I know what you're thinking.
I can read it on your face... the distracted smile, the unconvincing nod, the slightly furrowed brow...
You're trying to figure out what's wrong with me. Or at the very least, what I'm doing wrong. The questions you ask yourself at the moment you've discovered I'm single and childless is: "Why is this woman still single and childless? What's wrong with her?"
If we haven't yet met, let me take a moment to describe what will happen when we do. You'll notice I'm attractive. Not a cover girl beauty, but attractive. You'll notice I'm petite and slim. I'll probably be wearing something that flatters me. I'm articulate and bright. I'm certainly someone who some men might find appealing enough to want to be with. And all this makes my circumstance even that much more curious to you.
And as you're thinking this, you'll notice I'm smiling back at you, and looking straight into your eyes as I shake your hand firmly, yet femininely. And a conversation will begin or continue about something other than what you are thinking...
So naturally, you'll be distracted, searching for clues in what I say, or don't say... in my mannerisms and in my face. You'll wonder how this happened to me... how I ended up single and without the children I always dreamed I'd have. If you're younger than I am, you'll either confirm to yourself that it could never possibly happen to you, or, now that you've met me, you'll wonder if it possibly could.
If you're married and a mom, you'll pat yourself on the back for knowing better that I did. Knowing 'what' exactly, neither of us is quite sure, but you'll let out a sigh of relief that you're safe and sound, despite any hidden challenges you are facing behind closed doors. You knew better, and that's enough for you.
And the gentlemen... well if we're on a date, you'll find a way to let me know that you're OK with my age, notwithstanding your own. You'll credit yourself for dating a woman who may no longer be able to have biological children -- or be relieved for that very fact. Either way, you'll let me know. You'll tell me how you usually date younger women but find women 'my age' (often your age) refreshing. Or, you'll tell me that your friends 'warned' you about my age, but you told them it didn't matter. "You don't look it!" you'll say as if it were consolation.
And I'll be smiling. I'll take a sip of my wine. I'll still laugh at your jokes.
But I know what you're thinking: What is wrong with this woman?
And before I can answer, you've come to a series of possible conclusions:
She's a 'career woman' and too focused on her career to be interested in love.
She's a 'career woman' and too cold to know love.
She's a 'career woman' and cannot make a man a priority in her life.
She's a 'career woman' and probably never really wanted a family.
She's too picky.
She's not picky enough and made bad choices.
She made a choice.
She never made a choice.
She's too needy.
She's not needy enough.
She doesn't need a man.
She needs a man too much.
She's trying too hard.
She's not trying hard enough.
She's too hard.
She's too soft.
She's been too flexible.
She thought she had forever to get married and have children; clearly, she is completely naïve about her fertility.
She never really wanted children or she would have had them.
She's too much of a feminist.
She's too much of a romantic.
And in your exasperation of final possibilities you think: There must be something unlovable about her, otherwise, she'd be loved by now.
But you'll notice something else about me; throughout this encounter, I'm still smiling. You're now thinking that I'm more confident than an unmarried, childless woman should be at my age. You're thinking that I'm happier than I should be... that I'm practically glowing, even! What is that about, you ask yourself?
The thing is, you don't know what I'm thinking.
I'm thinking that my life is not defined but anyone else's thoughts. Only my thoughts have the power to control my attitude toward life. If you read my thoughts, they would say:
I'm not in the wrong life being the wrong wife. My womb is empty but my life is full. My mother gave me a life and I'm not wasting it on grieving or thinking less of myself for not becoming a mother as well. I am loved. I am loveable. I am, in this moment, the very best me I can be. And while it may not be the life you, having just met me, would expect for me... it's the life, knowing myself for 43 years, that was meant to be mine.
I'm still growing, still tweaking my imperfections. Every single day, I take another bite out of my potential. But I never bite off more than I can chew. I have left plenty of room for love.
There may be many reasons why I'm not yet married and why I have not become a mother. But the only reason that matters is that it wasn't yet meant to be.
Hear me when I say I know what you're thinking. Know me when you believe what I'm saying.
Life is good. Tomorrow is better. And tomorrow we may meet again. And perhaps then, you will think differently.
Melanie Notkin is the national bestselling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins)
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The 5th Annual Auntie's Day(R) is Sunday, July 28, 2013