brennan

It occurs to me that I’m not certain I’ll ever get married, and I’m okay with that. While I like the idea of a partner, a companion, someone with whom I’m besotted, somehow the vision of me in a dress surrounded by people applauding me down an aisle makes me cringe. The idea of me trading one man’s name for another feels false (I’ll keep Sullivan, thank you). And I’ve come to realize that I’m a better friend, sister, and lover because I choose not to have children.

All I want to do right now is create, to see everything that hasn’t been seen. To know what I don’t know. And if in that journey I meet someone, cool. However, if I don’t, that’s cool too.

21 Comments

  1. Life is very complex. Most people live their life as per the well-defined social dogmas and rituals. Animals are more instinctive and possibly happier because of that. To marry someone and have children or not should be a personal choice. I’m not sure about the amount of happiness a person gets from this institute of marriage. Most people pretend. But children…they do have a capacity to give happiness – a pure unconditional kind of love. At the same time, everything comes with a cost. Career, hobbies, travel, freedom -all gone. Most mothers have to give up their own vital personality and identity to the extent of forgetting who they really are/were…often it gets too late to go back.

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  2. I simply adore this post. I often feel confused when considering the whole marriage paradigm. I’ve always felt that I wanted to spend my life travelling and experiencing life, learning new cultures, seeing the world. I imagine that having a companion to do so would be lovely but if I don’t, I’ll probably be fine with that too. Once upon a time, I felt as though, I needed to get married, have kids, have a steady income and be this powerhouse that had everything in order. Now I just want to be satisfied and happy. I enjoy shopping and travel… I want to be able to do that at my whim and fancy and I think that having children would hinder that process a great deal. I’m also aware of the fact that, I may or may not find someone to share it with and I’m also quite fine with that too.. So long as I enjoy myself.. and I do adore my solitude.. once I have music.

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
    • I loved this! What I’ve found is that if you strive to really enjoy your life, you cultivate good energy all around you. That could be in the form of friends, lovers, etc. My mantra: you do you, you be you, and everyone will come calling.

      Posted on 5.1.15 · Reply to comment
  3. PREACH.

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  4. glenda1203 wrote:

    Beautiful post as always! Life is not a whole bunch of check marks. It is for some and not for others. The simple fact that YOU know what you want or don’t want makes it YOU… makes it YOUR choice. I wish you the best in this new chapter you’re about to embark on soon. Can’t wait to see all of the lovely pictures too! 🙂

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  5. jeanne229 wrote:

    I set out on a course not to marry or have children in my early twenties.Then the old clock started ticking. The prospect of not having children, ever, motivated me much more than the pure desire to have them. So I entered an institution I have always been seriously skeptical about–marriage. At 35 I had the first, at 37 the second. I could never wish them away. But I do imagine what it would have been like if I had stayed my original course, not because I feel I have sacrificed my personality, as Alka suggested, but because I don’t think I realized how very difficult a task it is to raise children to be good people. Seems to me you are part of a growing trend Felicia, at least in the West, though your comments show that old attitudes die hard and women still get insecure about the whole thing. My closest friends are “spinsters.” (What a lovely ring that word now has.)

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  6. Beautiful. Incredibly introspective, and just… a real joy to read.
    I’m currently still young. 23. I’m new to the game, and I both desire and am completely horrified by children. I feel strange maternal twinges, but I never felt like I ever loved or desired children in the same way as my friends. Girls my age are already having children!
    I feel so entirely disconnected from them at this point in my life, it seems like such a different choice than what I want.

    While I feel like I want children, I’d want them later in life. Mid to late 30s. I tell my friends this and they curiously look at me.
    But I feel like you, in a way. I need to grow myself as a person, children or not, because this is my once chance at life. My one attempt at doing what makes me happy.
    I want a husband, because I’ve learned over the years that sadly, I’m kind of needy. This neediness has dragged me through a horrible mentally abusive relationship, left me out at the end, and I cried and wrote poetry until I loved myself.

    I currently do have a new different boyfriend, I feel like you: I just want to see things and create.
    That, to me, is the most beautiful true vocation of life.

    Beautiful article!!

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  7. GA wrote:

    FELICIA! I love this post so much, for so many different reasons. I am a couple years behind, but experiencing many of the same things that you touched on. I’ve watched so many friends marry + have children (and am so happy for them – I’ve never felt bitter or sad watching them go their course), and also seen single friends wallowing + feeling incomplete without a “better half.” I’ve at one point (like you) thought I’d marry and have kids with someone I loved. Then I had my heart broken badly, and realized the importance of being happy in my own company. I started looking at relationships very differently, realizing that happiness comes from within… and all relationships (friendships, love, sex, whatever) are something extra. Something extra that you cherish + appreciate, but not the be-all, end-all… if that makes sense. I just think that a relationship is not something that complete you, but something that should complement your life rather than overwhelm it/take over.

    For me, the past two years have been so incredibly interesting. Mostly, because I’ve gotten to be truly independent and have fallen in love with my life in an entirely different way and be really happy on my own. It’s been great. The kids thing is weird. I’m 33 and don’t know if I’ll have them. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t? I feel like by now I should know, but I truly haven’t a clue… I don’t beat myself up about it, but I think that will just unfold as life progresses. 😉

    I also just really love how you’ve shared your experiences here in such an unassuming, non judgmental way. I think there’s so much beauty in that, in our friendships, where we can just be happy for each other and where we all are (often at very different places in our lives.) I hope that makes sense + think that it’s so important.

