NYT Op-Doc: “35 and Single” by PAULA SCHARGORODSKY
Watch in full here: http://nyti.ms/18y6gnS
I’m 35, Argentine, Jewish and single… In your 20s you are free to do whatever you want–have boyfriends, lovers, one-night stands, work, study–just like men. But female freedom has an expiration date. When you turn 30, a conservative curtain falls. At every social gathering you are confronted with one silent question: ‘When will you settle down?'”
— PAULA SCHARGORODSKY
I’m still new to the world of film and op-docs, but I loved this one. The candidacy and honesty, as well as the cinematography (the beautiful shifting scenes, the untidy apartment, the city lights, the narrative landscapes pregnant and vibrant with memories), struck me, moved me, and as I walk this life with many beloved girlfriends who are still searching (like me)–either for themselves or a life that suits them–I feel that weight and the pressures of “settling down.”
Although, I have to be honest. I have an exception clause: I’m a military spouse, I’m a 25-year-old married dalaga without children, I’m a writer. I’m experiencing it in a very different light, for sure. Yet, I still receive the same sideway glances. They’re nuanced and varied, and come from different lenses and ideas and concepts and expectations from folks. And it always starts with my age.
Today, at the hair salon (I gone got my hair did for my husband! I’m traveling to hopefully see him this holiday season. Jokes aside, and to be completely honest, I spent $108 on my hair mostly for myself), the stylist asked what occasion it was for and I told her. She said: “Oh, you’re married? [Insert: aren’t you a little too young to be married?] How long have you been married?” “Three years,” I answered. And then I got it: that look.
I knew that look. I receive it constantly, with the same mood and tone, and even got it the week before–when I sat down at a table with my husband’s older brother, his wife, and his friends (and their wives), in a random restaurant in San Francisco. They asked me: “So, your husband’s in the Navy? How long have you been married? Three years? Really? How old are you? You must have been…”
He trailed off and never finished his sentence.
The age-ism gets to me on certain days. That day, I didn’t care. Today, it did. It just ebbs and flows. At the hair salon, I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I could have said my usual defense: we’ve been together 11 years; we’re middle school sweethearts. We eloped. We eloped mainly because of the multitude of societal pressures and judgments from family, and we’re still dealing with the ramifications. But I don’t regret marrying him one bit. I don’t regret how we did it–I regret the feelings we hurt and the pain we’ve all felt–both sides, us and them.
But back to my main reason in starting this blog post (and I wrote this because I want to get back into practice of blogging, to get back to being hella consistent):
We are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” ― Gloria Steinem
This was one of the comments in the NYT Op-Doc, and it hit me. It hit me hard. In a good way. Because, after years of being with my husband, I finally realized how to become the woman I want to be, to (for once) feel comfortable and happy in my own skin. It took me years to get there. And in some ways, it took this relationship: its absences and its presence.
I’m lucky to have met the love of my life at such a young age. I’m lucky that the man I love is a feminist, a theologist, a nuclear operator studying mechanical engineering, a U.S. sailor, an activist, a liberal, a non-conformist, a rebel, a man who has been politicized after he has experienced the sheer imperialization of militarism and nationalism, and above all, I’m lucky to be living this life with someone who wants to, head first, dive into change, constant change, someone who wants to change with me, and change for the better. Someone who wants to question life as I do, someone who wants to live life–in every bit and every ounce–as I am. I am lucky that I have felt loss with Josh. I am lucky that we have hurt, forgave, and fought for each other each and every day. And even if things fall apart down this long road, I know I am lucky to have loved and be loved, to continue to love, and in all honesty, I know I will always love him. I don’t care that I am 25. That in the past two years of our three-year marriage, we have been separated more than we have been together. I am lucky to be this independent. That in this time apart, I have learned to become my own man–the man that I want to be married to, and at the same time, I am lucky to have married that man.
And yet, despite the fact that I am “settled down,” i.e. “married,” I still get that question: when would you like to settle down? Like today, at the hair salon. The stylist continued: “So, do you want kids? When do you plan on having them?” I said: “Yes, I do. Maybe one. Or two. Maybe when I’m 35 or 36 or even older.” And then something small shifted–another sideway glance from my dear stylist. Another insert here: [isn’t that a little old?]
I don’t know when I’ll have children. All I know is that I want children. Truly. I know I’ll want one after I’ve birthed my first book. I know I’ll want to take a break from writing so that I can be fully present as my child grows up and becomes their own person. I know I’m not that kind of writer who could produce and produce and produce–it takes me years to birth a short story; it will take me even more to birth a novel.
These pressures that we put on women, they are incessant. And they come from everywhere.
The comment sections of this beautiful Op-Doc is filled with men (and women) belittling Paula for being “self-centered and selfish.” There is so much that a woman must fight for and give up in order to live a life that is truly abundant. Even when my husband took my last name, and as I took his, there were contentions not from the men in his family, but from the women. There were whispers: but I was so excited to change my last name, to take my husband’s name. It just isn’t biblical. It just isn’t what our family has done. Another insert here: [we just feel like you’re taking him away from us.]
I just wish things were a bit easier. I wish we–a broad “we”–could accept how different we all are, how separate and equal and beautiful we are, how we all will come to our own terms and paths in the varied ways we come to them. I’ve had one great, impassioned love in my life, and I intend to hold it closer to me day after day after day. Paula has had many, and each of them were hers, truly and fully.
Now, I have two great loves: my husband and my writing. I know one day I will have three: my husband, my children, and my writing. I will live my life how I ought to live it. But honest to God, I will never, ever settle. I will never settle down. Life, to me, is too great a thing to live than to settle down.
And I know my children, like my niece and nephew, will make life too crazy to even think about “settling down.”