Something a co-worker of mine said the other day spurred a debate within my mind. At the time, she has been relaying a story to me about why she was frustrated with a fellow co-worker of ours, a Slovakian guy that had made it clear that he was interested in pursuing a relationship with her, despite the fact that he was leaving the country within a week. It was bizarre, but relatable—it seems as if every female (and perhaps every male, too) has had an unwanted admirer at one time or another. I felt sorry for her; she had never led him on or given him any reason to believe that a relationship would be possible. They had never even gone on a date, let alone hung out alone together. By that point, nothing in her tale was unusual, but then she made a statement that made me rethink what I thought I already understood to be the “norm”—and unfair one, at that. She (the single, nearly 25 year old female and mother of a 9 month old) casually mentioned how her admirer (the 23 year old Slovak kid) wanted to return to the U.S. and specifically, to the small western town in which we resided, AND that he wanted a family, which she already had. Hmmm, I thought. She never skipped a beat alluding to the fact that he wanted a family and that she “already had one.” It seemed highly unlikely that a 23 year old male would be interested in coming back to the country for a woman with a child with whom he had never even had a chance “courting.” However, I don’t think this ever occurred to her. I was thinking about how someone would take advantage of such a situation to gain a green card. I know of foreigners (and have friends who have done this) attempting or succeeding to do that, but perhaps in this case, it was different.
This brought about an entirely different query I wanted to explore further: was it a complete misconception that dating as a single female with a child(ren) is more complex than dating when childless? Hell, I find dating to be a struggle minus children, but from what I’ve heard from my sister-in-law, cousin, and numerous friends, it’s even tougher to seek a relationship when you’ve already created a family. It’s not a mystery to understand why this would be so—when you have a child, your life should revolve around them (not completely, but most parents become a lot less selfish than they were when they were childless) and therefore, when you make decisions in life, you’re not only considering how those choices will affect you, but your offspring as well. I imagine that if I had a child and I was a single parent, that I would be cautious about whom I brought into my life. Would I want temporary partners to come in and maybe even play parental roles at times in the lives of my children? I can’t believe that I would ever feel the need to have senseless flings; I would probably crave something more permanent—reliable and healthy. However, going back to my co-worker: she doesn’t seem to have any problem attracting potential mates, but I question the quality of these relationships. Was this why dating wasn’t any more complicated in her case as it was her back when she didn’t have a child?
This also made me question dating and the single life versus the married life in the state of Wyoming. Ever since I first became truly acquainted with Wyoming when I was thirteen years old and moved with my family to a tiny town in the southwestern part of the state, I knew that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, or rather, New York, from which I hail. I heard an accent (yes, as much as Wyomingites beg to differ, they DO have an accent—it’s kind of like a southern twang mixed with a Midwestern drawl) and I immediately made a conscious effort to avoid acquiring one over the subsequent five years residing there. I also realized that cowboys still exist, and that they wear very tight jeans (Wranglers), and sadly, they don’t resemble John Wayne [RIP Marion]. It was a strange new world for me: one where there were only three radio stations (country, NPR, and a religious station), horses outnumbered people, and mountains seemed to be looming everywhere in the distance. Among these major differences, was the mindset about getting hitched at a young age, and because of that, I’m very grateful that I had thirteen years of living in New York to set me straight on how to approach that topic.
It never occurred to me that someone would put a ring on it (the “it” being me)—thanks, Beyonce—in high school, directly after high school, during college, or immediately post-college. I saw no rush and I still don’t, and in fact, if I never walk down the aisle, that’s okay too. For me, marriage isn’t the goal I’ve got my heart set on currently. I would like to spend a good portion of my life with a significant other, but I don’t believe in settling or giving up dreams in order to do what far too many people expect me to do—get married, reproduce, live in a big house, have a million televisions, and remain within the “safety” of my own country, maybe taking a two week vacation each year to somewhere like the Bahamas or Hawaii. This is the simplified version of the latest “American Dream,” but it’s not my dream.
