A year ago next month, my girlfriend of six years issued me the ultimatum—marriage and kids or a breakup. I chose the latter, telling her that, as much as I loved her, I couldn’t envision a life with children. She called me selfish, and she was right, but I couldn’t any longer uphold the illusion that I would change my mind/feelings.
I’m a writer. One of my first impulses was to express, illustrate and examine my world. I’ve had varying degrees of achievement—none so far as I would have liked—and I’ve made sacrifices in friendships and financial stability. While my sense of freedom and some unresolved issues with my parents (and global population and all that) certainly factored into my reservations about having kids, I worried myself primarily over money. A bad relationship with money is in my blood.
Though he wanted to be an educator and photographer, my dad ran a financial consultancy for 30-some years to support his family. The work made him miserable, but he made his own schedule and he felt the satisfaction of securing a future. Meanwhile, to this day, he spends his own money somewhat recklessly. In my old bedroom, for instance, he has filled the closet with a golf shirt collection so extensive that he occasionally loses track of what he’s bought and buys a duplicate.
One day, when I was 13 or 14 years old, a dishonest employee fudged some numbers and cost my family everything my dad had built and saved, including personal accounts. My mother went to work for the first time in nearly 20 years, and a second mortgage kept us afloat.
After more than a decade picking up the pieces of a ruined business, my dad sold the remainder to become a wedding and commercial photographer. Even before he booked his first photo gig, he threw the credit card down on the best equipment available. And though, six or so years later, business does seem to be picking up, my parents are nearing their 70s with my mom’s recession-depleted 401(k) as their only retirement savings.
At the time my girlfriend gave me the ultimatum, I simply couldn’t picture a world in which I’d be a good and present father, while attempting to write and while struggling to pay debts accumulated by my own reckless spending, accelerated by the recession. I would not sacrifice my dreams for an illusion of security, nor would I put myself in a position to compromise my principles for that illusion.
So we broke up. In truth, we had other problems, which, experience had taught me, came with the obligation of considering someone else in one’s decisions. So, torn up as I did feel about losing someone close to me, I also looked forward to being single. I’d write without interruption, and, yes, I’d have consequence-free sex.
The first girl I picked up was 10 years younger. She had been dating a guy I knew, but they’d broken up because she’d come to feel possessed by him. Without even talking about it, she and I naturally headed to my place one night, making out in the rain along the way. We hung out the next day and the next. Neither of us wanted attachments, but we kept seeing each other, so we moved into a more defined, but expressly open, relationship.
This is when I learned that my illusions included control of my life: Four months into the relationship, this girl—a rebound by most standards—got pregnant. Neither of us, it turned out, had slept with another person since that first night, and I reacted with such intense joy at the news of her pregnancy that I questioned everything I understood about myself.
First, I acknowledged, with many tears and exasperated breathing, that I did want children, just not with my ex. Then, in place of freedom as I had known it, I accepted the permission to let go of my whimsical endeavors to focus more on writing. Finally, I admitted that my fear of financial instability actually originated in and disguised those unresolved family issues.
And my debt? Well, that’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say that I’ve never been happier. I wonder what illusions will diffuse next.