This weekend at my friend's baby shower, I found myself extremely jealous of all the moms-to-be ... almost to the point of not being happy for them. They don't all have perfect, fairy-tale stories -- two aren't even with the father or married, which is fine, but not really the way I imagine doing it. Still, I am racked with such envy. I guess I just kind of feel like I want to "get on with it." And by "it," I mean get married and have babies.
I am not someone who dreamed of this growing up -- in fact there were definitely several years when I declared that I would never get married. But I'll be 28 this summer, and I see all the people around me embarking on the business of starting their own families. And I want to also. A year ago, I got out of a serious relationship (he dumped me) after living together for a year. I thought we were going to get married and wanted that for the first time. A year later I can see he was not the right person for me but it took some time and self-evaluation to come to that. After being devastated for months, I felt reinvigorated as a single person and so happy not to be tied down. I dated around and a few months ago ran into someone I knew from high school. We've been dating for several months and I'm not sure where it's going. It's still really new and fun and I don't want to bog it down with too much intensity, though I think we're both holding back for fear that our feelings aren't reciprocated.
While I'm happy with this casual relationship, inside, I want to make babies! And I want to buy a house but wonder if I should wait to do it until I'm with my lifetime partner. A friend recently described me as one of the only people she knows without serious issues. I was thrilled because it has taken a long time to get here. Isn't this the point, when I have all my baggage pretty worked out, that you meet the right person and make babies? Why do I have this sudden, uncontrollable desire to jump on the fast track to family life? I have a great job, great life in a new town (I moved after the breakup) and a wonderful, new love life. But in the back of my mind, I almost feel like I'm treading water and should start an all-out husband search. That sounds crazy, right? How do I stop this craving?
Dear Baby Maker,
What is crazy about wanting something badly?
It doesn't sound crazy to me.
But perhaps you are surprised by the power and suddenness of your desire. One aspect of strong desire is surprise; it can come upon us with sudden, frightening power; it seems out of our control, as though we are being operated on by external forces. That does not mean you are crazy. It means you are alive.
If we were not occasionally surprised or unnerved by our own desires, they would not be what we know as desires. They would be more like plans -- things we control, things we manufacture. But we do not control or manufacture our desires. We manufacture plans in response to our desires.
What do we want? All kinds of things! When do we want them? Now! We ought to chant in the streets: What do we want? All kinds of things! When do we want them? Now!
That is how it is. Our desires are embarrassingly powerful. It is easier to talk about our plans. We are dwarfed by our desires, reduced to the status of children. So we go around as adults, talking about our plans. But our plans arise from our desires. It is the satisfaction of our desires that motivates us. Wouldn't it be nice if we could admit that?
What's wrong with wanting something right now? When else would we want something if not right now? OK, I know I am a bit of a child. Perhaps some people are sufficiently grown up, and their imaginations and their desires and their plans for action are sufficiently integrated, that they actually can feel desires located in the future. They can take pleasure in the planning. But not me. Planning is nothing but delay. There's no pleasure in it. I'm a bundle of instincts. How do I know that when the time arrives I will even still want what I want now? I want it now when I want it. I don't want it later. I am a child. I will wait for it and work for it if I have to. But I don't want to. It's not fun. The ability to enjoy preparing for the future satisfaction of a present desire seems pretty darned grown-up to me, and rather remote. I don't really get it. I don't know if I'll ever get it. Hand me a gun. Hand me a cupcake. I want it now.
Perhaps I am too much a child of my generation. Perhaps I was raised without sufficient guidance. But that is how I am and I think I am not alone.
But this is getting too abstract. So let's do this. Let's consider what people have said throughout the ages to the question, Why does she want a child so badly? This is not what I say. This is what I've heard people say, or can imagine them saying. You want a child so very very much --
Because you are a woman.
Because you long for immortality.
Because you desire power over little powerless beings.
Because it is your duty.
Because you feel wonderful when you are around children.
Because your own mom was a great mom and you want to be like her.
Because you fear death.
Because you need help with housework.
Because you want to fit in with other women your age.
Because of cultural conditioning and advertising.
Because you want to pass on your great genes.
Because you'd like to say, "My son the doctor."
Because it is your destiny.
Because you need a husband and family for protection.
Because of your hormones.
Because making popcorn with kids is fun.
Because of your recent breakup.
Because of envy.
Because you are just like the other women.
Because you want what your friends have.
Because you want to relive your childhood.
Because women with children enjoy high status.
Because you love children.
Because you could get off work.
Because you want to please your parents.
Because having children is just what women do.
Because like OMG, Duh!
Because it's God's will.
Because your husband will want them.
Because you have nothing better to do.
Because your sister doesn't have any.
Because your dad wants grandkids.
Because you can.
Because you're curious.
Because of what Elias Canetti says in "Crowds and Power."
These are things people say. Some are patently cruel and stupid. Some may contain a grain of truth. It's up to you to decide. I don't distinguish that much between them because no single reason, however brilliant or stupid, can be the sole explanation.
Doing this exercise may help you sort things out, that's all. And it may remind you how woefully inadequate are any of the things people toss out as "reasons" for wanting children. It can't possibly be that simple, and it isn't.
To the question, Why is this desire so powerful? I would reply, What good are desires if they are not powerful? What good is a weak desire? If the desire's purpose is to fulfill itself, then it must be strong or it will not be fulfilled. In the case of the desire to have children, that would make sense. That is, to utter the rather prosaic and oft-repeated truism, the species desires its own continuation in the biggest and most ardent way!
You want a child now. I can relate.
I know this, too: You are going to have to wait at least nine months. But if you get busy now, working hard, diligently, day after day, who knows, it might not be much longer than that.
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?