Those who find their partner with relative ease or conceive their child on the first or second try, probably wouldn't describe these life events as difficult or a roller coaster. But for those on the other end of the statistics, the ones who put themselves out there and try Internet dating and allow themselves to be set up by their Great Aunt Jane or the ones who turn to assisted conception or adoption to build their families after years of disappointments, wouldn't wish this time period on their worst enemy.
I was speaking about this with my cousin last weekend: dating sucks. Anyone who is stressed out about never having a first kiss again needs to take a step back and remember all of the horrible things about dating that they're blocking out of their mind. Yes, there is the excitement of a first date and those nights where you don't sleep, trying to find out everything about each other. And that certainly is more interesting than the day-to-day life of picking dirty socks off the floor. But there's also the anxiety--why isn't the other person calling and what did they mean by that and do they really like me and will I have to go alone to my friend's wedding in June?
It's a little bit like how we long to be back in college. Yes, you want to be young again and relive those college years, but would you really want to be apply for college right now? Because that is part of the experience too. The filling out of forms and stressing about the SATs and waiting by the mailbox for a letter. And even once you got to college, it wasn't always pulling all-nighters with your friends around a half-eaten box of Gumby's Pizza Pokey Stixes. It was about arguing with a professor and receiving a C for all of your hard work and stressing about what you wanted to be when you grew up.
The infertility world often debates this analogy and it's interesting because sometimes, the two situations intersect: because a person didn't find their partner until later in life, they waited to try to conceive until later in life and their infertility may or may not be attributed to age (just to be clear, infertility in your 40s may be a condition of age OR it may be caused by a situation that has always existed but since fertility wasn't tested until later, wasn't discovered until later). I imagine it can be salt in a very open wound to have experienced the waiting and difficulties of a long road to partnership only to be met with the waiting and difficulties of a long road to parenthood.
One of the most interesting posts I've ever read on the topic came from Teendoc at Welcome to the Dollhouse. She writes of both sides, first an exchange she had with a fellow blogger who tells her that singledom (when one wishes for a partner) is not like infertility because love can happen at any age--there can always be hope that love is around the corner since it holds no limits unlike reaching parenthood. Teendoc responds with an interesting point:
Yet going back to the original theme of this post, I have lived both lonely singledom and infertility. I’ve been to hell in both arenas and I wouldn’t wish either of these states on my worst enemy. However, from where I sit, I completely disagree with the blogger I quoted. For me, infertility was not worse that 2 decades of being single and lonely. Why? Because I had my love, my partner, my husband to travel the infertility road with me. His presence soothed my heart in ways that I cannot begin to explain.What kicked off this long thought about the connection between infertility and coupledom? An internal question about whether it is polite to ask after a single person's love life. Is it polite or rude--caring or hurtful--to ask a friend if they're currently dating someone? I can only speak for the infertility side and say that when you are trying and failing to conceive, it can be salt in the wound to be constantly asked at family gatherings or when catching up with friends when you plan on having children. Do you admit that you've been trying and failing? Do you lie? Do you blow off the question entirely by changing the subject? Do you burst into loud, gasping sobs?
So what is the point of all this writing? Well, while we are still caught up in the pain, frustration and loss of infertility, and want others to be sensitive to our feelings and needs, we must remember that others can be living their own personal versions of hell that are equally important to them. We cannot decide that our pain is greater than another’s pain. Pain is pain. The distress it causes must be respected and not judged.
Is it equally hurtful to ask someone single if they're dating someone? Does it show an interest in all aspects of their life or is it simply poking at a sore spot to constantly be asked the same question? And are the two situation similar--asking about family building vs. asking about dating?