When we were in our twenties and we looked at those boring married folks, we swore on pain of death that we wouldn’t become like them. You know the ones … those older couples who leave dinner parties at 10 p.m. like clockwork to climb into bed so that they can get up early enough to watch their kids play soccer. Not us, you promised. We will stay hip and happening; we’ll be out there living our dreams, having hot sex and singing in our knickers till the sun comes up.
And then one night, just as the rest of the partygoers are opening up the third bottle for Jägerbombs, you find yourself standing up and sheepishly saying your farewells: ‘We’ve got to catch an early night,’ you hear yourself say. ‘Mikey’s got a rehearsal for the school fashion show at an ungodly hour.’ Or: ‘Oops, will you take a look at the time? The babysitter charges double after ten.’
It was seamless, scary and so little fun becoming part of The Par-ental Set.
It feels like a lifetime ago when it was just you and your man, and life was crazily adventurous. You were partying into the wee hours, waking late on the weekends, sleeping in. Great dates, great laughs and hot sex, until … your first kid. The first one just kind of happened, and while you were still reeling with the shock of its arrival, the second one slipped out.
Two seconds into being a parent and there were no more dates, no more naughty laughs, and the last time you had sex was after six glasses of sangria at the primary school’s Italian evening. And you’re not all that sure it was with your husband anyway. Sure, you love the pesky little critters, but it’s not them you’re worried about … it’s your relationship. The Grand Old Love Affair is over. You share more intimacy with your IUD than with your husband; you have better conversations with your pedicurist; and, at the end of the day, your kids are far more fun than your man.
What’s worse is that you don’t even have the time to care if he’s just not that into you any more, not when you’re doing the 5 a.m. lift for swimming training in a terrycloth robe with an eye mask stuck to your hairline. In fact, a whole lot of the time you’re not that into him either.
How did it go so wrong?
A thousand years ago, life was pretty darn simple. We spent the day scratching for berries, foraging for grubs and dodging predators. There was no set time for eating, so we just sort of snacked on the run, eating what we could find, which was fabulous for our metabolism. We were active, deliciously slender, tanned and toned. Not that we worried too much about these matters, because there were no mirrors. No mirrors, no traffic, no media, no lawyers, no school. Just sabre-toothed tigers.
At about age thirteen, in our lush prime, we caught the eye of a male of breeding age and humped like carefree bunnies. Every year, we popped out another little tyke, because the rhythm method hadn’t quite found its groove yet (besides which, high numbers raised our chances of survival). A decade later, we were still tanned and toned from all that running and squatting, and our ten kids were all grown up. Finally, if we hadn’t been offed by a bear or bacteria or childbirth, we took our place as a respected elder of the clan.
Yup, it was a short but simple and stress-free life.
But then we went and progressed. We got clever, and it got us every-where. Just look how far being clever has got us as women. It got us the vote, jobs, equality, money and mayhem. We outsourced the darn awful task of discussing birth control with a sixteen-year-old, and got out of the house and into silk stockings and business-class travel. Being clever got us good schools, good help, double incomes, good divorce lawyers and tranquillisers to calm our crazed minds.
I want a boho family like India Hicks
A very interesting thing has been happening over the last half-century. Not only have men and women been fighting for power, money, equality … something far more fundamental has been going on: both sexes have been exploring what it means to be a person – not just a man or a woman – in a relationship. Men have been delving into the feminine, emotional, sensitive sides of their nature, while we women went exploring. We did yoga. We stopped eating wheat. We started to find out what it means to live. To control our own destinies. To assert ourselves. To earn bigger salaries. To wear the jean pants.
Then, like little lovebirds let outside during a cage-clean, we started to realise that if a relationship didn’t work, we could actually leave. Now this was something of a radical departure. In general, women of an earlier generation never really seriously considered this option.
We no longer had to wait until our late fifties, when all the kids had left home, to get a Dear Jane letter informing us that our balding and potbellied husband was leaving us for the buck-toothed chess-club secretary we both used to call ‘beaver face’. No, an amazing thing happened. Suddenly, we women realised we could take the kids and support ourselves. We didn’t need our husbands’ money to be a parent. We didn’t need men to make a family.
The nineties ushered in the era of The Single Mom, and with it came the total demise of the nuclear family.
Never mind the seven-year itch; we were moving so fast we were down to four, and it wasn’t the men doing the itching. Relationships were the new latex gloves; wear them until the germs find a gap and then ditch them for another pair. Single-mom status was X-rated. Kate Moss was bonking on a beach in Borneo and she was a single mom, damn it. Sadie Frost, Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie, Pamela Anderson – all flying the banner for liberated foxes everywhere. Jeez, even Andrew and Fergie were in on the trend, preferring to raise their toothy tots in a ‘co-parenting relationship’.
By the late nineties, an interesting pattern had emerged. Couples were no longer getting divorced. They didn’t need to. They were simply no longer bothering to get married. Down with The Family!
We have watched the death of the nuclear family. We have lived through it. It’s gone. Over. Goodbye. Auf wiedersehen and goodnight.
Has being able to leave a relationship to become a smoking-hot singleton worked for us?
So, you trade in the German banker for the Italian industrial designer and your entire life falls into place, right? Oh heavens, that would really be the answer. But a whole lot of the time, it simply isn’t.
Many women meet someone else, go through all the courting and romance again – and a few years later find themselves, uncannily, in the exact same place they were in in their previous relationship. They end up in another partnership where the same issues crop up, especially when kids arrive on the scene. New relationship, new person, same problems.
I quit my job as a mother and became a Zen Buddhist nun
So, here we are with all this personal enlightenment. We don’t want to lose our identities. We’re making money. We’re doing yoga. We’re living our dreams. We’re watching Oprah. And yet, quite strangely, we don’t have the tools to make our relationships work. So, in our quest for self-fulfilment, leaving seems far easier than making a go of it. Because we can. And we do.
Well, this is a call to action. Who says you can’t have fun and have kids?
Throw away the rule book, girls! Romance 101 is going to help you find a way to make your relationship rock again. Whoever said the sex has to stop forever? Who told you that you have to act like a grown-up once you have kids? Whoever said families weren’t fun?
This book isn’t going to tell you to leave. No way. But it may introduce some pretty crazy ideas about how you can stay.