Please don’t ram your life down my throat, I’ll spit, not swallow.

Last week, at a late-night party, I made a woman cry.

I’m not exactly sure why (there was a lot of alcohol involved) but she had been discussing my ovaries – as women seem to feel they can do. She was overly distraught that I hadn’t used said ovaries. There was ‘still time’, apparently.  Even without a husband. (And why on earth wasn’t I married?) She squeezed my knee. But I don’t want children of my own, I said. She squeezed my knee again. This time with pity. With a sense that there was a whole part of the world I was foolishly missing out on.

She presumed, you see, that I didn’t like children. If I had one of my own apparently, this would rectify that. Preferably with a husband attached. And a house, big mortgage, semi-detached.

I swallowed a large mouthful of Mojito through gritted teeth. It’s such a presumption, isn’t it? Just because I don’t want to birth a child, it doesn’t mean I don’t like them. We’re all Cruella Deville to some mothers – us single women of a certain age. For the record, I once lived with a man for longer than I should have because I simply couldn’t bear the idea of no longer having his children in my life. When we finally broke up I became slightly obsessed with the possibilities of adoption. I was a teacher for 6 years – ‘inspirational’ according the the great God Ofsted – you can’t be that if you don’t like kids. I’m a pied piper with most kids. They like me. I like them. End of. I just didn’t push one out. So sue me.

There are a mulititude of private reasons I’ve chosen not to reproduce and most of them are due to various levels of personal fuckupery and nothing at all to do with small people. Mainly though, ladies, my reasons are not your business. Children and me are just fine. Mothers and me, not always. The older I get the more they look at me funny. ‘Why isn’t she married? Why does she find it so hard to make things work? But the last one was so nice.’

Anyway, In the end I pointed out to this drunkenly wasted-ovary-concerned woman that I was actually very happy in my life, had no child-envy, had exciting things going on, and my pelvic floor muscles were intact. Life was good. (I’ve got quite used to giving this speech). Her smile stretched further (picture Samantha Brick in full flow and you’re pretty much there) and she said, ‘Good for you! Let’s hug.’ 

‘Let’s really not,’ I answered.

She promptly called me a hard bitch and burst into tears.

A hard bitch. It stung a bit. Maybe it’s true. Or maybe her easy tears said more about her own life than they did about my poor ovaries. Or maybe a bit of both. I know some married people with children who are happy but I also know  a lot who swallow anti-depressants like Nurofen and are on the wine by three. Admittedly, I too can be at the wine by three but that’s just for the sisterhood. No, really.;-)

A old friend of mine (well the friendship’s old, she’s 33, hot and single) rang today and we had a long talk about life, the universe and everything (for this read ‘men’, obviously), and she pointed out that when she’s out in bars and men ask if she’s single and she says yes there is a long pause and they say, ‘Why? What’s wrong with you?’ 

I smiled and told her to wait till she’s 40. Boy, do people look at you funny then.

But the thing with me and Kelly is, we’ve been through the mill. She did the 13 year relationship. I went from man to man to man for years. But times change. People change. You get stronger. More confident. More secure. We are now very clear on what we want. We’re very happy with who we are. You can not just rock up and we’ll be impressed. We do not need anyone else to ‘complete’ us; not husband, not child. We are who we are. We’re free.

I’m happy for people who have happy families. I really am. But don’t presume that yours is the only way to live. Let the rest of us BREATHE. 

Am I a hard bitch? God knows.  But I did cry A LOT at ‘Once upon a Time’ when Rumplestiltskin realised Beauty was still alive (You know the episode..*sobs*) so maybe not. I think I’m just driven. I’m attracted to driven people. The semi-detached house is not so important to me. The spark between two people, however, has to stay alive. That’s what matters to me.

Do I believe in love? Yes. Most absolutely. 

Do I want to be in love? Yes. Absolutely. 

Do I want to settle? Absolutely not.

 Rant over. 