    See you tonight my friend!

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  8. Jessica Tappin wrote:

    Hi Felicia,

    This post lifted a very heavy weight for me. It resonates to the core. That’s all I can write at the moment because I feel emotional suddenly, in a good, cathartic way. I’m sure that I will write more later.

    As always, without your even knowing it, you’ve made such a positive impact in my recovery from indescribable violence and sexual trauma. It’s too difficult to go into too much detail here, but if you have time to listen to my story AND your amazing impact, please feel absolutely free to email me. If not, no worries. I just find it incredible that I’m able to write to and have a conversation with one of my top favorite writers (and people:)). I’m feel so honored and thank you for even taking the time out of your day to read this. I very much appreciate you and your time. I have never taken any of it for granted. I see it as a tremendous privilege and gift. Truly.
    With much gratitude and warmth,
    Jess
    jessica_tappin@yahoo.com

    Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
    • Jessica,

      Thank you so kindly for your tremendous feedback, and I’m so happy you’re on the journey to light.

      Regrettably, I’m not in a place in my life where I can be the mentor you need. I think it’s important to find those whom you know and love in your life to care for you in the way you deserve.

      I’m sending you light and warm wishes.

      Warmly, Felicia

      On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 4:10 PM, love.life.eat wrote:

      >

      Posted on 4.29.15 · Reply to comment
  9. This post is amazing, sometimes it seems having a partner is the only thing that you should want in this world. People look at me quizzically when I say I’m really pretty happy on my own – it’s nice to see others feel this way too!

    “I knew I had to make myself whole and complete before I gave even a sliver of myself to someone else.” This really rang true to me, I’ve seen so many of my friends fall victim to thinking they are nothing without a boyfriend / girlfriend. I shall have to recommend your blog to them!

    Thank you 🙂

    Posted on 4.30.15 · Reply to comment
  10. Jill wrote:

    Yes! I just discovered your blog and this is the first post I read. It articulates a lot of things I’ve been grappling with personally lately, having gone through a painful divorce recently and now embarking on the challenging world of online dating. I’m so curious about Bolick’s book and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Posted on 5.1.15 · Reply to comment
    • You’re so welcome, jill! Thanks for stopping by and I’m sending you all of the light through your new journey!!

      Posted on 5.1.15 · Reply to comment
  11. Good for you for knowing yourself so well and knowing that becoming whole IS the most important thing!

    Posted on 5.1.15 · Reply to comment
  12. I realize you wrote this post some time ago, but I wanted to thank you and say I truly enjoyed it. It speaks to me as I am finding myself in that phase of life where everyone I know is married, and Im sure, soon to be having children. Your writing resonated with me, because like you I never thought I liked the idea of marriage or a family, I tried it on for size recently, like you I had the great love, but as the last of my friends got married this year (my two best friends), my great love crumbled as did the dreams I thought I had of having a marriage and family. Now I am living in Italy, Ive started a blog and embraced this journey of getting to know my self and living my life for me, I hear that spirit in your writing so thank you, I love finding pieces of myself in others words.

    Posted on 3.8.16 · Reply to comment

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“If I had my way, I’d never leave my house. My home is small, and I know every inch of it. An 800-square foot box with two windows, walls, and a doorbell that plays instrumental Julio Iglesias. Half the rooms are cloaked in effulgent light and the other a cool charcoal black. I’ve become fluent at oscillating between the two. I don’t even love the space in which I live, but I’m hard-pressed to leave it.”
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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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Today, I wrote a tutorial about crafting plots. Instead of vivisecting plot arcs — because frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch — I invite you to consider three simple questions: what story will sustain your interest for 70,000 words? Can you commit to your story and the sequence of events that unfold for months or years of your life? Does your novel have the weight to capture and hold your reader until the end?
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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Today, I had a call with my friend @luciaioevans, and we started talking about a podcast idea we’ve been toying with—something news something you have NOT seen before I guarantee you. And it occurred to me that they’re myopic, borderline photocopies of a bland original. They’ve internalized brand consistency and continuity so much that they’ll build a whole world for themselves in their box and never have any desire to peer out and see what’s outside.
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These podcasts invite guests who look and sound just like them. They regurgitate the same bullshit business advice that Seth Godin wrote a decade ago, and pithy platitudes because it got that influencer turned entrepreneur rich on Instagram, and now she sells courses for $600 a pop when she’s never done the thing she teaches for anyone other than herself. These people are so obsessed with building their brand that they forgot to be human.
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And then I realized that since we have so little time, why not spend it being our truest selves. Why not fuse all the things that make us weird, strange, and unique, and bring them to bear on our work.
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Don’t listen to people who tell you that you should act or be a certain way. They’re telling you to behave in their way, in a way that’s safe, conforming, and possibly boring. They’re not wrecking things. They’re not thinking about the feel of every inch of our life slipping, slipping, slipping by. They clock-watch. They speak in coded jargon or vernacular. Plain English frightens them. People who are different paralyze them. And they’ll poke fun and use you as a prop for their amusement, but they’re small. And they’re not doing much with their life except for complaining about it.
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Over the next year, I have BIG sweeping plans. Education, podcasts, writing. And I plan to ignore what everyone else is doing, will give zero fucks about what people think of me because I think we’re our most brave when we are our most real, vulnerable selves.
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