Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and I once showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”

I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:

Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien king. One of the most well-read women I’ve ever met has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I also devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch American Idol or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people had to Google “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

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When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books, Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.

Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active is asexual or somehow abnormal. Until one year ago (exactly, oddly enough), I not had sex in six years. Furthermore, I’d only kissed five people, ever, and that includes a stranger who pecked me on the cheek on New Year’s Eve. I am not asexual, far from it. I was just never interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I saw no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut.

Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat, I can tell you that when I was treading water in a dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it wasn’t so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together. While I’ll admit that for an America drowning in debt, financial freedom might be it’s own fantasy, I’m still not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is the sole appeal of the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience. This article suggests a somewhat circular logic for the over 30 bracket, in particular: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends. This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new. Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice.

Note: I was known, at one time, to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.

Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call shenanigans. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the spine injurt. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What is this, Amish country? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, but with with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them.

  • I originally posted this on March 5, 2015.

The Apathetic Bride

As a child, I was not especially girly. This might come as a shock to my frequent readers, considering Jake and I just recently had an argument as to whether or not glitter can be my second favorite color. Spoiler alert: he’s wrong.

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Perhaps I’m simply overcompensating in adulthood, because when I was little, I was bound and determined to be a tomboy. I “hated” baby dolls, Barbies, dresses, and the color pink, because naturally you couldn’t like Disney princesses and climbing trees. Regardless, I loved my Water Baby, because it didn’t feel like a doll, but a real baby and I wanted my play to be as realistic as possible… which is precisely why I stuck my baby in the microwave to heat up the water, after my mother refused to refill it. While my mothering instincts might have left something to be desired, it wasn’t for lack of interest. Just like most other little girls, I felt that biological drive and genuine desire to be a mom.

I suppose my first romantic fantasy had the same lead as that of every other 90s girl: Jack Dawson. Of course, it took me a bit longer to realize that Cal Hockley was the real hero of Titanic, but all the same… at age 10, I began to dream, innocently (put your dress back on, Rose, you just met this man), of falling in love. Despite this, it would be another six years before I even considered my own wedding, and as an assignment in a marriage and family class, at that. Now, before you go mocking my undergraduate degree of family and consumer science education (or home-ec), I’d like to clarify that this was a budgeting and planning exercise. Weddings just happened to be on topic with the course, as we calculated the cost of catering and venues and attire. While I’m sure this was fun (and a little harmful) for the girls who grew up fantasizing about their dream weddings, for me, it was just… illogical.

Teacher: “You have to include boutonnieres for the men.”
Me: “Why? You can have a wedding without those.”

Even when I planned my first wedding, I just couldn’t muster up the energy to care about this entirely unnecessary party. In hindsight, I’ve considered the possibility that this was simply because I was getting married for all the wrong reasons, and there may be some merit to that. On the day of my wedding, I remember trying to picture my life five years later and thinking that I couldn’t see myself married then… that maybe this was the wrong path… that it was too late to do anything about it. Few believe me when I tell them this, since I didn’t actually say it at the time, so they insist that the only reason I don’t care about my pending party is because I’ve already had a wedding. Y’all, I swear on the Deathly Hallows that the next time someone implies that my second marriage counts less than the one I entered before I could legally drink, Imma cut a bitch.

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Weddings have just never been my thing. On our first date, I told Jake as much… and he was baffled as to why. In every other way, this man is a stereotypical country boy. He loves hunting, fishing, drinking, football, and taxidermy. He has such a thick southern accent, that he sounds like a racist cartoon character. The man’s a downright parody of himself… and he loves weddings, so much so, that he’s attended at least fifteen over the years and has been in half of them. Jake thinks it’s absolutely worth it to spend $9,000 on a party. I’m marrying Katherine Heigl from 27 Dresses and I’m… Sheldon Cooper.

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Hate is a really strong word for how I feel about weddings. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I don’t mind the idea of looking back on a big celebration to declare my lifelong commitment to Jake, in front of all of our friends and family. It certainly means a lot more at 29 than it did at 19, to me and to the audience. I’d do it just to make Jake happy. It’s just… I want to be a wife, not a bride. I don’t need or really even want all the fuss, especially when the tradition and industry surrounding weddings… kind of sucks.

Weddings and wedding planning are typically very sexist. It takes a lot to tickle my feminist bone, but I resent that I’m supposed to plan this shindig, just because I brought the vagina to the party. I want to go to the caterer, who Jake told me was shocked that I’d “let” him decide the menu without me there to hold his hand, and remind her that it’s 2017. I love Jake’s mom, but I think it’s completely unfair that she and everyone else think my father should pay for an elaborate party that his adult daughter doesn’t really even want. It’s not because it’s my second wedding, either. It’s because I bring in $50,000 a year and I don’t need my father to inventory his livestock so he can pay some man to take me off his hands, because women are such a burden. If we want a party, we can pay for a party.

