21st Century Female - A Strange Animal
One of the benefits of being alive, indeed growing into middle age, in this particular part of the world, at this particular time, is the many different ways in which a woman can build a life. No longer needing to marry to leave the family home and with the advent of contraception and the option of abortion, a woman can move in more fluid ways than ever before (everyday sexism aside, that being its own minefield). Having just finished Kate Bolick’s excellent book, ‘Spinster’, this has been very much on my mind.
I certainly never expected to find myself without a spouse and child at 41. It was something I always assumed would happen at some point yet I was closely involved in my own spiritual aspirations from the ages of 19-40 and in not making finding a suitable partner a priority, I suppose I effectively chose my fate, albeit subconsciously. Certainly I was aware of a kind of societal expectation between the ages of 29 and 40 and there was a nebulous fear at play around the concept of ‘ending up alone’. Yet once I bit the bullet and lived alone for the first time at 40, it was as if I had lived my entire life underwater and suddenly was able to breathe. In terms of men, I have loved 4 men in my life very much but don’t wish I had stayed with any one of them. Things ran their course as I believe they are wont to do.
The seeds of my future may have been there in two early photos showing the arrival of my younger sister. In the first my older sister (aged 5) is cradling the baby happily while I look vaguely out of a window. In the second I have the baby sloping awkwardly across my lap, my 3 year old body angling to the camera, a distinctly anxious expression in my eyes. Certainly when my older sister had children – my niece and nephew – I don’t recall ever changing a nappy or babysitting. I usually found a quiet corner to read in on family visits to their home. So perhaps it is as well.
Still, it is a curious thing to know that my body can do something so utterly primal and to not do that thing. The one time I was pregnant, unplanned at the age of 22, there was no question of what the solution to that predicament would be. I had no ethical problem with it. I wanted to crack on with my own life. It has always been my ambition although I have never spoken it out loud, to be able to roam freely about the world as if I were a man. It is a freedom I imagine men to have – the freedom to go unnoticed, not to have to worry about one’s safety, one’s dress, one’s demeanour in another culture, to be effectively allowed to take up space. I have always imagined maleness as a wonderful invisibility cloak. Freedom! Yet that one experience of pregnancy was somehow deeply embodied. I felt the first stirrings of grief exactly 9 months to the speculated conception date, then a vague pain for about 10 years afterwards. Certainly when I split up with the last man I really loved weeks before my 39th birthday and with a 16 year age gap – he being younger, it wasn’t the biggest surprise, I felt ‘crushed’ that I would unlikely bear a child now. The final inkling came last year at a Vipassana retreat where possibly bonkers after 7 days of silence and continuous meditation, I found myself composing a poem to the child I never had, in my head. So the desire for a child was somehow built into me despite my head wanting no such thing.
I adore the silence of my flat, I have never been one for noise or mess. I’m cranky when I don’t get my own way and I live with a kind of reckless joy. I have also observed closely my own friends’ and sister’s experiences of marriage and motherhood and every detail shouts ‘not for you, lady.’ I have learned that no state is better than any other state. They are just different and each state contains its requisite blessings and curses. And yet…whilst I would choose the freedom, the independence and the TRAVEL every single time, I can still feel lonely for that intimacy particularly that physical closeness. But – to have my heart running round outside my body, yow…that freaks me out – just the THOUGHT of that kind of intensity burns.
Human beings are contradictory creatures. In the words of Walt Whitman, ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)’ I have long given up trying to make sense of myself or life but I trust life. I somehow feel that things are the only way they could have been and all that lies before me and comes to me in the future belongs to me and to me alone. It is all as it should be. I find myself content with my discontent and we walk together.
Article by Kirsten Baker
Blog: Rose in Motion