As I have stated many many times in these posts, I often fantasize about being a single person without children. It’s like a little game I play. I’m not out scoping out other men or anything like that at all. I’m pretending to be carefree, having no place in particular I am required to be, and that my cell phone isn’t being constantly barraged with texts and voicemails that read: “Hey…where are you?”; “When will you be home?”; “Can you bring home a posterboard?”; and “What’s for supper?”. In my dream world, I don’t have to acknowledge any of these texts, because I am bound to no one. I can window shop for eternity, if that’s what I want to do. These excursions are short-lived and infrequent, but they feed my soul.
I had lunch with a friend from high school this week. He’s the same guy that came home from Iraq recently…he’d been working for a private contractor over there for nearly a year. Out of that time came a 300+ page manuscript that he’s hoping to turn into a book. He asked me to give it a look-see and give him any thoughts. (His writing style and sense of humor are right up my alley, by the way, so this is going to be a fun assignment). Anyway, the conversation over lunch and the situation that he’s currently in left me thinking…would I REALLY want to be single and childless at this point in my life? Good question. Let’s explore.
Since about the time I hit 30, I’ve noticed something “amiss” with my single/childless friends. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s something they all have in common, no matter how different they are. It puts a wall up in the middle of almost every conversation that has anything to do with something other than high school, when we had more in common than we realized at the time.
This morning it was as though a light when off in my head. I realized what it was. When you get married, and have children, something begins to happen to you. You can no longer continue to feed your idiosyncrasies and quirks. Your focus begins to seep out of your pores and indelibly transfer onto your spouse and your children. There are mini-mes walking around and their personalities are partially derived from your own. The parts of your character and personality that most benefits those of the people around you get stronger, and the ones that don’t, you pray, fade away. Every weakness or character flaw that you allow to remain become AMPLIFIED in your children. If you are lucky enough to be self-aware about these things, then you do your best to stomp them out cold. If you are too selfish to lose them completely, then you live your life in fear that your decision will ruin your child’s life in some way, and you will be the one to blame. You are forced to model respect, good manners and honesty, if you do, in fact, expect your children to do the same. Parenthood changes you. Permanently. I think that the best parents are less concerned with maintaining whatever persona or hobbies or other things that they believe “define” them, and happily move over into their new roles: Teachers, spiritual guides, and nurturers. True joy is then derived from the accomplishments and, more importantly, happiness, of their children. I’m not talking about buying your kid everything they want, and living vicariously through them, but rather on a deeper level. True happiness. As in, they are happy with who they are and satisfied with what they have. You can’t helped but be changed by kids. Because if you are like me, you suck at most of the above, and so your life becomes about striving for these things. Failing at some, and winning at others. But changed, in either case.
Singles, on the other hand, have nothing constant but their inner selves to transform them as they age. No spouse to subtly prompt them to be kinder, no children to teach manners to, no daily concern with the welfare of a helpless infant or toddler or teenager…how can they NOT become self-absorbed. Their struggle is the opposite of the parents: Instead of losing their identity,their idiosyncrasies become AMPLIFIED, running amok for so long. Without having raised kids, I think it must be very difficult to learn how to forgive, to recognize that character flaws are sometimes inherited and not there by one’s choice. Without constantly keeping this in check, they run the risk of living a very myopic life when it comes to other human beings and the ability to identify the tender differences in each of them.
After considering all of this, I decided that it’s okay for me to fantasize about the good parts of being single sans the ankle biters, in short spurts, but that really I’m right where I want to be.
By the way, I don’t feel this way about my friend that I had lunch with this week. He seems like he genuinely cares about many people who he remains close with. His eyes are wide open and looking out, he really sees the world around him. He is doing some soul searching right now about where he wants his life to take him. My sincerest hope is that he finds a non-neurotic girl (if any do, in fact, exist), settles down and makes a couple of babies with her. But if he continues to trek all over the world, filling his days with reading and writing and drinking and music. . .then I know that he’ll continue to make the world a better place just by being in it.
And to be clear, I’m not saying that being parents or married makes people any better than single people. I’m saying that each life situation brings with it it’s own tendencies. Not every parent is a nurturer, and not every single person is self-absorbed.
I guess my whole point is that I could only IMAGINE how NEUROTIC I would be if I didn’t have all these kids and this schedule to keep me grounded. Would I be self-absorbed? You bet your ass I would. And I’d be really good at it, too.