To be clear, it’s not any one person being sexist. It’s the wedding industry. Societally, we talk sooooo big about female empowerment and some pretend sisterhood where I owe more to a random woman than a random man, because somehow equality (?), but the second a woman gets engaged, all of that goes out the window. I’m criticized for my own traditional relationship and gender role (my boss once joked that I was “gender conforming”), which effect only me, but now it’s not only okay for me to ask my dad to pay a literal dowry, but mandatory. No longer are the sparkle and the glitz and the bright colors grounds for mockery, but celebrated… by the jewelry and bridal stores, who want my money. If I say I want to maintain a certain body image for Jake, I’m doing a disservice to all womankind, but my wedding is in three months, so it’s just assumed I’m on a diet of laxatives and self-loathing, to look good for everyone else. The idea that I’m not allowed to be traditional and feminine (aside from the language), unless it’s wedding season, is utter bullshit… and a marketing ploy.

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Zetus lapetus, are weddings expensive. After my first and only wedding dress shopping trip, last summer, I’ve refused to go on another. I was thrilled when my bridesmaids chose their own dress online and ordered it sight unseen. As for my dress…. well, I’m getting married in three months and I don’t even know what I’m going to wear. I’m not really that concerned about it, either, because I’ve been shopping online and all the dresses look the same. It’s my first communion all over again. For realz, y’all, the only difference I can even see half the time is price. The same white, A-line, floor length, strapless dress, either runs for $800 or $2,300 and no one is going to remember it, either way. In fact, none of the stores even make anything as low key as the lacey, tea length, sleeved dress I had in mind. They’re so well stocked in taffeta and tulle, I’m never sure if I’m looking at bridal gowns or pageant dresses… and I’m not even going to pretend I’ve ever had that much grace and poise.

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I’m sure I’ll order the dress I’ve had my eye on from Etsy in two weeks, and if I don’t… so what? I can find something on Modcloth in the last month if I must. It’s a dress I’ll wear one time and it’s likely I’ll only vaguely remember doing so, because that’s the thing no one tells brides: they’ll be so stressed and wired the day of their wedding, that when it’s all said and done, it’ll be a fog of memory. They’ll have looked forward to the day their entire lives, shed tears of frustration over ridiculous arguments during the planning, spent thousands of dollars on flowers and centerpieces and videography and all those other things I refuse to purchase… and it’ll still be a haze. The only people who’ve ever truly enjoyed a wedding are guests, and so I maintain my apathetic stance: I don’t care and if it’s my day, why can’t I bring my pets?

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Please, congratulate me on my engagement!

I got everything I ever wanted this past week. On Sunday, Jake and I went hiking. He found a pretty waterfall and hugged me from behind. He pretended he was trying to point to something in the water and asked if I saw it. When I couldn’t see anything, he wrapped his other arm around me to show me the ring and asked if I could see it now. Ignoring the ring, I turned to hug him.

Jake: “Will you marry me?”
Me: “Yes. I will. I love you.”
Jake: “I love you, too… more than anything, not just the normal amount.”

He didn’t get down on one knee. I wasn’t entirely surprised, having known that he wanted to make it official before Thanksgiving. After I said yes, he called into the woods for “Steve” to come out, asking if he got the pictures, because he knows how much I hate the falsehood of staged proposals and he can’t even take a marriage proposal too seriously. It wasn’t Disney, but it was still perfect, because he’s perfect for me.

I called my Gramma to ask if I could bring my fiancé to Thanksgiving breakfast. She completely missed the change in title and went straight to fretting about not having enough time for breakfast and dinner, until I interrupted her to ask that she repeat what I’d just said. She started to congratulate me, then abruptly stopped, saying that you’re not supposed to congratulate the bride.

Me: “Why not?”
Gramma: “I don’t know. They just tell you not to.”
Me: “Who?”
Gramma: “People. They say you’re not supposed to congratulate the bride.”

Naturally, the librarian in me was curious about the origins of this old wives tale and had to do some research. It didn’t take long to find a pretentious wedding site, adorned in classic floral, detailing the long forgotten edict stating that congratulations are indeed considered tacky, when directed at the bride, for they suggest she’s “won” something. While it’s completely acceptable to share this sentiment with the groom, verbatim, even the Emily Post Institute emphasizes the risk of implying that a bride is to be congratulated on “catching” a husband if one forgets the more proper sentiment of “best wishes.” Alright… aaaaand? Why is it appropriate to congratulate Jake on his prize, but not me on mine?

As this blog will attest, I spent years wading through the sea of crap that is the modern dating world and I sure as heck didn’t do it for the joy of being stood up, having my career insulted, my faith mocked, and being solicited weight loss pills. No. I was searching for a husband. I was praying for someone kind, funny, hardworking, intelligent, opinionated, affectionate, strong, and moral and I found him. My whole life, I’ve never felt like the most important person to anyone, and little did I know that that had all begun to change a year and a half ago, when I sat across from a complete stranger I’d met on a free online dating site that was primarily utilized in procrastinating and assuaging my own boredom. Now, I get to spend the rest of my life with the most important person to me and my very best friend. I’ve gotta say, I absolutely hope all of my friends, family, and blog readers will stumble when it comes to this etiquette – which is particularly strange, since it stems from a time when a woman’s primary purpose was to bake and breed – and congratulate me, because Jake is absolutely a prize worth celebrating.

