Musings About the Biological Clock…F-ing Nuisance
During the child bearing years, mother nature throws us ladies a curveball called the ‘nesting instinct,’ which physically and psychologically makes us feel that we want;
A) A solid monogamous relationship
B) A little four square house in the suburbs, exactly 65 miles outside our city of choice
C) 2.5 kids (boy, girl and golden retriever)
D) All of the above, and in that order.
This is the story of how my biological clock kicked me in the ass and began trying to convince me it knew what was best.
Let’s start in New Orleans.
Imagine an impossibly perfect day. The sun is shining, casting just the right amount of sparkle on a beautiful lake in a park near a trio of Universities. The sky is a cloudless azure, stretching on and on into the horizon. Birds sing. A light spring breeze makes every lush green blade of grass whistle. Ok, maybe the grass isn’t whistling. Maybe that’s the wind. Or maybe it’s Brian. (I remember him holding my hand and practically skipping down the path around the lake with me. So, Hell, he could’ve been whistling too.)
Brian is telling me about Tulane University. He’s calling it Jew-lane, because apparently a lot of Jewish kids attend this school, you need to be really smart, and have money etc., etc., and Brian says that’s probably where I’d go if I lived here. Tulane being mostly full of my people, you know. Is he joking? Half joking? Trying to be sincere? I can’t really tell. So I say back,
“Actually I went to the UNO low res masters program and loved the heck out of it.”
“Really?” he asks, raising his eyebrows and tossing his beautiful blonde hair. “I went there for a year and a half undergrad! We have so much in common!” And he gives my hand a little squeeze and skips on.
We’re on a first real date, Brian and I. So he doesn’t know things like that I have about 6 more years of education than he does, and that I haven’t held hands and skipped around a park since I was maybe 8 years old. It’s kind of weird. Yet strangely, kind of endearing too. Brian is not the type of guy I’m used to. He’s an old fashioned southern boy, raised by his Grandparents in the uptown section of New Orleans (country house in Mississippi). This means that he opens doors for me, he won’t let me walk on the street-side of any sidewalk, he calls people ma’am and sir, and asks my permission before doing anything. ‘Can I call you again tomorrow?’ ‘Can I kiss you?’ ‘Can I put my hand there…?’ Though he may not be a rogue scholar (at this stage I am actively ignoring the fact that he once said to me, “It’s so nice to see actual British people talking in Shakespearean English”), Brian is sweet, easy on the eyes and charming almost to a fault. Giving just the right mix of forwardness and rare gentlemanly overtures, I just couldn’t help but like him immediately. And I mean, really like him.
I have to admit, this is probably the best first date I’ve had in a very long time. He’s talking to me. And, could it be? Actually listening? Yep, he is. He’s actually listening to me. I can tell because he laughs in all the right places when I tell him a joke, and he asks me things like, “So what’s it like to put up a play in New York?” and “Where can I take you while you’re in town?” And, shocker, “Next time you come back, do you want to meet my Grandparents?” Like I said, forwardness.
And just as I began to let my guard down – that strategically positioned gate I keep like a fortress around my heart – that’s when it happens. Brian sees a couple walking with a baby stroller. He stops, kneels down next to the child, coos at it, and chats up the parents. A chorus of laughter erupts when the baby makes a string of nonsensical ridiculously cute noises. And then, a man with a dog – yes, a golden retriever – strides up to the couple and Brian pats the gentle beast with one hand while waving and making silly sounds at the baby with the other. The moment is so adorable, if I could take a still frame of it, the whole scene would be just perfect on a Hallmark card of some kind.
And my reaction is this.
In a flash, I see this beautiful, seemingly perfect guy impregnating me, cradling my infant child in his arms, carrying me over some threshold, holding hands with me under a Jewish Marriage Chuppah, and making eggs for me and the kids in the morning because, well, he’s the one who likes to cook after all.
Now, here’s the paradox. I am a self-proclaimed feminist, with a string of non-monogamous, but perfectly functional, or, mostly functional, relationships under my belt. I’m independent, I’m well traveled, I have a masters degree, several black belts in martial arts, and a budding writing career, under the canopy of a very progressive all-women’s theatre company in New York City. In short, I am going places that have nothing to do with the picket fence scenario. So, the very fact that such a traditional paradigm is not only crossing my mind, but crossing my mind in a serious manner about a man I barely know, leaves me with one thought. A loud, resounding, ‘What the fuck?’