SP x

 

 

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About sarah

Writer of supernatural and crime fiction for Gollancz in the UK. I've written six horror novels and my first thriller, A Matter of Blood, wa View all posts by sarah

42 responses to “Please don’t ram your life down my throat, I’ll spit, not swallow.

  • Ed Rafalko

    It can be just as bad on the male side of this equation. It’s perceived as very easy to have kids for a dad, which , of course, it can be if you take that approach and don’t act responsibly. Most people think that since I’m a man of age with no children or a trail of ex-wives I must be gay , or a sociopath. I’m neither, I’ve just made the decision, like you, not to get married and have children just because it’s socially acceptable, expected, and the norm. If it happens, it’s going to happen when the people involved make the decision, not to just shut these busybodies up.
    Sure, they want to share the ‘amazing experience’ that having one of your own is. They don’t get that I decided I didn’t want that experience. And they don’t understand when I tell them it’s not their business! Who needs it? Stick to your guns! She cried because she didn’t get the answers she expected for questions she never should have asked in the first place. HER problem, not yours.

    • writerusdrivelus

      I compeltely agree with this post, and Ed’s reply. Being single and being childless are valid life choices. If a partnership happens, all good and wel, but I’m not driven to find it out of some social norm. Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely.

  • Ed Rafalko

    ( and now you see why I don’t write – that grammar is atrocious! )

  • Lee

    But the last one *was* so nice. How could you do it, Sarah? How *could* you!

  • mike

    Good thoughts and well written. Now go back to editing that thing your supposed to be editing 🙂

  • Sue Morey (@MoreySue)

    Personally I think you were the model of restraint at said party. I really think I would lose my temper very quickly if I had to deal with this. Like you, I decided long ago, for many reasons, not to reproduce (despite being married!) Being 50 next week, I have no regrets re this. I love being an Auntie – that’s enough for me.

  • graemereynolds

    I get the same sort of thing all the time. My usual response when people ask why I don’t have children is “Because I’ve met yours.” That usually shuts them up 🙂

  • Steve Green

    The flipside is feeling the parental urge, but having to settle for fulfilling it vicariously. Life deals the cards; you play what you’re given.

  • katyasozaeva

    There was a brief time in my life in my early 20s when I desperately wanted children. Fortunately I got over it. If I had to deal with kids on top of my health problems, I’d … I don’t know what i would do… *sigh* People seem to feel they can stick their noses into the strangest of places…

  • Richard Wiseman

    My personal psychological and emotional reading of the woman who was being incredibly rude to you is that firstly she is emotionally dysfunctional. I say that because only people with ‘issues’ ram their life down your throat at social functions. I think that sort of ‘projection’ of values onto other people has its roots in personal insecurity really, which is often exposed by inhibition loosening alcohol. Secondly I suspect that there was a certain amount of jealousy on her part really. I really hate that sort of thing happening to me at social gatherings and I totally sympathize. There you are having a good time and someone with an issue turns the night into a therapy session, then bursts into tears, which I’d say was her own fault and extremely dysfunctional behavior. You are then left with a lot of ‘gunky’ feelings about the whole episode, which is generally the end result desired by people with emotional psychological problems, and, I don’t know if you find this after these two act drink party dramas as I have from my experience, that it leaves me feeling emotionally ‘tainted’ for about a week. You’re not a hard bitch at all and people shouldn’t ram their lives down other people’s throats at parties. I have children and I like being a father, (I really want to be like Atticus Finch; not cutting really!), but I don’t judge people for not having children, that would be arrogant.

  • Mel

    “‘Good for you! Let’s hug.’

    ‘Let’s really not,’ I answered.”

    Wow. So this woman craps all over your life choices, makes it your job to validate hers, and somehow you’re the bitch when you won’t make her feel good about being tremendously rude to you?

    Also, good to know what I’ve got to look forward to. I’m 29 and child free, and I’m honestly looking forward to being old enough that people shut up about “still having time”. Then again, pitying me because I didn’t have children when I still could might be just as bad.

  • David Marshall (@InkyDavid)

    Wish you didn’t have to use so many words to describe what should be obvious. But too many people don’t get obvious. Thanks for this future classic.