To the Women Who Tried to Ruin My Career

At 25 years old, I’d just begun my career as a real librarian, in my current system, when I excitedly accepted a second job at the neighboring library system. Within two months, I was informed that I wasn’t “a good fit” and that I’d worked my last day there. I was never late. No customer ever complained about me. I did everything I was asked… except go to my immediate supervisor’s house for spaghetti with the rest of the team, share Pinterest recipes, and sport an “I’m With Her” t-shirt. That’s right. Instead of valuing diversity in her staff, this woman sought employees who were just like her, a modern day Heather willing to abuse her power to the detriment of the community she served.

In time, I realized that not being “a good fit” was quite flattering and ultimately the best thing for my career, because it allowed me to hone my skills within my own system. Even in that beloved system, however, there once reigned a Regina George… the girl who poured the pigs’ blood in Carrie… a Cersei Lannister, of our very own.  Indeed, this woman was… psychotically vindictive, in the truest sense. She ruined careers when people mispronounced her name. She permanently transferred librarians to branches across the city, with less than 24 hours notice and no explanation. She planted her favorites in positions of power and pulled their strings like the fucking Puppet Master. She even tried to keep my boss at the West Side Library  from hiring me, because I’d had a poor interview for a different job. It was a joyous occasion the day Cersei pissed on the wrong boots and was demoted. It was downright freeing when she and many of her minions retired soon thereafter, to practice augury and gnaw on the bones of kittens.

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I’d like to think these women are the exceptions. The rhetoric these days would have us believe we’re are all far too evolved from a half century of breaking glass ceilings and opening our own pickle jars to still be facing such deliberate workplace sabotage. It remains true, however, that one of a woman’s greatest battles toward professional success is simply… other women. Perhaps this is evolutionary and stems from a time when we each tried to prove ourselves the most valuable gatherer, in an effort to snag the best hunter, but we are long overdue to pull up our big girl panties and crush our baser instincts.

Had the aforementioned Heather and Cersei had their way, I would be… well, I don’t know exactly, because I can’t fathom the goal behind destroying the career of a random 25-year-old fresh out of grad school. Maybe they knew every detail of the devastation that would result from their actions. Maybe the fantasy hadn’t extended that far. All I’ve ever known for sure is that there was something broken inside these women, which required them to tear down another to feel accomplished. Now, years later, I have a simple message for them:

Thank you. Thank you for showing me the worst possible scenario of who I could be as a professional woman. Thank you for inspiring me to be better at a job I hated than you were at a job you treasured like the One Ring. Thank you for the strength it took to build people up, despite the fact that I spent my lunch breaks crying in my office. I could’ve let the wounds of others fester, with the reasoning that I didn’t cause them, but instead, I worked to heal those around me. I could’ve scoffed at the personality traits and communication styles that differ from my own, yet I worked to not only understand, but translate. I will have been a manager for eleven months, to the day, when I step down into my new position as just a librarian, at the East Side Library. I’ll leave the North Side Library in the city, to work in the tiny town of Jackson, under the same library system. I’ll rarely see these people again… and I’ll be leaving them better than I found them. If I’d never cried from the abuse of powerful women, I might never have made a difference in the short time I was one myself and for that, I am thankful.

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I’ll never be his #WCW.

The first time I told Jake I loved him, it went a little something like this:

Me: “You make me really happy.”
Jake: ::silence::
Me: “Does it freak you out, when I say stuff like that?”
Jake: “What? No.”
Me: “Would it freak you out, if I told you I loved you?”
Jake: ::laughing:: “No.”
Me: “I love you.”
Jake: “I love you, too.”

In the beginning, neither of us was particularly eloquent when it came to sharing our feelings. Jake told me he loved me, in the simplest of ways, with no flowery language. For a few months, that left me feeling pretty insecure and I tried my hardest not to demand clarification, cuz you know, we all hide our crazy.

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The one time I did ask if he really meant it, it didn’t go over so well when Jake got defensive and stuck his foot in his mouth.

Me: “It’s just… I always say it first. You only say it back.”
Jake: “You never give me the chance! Every eighth word is ‘I love you.'”

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For realz yo, Jake is at the top of the list of people who are not allowed to speak at our wedding.

Over time, however, I came to realize that Jake truly meant what he said, despite how simply he said it. I didn’t have this epiphany because of the right frequency or combination of words, either. Instead, I concentrated on looking for other evidence of his feelings … and it became blatantly obvious that he loved me.

The night I called Jake crying, because being an adult is hard and he abandoned his hunting trip to be there the next day was probably the earliest proof. When he told me he couldn’t wait to spend the weekend together in another state so he could introduce me to all of his friends was further confirmation. Of course, when he scheduled a ski trip to celebrate the end of my Gardasil shot regimen, which meant we could finally have sex… coupled with the very fact that he waited eight months to get laid, I was convinced. I knew without a doubt, that Jake loved me, even though he’d never shared it via cute text messages, a “no, you hang up first” back and forth, or through the most modern and ubiquitous medium: social networking.

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That’s right, y’all. In the year and a half that Jake and I have spent together, the most public validation of his feelings he’s given has been by letting me change his relationship status after three months. Now, as an active Facebook user, I’ve posted  many a status and photo with the world, about the fun we have and jokes we share, while managing to keep the emotions light. Jake has never protested, and has made it clear he doesn’t mind… but he’s also never returned the favor. In fact, unlike my high school friends who share little “this song describes our love” links on each other’s wall, Jake saves all of his appreciation for what we have for me and me alone.. and you know what? It feels far more genuine.