The people possibly living that dream are some of my former high school classmates. Since returning to the United States after teaching English for my second year in South Korea and then traveling solo around Southeast Asia for two months, I’ve been here and there—road tripping with friends (former fellow teachers in Korea) to California, visiting an old flame in Texas for the 4th of July, catching up with friends and family in Wyoming, Missouri, and New York, and basically living on my savings, enjoying the life of a singleton recuperating from life abroad (it’s fantastic, but you really do have to readjust to life in your home country once you’ve been gone for an extended period of time). However, reality set in and as I watched the numbers in my bank account decrease, I decided to stay put for a while and began waiting tables at the restaurant where I worked for a couple months between my teaching gigs overseas.
To be honest, it digs into your self-esteem to take on a serving job after having had such an amazing experience living in a country very different from your own. In Korea, I rarely worried about money, I ate out with my friends on a regular basis, I was able to travel to other countries during my vacation time, and I didn’t have to pay rent. I refer to Korea as “La La Land” because my dad always told me when I was growing up that I lived in “La La Land.” Little did he know that I would truly live there one day, or that this wonderful lifestyle could be found in Asia. Coming to America (as Eddie Murphy and I both discovered) can be a real trip. Never did I plan on returning to the small western town which I had completely loathed during my younger years. After that first year overseas, I took the serving job reluctantly, feeling like a failure living with my parents and doing something I vowed never to do again after serving at Crackhead Barrel (Cracker Barrel) during my sophomore year of college. However, this time around, I didn’t see it as something shameful, and even when I wait on my former classmates, I could care less if they make any judgments about why I’m back in town or why I’m working at a restaurant. I know it’s crossed the minds of some of the people I used to know because I had a former teacher come into the restaurant one day. He had been my favorite English teacher (and possibly influenced me to major in English) and he recognized me, although I assume that most people do not. He questioned me about how school was going, regardless of the fact that it was late August and had I been in school still, I wouldn’t have been working in that small college-less town. I replied that I had graduated four years ago and he asked me some more questions about what I had been up to and I’m sure that I saw surprise and relief on his face when I told him that I wasn’t a failure. It had felt like his initial question had been asked in the hopes of motivating me to stop waitressing and to head back to college. Thankfully, I didn’t disappoint him.
Another girl, a few years younger than me, asked me what I had been up to and she had seemed pleasantly surprised that I had spent my early to mid-twenties seeing the world. Why should this be so shocking, you wonder? That’s what I wondered too, but then again, I spent my high school years in Wyoming, so it made complete sense to me. And finally, this goes back to my original quandary that presents a whole new one: what is the goal for a Wyoming resident in regards to marriage and children? Another girl I work with once told me that she had been engaged in high school. She’s now 20 years old and the other day, her former fiancé came into the restaurant with his wife and their infant in tow. The girl sat across from me as we rolled silverware. She appeared to be frustrated. Old love dies slowly, if ever, in some instances. I glanced across at the little family and blatantly told her that she had dodged a bullet—and I literally said that, so correction: “Girl, you dodged a bullet.” She laughed, perhaps a little too loudly, maybe trying to capture the guy’s attention and I wanted to shake my head in disgust, but instead, I decided to dig for information, to gain some enlightenment into the psyche of a born and bred Wyoming girl desperately searching for love in all the wrong places. “Why did you get engaged in high school?” I asked her without trying to conceal my puzzlement. She had no answer for this. I was looking for her to admit to being young and foolish or to confide in me that she had truly loved that boy and that there had been something special between the two of them. She then said that she would still be there for him if ever he needed anything. Awww, how sweet, my brain wanted to vomit out in a flood of sarcasm. But I toned it down and asked her in my typical, point blank fashion, “Would he be there for you if you ever needed him?” No, was her reply, and that was the end of our conversation. That’s why I make a terrible girl sometimes. I don’t understand several things: why you would want someone to be a part of your life who’s a piece of shit (oh by the way, this guy had been cheating on her with his now-wife all throughout their high school rendezvous) and why so many women (and apparently Wyoming men) are obsessed with finding a spouse and then popping out children like they’re turds. So many shit references, oh well. Maybe that just about sums it up—I don’t understand shit.
