More than ten years ago I met the love of my life. I never believed in love at first sight. I never believed in the concept of “the one.” But then this thing happened the first time I laid eyes on him. This thing that grabbed a hold of my whole self, that whispered in my ear, “Sister—take note.” So I did. It was seven-plus years later before we tied the knot. Adventurous, blissful, hard years full of growing pains and laughter and fights handled poorly and holding each other up through things neither of us knew we were strong enough for. We watched too much TV. We traveled. We drank a whole bottle of wine on a Tuesday sometimes. We found jobs we hated. We cooked awful dinners. We found jobs we loved. We cooked better dinners. We talked about the amazing adventure-filled life we were going to have. We decided not to have kids. Before we got serious, before we got engaged, before we got married. We decided together.
Then, this summer, he changed his mind.
It wasn’t on purpose. It didn’t happen all at once. It was a slow dawning—like when the Velveteen Rabbit is made real. It just became. And suddenly two paths diverged in a wood and I… I decided to run and hide because both of them meant living a life I do not want. A life without him. Or a life with a child. You know that gut feeling some people have when they know they want to be parents? They just know. Well I have the opposite of that feeling. I don’t hate kids, I get along with my parents, I didn’t have a weird wrecked childhood or anything. I just don’t want it. The way people know they’re not cat people or they could never have shag carpeting or they wouldn’t be caught dead in parachute pants.
Okay. Maybe it’s slightly deeper than parachute pants, but I know some people who have really strong opinions on that. Point being, this is a thing I know, and have known for a long time. But suddenly, saying it didn’t just mean, “I don’t want kids,” it meant, “I don’t want the same life you want.” It took me weeks to admit it to myself. Longer to admit it to him. Just like it took him a long time to say the opposite words, knowing that what we’re saying is really the same thing. I want to be on a different path. One that you can’t travel anymore.
When I look back over the last years of our married life, I see a lot of mistakes. A lot of taking-it-for-granted. But I also see two people who genuinely love the shit out of each other, and who really want to make each other happy. I feel like we got a lot of the big stuff right, which makes this all seem terribly unfair. It’s a Catch-22. You work on a partnership and encourage each other to remain true to what each of you needs to live an authentic life and all of it lines up perfectly. And then it doesn’t, and that partnership and work you’ve done on being true to yourselves and each other doesn’t let you just ignore it and keep going.
Those ducks—they just don’t stay in rows where they belong.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending. We are two people who found someone who makes them feel safe and empowered enough to say this terrible thing to each other. We are two people who will push through a lot of pain to make sure we are both living an authentic life. The life we each want. We are holding each other up as best we can through this. Crying together. Purposefully ignoring the elephant in the room sometimes so we can share a bowl of popcorn and make it through a movie and pretend it’s all going to be fine for two hours. And at the end of all this, our paths may rejoin, and they may not, but there will be two people who know they did their best. Who got the big stuff as right as they could. And even though that might be the saddest part of the whole story, maybe it’s the happiest part too.