When I see that girl from high school tell her husband how wonderful he is, assuming it’s not a birthday or anniversary, my first instinct is always to wonder why I’m reading something so personal. When those sweet, misspelled text message screenshots show up in my feed, I cringe at being included in such intimacy. That feeling increases tenfold when I look at photos of the actual engagement or a video of a pregnancy announcement. It’s like public affection is the sixth love language and the sentiment doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s seen by 236 people from high school, that summer working at the water park, and the sorority you rushed but ultimately decided not to join. After all, if he says he loves you and your family in North Dakota who you haven’t seen since you were nine didn’t read it, did he really even say it?

On the contrary, Jake’s private little Eskimo kisses, his hand on my lower back when we’re in public, his hugs from behind while I’m cooking, the way he grabs me for a last cuddle before I go to work, are solely for me. He’s not showing off for the aforementioned 236 people when he insists I stay in the car while he gets gas. He’s simply showing me that he loves and cares for me. None of my friends or family will ever know, until they see it for themselves… and that’s okay. I will never be Jake’s #WCW, but I will never wonder if the only reason he expresses his love, in his way, is because everyone is watching. There are still times when I ask, point blank, if he loves me more than anything. He gives me the assurance that of course he does and because no one else can hear it, it means that much more.

 

Reigning in My Crazy

If you haven’t been following me since I was a graduate student, you might not be familiar with the fact that I can be a little high strung. Okay, so maybe that was also apparent when I started dating Jake… and then when I started sleeping with Jake… or when I got my new job… or when I realized how much I hate my new job. Know what? Not that big of a mystery. As much as I’d love to be able to, I simply cannot describe myself as a laid back person.

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I want to, at least occasionally, be the girl who’s up for anything, who just goes with the flow when plans change… and I have been at times. I was that girl when I talked Gail into getting tattoos on a whim. I was that girl when Gail called in the middle of the night to tell me Terry was stuck in a ditch two hours away and I went along for the ride, entertaining her by reading aloud from satirical reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was that girl on all those impromptu nights out with Catherine. I was even that girl when Jake wanted to go on a weekend ski trip in February, with little notice and having never skied. Lately, though… lately I just haven’t been able to muster up the gumption to be that girl, at all.

You see, I wouldn’t say that 2016 has been bad. It’s just been in a constant state of change. When I was 21 years old, I moved for the 10th time in two years. Every time someone knocked on the door, my heart leapt out of my chest, because I was certain my ex-husband had gotten us evicted again. After I left, things settled down a bit, but life wasn’t exactly what I’d call “steady” as I worked two jobs and attended graduate school. When I graduated, I was promoted to half time librarian and my pay at the library nearly doubled, but I was still dependent on my substitute teaching check. The harrowing world of dating wasn’t exactly a balm to my nerves, but I was no longer a student, so it was still an improvement. Then, I met Jake and was promoted to full time Supervisory Librarian. Finally, I would have the chance to settle in and get comfortable… except that’s not what’s happened at all.

Jake is wonderful and everything I’ve ever wanted, but his work schedule and the distance have been an endless battle. I thought his quitting the oil field might free up some time, but until he gets a job in the city, he spends his weekdays in another state working on the Granger Ranch. As for me, $50,000 a year in one of the cheapest states in the country sure has been nice, especially with all that health insurance, but… I hate being a manager. Here I am, almost one year from the announcement that I’d been promoted and everything was falling into place and I’m back to my “please let me get the job” prayer mantra.

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Life certainly isn’t as stressful as the days of packing up all of my belongings in four hours, before the landlord calls the police. It’s not even as stressful as working two jobs and relying on the Almighty for health insurance. A surprise middle management position, major relationship milestones, months of illness, a year and a half of schedule conflicts with the love of my life, Jake’s unemployment, and now both of us applying for new jobs, however, does not a laid back Belle make… and I’ve gotta admit, my crazy’s becoming harder and harder to hide.

A few weeks ago, I lay on Jake’s bed, distraught:

Me: “Everything’s in flux and it has been for so long. I just feel like there are no constants anymore.”
Jake: “I’m a constant.”

The only reason he gets away with putting his foot in his mouth so often, is because when he does say the right thing, he nails it.

The next weekend, Jake walked through the door as I announced:

Me: “I’m getting an elective C-section.”
Jake: “Please stop reading those articles.”

After a weekend of arguing about C-sections versus natural birth, I ended up in tears and Jake finally asked the obvious question.

Jake: “Why are you so upset about something that’s not even happening for at least two years?!?”
Me: “Because you told me just last week that you’re absolutely opposed to elective C-sections and I agreed with you. Then Catherine and Laura both told me that natural childbirth will rip you in half and to definitely get a C-section. You have such a big personality and you’re so opinionated that I figured if I started arguing about it now, I’d have a better chance of winning!”

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Jake: “Okay, I promise you that when the time comes, I will consider all of the options, if you’ll promise me that you’ll stop reading those articles.”

He also has the patience of a saint.