You have to know I’m not knocking monogamy here. Nor am I discrediting the value of a good healthy one-on-one relationship, a home to call your own, or having a family. But you have to understand, having thought my whole life I would never subscribe to the cultural “norm,” I begin doubting my own instincts. My body and my mind have betrayed me. I don’t know myself anymore. How can I trust my own opinions if my emotions are suddenly short-circuiting? Pushing 30, am I going to end up like Marissa Tomei in “My Cousin Vinny?” A displaced New Yorker, wearing a hideously garish one-piece stretch suit, stomping my heeled boot on the deck of some backwoods country house, screaming at my boyfriend, “My biological clock is ticking like this!”
Suddenly, babies and animals become land mines. One glance and there is a palpable tug on my heart strings. The almost uncontrollable instinct to wrap my arms around a stranger’s child, or even their pet, hold it to my chest, rock it to sleep, love it, carry it around and take care of it. What is going on with me? Why am I acting like a freak of nature who wants to steal unsuspecting small creatures and be their mommy?
While Brian and I continue our stroll around the lake, my thoughts are still reeling. Brian goes on to tell me about all the great restaurants and bars near his apartment. Bulldog, Balcony Bar, etc. etc….and then he starts trying to decide what I absolutely have to eat before I go back home. Luckily, I don’t have to interject much. This is a topic that a native New Orleanean can go on about for quite some time. I just skip along and listen, trying to focus on whatever option he’s describing. Oh, and also, as we start to walk from the park to catch a streetcar, I actually find myself avoiding puppies.
But then, standing on the streetcar with my hands around Brian’s waist, my head on his chest, breathing in the scent of him, I let myself swim in the possibility. What if being with one guy like this really could be magical? After all, Brian and I had met under suspiciously romantic circumstances. He came to New York for a kind of bachelor party weekend with a friend of mine from grad school. A group of five guys taking on the town before one of them bit the marriage bullet. For some reason, I was invited to join in on the bar hopping and partying around town, and, when I walked into the Black Bear saloon, there he was. This beautiful, blonde, excited young guy who took a liking to me after I pulled my shirt over my head to show off the new Samurai tattoo on my back.
Yeah, I know, right now the story sounds seedy, not romantic. But OK, as the weekend went on Brian started saying things to me like, “I want to spend as much time with you as I possibly can,” he opened doors for me, blushed when he looked at me, and started holding my hand as we walked down the street. And what’s more, he didn’t try to sleep with me. He came home with me, leaving his things in the care of our mutual friend, and we stayed up all night cuddling, kissing, talking about life. When 5 a.m. rolled around, I drove him to the airport, gave him my phone number, and expected I’d never hear from him again. I was going to file that night away in the sparsely decorated Romance section of my memory library. And that was going to be that.
But. A couple of weeks later after a particularly nasty blizzard ripped through the northeast, and I was all but buried in my apartment, I awoke to the buzz of my phone at 8 a.m. And it was him. He’d been watching the news when he got up, he said, saw what was going on up north and had to call to see if I was OK.
What followed was a six hour conversation, which toured around from subject to subject as if we were backpacking through the landscape of our lives. I knew about his Grandparents, his brother and sister, his favorite foods, places to travel, favorite movies, sports, hobbies, and finally yes, what he’d really like to do to me if we were together. To which I said,
“Well, baby, you know what? I’m booking a flight to New Orleans tomorrow.”
And that’s what I did.
Bitten by some optimistic romantic bug that somehow made it into my apartment from la-la land or wherever, I picked out a date, packed my bags and headed south for the last leg of the winter.
Coming from the frozen Tundra of blizzard-riddled New York City, early March in New Orleans was a welcome change. Brian met me with open arms and swept me off to tour around his city, which he was all too proud to show off.
Which brings me back to the streetcar. Because before our walk around the lake, I’d only been in New Orleans for a couple of hours.
We hop off Uptown, near Brian’s little apartment, where I freshen up a little bit and he takes me across the street to
Balcony Bar. Upstairs, the bartender knows Brian, and gives him his signature drink (which, if you’re curious, is Miller Highlife with a shot of orange juice. He calls it a white trash mimosa). I order a Strawberry Abita, because it sounds local and fun. We sit, finally off our feet, relaxing, and Brian lights up a cigarette.
“How are you liking New Orleans so far?” he asks.
“Love it. I could visit here all the time.”
He smiles. “Oh yeah? Think you might ever like to move down here?”
“I don’t know, I’m kind of a big city girl.”
“Well, we’ll get some crawfish and boudin in you and you’ll never want to leave.”
“Bou – what?”
He laughs. “You’ll see.”
I twine my fingers around Brian’s. “Well, I do have a big network down here already. Half my writer friends from grad school.”
“Built-in friends, great food, nice weather -”
“Until summer -”
“Hey, no place is perfect. I’m just saying, New Orleans has something to offer you. I bet you could get some writer job or something down here.”