  • Cubby

    I got the ‘children’ comment once, told them I was sterile. Shut them right the fuck up.

  • James Roy Daley

    Great post. You’re the female version of me.

  • Taffhamster

    There’s all the “bingoing” too, when they try to give you reasons why they think you should become a parent. (So cliched you could make a bingo card out of them and tick them off as they’re spouted.) I think it’s often a case of people who have had kids trying to validate their own choices (about which they may have their own doubts that they’ll never admit to – it’s taboo to express anything less than ecstatic delight at parenthood, apparently.) You weren’t a bitch, you were just at the end of your tether. And I don’t just mean with this particular woman, but with everyone who’s treated you like this before. I’m 44, female and childfree by choice (no maternal instinct, nor ticking biological clock) and while I have no beef with people who couldn’t imagine their own lives without kids, I absolutely don’t so they can like it or lump it.

  • Sean C.

    Honestly, I’d probably be happier if I had never had kids, but now that they are here, I’d be infinitely sadder if I was ever without them. I never had any actual desire to reproduce, but you can only have sex with your wife so many times before biology conspires to get the best of you. We were married for 10 years before we got pregnant. So if you do the math, we must have had sex 30 or 40 times. The odds were just against us.

    I really don’t get the idea of pressuring someone into having kids. Doesn’t she realize she was trying to talk you into making a person? How is it right to go around making people? How is it even legal?

    Having kids isn’t a hobby or a diversion. It’s a lifestyle that replaces basically everything you were formerly trying to do or be. And much of that lifestyle is trying to keep alive this semimoble creature which is constantly experimenting with killing itself. Then, sure, you could try to do some writing in the middle of the afternoon, or you could feed this baby something healthy and read a book at it. Great for both of you, if you love small words and big, heavily lined pictures. Later on you can watch some children’s programming with it, where you can learn the 5 things about animals that they all go back to in their attempts to be educational. (Yeah, trust me, by now I get it: some animals use camouflage to hide from preditors. Nothing is more important than knowing about animals and their fucking camouflage. Oh, and there used to be dinosaurs.)

    Don’t get me wrong. Kids are great. They can be fucking awesome. But they are hardly necessarily better.

  • lilysable

    My sister went one step further, at the age of 33 she got sterilised. She likes kids just didn’t want her own and it took her over a year to persuade her doctor she was serious. You should see the reactions she gets when people find out that! : )
    My situation is different in that I married young, had two kids then divorced at the age of 29 and have been single and happy for the last 13 years. At parties I get the pitying pat on the shoulder and the ‘don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find someone!’ spiel as if we are waiting on some kind of Ark we need to be in pairs for! Some people just can’t seem to understand that we can be happy in different ways outside of the norm. : )

  • Claire (@BellaPt2)

    Damn right your life’s your own. You were very accommodating to sit through that Sarah. It’s no ones place to comment on your chosen path. My daughter has had the husband and children *talk* from her Nan ( T’s mother ) since she turned 20. A rich husband is what she needs apparently. Pff.

  • Joan De La Haye

    I completely agree! I don’t need a man or a child to complete me. It also doesn’t make you hard bitch, just means you know what you want and what you don’t.

  • dfstell

    Very well said….This sort of nonsense doesn’t even stop when you get married and have a child. Then they want to know when the second one is coming.

    My personal take, this all stems from the fact that motherhood is a fleeting thing. Some women put all of their eggs into the motherhood basket and neglect everything else. Then suddenly, they find themselves at 45 with the realization that their children are going to move out in a few years and they will have nothing: they’ve got no career and no hope of rebuilding one at 50, they’ve let their bodies go and completely given up on being feminine….so do man looks twice at them, they’ve not read anything worthwhile and can only have conversations about mommy things, they have no hobbies of note….. And they have to live from 50+ that way.

    It’s kinda sad. If you look at women who make other choices. You go into a career….that can last you a lifetime. You commit yourself to being interesting and lively, taking an interest in yourself and you’ll be fun at cocktail parties your entire life.

