In college, it happened every year: One or two of my girlfriends would get into a relationship and drop off the face of the earth. She’d stop accepting invitations to hang out; her AIM profile would be filled with sappy song lyrics and maybe the date she and her new boy made things official; whenever we did see her, it would always be with him, as if their relationship mandated that they never be separated by more than 10 feet. When her name came up in conversation, we’d roll our eyes and shake our heads, a silent ode to our fallen comrade. If and when they broke up, she’d sheepishly resurface, never acknowledging her disappearance; the rest of us wouldn’t either, except for maybe a passive-aggressive comment or two as we reacclimated to her presence. Soon, it would feel as though she never left – unless, of course, she met someone new and absconded once again.
I never wanted to be that girl: the one whose life revolved around a boy, who made time with girlfriends feel like a second choice, whose presence could be counted on only if she were single. (Though in fairness to that girl, these traits aren’t entirely her fault, given that our society encourages women to define themselves by men at every turn. But I digress.) And I did my damndest not to be her, prioritizing time with my ladyfriends when I was in a relationship, even if it meant stretching myself too thin. Getting married, in many ways, made my life simpler: Instead of needing to schedule time with my husband and time with my girlfriends, I only needed to plan for the latter, since the former became the default. After several years of marriage, I was proud to say that I had managed to partner up without losing my own identity, my own interests, my own friends. I had a rich and full life with my husband, but I also had one of my own, both of which I prized. I could be married and still be my own person.
Not surprisingly, I took the same attitude when it came to parenthood. If and when I had children, I would not be that mom: the one whose world revolved around her children, who had no goals or conversation topics apart from them, whose email signature read “Proud Mommy of Mabel (7) and Angela (4).” My children would be a central part of my life, but they would not be its sole focus. I would have my own identity, my own interests, my own friends. I would be a parent and still be my own person.