I somehow always knew that marriage and partnership weren't going to be for me.
Even as a young person, I was socially awkward, a bit weird, and not very popular. I wanted to fit in but never quite managed to, and I never wanted it badly enough to pretend to be something I wasn't. I was bookish, small, very uncool, and my cringe-inducing "tween-ness" seemed to persist for much longer than it did for my peers. Whilst my classmates were reading Dolly magazine and sticking posters to their locker doors with blu-tak, I was writing short stories, listening to Alanis Morissette and wearing really bad two-piece knit sets that my mum had picked out for me. Not to mention, the horrible 90s wire-framed glasses (think early Prime-Ministerial John Howard) and the worst bowl cut hair. I think I might have been as young at 15 when I first declared to my mum that if I didn't meet the "right guy", I would have a baby on my own.
My social awkwardness stayed with me into adulthood. I was never cool. I always seemed to attract attention from the wrong sorts of guys. Even my first boyfriend (when I was 19) once joked that I was "one of those pretty girls who doesn't think she's pretty, so it's easy for people like me to hit on them".
The most influential romantic partnership of my life was an unmitigated failure. In many ways, those five years were the happiest of my life. In others, they were the worst and the fallout when it ended changed my life forever.
I met B just after I turned 26, in 2010. We met at a summer music festival. I was there alone. He was there with his brother. I was waiting for an act to come on stage and out of the corner of my eye I noticed him looking at me. Instantly I thought I must have had mud on my face or something and became very self conscious. He came up to me and said hello. Turns out I didn't have mud on my face. We talked and discovered we were there to see all of the same artists and we spent the rest of the day together. He told me that he was separated from his wife and they were getting a divorce. He worked in finance and liked to dj. I had just started a job as a legal secretary at a law firm, but still liked to sing here and there in different soul bands around Melbourne. We talked about the music we liked. After that day we started dating and it was serious from the get-go. We got along amazingly. We clicked. We got each other. When I was with him I felt like I had a partner, in the truest sense. Like everything was right in the world.
We went on weekends away to Daylesford and Phillip Island. Trips to Hawaii, Philadelphia, New York, Mexico, the Caribbean. We moved in together. Nights curled up on the couch with pizza and movies. We hosted barbecues and parties at our apartment for our friends. He still liked to go out drinking, though. I mostly stayed home on those nights. Eventually, every weekend he would come home at 3am, 4am, 7am, 10am, smelling like a brewery. I didn't like it but when I raised it he told me that it wasn't going to change and I should get used to it. So I stopped bringing it up, resigned to the fact that I would have to accept it. After we moved in together, he told me that he wanted me to have dinner on the table when he got home from work each day. Like him, I was working full time, had recently been promoted at work to a paralegal role, and was studying part time so I didn't have much energy or time to spare. But he wanted it, so I did it. I was devoted to him. Some nights when he went out partying he would come home and head straight for the shower before coming to kiss me hello. I knew then. But I didn't have any proof. And I wasn't going to be one of those crazy paranoid girlfriends. I brushed it aside.
It wasn't as if every single one of these red flags and issues had existed from the beginning. They revealed themselves gradually, over time. I think the more hooked he knew I was, the more free he felt to act up and dictate the terms of the relationship to me, no matter how unreasonable they would seem to an outsider, or how unreasonable they would have seemed to me had he shown his true nature when we first met. Like a frog in a pot, by the time I realised the water was boiling it was too late.
In July 2014, when I was 30, he went on a trip back home to Kenya to visit his mother for a month. It wasn't the first time we had been apart for a prolonged period. In 2012 he had been sent on a secondment to his company's office in Philadelphia for two months. It was hard being apart from him for that long, but I felt it was also important that we both had the freedom to grow and develop as our own separate people as well. Besides, I was used to being on my own really, given that he spent most weekends out with his friends.
When he came back from Kenya, we settled back into our comfortable little lives in our apartment. One weekend not long after he returned, he went out as he always did to party with his friends. He got in at about 6am the next morning. I woke up at around 9am and got up to make myself a cup of tea. His keys, phone, and various other things were strewn about the floor of the apartment. I remember thinking that he must have been really drunk when he got in. I set to picking all of his things up and tidying the place before I went to put the kettle on.
As I bent down to pick up his phone, a message popped up on the screen. It was from a girl. Talking about how she hasn't heard from him much since he left. I froze. My heart managed to simultaneously sink into the pit of my stomach, and rise up and get caught in my throat. I felt sick. My heart pounded and I started to shake. Usually he kept his phone locked with a passcode, but I found myself wondering if he still had it locked given that he'd been away. I swiped the screen to see if it would open. It did.
I didn't read everything, but I read enough to know that he had started up an affair with his high school girlfriend whilst he had been home visiting his mum. My worst fears about our relationship were realised. And just like that, my whole world came crashing down around my feet.
I confronted him. He didn't even say very much really. He stared straight ahead. I told him that if we were to stay together, that I was going to need us to go to counselling; that he would have to cut off all contact with that girl; that he needed to delete all of her messages. I told him that the task of arranging the counselling sessions was on him. I waited.
He was just about to start the MBA program he had been accepted into. He was stressed and busy. Every few days I asked him if he had booked the counselling appointments for us. He hadn't. One day when I asked, he said that he hadn't had the time and that I was just going to have to "deal with it". The tight little ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach grew.