    I think these ladies realize they screwed up, not by being mothers, but by being undiversified….and now they kinda want to tear at women who made better choices in the long term. Of course….that whole “choice” word is key too. Some of these women may have had children due to pressure from a husband or just via accident and they feel like it “ruined their life” but since they can’t really say that….they get bitter inside.

    Anyway…..at least you know you’ll be interesting to follow on Twitter for the rest of your life. 🙂

  • Christine Horton

    You hit the nail on the head re. people who you just meet asking why you’re single. Like the situation’s absolutely in your control. How easy it must be to meet someone you like – and who likes you back! I think it’s the settling thing. And I’m good with that.

    Ps. I once had a black cab driver after a night out tell I should get a move on if I wanted to have kids (not that night, obviously). Because people think they can.

  • Jan

    Sarah! I only found your post through recommendation … oh my god, apart from how brilliantly you’ve written it, it could be me writing that 🙂 Though nobody ever went on at me about having kids after I was 30, maybe because I was mostly around people who’d also made that choice, and family knew better/were almost afraid to.

    I did make the choice to own my own home – and because of my self employment needs, its a semi detached house – but as you say, that has nothing to do with the spark between two people.

    Love how you managed to deal with this woman, even with alcohol involved, and how you didn’t hug at the end of her spiel – talk about assertive!

    I think I’m going to have to start up a wordpress account so I can follow …

  • Ayo Onatade

    Thanks Sarah for saying everything I wish to say for me! I adore children, I love my niece and my nephew, I would love children what you said at the end is spot on. If I have children then I will, if I don’t then cest la vie! I will just have to love the ones that are currently in my life!

  • admingwyn

    Sorry to hear that you had to put up with this unstable woman–unfortunately, some people feel the need to comment on a woman’s choice to be child-free as if there’s something “wrong” with us. As lilysable said, “Some people just can’t seem to understand that we can be happy in different ways outside of the norm. :)” — couldn’t agree more. Although I’m glad that there are other women (and women writers out there in particular) who are standing up for the decision not to have children, I still think it’s endlessly frustrating to have to justify this to every nosy and insensitive person who feels the need to question the decisions of both men and women who choose to remain childless.

  • Singegirl

    I’ve had this so many times. I love kids but have never wanted one of my own and so wont be having any. I actually had a vile woman tell me that family was the most important thing and that ‘my parents would die one day’ when I told her I had a lovely family! I was so glad she’d reminded me about that as every time I visit my Mum in hospital, I of course think she’s immortal. That night I cried. I just hate it. And when I tell them I’m also single by choice, well you can imagine. Great piece.

  • cjackplay.wordpress.com

    32 childless and in a committed relationship for over six years. You probably know exactly how every visit with my family goes. I decided at 14 that kids weren’t for me. I love my nieces and nephew more than anything but I’d much rather be their aunt than their mom. Good for you standing up for yourself. I just wish people would think before they open their big mouths.

  • katyasozaeva

    Y’know, something I haven’t noticed anyone say is yet another issue here: the world is already overcrowded. Why on earth would we want to add to it?

  • Steve

    For me it’s a similar story. Most often it comes from well meaning family members, but when they realise I haven’t changed my mind about not wanting children, there is a lot of wailing, gnashing of teeth and sighing as if I’ve let them down and myself somehow. At some point I might want kids, maybe, but as others have said, it’s not a hobby and it would change my whole life forever.

    There again, I don’t dislike children, and I’m happy to entertain and spend time with friends children. However, they’re wise enough not to ask when we’re having some of our own, but I know if my parents saw me teaching them to read or playing with them, I would get more wailing and cries of ‘But you’re so good with them!’ or ‘You’d make a great father!’

    There are lots of things I want to do, places I want to visit, ambitions and goals I’m striving to achieve, and if I had children I’m not sure pursuing them would be possible anymore. I sometimes struggle to find the time now, so I’m 99% sure I would have to give up my hopes and dreams and that would only lead to resentment of the child. That way trouble lies for everyone. I’m also in a long-term relationship and she really doesn’t want kids either so we’re a great fit. I love how my life is now and don’t want to change that.

