Monday, December 5, 2011

No dog necessary. No permission required.

At one time in my life, I prayed for the endless "When are you getting married?" interrogations to stop.  It seemed like everywhere I went, people pummeled me with questions and judgments, as if I were a prairie woman or a British Royal in danger of spinsterhood at age 25.

Why wasn't I yet "betrothed." 
What were my plans? 

Essentially: What was wrong with me? 

And then I got married.

Cue the unsolicited input about parenthood - when I should procreate, how I should discipline, why I should want nothing more than to reproduce myself even though the current "me" was far from functional.

"You don't want to wait to long."
"You should start having kids now so you can space them far enough apart."
"You have to read the parenting books and magazines as soon as possible!"

Truth was, I didn't want children.  And I sucked at marriage.  But I was a hell of a people pleaser who lacked an alternative plan, so I decided to do "the right things" at "the right times" in the hopes that others would think I knew what I was doing.  Or at least get off my back. After all, if I was "just like everyone else," then everyone else would be happy.  And that would make me happy.  Right?

But that was when it hit me: If I didn't have a clue about how to define, much less live a normal, happy life, and I was simply copying everyone around me who seemed normal and happy, then maybe no one around me had a clue either.  In fact, maybe their recruitment initiative was inspired by a desire to surround themselves with people like me - people who would justify and confirm their choices, and commiserate with them when those choices left them bitter and bored and filled with misery just waiting for its company to arrive.

So, I spent the next few years making a series of unpopular decisions. I said "no" to children.  I said "yes" to divorce.  I moved away from my childhood home.  I walked away from a teaching career and into a political one.  I made a few friends.  I devoted myself to exercise.  And I craved my privacy and personal space as if they were the last bites of a delicious meal that I didn't want to share with anyone.

And when the conversations about marriage and children and "normalcy" finally changed (as I had once prayed they would), I actually found myself longing for them once again while I faced their replacements:

"You must feel so isolated."
"You're not getting any younger,  ya know."
"You must be panicked at the thought of being old and alone."

The difference now, of course, was that these comments didn't come from other people.  They came from me. Or from the version of me that constantly challenged and successfully sabotaged the youthful, risk-taking, life-loving, life-living Hasky.  These were the lies I told myself. Caution became my default approach to life, and the fear of illness and injury was enough to send me running from any challenge, every risk, and all forms of personal interaction that threatened to go beyond a cup of coffee or a business meeting. 

People certainly saw (and frequently commented on) my desire for a unique blend of personal space and total engulfment that often left me wondering whether I felt abandoned or suffocated.  I had no idea what I wanted, I was pretty clear about what I didn't want, and I was veering dangerously close to condemning anyone who refused to jump on my Self-Pity Express.  Every time someone got engaged, or had a baby, or bought a dream house, my reaction was the same: An eye roll.  A snide comment about "selling out." Or "being lame." Or about "the clueless following the clueless" down the rabbit hole of convention. I had become one of the "You should do" and "You should want" people who used to annoy the hell out of me.  And I don't know about you, but whenever I start a sentence with "You should ..." I am really suggesting that I have the answers to someone else's questions -- even as I strategically avoid facing the answers to my own.

Over the years, the judgments and the conversations about my life choices have pretty much subsided. Or maybe they're still there and I just notice them less.  Who knows?  Occasionally, a stray "Don't you think you'll ever want a family?" floats past me, and I pop it with a razor sharp comeback like "As much as you want to be tactful."  But for the most part, I think I have made myself clear: Sharing my life with many people is much more rewarding than sharing it with just one.  At least for now.  That may change again some day.  And as I trace the path my life has taken so far, my guess is it certainly will.  The good news is, I am allowed to reassess any time I want.  And I am allowed to change. No permission required. 

This post was inspired by my recent adoption of a rescue dog, who has not only drained my energy, eaten all my dish towels, ignited my intense fear of failure, and challenged my germophobia beyond what I ever thought possible, but who has reminded me of the most hurtful comment I can recall from years ago, when I was feeling very isolated and hopelessly alone and blindly following the scripted, clueless masses:

"You don't wanna turn into that 'crazy old lady' whose only companion is a mangy dog, do you?"

And I certainly didn't want that.  So I convinced myself that I couldn't adopt a dog, not because I didn't want one, and not because I didn't think I could "handle" it, but because I didn't want to become the stereotype of resignation and desperation that, truth be told, I had already become.  No dog necessary.  

I am glad I waited to adopt this little guy, despite his apparent (though previously undisclosed) medical and behavioral needs, because now I am ready, and confident, and honored to have him in my care. He is not a child, and I have to keep reminding myself that he is a resilient animal built to withstand my mistakes and missteps and "learning as I go" approach to life.  But he is certainly not mangy either, which means I am neither crazy nor old.  On the contrary, I am mindful, and thoughtful, and organized (sometimes to a fault).  So what harm can a little risk taking do when I have thirty-eight years of survival to brace my inevitable trips and my eventual falls?   After all, nothing is worse than tiptoeing through a borrowed existence with your eyes closed and waiting for someone else to catch you. Life is so much richer once you become your own safety net.


  1. & as they say, we learn from our mistakes, so let's make lots of big ones.
    A brave piece.

  2. i'm learning no one ever gives permission to us unless it's in *their* best interest -- and then it's tainted, right? it lacks grace and generosity, then.

    i don't know if i'll ever learn to stop seeking it, but i am trying to stop expecting it. good for you on all accounts & claiming what you want!!


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