My irrational fear of eventual childbirth all started when my (former) OBGYN brushed off my birth control side effect concerns, despite my months of pain. Fortunately, though, I had better luck with my new chiropractor… after my hip popped out of place the morning of Jake’s birthday… because I bent over to pick up a pair of shorts.

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One of the things no one ever really talks about, when they’re busy glorifying living alone, is how much it sucks to be hurt or sick and not even have the luxury of company. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about being alone that amplifies any and all ailments… though apparently not nearly as much as finding out that I didn’t get that job I wanted.

I admit, the day I found out that I didn’t get the Cherokee job, I hit a breaking point and had something of a meltdown. While Jake is great at being supportive in person, he’s simply at a loss when his verbal skills are the only arrows in his quiver. Through a haze of pain, I babbled incoherently into the phone about hating my life, which I’ll admit was needless melodrama, but days earlier my hipbone was tucked behind my tailbone while I grimaced through a fishing trip. I’ve been under a lot of stress y’all.

Here I am, though, with an empty uterus and realigned spine, declaring that I will take the rest of 2016 in stride!

I will stop working myself up over Future Belle’s problems!

I will do my best to accept that the ever changing landscape that is my life these days, will ultimately lead to something good!

I will stop taking advantage of the fact that Jake is experienced in the management of high strung, over-achieving women!

I will reign in my crazy and I will force myself to enjoy my favorite time of year, because I will be that girl who goes with the flow!

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Being Single is Hard

I’m not single and I haven’t been for quite some time. I met Jake last June and I wouldn’t have called myself single past August or so. As Jake and I move closer and closer to marriage, shopping for rings and spending more and more nights together, though, I’m starting to realize how much harder it was when it was always just me.

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I’ve shared, previously, the number of blogs, articles, and comments I’ve come across on the difficulty of marriage, which are usually followed by new parents telling me I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I have a lot of friends who have been sharing this article on the difficulty of parenting on Facebook and I applaud the author for choosing not to discuss how easy everyone else has it… because that’s all I ever hear about being young and on your own. I don’t know if everyone is simply looking at their past through rose colored glasses or if young, single people feel pressured to insist that their lives are fulfilling in every way, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard or read a discussion on how truly difficult it can be to be alone.

Now, I’m certainly not pitying those enjoying the single life and the freedom that comes with it. I had a great time going to movies alone and enjoyed many all night Vampire Diaries marathons over the sound of a whirring sewing machine, when I was single. When Jake visits his parents or goes to Wellston for a few days, I even try to remind myself to enjoy the last chances I’m going to get to be, well… a little bit single. It’s a great time… but it’s also a tough one and no one ever gives anyone credit for the strength it can take…

… to be the sole earner.

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As a single woman with an advanced degree, my entire adult life has been something of a financial struggle. In college, I was married to a man who refused to work, so perhaps I had a skewed view, but everyone remembers those years as the Age of Ramen. After I received my bachelor’s degree, however, that stage had already ended for most of my classmates and not because they got jobs, but because they got married.

As I entered graduate school, more and more of my high school acquaintances were choosing to stay home with their babies. These women posted funny YouTube videos about how their friends without children knew nothing of responsibility as I worked 13 hour days and came home to finish a research paper while eating off brand spaghetti rings, because who am I, the Queen? I still don’t buy the name brand. I paid for everything on my own, from my rent, electric bill, and groceries, to the rare nights out with Gail. Student loan payments, car trouble, chiropractor visits, that time my phone was stolen, my $70 asthma inhaler, trips to the vet… they all fell to me, while my peers showed off their new houses and $300 highchairs and longed for my stress free life.

As a successful young woman, I can’t discuss money when sharing my desire for marriage and family, without giving people the impression that I just want a man to take care of me. The women I’ve mentioned above had their own financial hardships. I understand that, I do, but they weren’t solely their burden or responsibility either. When you’re on your own, you’re the only one available to talk yourself out of that designer purse or that second drink, because you’re the only one funding the inevitable emergency. At the end of the month, it’s just you and whatever remains in your bank account. While this is a really great learning opportunity, it’s also really scary. It’s almost as scary…

… to be the sole everything else.

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American culture has grown strangely proud of poor time management skills, with everyone from stay-at-home-moms to childless professionals competing to see who can claim the least amount of free time. Never was this more apparent than when I rushed home from a substitute teaching job to take my dog outside, before heading to the library, where I worked circulation until 9:00. When I’d get home at 9:30, it was often to an apartment that looked like an F1 tornado had hit it.

When you’re living with another person, it’s easy to take for granted the things that get done with little to no effort on your part. When Jake and I are married, whoever gets home first will start dinner. If one of us has more free time in the week, we’ll help the other out by doing the laundry, vacuuming, or mowing the lawn. If the Internet goes wonky, there will be two people who could potentially take the morning off to wait for the service call, and two people to compensate for any lack of income that might cause.

