When coupled friends and acquaintances tell me about the more spectacular, ‘milestone’, moments of their domestic drudgery (engagements, pregnancies, house purchases) I experience a perplexing onslaught of physical sensations: a heavy, tugging numbness located in the region of my abdomen Eastern mystics call the ‘centre’ (three inches below the belly button, three inches inside the body – like where you feel fear, and good sex), the muscles of my face pull taut, my skin starts to itch and my throat contracts, slowly, as though it were a vice crushing a rising scream.
The other night, after yet more ‘good news’ had filtered through my social networks and into my ear-hole, I became so distressed by these symptoms that I Skyped Tom – who is my go-to man in twisted emotional crises*.
‘I just don’t know,’ I sobbed at him, ‘whether I am insanely jealous or whether I find stories of other peoples’ relationship triumphs so boring that I want to tear my face off with my fingernails.’
‘Oh babes,’ he said, (that’s what he calls me. Don’t judge him, I like it), ‘I think you’ve got a conflict deep within you.’
And I was like: ‘FUCKING YES! I have got a conflict deep within me’.
A conflict I need to resolve sharpish if I want to experience contentment again in my lifetime (and, as I have a policy of total honesty here, I should probably tell you that I’m not sure I do).
On the one hand, I want a future that looks like this:
A masculine husband with a working-class accent and a well paid job, who plays football and, sometimes, golf with my Dad. A husband who was once a caddish rogue but who has changed his ways so he can make babies with me; babies with fat little hands and massive, trusting eyes. I’d like to stay at home – we’ll have a house with a garden in Sussex or South London – and write novels and cook wholesome meals. On Saturdays my husband and I will host barbeques and attend dinner parties with other coupled parents, and on Sundays we’ll go over to my Mum and Dad’s for a roast and a good bottle of red. At night I’ll watch my children sleeping. And every day I’ll feel the kind of smug satisfaction such a lifestyle is bound to induce.
On the other hand, the following is also appealing:
Total independence, broken up by occasional fleeting flings that leave me bereft, but in a fabulous, dramatic way. I want to write novels, but also blogs and important, serious academic books about society. I will be world-renowned in the literary and academic fields I work across. I will be considered ‘important’, by people other than my friends and family. I will travel to engage in charitable deeds. I will own properties – apartments, always, with outdoor space for entertaining and sun-lounging – in cities across the world, including one in LA so I can see Tom more often. I will spend as little time as possible with heterosexual couples, particularly ones with small children. My company will be in such demand that my name will feature at the top of guest lists across the world. At weekends I will drink champagne and wear skin-tight leopard print. I will laugh every day and every day shall be an adventure.
As we know, life is short. One cannot live out all the fantasies one conjures in one’s mind. One must choose a future and work methodically towards it, or else one will flounder in the shallow pool of the present, like a breathless fish.
But I am unable to choose.
I am like the character in that Robert Frost poem, standing in a yellow wood, at the fork of two twisted paths. Long I stood. Really: long. Making my way, tentatively, down one path and then turning back because: oh God what if it all goes wrong!
But, as Tom reminded me, life is going to happen anyway. I might as well just choose a fucking path and let it lead me where it will. And, as I’m already on it, I might as well take the one less travelled by.
Even if I do have to travel it without regular sexual intercourse. And even if it looks like it might not lead me to either of my dream futures.
Life is not easy.
*Because he makes me feel better, not because he has experiential expertise in this area.