Sometimes I wonder what to tell my thirty-something friends who long to find their ideal partner and get married. It sounds too precious when I ask them why they desire marriage. Unfortunately, marriage is not the romantic voyage DeBeers makes it out to be. Now that I’m grappling with my feelings about motherhood, I am acutely aware that marriage is, more than anything else, a contractual agreement. That’s why I should have been paying more attention to the priest in our marriage class. I’ve realized that life is a set of circumstances and marriage is a matter of two people’s goals fitting those circumstances at the same time, with some lust sprinkled on top. As a goal in itself, marriage is sublimely absurd. Yet some of my friends – female and male alike – cannot articulate why they strive for it.

I always joke and say, why get hitched? It’s a hassle. Anyway, marriage is not better than being single – it’s just different. Just like the saying the grass is always greener on the other side. You can meet a compatible partner and not get married. But a wedding is always seen as The Next Step. Matrimony is so accepted as an ideal measurement of happiness and fulfilment, that we don’t question it. Instead, we use it as a yardstick to measure ourselves and others. And after marriage, the yardstick is family – how soon, how many, how good, how smart are your kids? There are so many people who want to jump on this train, I always feel like an oddball when I question why the tracks have been laid this way.

Often, I have long discussions with a colleague over lunch. N- just doesn’t understand my ambivalence about marriage and children. Ever since he joined the office, he wanted to know all about my life and how I managed to get married and stay married. This is all coming from a man who is only thirty years old but thinks he has so many issues that he sees a psychiatrist every two weeks. He appears completely normal to me, with exactly the same issues all middle class children have, except perhaps his guilt over being middle class is a bit out of whack. Perhaps it’s his deep Russian soul that’s causing all the trouble.

Actually, I should clarify that I met N- when he was twenty-nine. His complaint was, “I’m turning thirty and I’m not married yet! I’m not even in a long-term relationship.” His constant questions were, How do you meet the right person and how do you have a happy marriage? About my notions, he just said, “But you are married, and you’re happy. How can you have an ambivalent or negative attitude towards something that makes you happy?”

“Marriage doesn’t make me happy. My husband does.”

“Ah, yes, but would you get a divorce just to prove you don’t need marriage?”

“Well, no. I’ve worked hard at my marriage and I’m proud of our relationship. But it was very hard in the beginning. I felt those matrimonial bonds as if they were steel shackles on my wrists. You can’t just do whatever you want whenever you want. You have to put the other person first. Do you have any idea how hard that can be?”

“But one should already do that if one is in love with someone,” he insists.

“Of course, but one shouldn’t feel duty-bound; it should be a by-product of love.”

“My father would say you are like a little bird that flits this way and that,” he jokes.

“Ha! He sounds like my grandmother.”

“I can’t believe it! I get it – I get it, and here you are and you don’t get it, yet I’m the one that’s not married!” he whines.

“Listen, you should stop spending all that money on psychotherapy and spend it on a woman. Then see how fast you’ll get married.”

“Ha, ha. You have no idea how many issues I need resolved.”

“Well, maybe I should see your shrink before I start pulling Lucy Ricardo stunts on my unsuspecting husband.” He arches an eyebrow and gives me a look.

“I’m kidding,” I say. “Really.”

I call this The Conversation. However, it’s really an amalgam of many conversations, dare I say arguments, that my husband and I had for about a year. They were really all the same conversation, though, and it went like this:

Him: How long can you be a fine diner, copious drinker and all round party person without getting bored? Eventually we will tire of going out and going out and going out…. As our friends move on, we’ll be in stasis….

Me: That’s the whole point! I want to keep going out and living a fabulous life. Besides, how can you get tired of Manhattan? There’s something new every week.

Him: There has to be more challenging stuff to life. You can enjoy kids, really! You know, kids are a shared project. It will bring us closer together.

Me: Ha! What about reason number eight?

Him: We are not going to be One of Those Couples. We will have babysitters, a nanny if you want. It didn’t do you any harm to have a third caregiver in the household, and it freed up your parents to continue to enjoy life with friends sans children. Believe me, it can be done. I mean, look at your own family.

Me: But it will totally disrupt our lives – and definitely at the beginning. Who knows what opportunities might come along while we’re busy babying.

Him: Neither of our careers will be hurt by children. You’ll eventually move on and maybe do all the things you’ve been wanting to do but can’t right now because you have to earn a living.