When it was just me, every day, working two jobs, I was lucky if I had the energy to microwave dinner, let alone clean up the kitchen or do the laundry. Thank God I didn’t have a lawn. Two years ago, a day off of work to wait for a service call could ultimately have been the difference between being able to afford that Internet or not. Even something as simple as company has become a given, now that I’m in a relationship. It’s easy to forget all those times I ran to the drug store sick or went home after a bad day to an empty and lonely house, now that someone’s available to pick up the prescriptions and cuddle up to during bad Netflix movies. It’s almost as easy to forget how hard it is…

… to have to face the unknown solo, with a smile on your face.
Zetus lapetus, dating sucks. If there is one aspect of being a single twenty-something that none of us feel compelled to talk up, it’s dating and that’s because no one looks back on it fondly… unless they just didn’t do it for very long. I remember getting ready for what was unsurprisingly another dead end date, with Gail’s help, a few years ago. She told me how, although she loves Terry, she sometimes misses that feeling of anticipation and excitement. In hindsight, I’ll admit, there were times when it really was exciting. Toward the end, however, it was just… emotionally exhausting.

The entire time I dated, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to admit that the one thing I wanted more than anything was a loving husband and children. I didn’t want them immediately or solely, but it was a goal of mine to be well on my way by the time I was 30. For some reason, I was supposed to leave something so important up to “fate” or “timing,” while being told my career goals were only subject to effort… even though the former was dependent on how one random person felt about me and the latter hung on how several very specific people felt about me. As a result, not only was I terrified that I may never attain what mattered so much to me, but I felt like I wasn’t even allowed to discuss it, for the sake of all womankind.

Not every woman shares my priorities. Some focus more on career or travel or general life experiences, but most people want to eventually find someone to love and care for and with whom to make all the big life decisions. There was a time when making all of those decisions by myself was freeing. Eventually, however, what I yearned for was a little less uncertainty in the world, some assurance that I would eventually put down the roots I wanted with someone I wanted. In your twenties, there are a thousand unknowns in your existence and when finding someone is no longer one of them, you feel a little more grounded, because you’re not facing the other 999 alone.

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I look fondly on the time I spent single, because I made a genuine effort to enjoy it while I could. I had a great time thinking only about me and bettering myself and my career. My Gramma once commented on how exciting it must be to have my whole life ahead of me with all that freedom and all those decisions yet to be made. She was right. It was and still is very exciting. It’s also a lot to take on alone, because no matter how many amazing friends and family members you have, it’s not the same as being in a committed relationship. I don’t doubt that being newly married, having young children, or raising teenagers is stressful. I imagine every stage has its battles and tears. I just get really tired of hearing about how the post college, pre-marriage stage isn’t one of them… because going it alone is, quite often, really very hard. I hope I never forget that.

Blogiversary and Last Birthday of My Twenties!

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It’s always easy to remember my blogiversary, because I started this blog on my 25th birthday. Today, I turn 29, which means I’ve hit something of a personal record in blogging. Not only have I been chronicling my life and personal soap boxes for four years, but I’ve done so consistently. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a full month without an update, even when I was working two jobs and going to grad school. Here’s hoping the anonymity I’ve employed allows me to do so for years to come and that I’ll have even more reason to celebrate each and every birthday, because I love birthdays. I don’t just mean my own, either. Nope. I’ve already chosen gifts for both Gail and Jake, each of whom I fully intend to celebrate with next month, despite the fact that the former finds birthdays only vaguely appealing and the latter insists that they’re downright juvenile. No one spends a birthday alone on my watch.

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My love of everyone’s birthday stems from the fact that my mother always did them up big, when I was a kid. Still, I always sort of assumed, that as I grew older, mine would lose their appeal, as everyone’s eventually do. I mean, my Facebook feed has been flooded with comments about how old we’re all getting since we were 24. I, myself, used the phrase “staring down the barrel of 30” just weeks before I hit 27, much to Gail’s horror. Surely, birthdays would lose their novelty in time.

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On the contrary, I have come to the very last birthday of my twenties and I could not be more excited about getting older… and this blog deserves much of the credit. For four years, I’ve been sharing every triumph, every failure, every heartache, and every cheesy lovey dovey thought with the 1,400 or so followers who subscribe to my blog. At times, I haven’t known if anyone but Gail was even reading, going off of likes and comments, but I’ve told the tale anyway, because I know one person who will always read and that’s Future Belle. I love to look back at the stories and thoughts I shared in a different time, as a different person. At 25, I never realized how much could change in four years, but here I am struggling to remember what it was like to be the single grad student rushing from one job to another, praying I’d have enough money to make it through the summer without substitute teaching. In another four years, I’m sure I’ll be looking back, wondering what it was like to go home to an empty apartment and have the entire evening to myself… and that’s just so exciting. 

At 16, if asked, I’d have predicted college, career, marriage, home ownership, and babies years ago, because that’s how it’s supposed to go in the South. Certainly, I wouldn’t have anticipated reentering the dating world after a divorce at 23, in tandem with starting graduate school. I wouldn’t have even guessed at the possibility of meeting the love of my life at 27 and still being unmarried at 29, let alone waiting until my 30’s to start a family. I’d have been horrified by what the timeline actually looks like.

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I have so many thrilling moments ahead of me, so much to accomplish and yet, so many achievements to boast. If my life has changed this much in the last four years, I can’t imagine how amazing it’ll be in the next four. Given the choice, I’d so much rather be 29 and where I am than 25 and where I was and I imagine I’ll say the same at 39. Being an adult, moving forward in life, just generally getting older is awesome!

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I hate my job.

