“Any children?” the friendly old nurse-practitioner asked me from over her laptop as she recorded my answers. I was in a doctor’s office for a routine physical. It had been a few years since I’d gone to one, but now that I have a job that provides health insurance I figured I may as well start going again. The visit was progressing well enough. My vitals were checked (all good), questions were asked about my life-style (also decent, though she advised that I start taking an iron supplement), and major illnesses my relatives had were noted (lot of cancer and diabetes in my family tree; it’s a major reason I exercise and stick to a vegan diet).
We were winding down the interview and I was coming to the conclusion that I liked this woman. She was professional but friendly, thorough but succinct in her questions, and judging from her wrinkled face and grey hair she clearly had ample experience in her field. Over the last half-hour or so we had established a comfortable rapport; I felt this woman understood me. So when I replied, “No, no children,” I felt utterly jarred and even a little betrayed when she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Not yet.”
I don’t want children. Period. But no one believes me. Whenever I mention it I’m usually confronted with statements like, “You’ll change your mind,” or “You just haven’t met the right man,” or my personal favorite, “What are you going to do when your husband wants them?”
Ugh. Where do I begin? There are so many assumptions in these statements. Like the assumption that a stranger knows me better than I know myself. “You’ll change your mind.” No, I won’t. I’ve been repeating myself since I was seventeen. I don’t want children. The very idea of pregnancy is horrifying to me, I mean that scene from Alien level horrifying.
So why not adopt? It lets me skip the messiness, terror, and let’s face it, mortal danger of making my own baby. But adoption isn’t an option either, because the truth is I just plain dislike children. I know, shocking. My woman card needs to be confiscated immediately, and possibly my decent human-being card as well.
I honestly can’t stand the nasty little things. They’re necessary for the continued survival of the species, I get that. I also realize that I was one once *shudder*. But that doesn’t mean I have to like them or want one. They bite, they drool, the pee and puke on the floor, they throw tantrums over the smallest thing, and they are savagely expensive. There are things I am willing to break the bank for, but an ungrateful creature that regularly wrecks the house and keeps me up all night is not one of them. And unlike a cat I don’t have the luxury of being able to return it if it gets too rowdy. To top it off, children generally outlive their parents, so I would be stuck with them. Forever.
It’s different when they’re yours. No, it’s not. An obnoxious child is an obnoxious child, and I want as little to do with them as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I have no ill will toward kids. Learning about the mistreatment or neglect of a child outrages me as much as the next person and I would never wish anything bad on children; I just don’t want them near me.
The nice nurse practitioner looked back down at her laptop. Instead of spitting the words, “Not ever!” in her face, I smiled awkwardly as she finished her notes and I scuttled out of her office as fast as was polite. Outside, I feel my phone buzz and pull it out to see my mother calling me. I swipe right and turn on the camera to face-time with her. She is sitting on a barstool in her kitchen, the phone propped up on the counter so that I can see her from the waist up. Apparently my aunt is visiting because giggling in my mother’s arms is my six-month-old cousin.
“Hey sweetie!” mom chirps over the phone. I smile at them as I walk back to my apartment from the doctor’s office. “Hi, mom, how’s it going?” My baby cousin squirms in her arms and she takes a moment to reposition him on her lap before answering. “Everything’s good here. Auntie came to visit and she brought the boys with her. Do you see how big he’s getting?” She stands up to show me that the infant’s body is now as long as her torso. “It’s amazing how fast they grow!” she coos as she hugs him close. “Oh, when are you going to give me one of these?”
When hell freezes over. “Uh, well,” I stammer. “I mean, I’m not even with anyone so…”
“Yeah, about that,” she says, sly smile on her lips. “One of the girls I work with has a son about your age who lives in Binghamton. That’s only about an hour from where you are isn’t it? Nice guy, teaches high school, I think you would like him!”
I stop walking, feeling cornered, thinking furiously for ways to derail this conversation. Because mom hit on another assumption most people have: women are supposed to get married. I have about as much desire for a partner as I do for a child. I mean, sharing my living space with someone else? Letting another person sleep in my bed with me? Dreadful.