  • stephenaryan

    For me it’s a similar story. Most often it comes from well meaning family members, but when they realise I haven’t changed my mind about not wanting children, there is a lot of wailing, gnashing of teeth and sighing as if I’ve let them down and myself somehow. At some point I might want kids, maybe, but as others have said, it’s not a hobby and it would change my whole life forever.

    There again, I don’t dislike children, and I’m happy to entertain and spend time with friends children. However, they’re wise enough not to ask when we’re having some of our own, but I know if my parents saw me teaching them to read or playing with them, I would get more wailing and cries of ‘But you’re so good with them!’ or ‘You’d make a great father!’

    There are lots of things I want to do, places I want to visit, ambitions and goals I’m striving to achieve, and if I had children I’m not sure pursuing them would be possible anymore. I sometimes struggle to find the time now, so I’m 99% sure I would have to give up my hopes and dreams and that would only lead to resentment of the child. That way lies trouble for everyone.

  • lpstribling

    Reblogged this on L.P.'s and commented:
    I personally like the usage of ‘fuckupery’

  • Steve

    I’m getting the title of this entry printed on a T-shirt and, in the spirit of its content:

    Do I believe in love? Nope. I’m one of those people who, in the presence of the newly coupled up, fights the urge to raise an eyebrow and ask ‘really?’

    Do I want to be in love? No, thanks. Tried it once and it turned me into a total basket case. Too many more important things to do.

    Do I want to settle? No effing chance. I’ll live my life my way and take the credit where it’s due and take the lumps when I fall on my face.

    I like my friends’ kids in small doses and I enjoy building giant Lego robots with them, but I don’t want or need any spawn of my own. Biology was my worst subject at school and I owe it nothing.

    To finish, if I may, with a song:

    • katyasozaeva

      Ah, one of those, are you, Steve? Heheheh. We just have to work extra hard on you, then, ’cause *singing* all you need is love …

      *laughs*

      But seriously; your life is your own and why do people feel the need to stick their noses into it, eh?

  • Steve

    @Katy, every time I hear that song I think of the final episode of The Prisoner :).

    I’m about as aromantic as it’s possible for one person to be. Can’t even read or watch the stuff, much less write it, and I recoil from anything more intimate than a handshake. If the party guest Sarah mentions above had tried to squeeze my knee or hug me, she would have ended up missing a few teeth. ‘Self-defense, m’lud, honest.’

    • katyasozaeva

      Heh 🙂 Takes all kinds, and that makes the world much more interesting. I have a friend who is very like that. If someone treated her like Sarah was treated at that party, I would have probably lashed out, too.

  • Richard

    Hello Sarah — first time checking out your site having just returned from my first FantasyCon. Wanted to introduce myself but was afflicted by ‘new writer shyness and awe’ syndrome 😦
    Have been enjoying your posts and finding myself agreeing wholeheartedly; have encountered many of the ‘Parent Mafia’ myself.

    A gay friend of mine has described similar condescension, as if he will suddenly ‘pull himself together, do the right thing and meet and nice girl to have children with.’ He has had the hand on his knee from people saying they will ‘pray for him’ or similar.

    “No thanks,” he said (and no, he is nobody’s ‘hard bitch’).

    I am a parent, and my children have brought me a joy that nothing else has — they are the light that keeps my own darkness in check. BUT!
    What I am not, is a successful writer. I know it is possible to be both simultaneously, but I haven’t yet managed it. There is a line in the film ‘Munich’ (at least I think it was) in which the Michael Lonsdale character says:

    “All children are a pain in the arse.”

    So true. I love mine without limits but they are a pain in the arse. They don’t mean to be, they just are. It is a condition of being a child, you need adults to do stuff for you, if not all the time, then much of the time. This REALLY gets in the way of writing!