Library page: “You know who’s just a fantastic boss? Belle. She always knows everything that’s going on in the library. She walks around and sees what needs to be done and talks to people. She really is great at her job.”

Ngo, other supervisory librarian: “No, you are really good at this. You have a great balance with the staff.”

Brett, my boss: “You are just doing an awesome job. You’re also the only person who is ever willing to disagree with me and that is so valuable to me.”

It really sucks to be so great at something I hate so much. I am every sports movie cliché I’ve ever seen.

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Center Stage is a sports movie.

20% supervisor and 80% librarian. That’s what I was told the supervisory librarian position would be, when it was created and I applied in November. On Thursday night, I got off at 9:00, stopped by my favorite ice cream place for chocolate frozen yogurt and discovered too late that they’d given me a chocolate and vanilla twist. Jake was staying with me and had long since gone to bed, but came into the living room to find me quietly weeping over frozen yogurt.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Vanilla frozen yogurt doesn’t taste like anything!”
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Jake: “What’s really wrong?”
Me: “I hate my job! I have everything I ever wanted: the job, you, and I even got a cat and I am just so unhappy. I dread going to work. I never thought I would feel this way about being a librarian, but I don’t even get to be a librarian anymore! I spend a minimum of twenty hours a month in meetings and the supervisory librarians just decided we need to have another weekly meeting, between just the three of us! We sit down and have a meeting about something we just talked about in another meeting, even though we haven’t had any time to work on it since said meeting, and if I have to tell one more grown ass adult to do their fucking job, my brain is going to bleed out my ears and they gave me the wrong ice cream!”
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He wants to create an app that translates Crying Girl into English.

I love being a librarian, y’all. I love planning and putting on programs, weeding the collection and ordering replacement materials, helping little old ladies realize they can do this iPad thing, teaching twenty-somethings to make a resume, assisting ex-offenders in their job searches, and giving the rare well-behaved child a sticker. I used to be so excited when my copy of American Libraries came in the mail and now I hardly even look at it, because it’s officially a magazine full of articles about awesome things that I don’t have time to do.

Last week, I e-mailed the third grade teachers at the Catholic school just up the street from the Northside Library, where I work. I wanted to know if they’d like to take part in a pen pal program, with the nursing home I visit monthly. I received a reply immediately, that they’d both love to participate and, together, they had about 40 students. My first thought was one of excitement. The second was that I didn’t know if I had the time to devote to an 80 person pen pal project. I went to college for seven years, took out $150,000 in student loans, and I don’t have time to do the enjoyable parts of my job. I don’t have the time to talk to customers about their favorite books, to sign someone up for summer reading, to consider rearranging the collection, to make book displays, to fill out the checklist for that digital scrapbooking/online dating/adult coloring class I want to do. No. My time has been scheduled for supervisory librarian meetings with our manager, my one-on-one meetings with my direct reports, my one-on-one meetings with Brett, my one-on-one meetings with the other supervisory librarians and now our group meeting with each other; none of which I singularly despise, but rather have a growing resentment toward for taking so much of my time.

Jake: “I’m sorry your job sucks right now.”
Me: “My job sucks all the time. I just don’t talk about it.”

I immediately realized just how true that was. When I started in January, it was natural to be overwhelmed. In about mid-April, I thought I’d started to get the hang of all this manager stuff. I only had Ngo and Brett to consult with and the Supervisory Series training came to an end, freeing up much of my week. I wasn’t yet required to meet monthly with my direct reports, do evaluations, or address workflow and personnel issues, so the bulk of my management responsibilities involved making the page schedule and entering programs into the calendar. 20% supervisor and 80% librarian seemed about right. Then, the reality of my position settled in, along with all of the additional responsibilities. In the last couple of months, I’ve realized that aside from that six to eight week respite, I have hated my job since I started.

I have a more or less private office. I have my own laptop. Brett gives me the go-ahead on most of my ideas, even when they cost money. He solicits and respects my opinion. I love my coworkers, even the ones I have to supervise. I live in the cheapest part of the country and pull in about $50,000 a year, at the start of my career. I am really good at my job… and I hate it. I’m no longer waiting for the dust to settle on this new position. It’s management and if it continues to evolve, it will only become more managerial. I got my MLIS to do a job that should require an MBA. I have skipped over being just a librarian and unless I step down, I will never get that chance. I will forever supervise those I envy, because stepping down could mean that I never get the opportunity to move up again. It could mean that everyone assumes I was reassigned by force, because I failed. It would mean telling my dad that I gave up all the momentum of a management opportunity to be just a librarian.

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Well, so… fucking… what? I am not going to spend the next two and half years crying over frozen yogurt and yearning for all the missed opportunities of being a librarian, to hit some arbitrary number that will look good on a resume, just in case I want to be a manager again. I didn’t work 60 hours a week and go to grad school to hate my job, just because modern society expects intelligent women to hit the corporate ground running. I have amazing momentum with my system. I could manage my own library inside of three years and that’s not what I want. So, after discussing it with Jake, I decided to apply for an open librarian position at the Southeastern Library, in Cherokee. Cherokee is a more rural city inside the same county as the other libraries in the system, with a population of around 10,000, even smaller than Shetland. I could have the small town existence Jake and I imagine and still make $50,000 a year. I can do adult and senior programming and be just a librarian.

