Last weekend, someone referred to me (and Matt too) as “perpetual adolescents.” The description didn’t seem to faze Matt, but for me it was an arrow that shot through me and sunk the rest of my weekend, leaving me alternatingly angry and upset. I’m not sure what aspect of my life they were referring to, but there are many things they could hang that comment on. I chalked it up to not having any children, but it might be that I haven’t married my boyfriend or that I work 32 hours per week instead of 40, or that I invested a master’s degree worth of tuition and living expenses in a job I haven’t been able to be hired for. Or perhaps the fact that I refuse to buckle down and do what needs to be done to get said job, because I can’t imagine anything more lothesome.
So yeah, there’s a lot about me that could be construed as adolescent. Including the fact that I haven’t gotten around to saying to the person in question, “hey, what did you mean by that?” and “You know, you really hurt my feelings.”
But here’s the thing about my life. I chose every single bit of it. I don’t have children because I have never wanted them and I have a feeling that lack of wanting would make me a less-than-adequate mother. It’s possible I would rally and be outstanding, but I’d rather not stake someone else’s life on it. I’ve known people raised by disinterested parents and it’s not a good situation for any of them. I’m not married because I don’t see the point. I’m committed, he’s committed and the social structure allows us to be together without signing papers, so for now, no marriage.
I work 32 hours per week because my job allows me that freedom and I would rather have the eight hours to do other things. I take a hit financially, which means not really ever having a vacation, but aside from the mortgage and student loans, I can work 32 hours, live debt free and spend more time doing things I enjoy. The fact I’m not a teacher rankles me, but again, I’ve chosen there too. I could move away to a city or town with more teaching opportunities, but I love Portland and would rather be here and not be a teacher than to be a teacher any other place. I don’t work as a substitute because it’s a job that calls on things I don’t really like to do, and has nothing of the teaching things I do like to do. I make my choice every year. I’m not going to sub. If that means not getting a teaching job, then so be it.
Though there are aspects of my life that I don’t like, I’m thrilled I got to have a say in how my life is lived. That hasn’t always been the case for women, and it’s not the case for women in some parts of the world today. A generation ago, I wouldn’t have been able to live with my boyfriend, would have had trouble getting credit in my own name and (depending on how you define generations—my family tends to reproduce rather slowly) had trouble getting birth control. Before that, I probably would have married and married early, even before I finished college as my father’s sister’s did. Before that I wouldn’t have been able to own property, or vote, or live on my own.
In the movie Pleasantville, two 90s-era teenagers are transported to the bucolic TV town of Pleasantville where they both go about wreaking havoc on the ideal setting. There’s an exchange of dialogue I love. It takes place after things are starting to change in the town. The basketball team doesn’t always win their games, the books actually have words in them and people have started thinking about places other than Pleasantville. Margaret, the girl from Pleasantville, asked David, the boy from the future a question. From the script:
So what's it like?
She clings onto the words like they could transport her by
themselves. David thinks for a moment.
Oh. I don't know...It's different...
She leans forward.
Well it's louder...And scarier I guess...And...and a lot
Margaret’s longing for that other place, where things aren’t safe and easy, resonates with me. I could have gone down the path that was clearly marked for me: college, marriage, job, children, etc. But some of those choices didn’t click with me so I went in another direction. It’s possible to construe my life choices as adolescent, but I see myself as fully adult. I’ve supported myself since leaving college, I save for the future. I stay informed of issues, vote, pay my taxes and volunteer in my community. And what I want for people in this world is the ability to be able to make their own choices about what is right for them, just as I have.