Beth, my co-author for The Marriage and Relationship Junkie, doesn’t have any children. The reasons for this are very personal and, since she’s been married twice, kind of complex.
As personal as this decision has been for her in both her marriages, a lot of people think it’s their business. She went through two and half decades of, “When are you having kids?” When she hit her 50s, she assumed the question would finally fade away, but it hasn’t. It’s just morphed into, “Why didn’t you ever have kids?”
For all the talk about tolerance and inclusion, we live in a society where it’s tough to be a nonconformist on the basics. We’re expected to get married, we’re expected to have children, and we’re expected to explain ourselves when we don’t.
Our society says if you don’t have children or you’re not married, there’s something wrong with you. Your parents say so, your friends say so, and the cultural institutions around you say so. Marriage and relationship addicts have internalized those rules so deeply that they believe they are not “whole” unless they’re married.
This is especially true for women. Just think about the words we use in Western culture: Unmarried men are bachelors, even into middle age. Unmarried middle-aged women are spinsters. Single men who have many casual relationships are playboys, lady-killers, tomcats. Women who do the same are sluts, whores, or cougars. And couples without children are “childless”—a word that’s said in a sad, sympathetic whisper. We imagine them friendless and alone in their old age.
There’s a lot of social judgment in those words. And social judgment is hard to go against, especially when you look outside yourself for your sense of worth, as marriage addicts do. “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks” is easier said than done.
“When are you going to get married?” That question is so loaded, so personal, so hurtful, that it can make you feel unworthy and ashamed. It always take you by surprise, and it’s often easier to apologize for not following social conventions than it is to stand up for yourself.
What really helps with questions like that is to have a handful of answers ready. Write them down, and practice saying them so they come out easily and naturally—a quick rejoinder that you don’t even have to think about. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel when you can answer that question with something that validates you and your choices.
The answers below came from Beth. Some are a little snarky, some are not, because different people and different situations call for different kinds of responses.
- So, when are you going to get married?
· Why don’t you tell me something private about yourself first?
· Why would you ask that?
· It’s not on the top of my to-do list.
· I have a lot of other things going on that keep me busy.
· I don’t need to be.
· Because I deserve the best, and that takes time.
· If I meet the right person, I will be.