The credits don’t roll
But the dice does: When it comes to love, we’re living our lives like gamblers
I didn’t know any better. I thought finding someone was the hard part. I’d spend hours on Hinge, swiping away and holding faith that once I’d cleared this hurdle and found a partner, it’d flow from there. You need to believe it gets easier. It’s what keeps you going. How wrong I was.
In the last breaths of autumn, days before the clocks changed and the evenings turned dark, I went on a first date. I enjoyed myself. Time passed fluidly like I was gliding through water. I was relaxed. It’d felt like we’d always known each other. I realised that this is what chemistry is. The pub closed. We weren’t ready for the night to end, so I sat on the saddle of his bike, he peddled up front and I thought it’d look like we were in a movie if our scenery wasn’t riddled with party-goers and the debauchery of a late night on the Kingsland High Road.
Our second date was only a few days later. Then we had plenty more.
Now that I’m older, the stakes feel higher than they once did. I don’t believe in the one, but at 33, I need to decide if this person may be the closest thing to it. I try to stay grounded in the present as we move through the stages of our relationship. Despite being older, I still suck at communication, but I try my best. We meet each other’s friends, go on mini-breaks, become increasingly acquainted with each other’s flaws and move in together. It’s nice. Life is different and better with him in it. But meanwhile, something is niggling away at me.
I’m aware of time passing. I still feel young. I’m not ready to copy my friends who look like adults with their mortgages, snotty infants and big cars. I look in the mirror and spot fine lines on my forehead that weren’t there before. I order some trainers, but have to send them back because when I try them on, I see that they’re for young people. I lose hours reading about botox, but also to afternoons in the pub. I like my life of long sleeps and too many Aperol Spritzes in the sun, of spontaneous hangs and lots of yoga classes. I’m at peace. People with children look at you with their wide and tired eyes and tell you that having kids is hard work and exhausting, but also very rewarding. I think it sounds like working at a startup.
I know I don’t want to bring that disruption of a screaming, pooping ball into my life just now, but I do know I want that for myself one day. Not today, but one day – and knowing that is gnawing away at me as time passes. So I said to my partner that I want a family, and confessed that I wished I perhaps had more years than I feel like I have. I asked that if he doesn’t intend to do that with me, to please let me know as soon as he can so I could find someone else while I have time. He said:
“I don’t know.”
Don’t tell me that I’m young and have plenty of time. No one knows how much time anyone has. What we do know, is that the longer we leave it before trying for a baby, the harder it could be. My partner went on to say that he’s happy for now and we’re staying together, but as time passes, it feels like I’ve rolled the dice and now I’m waiting to see if they land on my number. Who knows what the future holds – and if I was pressed to answer the question, I don’t know either, but I’d never dare admit it. I need to have faith.
We’re always in a rush to do things when we’re young and when time doesn’t matter. Anything in life, anything at all, you can take your time with. You can become a painter at 80, move cities at 65, get married at 50, or become a writer at 30. But there’s just one thing that you don’t have your whole life to do, and that’s having a baby.
I have to accept this biology (which was always one of my worst subjects at school). But what pains me more and makes me boil with rage and want to spit in the patriarchy’s face, what makes me bitter and want to side-eye every man I pass, is that I’m jealous. Men can feel comfortable not knowing for longer. Some men of my age, or even older, aren’t even thinking about it. They don’t feel that time is running out, staying with someone doesn’t feel like such a great risk.
It’s not fair. But then it’s also not fair to demand certainty from someone when I can’t give it myself. My partner and I want the same things out of life and we’re happy in the now. In theory, that should do. Yet this niggles at me the way it doesn’t for him. I want reassurance and certainty when it’d be a lie for him to give it to me. We’ll only know for sure when the time comes. The unspoken reality and painful truth that it’s different for men in their thirties than it is for women gives men a certain swagger. It gives them power in the dating arena. A man in his late thirties can take each day as it comes and sit in the present while I’m sitting in full-blown terror, hoping I’ve made the right choice
Month after month, my body bleeds as a reminder that I’m depleting my eggs faster than I’m getting through my life admin. We’re watching Netflix and I’m thinking - Fuck, my ovaries are shrivelling as we sit on the sofa. I look at this person and I think - You’re the number I’ve placed all my chips on at the roulette table. I’m about to spend the next few years rolling the dice. If it doesn’t work out, I may have missed my time. You can just go back on Hinge and find someone younger.
My younger replacement could have fertility issues. But the reality of the randomness of life doesn’t matter. It’s our perception and our feeling that shapes our experience. That feeling that time is running out until I have the option to create a mini version of myself is stressful. Men so often say that they don’t like to feel under pressure but imagine feeling that weight of constantly running out of time. That’s what real pressure feels like.
I loved being single. I happily went to events alone, enjoyed going on dates and could tolerate the chore of the dating apps. There were some duds, heartbreaks, serious lows and times of boredom, but I chalked it all up to experience. I felt like I was living life and a life that I could fully control. I’d only cry when the unfairness of it came to me that I felt this pressure that men didn’t seem to. Tears of injustice would trickle down my face and I’d bargain that perhaps if I was only a few years younger, dating would be easier because I’d feel like I had more time.
I know if you’re older than me, you might roll your eyes and say that I have plenty of time. But date after date and as time slipped by, weekend after weekend, and I felt no closer to meeting someone, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of time. My desire was to spend meaningful time, ideally years, with someone before seeing if they were someone I could build a life with. I wonder what it’s like when you’re older and dating and the need to assess them for their daddy skills is removed. When I met my current partner, I thought that fear that I wouldn’t have children would pass. If anything, it’s worse. Perhaps I won’t feel fully certain it’s going to happen for me until my legs are in stirrups, I’m screaming bloody murder and I see a little forehead coming out of my vagina.
In a relationship, you’re constantly on probation. Either one of you can leave at any time, and according to statistics and divorce rates, it’s more likely than not that you’ll break up. I’ve pulled the rug from underneath people and ended relationships suddenly. I often worry that because of that, any day now, it could happen to me. And if that does happen, I'll be even further away from that goal of sleepless nights.
But that’s how life works. We roll the dice and make big and little decisions all the time that determine the course of our lives. I almost didn’t reply to my current partner’s Hinge messages; how big that small decision seems now. Finding someone is hard, but you have even less control once you do find them. Their presence in your life feels precious and like it can slip through your fingers at any moment. Perhaps alongside risk, fear is another inescapable part of life. When people put their partners down in public, what I hear is a scared person saying – Please, don’t you dare leave me.
When you meet someone, the credits don’t roll. The atmosphere our lives feels more like a casino in Las Vegas than a Disney film. The game never ends, the casino never closes and the risk never declines. We have no control or certainty over the outcome. It’s frustrating, heart-wrenching and incredibly painful to accept the truth, but I have no choice. I have to feel the fear and see what happens. I’m living my life like a player in the casino, and that’s just how it is.
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