I got dumped two years ago. It was for the best, I don’t miss him, lessons learned, cases closed. But in the year before our break-up, we were trying to have a baby, and I can’t shake the fear that this was my last chance. I’m not scared that I will never have a relationship again (at least I’m not scared of it as much), but I have this image in my head of myself in my 40s as a second wife with no children of my own because it’s too late.
I’m 31, and even though I’m ashamed and annoyed at myself, I feel the ticking clock (we Germans, as usual, have a beautiful, complicated word for this: Torschlusspanik). I, a strong, independent woman (yaddayadda), cry when someone around me announces a pregnancy or birth. This happens about every month or so. It’s exhausting to have to be happy for them, and the more I’m surrounded by happy, grounded couples who have their shit together, the more I feel like Ted from Scrubs, throwing stones at old couples in the park. It doesn’t help that the ex now has a baby with the woman he left me for.
With the whole pandemic at least I’m not forced to go on dates with guys who don’t want anything serious anyway, but obviously this makes me even more hopeless. I can’t even get a puppy because it would be unfair to the poor creature and anyway, work and stuff. How do I cope with this hopelessness? And, if push comes to shove, how do I deal if my fears come true?
Why Should They Be Happy?!
I’m not sure if this is how it works for other people, but much of my adult life has been shaped by intrusive thoughts. That is just how my desires for my life announce themselves, as a kind of niggling wish turned thundering refrain: you should go to grad school; you should drop out of grad school; you should move to New York, etc.
When these thoughts first appear, they seem impossible—until they aren’t. Knowing what we want often precedes our ability to realize it, sometimes by years. You know you want to be a mother and that’s hardly something to be ashamed of. I’ve always been much more ambivalent about having children. I love other people’s babies—love how they smell and how their tiny little fingers will wrap around yours and how it is impossible to look at them and not think about our duty to right the world so that they don’t suffer it in due to our neglect. But I also love returning babies to their parents and reading a book (okay, scrolling Twitter) for hours in silence with no other demands on my attention. All in all I’ve always felt much better suited to the role of friend to all babies, even godmother or aunt to a select few, though I admit to wondering if I will one day come to regret this. I will read a story about how they are building robots to visit elderly people with no families of their own and think about spending the final years of my own life devoid of any real care save the uncanny face of something programmed to soothe me, and I’m struck with a hollow, wailing dread I can’t shake for days. At least you probably don’t need to worry about that.
It is entirely likely that you will get what you want. Nobody likes to be told their fears are unfounded, but 31 is not old, and knowing that you want a family will save you time weeding out men who don’t. Or perhaps you will meet a single father with his own children and realize that you can love them ferociously and that it doesn’t matter at all if you shit yourself on a table bringing them into the world. Maybe you will get hit by a cab trying to cross the street in three months and this will all be a moot point anyway. Is it possible that your worst fear comes to pass and you never become a mother, in any capacity? Sure, of course. This could be the great tragedy of your life, and one for which there is no consolation. I can’t tell you that I know this will all work out OK in the end, but I can say with absolute certainty that whatever turns your life takes over the coming years it will be made meaner and harder and worse if you continue to indulge your envy.
Making an enemy of envy is a difficult thing to do, especially in recent years. Most philosophers have rightly understood it to be a great impediment to happiness and to living well with others. It’s only somewhat recently that we have started to talk about envy as though it might be somehow useful to us; motivating, even. Everyone has a nemesis now, against whom we should compare our own achievements. This is a dangerous way of thinking, and only serves to reinforce a logic of scarcity. It subtly encourages me to focus on the fact that Melissa has the job I really want, rather than becoming enraged at the fact there are fewer and fewer jobs to want at all. Envy may begin as simply wanting something for yourself, which doesn’t sound so horrible, but it contaminates and embitters until someone else’s good news becomes your bad day, and celebration becomes mourning. Aristotle described it as “the pain caused by the good fortune of others.” This is not a pain you want to invite into your life.
Instead, try to think of the next birth announcement you see as proof that what you want is possible. That people around you are finding each other and building families together is reassuring knowledge. Love is an extraordinary thing, but it doesn’t exist in finite quantities and you aren’t in competition for it.
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