Me: I think you’re being totally unrealistic. Do you know how much work babies and teenagers are? Do you? They will own us; claim us like we never existed without them. You’ll have to cut back on work hours; I won’t have a minute to myself to do anything. And what about our fantastic trips? We won’t be able to go on those anymore. It’ll be Disney World and cheesy hotels and overcrowded beaches in Yucatan.

Him: Okay, I’ll concede that travel might be a bit difficult, but only for the first few years. In fact, you can take a baby almost anywhere. They just need a place to sleep, and they need to eat and shit. They have very simple requirements.

Me: But what about us? What about couple only travel? Time alone?

Him: We’ll ask my mom to come and spend a week with the kid so we can get away. Don’t worry; we’ll find a way.

Me: Well, congratulations, you’ve solved all the problems. But. I am not. Going. To get. Fat.

Him: Christ! You are NOT going to stay fat. It’s impossible. You’re the skinniest thing I know and you don’t even have to work at it. You’ll lose all the weight within weeks. And if you really have a problem, we can book you for a nip and tuck. Besides, you’ll be a sexy mummy, he says and slaps my bum.

I harrumph.

Him: Besides, I don’t want to spoil other people’s kids. I want my own kids. Why can’t you understand that? Do we have different goals, or something? This may surprise you, but I want the responsibility of raising kids. It’s the one inherently challenging thing about life and I want to experience it. Kids are the only way of having your genes live on. It’s the only eternity there is.

Me: Well, if you’re going to pull that on me… Listen, how come I didn’t know you felt so strongly about this?

Him: Maybe you weren’t listening. I thought I was clear that kids are the only reason to get married. Otherwise, why not just live together and change partners whenever you get bored?

Me: You know why we got married… it didn’t have to do with kids.

Him: Look, I can understand your fears about pregnancy; it’s a pretty scary and unbelievable thing to go through. But you Will Not Die. I promise. I want us to have kids – our own – not adopted, not surrogate. Ours.

So I try one more argument, knowing full well it’s easily solved.

Me: We live in a fifth floor walk-up. With no storage. How do you expect us to have a baby up here, hauling it and the stroller and diaper bags and bottles and clothing up and down these freakin’ stairs? If it’s just me, am I supposed to leave the baby unattended upstairs while I do the stroller thing, or take the baby and leave it alone downstairs, then run back up for the stroller? And what if it’s birth by C-section? I’ve heard that women can’t even walk for more than a month after that.

I’m out of breath just thinking about it, never mind expressing my worries.

“You know we can move,” he says.

And that’s the discussion that led me to stop taking the Pill. I figure I ought to give it a try, for my husband’s sake.

I just wanted to put out there this because I find it’s an issue that constantly creeps up whenever there is a public discussion about infertility treatments. It’s natural that if a woman is ambivalent about motherhood, she is going to wait longer to try to conceive. Clearly, as most of us know, the longer she waits, the slimmer her chances. But does she deserve to be penalized for this?

Why penalized? Well, we’re having a health care debate up here in Canada about covering IVF treatments. Some members of the public — actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a significant percentage given the number of times I hear or read this comment — feel that 35 should be the cut off age.

Yet why shouldn’t a woman feel ambivalent? There is no right time to have a child. Maybe she’s got a demanding career. Or maybe she’s the primary income earner. Or maybe she’s trying to still find herself. Perhaps she has not met the man she’d like to be the father of her children.  There are so many reasons and they are each valid.

I believe that if IVF becomes publicly funded, there should be no cut off age. I don’t know what the situation is in the US with private insurance but I would love to hear about the age issue.

Furthermore, 35 is the magic age up until which women still have a good chance. By necessity, this means that IVF should be covered after 35. Thirty-five is not old by today’s standards. In the long term perspective our schooling has lengthened; hey, women actually started going to school and entering the workforce relatively recently given my timeline.

I don’t know about you, but I feel resentment and a mild anger whenever I hear people that know nothing about infertility calling into talk shows to say, Oh, why don’t they just adopt? Or, Why should we cover IVF for over 35-year-olds? Well, because those 35 yr olds’ kids will be covering your health care, for one. But you know, I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent, so why should I suffer physically, emotionally and financially in order to provide for some curmudgeon’s health care in his or her old age?