August 19, 2007
A friend of mine had a 40th-birthday party, and five minutes after I arrived, a drunken boyfriend of someone I don't know approached me and inquired if I was single. "Why?" I asked. He shrugged. Wasn't there anything else to talk about? He said, "Sure," and thought for a second. Then he asked if I wanted a drink. When I said I didn't drink he was fascinated. I guess those were the choices: why I'm single and why I don't drink.
The next person I spoke to was someone I hadn't seen in a few years. He asked if I was still single. Yes, I said. Still. Can you believe it? He seemed upset. So much more upset than I've ever been, and I've been pretty upset. The look on his face conveyed absolute grief. Like he was in mourning for me. Which made sense. Because in his eyes, I would have been better off dead than still single. At the same party, I met a couple who had just had their second baby. "I'm not the type of person who tells stories about their adorable children," she said. Which was my cue to say: "Go on."
So she did. When you don't have children and someone you've never met tells a story about something their child did, it's like listening to a in-depth story of the bus driver learning to swim.And having a visual doesn't help. It's still a stranger. This woman showed me a picture of her baby on her iPhone, and as she was doing this asked: "You want to see what she looks like?" Now I'm on the spot. And if I say no, suddenly I'm the rude one.
The problem is, most stories about children are never as funny as parents think, and unless you too have a child, it becomes a one-sided conversation. There's no way I can join in unless I try to remember what I was like when I was that age. But whenever I add, "I used to do the same thing," they look horrified. Because suddenly there's the possibility their child will end up like me.
I have a friend who has a four-year-old and I've never once heard him tell a story about his son. When I asked him why, he said: "He hasn't done anything that adorable yet." If you're going to tell a story about your child, brevity is key.
I don't need background on the baby-sitter, the digestive system, and the social history of the other children involved. If I'm barely interested in the details of your child, who I don't know and will never meet, what makes you think I'd care about all the extras?
When the story was over, the woman asked if I was interested in having children. Other than yes, there was no good answer to that question. But I said I wasn't sure. "Well," she said sympathetically, "you must be so busy with work." No, I said, not really. Why is that there has to be a career that is preventing me from having a child? As though that must fill the tremendous void I have in my life, being childless and single? Maybe I just don't want kids. Isn't that enough?
The other day I was having coffee, and on the floor of the cafe there was a photo. I picked it up and it was of a baby. I stuck it in my wallet and am carrying it around, so from now on I will be presenting this child to strangers with stories of her first cough and spit. Her name changes from day to day and she loves Mexican food. My life has been instantly filled with meaning since I've had my fake child.