“Um…I don’t know about that.”
“Come on, yes, you could. You’re super smart, plus your friends probably know people, plus, you’d be closer to me…”
“Well, wouldn’t that be convenient?”
“OK, I admit it, I want you to move here. Happy?”
And this goes on. Until of course, the pinnacle of the conversation. The one moment where I know, unmistakably, that this relationship is doomed even before it begins.
Brian is telling me about the wedding he went to last night. And in turn, I tell him I’ve been a Bridesmaid so many times, I ought to start charging for my services like the caterers…or something like that. And he says,
“Well that just means, you’ll know exactly how to plan it when you get married.”
And I nearly choke on my Abita. “If I get married, um, I’d probably do something more non-traditional. If. I mean, I haven’t really thought about it.”
“No. Not really.”
“Well, would you wear a white dress when you get married?”
“I don’t know, the jig is kinda up on that one.”
Watch for it now, here comes the kill-switch. Brian says,
“Well, I’m telling you right now, the girl I marry is going to wear a white dress.”
Now, let’s forget about the stupidity of this comment being made on a first date. And let’s forget for a moment about the enormous implied expectation. Nobody, but nobody, tells me what to wear. Was he crazy? Here I was, having traveled halfway across the country to get to know him better, and already he was projecting a marriage fantasy on me? Who was the woman in this situation anyway?
True, an hour ago, I was picturing our would-be children. But, seriously, my inappropriate emotional projections were due to a defunct biological response. What was his excuse? At least I kept my musings to myself.
And then I realize, Brian is one of those real-life house-in-the-suburbs marriage and kids guys. A flesh and blood serial monogamist. Until now, I thought they only existed in Romantic Comedies and Life Insurance commercials. Suddenly, it all makes sense. Thinking back to the night we met in New York, I remember how he fired question after question at me. ‘Are your parents still together?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘Do you like football?’ ‘Are you single?’ ‘Where do you want to live when you settle down one day?’ These questions and more, at the time, I mistook for attentive. In reality, he was probing me for flaws like a melon in the supermarket. One dark spot and he was going to throw me back.
Leaning on the counter at Balcony bar, Brian’s lips are curled around a cigarette, and his big almond shaped blue eyes squarely focus on me. Clearly, he wants a response. The right response. The response that’s going to tell him I’m the girl for him, or at least I could be in the running if I answer this question properly.
Honestly, I can’t remember what I told Brian to diffuse that very awkward situation. I wish I could say that after that night, which included smoking weed through a fake cigarette and fucking to the background noise of “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World,” I called one of my local girlfriends and hatched an escape plan while Brian was in the shower. I didn’t do that. Because I kind of wanted to believe I was wrong. I wanted to believe that it was this guy who made me feel all those mushy things about babies and puppies. I wanted to believe that he was as nice and sweet and normal as I wanted him to be. I wanted to believe that he would never tell me what to wear, how many kids I needed to have, where I needed to live or what I needed to be to make him happy. But, silly me, I wasn’t wrong. Because your heart never is. When your heart tells you someone isn’t good for you, it’s the truth whether you like it or not.
During the rest of my week with Brian, we drank a lot, went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade and he met a bunch of my local friends. When he worked, I mostly hung out with one of my best girlfriends. We talked about writing and traveling, drank lots of white wine and laughed about old times.
Later, when I landed back in New York after the flight home, I had a text message from Brian telling me he missed me already and he couldn’t wait to come visit me. But two weeks later, after not returning my phone calls or messages, Brian had a new Facebook status up reading “In a relationship,” and a new profile picture of himself with a bleach blonde in a string bikini sipping frozen margaritas.
So. As I said, when your heart tells you something, do your best to tune into the frequency. Cause it’s dead on. But OK, now I’m preaching. I guess the point of the story is this. The whole biological clock thing? Yeah, that exists. But it’s normal. We’re hard-wired that way. Unless of course you’re made of stone, in which case I don’t think you could procreate anyway. And just because you may not have had a serious relationship doesn’t mean you’ll never want one. And just because you never thought you’d want kids, a family, and the whole shebang, doesn’t mean that you don’t. Maybe you do. Maybe I do, is what I’m trying to say. I may not believe in Prince Charming (cause Hell, if Prince Charming was a noun in the dictionary, Brian’s face would be pictured next to it), but the whole experience made me believe that your heart is smart enough to let you know when you find some real love in this crazy little corner of the universe. And that real love may or may not wear traditional clothing. So, you know what? If real love comes to my house and knocks on my door tomorrow, I don’t give a shit if it’s wearing a suit jacket or a paper bag. I’m still going to invite love to come inside.