On a recent episode of his show, Bill Maher said, “New rule: Married couples who have spent years quietly pitying single people, especially those of us who don’t have children, have to answer this question: How do you like me now?”
Well, Bill, I will say that we do not like you very much at all.
“We” are those of us in the midst of Pandemic Partnering & Parenting, a seemingly never-ending social experiment to determine just how much people can take before they qualify as officially insane.
When we picture your life, Bill, we imagine the naps you are taking, the sourdough bread you are baking, the shows you are watching, the Zoom yoga classes you are taking, the accent walls you are painting, the books you are reading. We imagine your biggest complaint is boredom.
Oh, boredom. A luxury of the childless — or “childfree” as you prefer to be called. And, you are right, whereas before we used to roll our eyes at the distinction, we get it now. You are free.
One of your kind said to me the other day, “I’m so bored, I just took a one-hour hot shower.”
Another said, “Should I get Hulu? I’m pretty much out of Netflix shows.”
Another said, “I’m sort of considering writing a book. I mean, if not now, when? Right?”
Just as I was actively converting all my pandemic anxiety into hatred of your kind, a single-and-childfree friend of mine texted:
“It’s just so lonely.”
Then: “Hanging out with a kid all day sounds kinda fun, IMHO.”
That’s when I realized for the millionth time in my adult life that the proverbial grass is always greener on the other side.
In the beginning of the lockdown, I longed for my pre-child life. Here was this mandate to shelter in place (something that, as an introvert, I feel I was born to do), and I could not milk it for all it was worth because the two-year-old at my feet was staunchly committed to not letting me read, watch shows, bake, nap, or basically do anything but entertain her (the nerve!).
But then I remembered back to when I was single and childless (or free or whatever). Every weekend, I would dip into a depression because I couldn’t find much reason to get out of bed. I had these wide-open days in front of me and no real plans. I thought of all I could do, got overwhelmed, and didn’t do much of anything. Sometimes, I would go to Trader Joe’s and, while chatting with the cashier, realize that I hadn’t said anything aloud in 36 hours. I was always grateful when Monday rolled around so I could resume working and have a clearer purpose.
I know if I was single and “free” now, I would be feeling a little like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It wouldn’t be pretty. Now, with a toddler, a spouse, and a full-time job, I’m constantly exhausted, irritable, and on the verge of a breakdown, but I’m also motivated to get out of bed. My days do not lack purpose; they have an overabundance of purpose and too few hours.
This pandemic is a time of extremes. Those of us with a partner and/or children are living the extreme of 24/7 family time with no breaks. Those who are single and childfree are living the extreme of isolation, meeting a lifetime quota of alone time. What we all want is more balance. I long for alone time because I have exactly none of it; if I was isolated right now, I would long for the company of others (even a collection of toddlers would sound appealing). It is the extreme that breeds the longing. We are all living an extreme right now; we are all longing.
Understanding this does not mean that I do not roll my eyes when my single-and-childfree friends discuss their bubble baths. I still envy them. I still get annoyed when they say, “Call me when you’re free,” as if they think such a state of being is possible for me right now. But I try my best to make those calls. Their desire for connection often comes into direct conflict with the fact that I am burnt out on connection; but, I try.
I would venture to guess that even Bill Maher is a little lonely right about now. Not lonely enough to want to father a child, but perhaps a litter of kittens. Now there’s a visual.
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