Around age 13 my sister went boy-crazy. She’s one of those people who can’t bear to be alone for even a short length of time, so from a young age she always had a beau. She would spend hours on the phone with them, climb out her window at night to go see them, and when she was old enough, drive to their place at every opportunity. I understood none of it. The insanity many of the girls in my class developed toward the opposite sex baffled me completely. What was the big deal? These boys were the same ones we went to elementary school with; why were the girls fussing over them now?
One day I decided to find out for myself. A male friend became interested in me in tenth grade and asked if I would be his girlfriend. I said yes, mostly out of curiosity. I thought that maybe now I would discover what this whole thing was about. We started sitting together at lunch every day and about two weeks later we kissed for the first time. Just a quick peck on the lips; we were in the cafeteria so it was all we could get away with without a teacher coming over and scolding us.
After we kissed I expected to feel something. Maybe my heart would skip a beat, or maybe I would suddenly just know this boy was the One. Instead I felt…nothing. Just the feeling of a pair of lips against mine, which actually grossed me out a bit since I’m a touch germophobic. He asked if we could French next time. I flat-out told him no. Our relationship didn’t last long after that. There was no big fight, no great emotional showdown, just a short conversation acknowledging we weren’t a couple anymore. It was basically over before it began. We went back to being friends after that, and that brief relationship remains the only romantic experience I have ever had.
I don’t want to get married. For a long time I thought something was wrong with me. After graduating from high school it seemed like everyone was pairing off, buying houses, and having babies. It was what every home ec class, every movie, every best-selling novel, every aspect of our culture was telling us we were supposed to want. The American Dream. Except it wasn’t my dream, and for years I thought there was something genuinely, profoundly wrong with me for not wanting it. The hardest part was not knowing what to call myself. If I wasn’t the average, romantic, heterosexual American woman then what was I? A freak? An aberration? A raging man-hating feminist? (I was sure this last one wasn’t true; I don’t hate men, I’m just not attracted to them. But until I moved out of my small, conservative home-town the only women I was aware of who didn’t date men were angry feminists.)
Asexual. I stumbled across the word shortly after moving to Pittsburgh and starting college. Finding that word was so freeing. I finally had a name for what I was: an asexual person, someone who has no desire to have sex with anyone. It was such a relief to know I wasn’t the only one, that while uncommon (about 1% of human adults are asexual) I was by no means a freak.
Unfortunately, I encounter a lot of disbelief about this too, mostly from guys who ask me out on dates. When a dude asks me why I turned him down for dinner or coffee, I don’t usually tell him the truth, because the truth doesn’t go over well. I make up something, like I’m busy at work for the foreseeable future or I’m already seeing someone.
The first several times I was asked out, I was honest and told them I wasn’t attracted to men. Their response was generally, “Oh, you’re into women?” Awkwardly I would tell them no, I wasn’t attracted to women either. At this point most of them would take the hint and back off. But a few pressed me further. Visibly frustrated they would then ask, “Then what are you into?”
No one. Nothing. I don’t want you or anyone else. Leave me alone.
I finish the phone call with my mother and let myself into my apartment. It must be a hollow existence I’m leading. No kids? No husband? What else is there? I pull out one of my reusable shopping bags and consider the bookshelf stuffed with board games. After a minute I pick out a few, fit them into my bag, and walk to the local game shop. Inside I am greeted by about two dozen gamers of various ages and walks of life. Some of them are married, some have children. Others have both of these and a few, like me, have neither. But not one of them ever questions me about when I will get married or have kids, and for this I am deeply grateful. They’re awesome people, and since moving to upstate New York they have become my second family.
When we aren’t playing board games, we are having drinks and singing badly together at karaoke bars, getting together on Sunday mornings to go hiking, or meeting up at the cinema for the latest Marvel flick. At the end of the evening I go home, alone, and I crawl under the covers with my cat, the only other living thing I will tolerate in my bed.
And I am happy.