Confusing "Modern Love" Leaves Us Baffled

This week's "Modern Love" is about biological clocks. We think.

The essay, "My Clock Was Already Ticking," is a bit of a mind-bender. The author wants a baby. Her boyfriend, who incidentally seems to be a materialistic dick, does not. When she gets pregnant, she wants to keep the baby; he doesn't.

I argued weakly with him that we could make it work. Without him, I didn't see a way forward. I had no savings, and no family around to support or encourage me. I was terrified, and not just about being a single parent. I was afraid that with a baby I'd be off the market for good. And I wanted a husband as much as I wanted a baby, if not more. Maybe I knew instinctively that I wasn't cut out for single parenthood. And I wanted what I wanted: husband, home, baby, in that order.

She has the abortion, even though she doesn't want to. The author is at pains to say that her objection to the abortion is not moral, but personal. He breaks up with her anyway, and gives her some Deco clock as a kiss-off.

He was a charming architect with a BMW and perfect teeth. I thought I wanted him. Turns out what I really wanted was that baby. What he really wanted was to move on with minimal disruption or conflict, and he was willing to part with one of his precious possessions to send me off with a clear conscience. He had two of them. The clocks, that is. He knew I admired them. Thus, the parting gift. I imagine it was, in his way of thinking, a bargain.

She moves on, still regretful about the abortion, and meets another guy.

Our betrothal was sealed the day he said: 'I think we should start a family right away. What do you think?" "I think that's a very good idea." I wondered what god in which heaven could possibly have deemed me worthy of this chance at redemption.

They have trouble conceiving, so they end up adopting two boys. Their "family is complete." Says the author, rather oddly, "Occasionally I do think about the price I paid for getting what I wanted the way I wanted it: husband, home, babies. Was I weak? Or strong? Would I have been a good single mom in Los Angeles?"

The "price?" I tried for a long time to put my finger on what exactly was so peculiar about this essay, and perhaps this is it: the tone of self-sacrifice throughout. She doesn't like the guy, but is willing to stay with him for the baby. She doesn't want an abortion, but is willing to do it for the relationship. All of it is necessary to "redemption," apparently, and the life she always wanted. The story is not unusual; many people terminate pregnancies for one reason or another, and some surely regret it. For those, certainly the experience must color future events. But this is more than that; it has all the weighted morality of a Flannery O'Connor story. "Forgiving yourself takes time. You don't do it just once. You do it over and over. Year in, year out," she says. For what, though? For betraying herself for a man? For losing a chance at biological motherhood? Or merely for disrupting such an inviolate life plan? Or for the actual procedure? Does she blame herself for having such conventional goals, perhaps? Or for abandoning them? Not everything needs a thesis or a moral, of course, and one person's experience is allowed to be just that. But to a reader it can feel disconcerting when the most passion in an essay is reserved for regret and self-castigation. Is it comforting that she ends the essay with the somewhat equivocal, "I guess it's just best to assume that heaven is right here, right now, and let the stars fall where they may?"

My Clock Was Already Ticking [NY Times]