25 May 2009

Tick Tock

Everyone's in a rush. Gotta get married; gotta have babies. Clock's ticking, people!

I've mentioned my biological clock before. I generally ignore it. Plus, I work with teenagers, which is as effective a prophylactic as any I've encountered.

Last month I turned 30 and I started thinking about where I am, what I have, and what I want. In considering some other people in my social sphere I started wondering whether what I want is more closely linked to what I have access to than I originally understood. Last summer I had an interesting conversation with Tricky's husband about free will and whether it can possibly exist, and he put forth a theory (which I can never correctly attribute) about whether our subconscious pushes us to the point where we're not actually taking decisions about things, but selecting an option based on it being the only possibility after all others have been eliminated. It changed my way of thinking about certain "mistakes" I'd made in the past, although I think it's an incomplete consideration of the theory, which I've very badly explained above.

Humans are remarkably good at rationalizing our choices. Someone pointed out to me (maybe Tricky's husband again) that we are not a rational species, but a rationalizing species. That's how I find it easy to identify when someone says they've "made a choice". It's probably unfair to say that everyone rationalizes each decision that is limited by resources or access, but I think it happens more than people realize. Personal example: when I was young, my parents would never have shelled out $80 for a sweatshirt, so it was really easy to say that I had no interest in owning one. I actually don't know whether my indignation at being required to pay so much money for a sweatshirt was genuine or whether I knew that it was useless to ask my parents so I pretended I didn't want one until I believed it. I'd like to say that it was the former, considering the time period, but maybe my distaste for popular fashion (which, at my junior high and high school) was borne of my inability to access it. What confuses me is my lack of resentment. I don't look back and think, "Why didn't I have _____?" When I talk to others about similar forced denials, social or material (significant others, clothes, etc.), it always seems to entail some underlying anger at not having something that "everyone else" had access to. I rarely had that anger, and it certainly wasn't because my parents caved to every demand.

But what I find curious now is whether not wanting certain things (marriage, kids, etc.) on a certain time line has as much to do with my lack of access to them as any actual free will on my part to decide whether I want them at all. I have friends who definitely wanted things to happen at certain time in certain orders; some were successful with this and some failed miserably. I have also encountered people who have declared from the rooftops that they don't want to get married, they aren't looking for love, and they certainly don't want kids.

While I believe some of these people, others make me suspicious. It seems really easy to say that you don't want to get married or have kids when you're in a relationship that isn't ever going to offer those things. Specifically, an acquaintance of mine has been with the same partner for 13 years. He declared early on that he didn't want to get married or have children. She was enjoying herself at the time and probably didn't think much of it. She stayed with him. All these years later, she says that she doesn't care about getting married and she doesn't want kids. But when I look at the state of their relationship, I wonder if she hasn't just convinced herself of that because she doesn't want to start over. I certainly can't see any other reason why she'd stay with him, and you'll just have to take my word on it.

At the same time, my rampantly feminist self thinks, why should she feel the need to get married? We can all be just as happy without it, if that's what we want from our lives. So why can't I shake the feeling that these choices aren't just choices?

Because the choices change. I've been in the situation numerous times where I've been just as happy on my own -- thanks to some hard work on my part -- and then something changes. Maybe a friend has a baby, maybe I meet someone and feel connected, maybe I witness something tragic that breaks my heart; whatever the reason, I seem to adapt. Suddenly, if only briefly, I want a baby too. Or a husband. Or a trip to Cuba. Then I settle in to not wanting it anymore once the initial stimulus passes. I guess that's a great evolutionary skill, but it's what makes me skeptical about what influences other people.

I wish I understood more about how people came to decisions and why they choose between certain social standards. That might make it easier for me to cope with the pendulum swinging as often as it does.

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