After a few weeks, one night when he was out with his friends again, I was at home working on an assignment on my laptop. For the past couple of years I had been studying an advanced diploma of legal practice to help me further my career at the firm I worked at. I was in the middle of writing an essay when my laptop cable stopped working. I knew B kept a spare in his dj bag so I walked into his study to get it.
I unzipped the bag and was confronted with the sight of handfuls of packets of condoms. In that moment - and call me slow, if you like, because I was - I knew that it was done. It was no longer something that could be fixed. Some things can't be unbroken.
Two days later I moved out and set about the task of extricating myself from "us". It was like trying to unravel a Persian rug. After so many years, our lives were so irretrievably woven together that trying to work out which threads still belonged to me and which belonged to the relationship, and to him, was exhausting and devastating. My sense of self was almost non-existent. I was completely defeated and broken. I clutched at what threads I had managed to salvage and wondered, "what am I even to do with these?"
I did get into another relationship a few months after B and I separated. In hindsight, it's obvious that it was too soon and it was bound to fail. J and I were together for about a year and a half. He owned a music shop and played guitar. I had met him about a decade before we started dating; he was a friend of a friend, and one day we got to talking on Facebook and decided to meet up. We had been through similar experiences of being let down by romantic partners in the past. He told me about how his business was struggling, and I offered to use my legal skills to help him bring a case to Court that would save his shop. Our relationship got serious quickly, and before long our families had met and we were engaged.
It soon proved to be a mistake. As soon as he thought I was "locked in", his behaviour started to change. He became completely controlling and jealous (even going so far as to be jealous of my dog) and I knew pretty quickly that I could not marry this man. I broke it off feeling horrible about the effect it was going to have on him. I'll never forget the sound of him literally screaming abuse at me when I ended it (apparently I was a "gold digging whore", "honey-mouthed bitch" and a "liar". I thought that a man had to actually have money in order for his woman to be a gold-digger, but apparently I was wrong). Wracked with guilt, I found myself back again wallowing over the end of another relationship. Of course, I now know that not going through with the marriage was the smartest thing I could have done, and in hindsight his sad stories about previous girlfriends who had "left all of a sudden" and broken his heart made complete sense.
In the years that followed I slowly set about the task of putting myself back together. I took up yoga and burlesque dancing, I learned French, spent lots of money at bookdepository.com, I finished my studies, I travelled. I dated here and there, but the advent of dating apps left me even less inclined to want to try. It is truly a meat market. People spend hours of their lives trawling, swiping, gauging the compatibility of a potential partner based purely off a single profile picture. Honestly, I'd rather be reading a book. It's all so impersonal and so meaningless. The profiles are all the same. The conversations are all the same. "Here's a picture of me with a fish or crustacean that I caught!" (I don't eat animals, so that is never going to impress me, cave-boy). "Here's a topless photo I took at the gym! Look at my muscles." "Here's a photo of me with a bunch of other girls whose faces I've blurred out. Would you like to be one of them?" "I enjoy wine!" (of course you do, idiot, it's wine!). Hookups have replaced meaningful connections. We all message each other little bytes of token conversations instead of really communicating. No one approaches anyone when they're out in public anymore - it's too scary without a screen to mediate the process for us. Mostly I have preferred not to beat my head against my iPhone, and am content to simply be single.
B still messages me almost weekly. We are at least on friendly terms, but I wouldn't go so far as to say we are friends. He moved to London a couple of years ago, and he regularly contacts me to ask me to go over there to be with him. His regret and cluelessness seem to have blinded him to the reality that he has a snowball's chance in hell of getting me back, even if he was the love of my life.
In six months, I will be 35. Over the years during which I have been single, I have maintained to friends and family that if the right fellow didn't come along, I would use assisted fertility treatments and donor sperm to allow me to have a child on my own (and who are we kidding, the idea of the "right fellow" is honestly something we have made up; a charming lie). Of course I always hoped that a wonderful man would land in my life and we would be happy and have a family together, but that has not happened, and I'm not going to waste time feeling bad about it.
I also now look back and realise that if I had had a child with either of the two men I have talked about, I would have been looking after two children, not just the one I had given birth to. Both of these men not only relied on me completely (emotionally and practically), but expected the kind of support and servitude from me that I wouldn't have dreamed of asking of them. Sadly, women are still conditioned by society to take on the role of nurturer, and many men still expect it. In heterosexual relationships where men rely on their own learned helplessness in order to have a woman wait on them, having a baby with such a man is only likely to be a hindrance to the woman rather than being any sort of help.
So it is with these experiences and realisations in mind that I am embarking on the journey of conceiving and raising a baby alone. Yes, I will be doing it on a single woman's salary and will be eating toast for dinner for the next year or so in order to be able to afford it - and lucky us, we're already earning 70% of what a man earns for the same jobs.
Out at lunch with my boss recently, he asked me what I would do if I met a man after I've already had the baby. He himself is a single father, so I just explained to him that if someone comes along, they have to understand that my child and I come as a package - if he's not okay with that, then he's not the man for me anyway.
As it stands, at least I will be doing it all on my own terms. No one will have any reason to be jealous of the attention the baby is taking away from them. No one will get mad at me for not having dinner on the table when they get home. No one will be out cheating on me whilst I rock our baby to sleep. No one will expect sex from me when I am exhausted and dealing with cluster feeding. I won't have a second person's salary to help me (with either the exorbitant medical fees, or with actually raising the child), but no man will be giving me headaches either. And if you're me, that's something worth going it alone for.