    Kids take up:
    i. time
    ii. money (estimates suggest around $200,000k per child by the time they are 18)
    iii. mind-space — they occupy your thoughts, your ‘to-do list’ and conscience, even when they are not there!
    iv. space — toys, clothes and other child paraphernalia encroaching upon work space
    v. sex life — when you’ve got youngsters, just forget any hope of a spontaneous ‘quickie’ or a long, slow romantic seduction in front of the fireplace in a room full of candles with Marvin Gaye on the hifi 🙂

    I still hope to ‘make it’ as a writer — whatever that means — but I’m in my 40s, attending FCon’12 as a newcomer and realizing how far behind folks much younger than myself I am. Are they all selfish? Not a bit of it. Driven? Absolutely. Am I? Absolutely . . . BUT! (#2) It is much harder to be driven when settled, in my experience. Being settled with a family can be the secure launch-pad for some folks to achieve their ambitions, but for others, it brings an inertia that is hard to overcome.

    Parenthood is an impediment to your freedom to be yourself, and focus on your own stuff. Displacing my ambition and living vicariously through my children’s success will not suffice (and let’s be honest, your children are only ever lent to you — as a parent you dont own them or their lives; one day they’ll bugger off and not need you).

    I don’t resent my children, or my wife (whom I still love very much after 20+ years), but I do resent the ‘day-job’ I have to do to fulfill my hunter-gatherer role, and I do believe I would be much further down the road towards my dream to write full-time if I hadn’t spawned ‘mini-mes.’

    Your focus on your work, and graciousness towards the crying, patronizing, judgemental/mental party-spoiler (Spoiler Alert!) is commendable.

    To your continued success.

    R

  • Marcy Italiano (@LizardTwits)

    The MOMENT I was married, I had a whole entire Italian family staring at my belly and *fretting* each time they saw me with a flat stomach. We had “innocent comment-bombs” to downright attacks and guilt trips, and TEARS of WOE!

    So, we told them all we were never having kids and to GET OVER IT. Over ten years later we made a private decision to have kids that led to more doctor visits than we expected, which were also nobody’s business. But the bottom line is, life without kids is complicated and fabulous, as is life with kids. We all make our own decisions, screw everyone else.

    But I do wonder if this other woman had issues that spilled out as this mess. 😛 Talk like that still pisses me off.

    Marcy

  • Paul Campbell

    Another thing that, surprisingly, no one has picked up on is this: some people when they see your photograph or meet you in person automatically create a stereotypical image of you (whether they’re consciously aware of it or not): “Ohmigod, she’s so drop dead gorgeous she MUST be one of those chic-lit authoresses, married with at least two kids, cooks like a whizz, a lady in the dining room, a hooker in the bedroom and blah-blah, blah-blah-blah.”

    And the fact that you are a terrifically interesting person in real life, but at the same time STILL don’t conform to their cliché of you – well, that just about fries the little circuits in their brains! The teeny-tiny computer in their heads can’t process that, so therefore, there must be something wrong. Not with them, are you kidding?! No, no, no – there must be something wrong with you. You’re a freak, dammit, get help already!

    They could get, maybe, that you wrote “The Language of Dying”, but not the “Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy” where all the main characters are male, and although the few female characters play a vital part their roles are relatively short (not to mention [SPOILER ALERT] they’re killed off or, in the case of the Prime Minister, politically sacrificed) and they certainly don’t concern themselves with handbags and gladrags.

    And, wait, you do have children: you’re a mother to your writing. You nurture these projects in the womb of your imagination, and it often takes a lot longer than nine months. Then when your done and you’ve given birth to them you… um… give them up for ‘adoption’ by handing them over to your publisher and then that’s it, they’re out there in the world, and you quickly move on to gestating the next project. Oh, heck, wait a minute; they analogy isn’t working out so great. In fact it kinda paints you into a cold corner. You know what, scratch everything I’ve just said: that woman at the party? She was, like, SO totally right – you are a hard bitch! ;-D

  • isabel marant sneakers

    Now I am going to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming again to read other news.

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