Jake: “Babe, I’m totally fine with whatever you wanna do. I couldn’t do what you do… being people’s boss? That would drive me crazy. I just wanna make sure you know that if you leave a management position, you may not be able to get another one.”

This is the point that keeps coming up. It’s a legitimate possibility, despite my conversation with Brett, in which he told me about prominent women in the system stepping down at some point and rising to even higher positions, later in their careers. It’s one thing to work in management for five years and step down to care for children. It’s another to last eight months, before burnout. At this point, however, if I have to choose between never being manager or never being just a librarian, there’s no contest. So, after another meeting, where everyone agreed that we needed more meetings, Brett asked for a moment to discuss why this idea upset me so much. Apparently, it’s not normal to get teary-eyed over meetings.

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Me: “Maybe you’re all exactly right and we do need more meetings. Maybe this is just about me, because every hour I schedule for management duties is another hour that I don’t get to be a librarian. I never got to be just a librarian. At best, I left a substitute teaching job in the day, to be a half time librarian in the evening, and it was exhausting. So, I wanted to tell you that I applied for the librarian position at the Southeastern library, in Cherokee.”

Brett was unbelievably supportive. He told me he’d miss me, because I’m great at my job and everyone else is too intimidated to tell him what they think. He told me he’d give me a fantastic reference and that he understands that I have to pursue what I want for my career.

It’s a hard thing to do, make a decision that will change your whole life. I don’t have to leave the Northside Library, where I have great coworkers and a great boss, where I’m making connections in the community, and working from a semi-private office. I could stay in familiar surroundings, continuing to commute from Shetland… or I could make a change, move to a new library and a new city, for the chance to enjoy my career again.

“It’s a hard thing to leave any deeply routine life, even if you hate it.” – John Steinbeck

No. It’s not okay if I get pregnant.

I’ve had to abandon hormonal birth control, because it makes me sick. While I’m considering an IUD, that’s something of a process, so it’s just condoms and somewhat hypocritical prayer for the time being. This comes up a surprising amount, with medical professionals and even family and friends, perhaps because we live in a society where people “check in” to the urologist on Facebook…

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… therefore, I’ve realized that the world is super okay with an accidental pregnancy for Belle.

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Aunt Lacy: “Why get on birth control? Why not just have a baby?”
Me: “Because Jake and I… aren’t married?”
Aunt Lacy: “So? You’re old enough.”

Me: “Well, I’m not on anything right now. Both Nuvaring and the pill made me sick, so it’s just condoms and prayer.”
Nurse: “Well, if it happens, it happens.”

Aunt Dee: “Well, you’re 28 now. If you got pregnant, it would be wonderful.”

Please, tell me more about how okay you are with taking my remaining years of freedom. Let’s talk about how great it will be for me to get fat and go five years without sleeping. I’m sure Jake will be thrilled to either have to propose, knowing he’ll never convince me that he actually wanted to marry me or break my heart forever.

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I have just gotten the hang of putting the dishes in the dishwasher, as I go, as opposed to musing aloud about taking them to a car wash while balancing a mug precariously on top of the pile like a game of kitchen Jenga. I am so shocked that I’ve kept a plant alive since Christmas that I’m not even sure it’s a real plant. In just the last week, my pets have had to alert me to their need for water by barking and meowing when I turn on the bathroom faucet. It’s either really flattering that the rest of society thinks I can handle the life of another human being or really quite sad that their standards are so low, because I’m perfectly willing to admit that I can barely take care of myself right now. I am finally at a point in my life where I can afford a small emergency and remain on top of my bills and I’m enjoying such expansive financial freedom in comparison with where I was one year ago.

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… how my bills got paid from 2007-2015…

It’s fantastic that the rest of the world is now so keen on babies born out of marriage. I’ve seen Bastard Out of Carolina twelve times and I’m not a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, so I really do mean that. I’m glad society is more accepting of individual lifestyles, but I still have a pretty traditional idea of the one I want to live. Call me old-fashioned, but I think life is generally easier and more pleasant for everyone involved if two people fall in love, marry, enjoy some time alone, and then have babies. I don’t want to be the only one to take my kids to basketball and ballet, to be the enemy when I take away electronic time for the weekend, to attend parent teacher conferences and pick up snacks for pre-K, because it’s my week to be the parent. I admire my single mom friends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look absolutely exhausting.

Fine. I concede that at this point in my life and relationship, I wouldn’t actually even be a single mom. Jake would step up, but his mother and father would never respect me again. Regardless of my financial standing, my dad and step-mom would be disappointed in me, too. Who cares what they think, though, right? I do. I care what they think. I care how the world reacts to the news that I’m having a baby and entering a new and exciting stage of life. So, yes, maybe a child wouldn’t derail my entire future, as it might have once, but it’s still one of my greatest fears and will remain so until long after my wedding day, because I can only handle one mouthy redhead for the moment. Am I being ridiculous and overdramatic? Possibly, but no one really gets to decide that other than me. I am not ready for a baby. I want to be excited by the prospect of parenthood, as does Jake. We are the primary individuals effected, after said baby, therefore it’s only our opinions that matter. So everyone needs to back the fuck off and stop jinxing my uterus with their damn well wishing!

 

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