Once I was away at college, only three and a half hours from the small Wyoming town in which I had lived for an agonizing five years, it felt like an entirely different world. And go figure, I was living in Salt Lake City, Utah, known if for nothing else, Mormons and snow. Yet, I felt alive and I quickly found people that possessed larger goals that didn’t involve wearing rings on their left hands or stretching out their vaginas. However, although I was gone, I still heard stories of what my former classmates had gotten up to occasionally and most of what they had accomplished consisted of the aforementioned activities that my friends and I at college found inconceivable. Nowadays, I see my old peers come in with their children. It’s like seeing a very eerie alternate reality for yourself. I could be that woman sporting the full-figured body of someone who works at the local auto repair shop and has given birth to three children within the last five years. I remember back when that girl was voted “Most Likely to Be Famous” and when she had no breasts, no ass, and no stomach. And at 26 years old, she’s already on her second marriage. Apparently the first marriage with her high school sweetheart didn’t work out.
It would be interesting to see how she perceives me and I wonder if we both lack any envy for each other’s lives. It could be that she pities me for being single, not having kids, and working a menial serving job. But then again, the glimpse I have into her life may be as inaccurate as the one she has into mine. Regardless, there’s no right or wrong way to approach marriage and reproduction, but it’s very interesting how acceptable it is for Wyoming men and women to establish themselves as “adults,” presumably by entering into these relationships. It seems as if all the women with whom I work are looking to find someone to love, which is admirable, but it seems mindless. What do they really want for themselves, I wonder? What will being married at 21 provide them with in the future?
I graduated from high school with a class of 51 students. Out of those 51, I had learned that at least ten had gotten married and/or had children by my sophomore year of college. Now, I would guess that over half are living the married with kids life. To my credit, I’ve never been disillusioned about marriage or sex. In regards to marriage, I don’t think it’s something in which to be entered into lightly. It takes a lot of work—there are ups and downs. And as for sex, it never crossed my mind that I should wait until marriage to find out what it was all about. Premarital sex seemed practical—I never recall a moment (even as a pre-teen) when I thought about waiting to dive into the crazy world of sex—but I did wait until I was eighteen to find the right foreigner (a 25 year old Brazilian) to take my V-Card. Hey, I had very few options in a town with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants!
So, what’s the draw for these western folk? Why do they race into marriage and divorce and child-birthing so quickly? And aren’t the men at least not supposed to have that baby batter on the brain? What’s with the chase for the ring exchange?
When people used to ask me if I was married (in Korea or the USA), I would say with disgust, “Uh no, I’m too young to be married.” But now I fear that I’m just at an absurd age to be saying that I’m too young to be betrothed to someone. I do still say it in Wyoming though because it amuses me and confuses the questioner who typically follows up with “how old are you?” When I say 26, as expected, I receive an odd stare and I’m going to start using this as an explanation for lack of a diamond ring (or whatever the hell kind of ring you’re supposed to get): “I have goals, not children.”
I realize that I sound like I’m heading down Future Old Hag Lane, but in reality, I adore children, I hope to have some of my own someday and/or adopt, and I would like to spend my life with a significant other down the road. Currently though, my life of wanderlust suits me just fine. Children, dogs, husbands—they all demand attention, money, and love. I have all of that to give (except maybe money), but that’s not where my interest lies and it would be unfair to expect others to be able to accept that. If or when I traverse down that path, I would like to be able to fully commit to that lifestyle. I would desire to enhance the lives of those around me, as I do now with my friends and family, but at the moment, I’m not the person I want and need to be to fulfill that goal. Marriage and kids can wait, but the world, well, that’s more than welcome to enter into my life.