Sometimes I fantasize about running a personal ad. Not for a date; for a best friend. Someone like me. Sure, I can find other forty-something married mothers to hang out with. They’re out there. There are even some in my suburban neighborhood. But then I add qualifiers: married for almost twenty-five years. Two sons, ages three and five. Liberal politics. Military spouse. Erotic romance writer. I lose my peer group somewhere between the long-term marriage and the two pre-schoolers, and definitely by the time I hit liberal military spouse. And if anyone has hung in there through that? Oh, the sexy writing loses anyone that’s left.
My friend base is wide and varied, and I’m so grateful for that. As a writer, it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to connect with so many different kids of people, from the twenty-something hipsters whose kids are the same ages as mine to the variety of authors, editors and bloggers I’ve connected with over the years at conferences and through social media. Oh, and social media has been terrific for reconnecting with long-lost friends. But while some of those old friends from high school are bragging about their first grandchild, my husband and I are debating Montessori education and the best college funds. And while other Navy spouses with young kids are lamenting the long deployments apart, my husband is looking at retirement this year and all of our separations are well in the past—some of them even before email. When we talk about where we should live, we have to balance finding the right schools for the kids with finding the right spot to spend our golden years.
I have been going against the grain since I was a kid. I grew up in a house without books, but I was a voracious reader from the time I started school and a would-be writer from the first story I wrote in first grade. I always questioned why—why “that’s the way it was,” why I should want what everyone else wanted (or thought they wanted). Why? With the voice of my idol, Gloria Steinem, in my head, I grew up believing that I could be or do anything I wanted at any point in my life. And yet, all of these wonderful options have left me kind of the odd woman out. At least in my corner of the world. I have it all, except for a best friend who’s just like me. Some people march to the beat of a different drummer, and I suppose I’m in that category—doing things in my own time and in my own (often behind the curve) way.
I have no like-minded (like-lifed?) BFF, much less a group of them. I don’t even like the term BFF, which dates me as being over 40, I think. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what a woman my age should wear and I don’t know about book clubs and wine and cheese parties. Whatever I wear needs to be relatively kid-proof, and my social life often includes my kids. Girls’ night is me and one other friend having coffee and seeing a movie. I won’t be having a wild Vegas weekend with my besties when I turn 50—my closest friends range in age from 15 years younger to 20 years older than me and are scattered across the country. Oh, and my kids will be in elementary school when I turn 50, so we’ll probably just have a backyard barbecue and call it a day. (Did I mention I’m an introvert who likes to throw parties?)
I have bloomed both early and late in my life. Despite always being a high-achieving student, it took me four colleges and twelve years to finish my undergraduate degree and I didn’t get my masters’ degree until I was 40. I was often the oldest student in my classes; sometimes I was older than the professor. Kids came along when I was 42 and 44. But I got married young, at 23, and the writing aspirations started before I had even mastered cursive. The oldest I’ve ever felt in my life was when I was pregnant in the month of August and could barely move, breathe or even think. Yet I feel surprisingly young most of the time because I’m mired in a world of Paw Patrol and LEGO blocks and planned date nights even with my silver wedding anniversary around the corner (and enough silver hair to be mistaken for my kids’ grandmother if I ever let it grow out). Is this what they call having the best of both worlds?
I am more than the sum of my parts, and my life looks nothing like most of my friends’ lives, but I’m hardly a trendsetter. There is nothing cutting-edge about me. I know most people feel out of place at various points in their lives. I know that paths diverge even for the best of lifelong friends. I know I’m not special. And yet I’ve never met anyone who said, “Me, too!” when I described my life. Sometimes it feels as if my life is one of those Facebook memes: Pick one thing from each column to find out who you are. The end result is this jumble of puzzle pieces cobbled together to make a life that fits me and is, above all, incredibly rewarding. But sometimes it’s a little bit lonely.
I have this beautiful, chaotic life of my own making—a life that I created on the very premise that I can do anything I want to do. I spend a fair amount of time trying to convince others of that same thing—yes, of course you can go back to college at 40; no, you shouldn’t feel guilty for leaving the kids for a week while you go on a writing retreat; yes, there is life (and sex) after babies; yes, you can do it a different way; yes, you should do what makes you happy. Yes! I like to think my contribution to the world, beyond my meager writing talent and the two amazing kids I’m raising, is to be the living, breathing embodiment of choosing your own path, at whatever age. I hope to model that truth for my kids throughout their childhoods. Color outside the lines, kids. Question authority and the status quo. Don’t be a follower; make your own path.
I know my way isn’t the only way or even necessarily the best way—it’s just my way. And that’s good. It’s enough. Truly. I wouldn’t change a thing. But I’d still like to find a friend like me.
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