I have regrets. There are things that haunt me now and again – things I should (or shouldn’t) have said or done, people I’ve hurt, opportunities I’ve missed. I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. I don’t think you can experience human life past age 5 without racking up a couple of really juicy regrets.
What I think is most interesting, though, is that I don’t regret the things I’m supposed to. Our culture tells me in a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) ways that I’m not living my life correctly. If you watch TV or movies, or read books, single people are usually the subject of pity. The message everywhere in our culture is that it’s not okay to be alone and be happy about it. Love is the answer and the question. We don’t care what your family looks like much anymore – 2 dads, single mom, grandparents raising grandkids – whatever. Anything goes – that is – any kind of family, as long as you have a family, or you at least feel bad if you don’t.
I never wanted to be a wife, and I never wanted to be someone’s mother. I knew from a very young age that I wouldn’t be good at either. What I understood about marriage and family growing up with my mother and father was that you couldn’t be free – to be yourself, to do what you want to do, or go where you want to go. In a family, if one person has trouble, it becomes the whole family’s trouble. (The same is true of joy, presumably, but I didn’t experience as much of that.)
When I was young I thought I would probably have to get married and have children cuz I grew up in the 60s and I only knew one person over the age of 25 who wasn’t married and/or a mommy or a daddy. She was a spinster, “whose fiance had been tragically killed in the war and because her heart was broken she never married, and she lived a sad a lonely life.”
I didn’t want to live a sad and lonely life, but I knew family life wasn’t what I wanted either. Imagine my joy when I got old enough to realize that not only wasn’t it mandatory, it wasn’t a tragedy if it didn’t happen. By the time I got to college, attitudes had changed pretty dramatically about women and family and while some folks are still taken aback now to find out that at my advanced age I have never married or had children, I don’t think most people give it a second thought.
The truth is, I don’t care what they think, because my life is right for me and not marrying and not having children are two things I do not have a single regret about. There have always been spinsters and bachelors, and I’m happy I’ve been spared the kind of assumptions that have been made about single people throughout history – that there is something odd and sad about them or that there was *ahem* something wrong with them.
Certainly, in the past, some men and women remained single because they were gay and unable to marry. That’s changing and that is as it should be. No question that if you wish to be in a relationship and to make that relationship public and/or binding, you should be free to do so, no matter what. Ditto raising a family.
Conversely there are people, like me, who wish to be free of relationship – gay, straight, or otherwise – and that should be okay, too. I think for the most part it is. I live in a small town, and even here, most people just accept me as is. I’m sure there are some folks who think I’m gay, and that’s okay. I’m not, but the reality is that it’s none of their business what I am, so they can just wonder. I’m good with that.
For me, though, the biggest non-regret has been my decision not to reproduce. I probably would have been willing to marry if any of the men I was involved with over the years could have allowed me the degree of freedom I require to be happy. Having kids, though, is – as they say – a whole ‘nother sack of cats. Pregnancy never scared me – the deal breaker was being responsible for and raising a good human being. Yikes!
I had enough trouble handling my own life and my own faulty brain chemistry and general craziness. How on earth would I have managed to guide a child through the minefield of life when I couldn’t see the way through myself? No, I always knew I was not cut out for motherhood. I didn’t want to be responsible for unleashing another damaged human being on society, and I didn’t want to watch someone I had brought into this world and loved struggle in the ways I had growing up.
So no regrets. My way through this life is not right for everyone, but it has been the right way for me. Ultimately, that’s all we can ask, isn’t it? As human beings, each of us should have the opportunity to live on our own terms, whatever they may be. For better or for worse, I am free.