The underground system in London has never been known for its comfortable environment and today was no exception. After a three hour delay, a five hour flight, with severe panda eyes and having eaten only a tomato and cheese toasted croissant washed down with a latte, here I was, finally on the tube, anxious to arrive at that wondrous place which turns all the more elusive with each passing busy moment – home.
I found myself sandwiched between a young, Asian girl and a tall, Mediterranean man who couldn’t stop staring at my chest. Nice.
I decided I was in no fit mood for a stare off between myself and Mr.Chest gazer so instead, I turned to face the young girl who promptly flashed me a pretty, could’ve – been – ten years old, smile.
I smiled back.
”What’s your name?” The could’ve – been – ten years old girl asked me.
”Maria. What’s yours?”
”Wow, that’s a pretty name. Where is it from?”
”Sri Lanka. That’s where my parents are from” (This kid was smart, she was pre-empting my questions).
From there, we exchanged thoughts about our respective books and I found myself in the unfamiliar territory of actually having an intellectual conversation with someone who was probably crawling on her knees around the same time Monica Lewinsky was.
”How old are you?”
I gulped. ”Thirty”.
Then came the question that is usually reserved for middle aged aunties, who haven’t seen me in decades.
”Are you married?” (I was beginning to feel that she could’ve now been fifty years old).
”No. Are you?” (Hey, to me, the idea of being married at 30 was on a ridiculous par with being married at ten years old).
The young girl offered a final, faint smile and returned fervently to her book, ceasing to mussitate another word to me the entire journey.
So that was it then.
Even to a kid who could’ve been ten years old, I was an aberration; an anomalous being to be ignored. Exchanging words with me was now clearly nothing but a moment of ruefulness, all because I did not fulfill the stereotypical description of a broody, doting wife.
How global is this notion exactly, that women need to be married by a certain age?
I have three best friends and as much as we are alike, we are like wise very different.
There’s Ella, the girl who has always wanted nothing more than a happy home filled with the chorus of crying babies and a doting husband to complete the pretty picture; Jen, an excitable and spirited thrill seeker, and Eva, whose mental landscape was most similar to mine.
Achieve and aspire; children and marriage can wait and if not, what else is on the menu?
Jen and I spent most of our early twenties in the tackiest of holiday spots, dancing, drowning our kidneys in watered down tequila and eating kebabs at 7am with our shoes in our hands. We vowed we would never marry and instead, spend our old age in each others company, playing cards and watching comedy on television.
Fast forward 6 years and Jen is engaged to be married, sporting a rock on her finger that J-Lo would be proud of and her current idea of window shopping is gazing into an estate agents window with her palm pressed longingly against the window pane. I mean, her fiance is great but I really can’t see him lighting her sambucca filled mouth on a night out.
Ella on the other hand, spends her days wishing her estranged boyfriend would hurry up and propose so the fairytale can start. (What she doesn’t realise is that a marriage is not an elixir for a happy relationship; if he stays out all night now, gambles away all his money and only answers his phone when he feels like it; chances are he’ll be doing the same things with a wedding ring on).
So what’s wrong with me then? Why do my dreams consist of writing a book, embracing a full and exciting career, embracing short lived fun affairs, travelling to the dirt filled streets of India and volunteering in Mozambique seeing genuine smiles of children who know the true meaning of a tough life?
Why does the idea of settling down with a family pale in comparison to jumping off a multi storey building wearing nothing but a tutu?
Should I be proud of my unconventional aspirations or should I just shut up, realise I’m not getting any younger and pack away the Sex And The City box-set?
As a 30 year old teacher and writer with good prospects, a happy smile and enough energy to run a marathon in my Louboutins, I was a catch surely? Should I have been married by now? Should I just get married before my energy (or youthful looks) run out?
What is so great about being in your twenties anyway? For me (and I can really only speak for moi), it was a train journey stopping at a land of the unknown and the precarious.
First stop? A place where I was constantly fossicking for something or someone.
Second stop? Trying to prove myself at work,
Where next? How about the city where my confidence was still taking a battering every now and then and where getting drunk on a night out resulted in bad ex sex and tears in the morning light.
If I had married any one of the men (let’s keep it real here, they were boys with bank accounts) I encountered in my twenties, where would I be now?
I could’ve easily been married to Mike by now; an unemployed, unambitious guy whose idea of a night out was spending a Saturday night in his car and who suspiciously had a new car every six months.
Then there was Dean; a guy who thought it was ‘normal’ to have three girlfriends and call all of them ‘baby’.
Then finally, Rian; a guy who spent half his week in the psychologist’s office discussing problems that ceased to exist. (I’m deliberately omitting all the short lived love affairs involving men from Texas, French Romeos and the inbetweeners who made it for drinks but never dinner).
I could have easily found myself waiting eagerly for a V.O. to see my husband or driving myself insane checking my man’s phone every second to see which ‘baby’ he’d just been with or worse, ending up as a full time counsellor minus the salary package.
I far prefer the train I’m on now. My bank account actually has funds in it, I’m established at work and I know who my friends are, I can talk to my mum without wanting to raise my voice and I don’t even flinch when someone criticises me.
Who’s with me? Well, actually a bunch of sociologists are along with most of the female population.
A recent topical study discovered that the average age for U.K women to marry is, wait for it, 30. This is comapred to the average age of 22.5 in 1966, rising to 25.5 in 1991.
Is this because women cannot find a man ot commit? Or because women are just happy dating? No, actually (and this is the sociologists saying this, not me) it is purely because women feel less urgency to marry because they are focused on their careers and fussier about choosing a husband.
Relationship experts believe that women are no longer worried about being “left on the shelf” and are enjoying themselves without feeling pressured to settle down.
So there it is. No criminals, no philanderers and no nut-jobs. I’m normal and I’m free to feel free.
Just then, my phone rings and it’s Jen. Her fiance’s out of town and she wants to go out for drinks.
We arrange to meet in Town in a couple of hours.
I wonder what to wear. Hmmm. High heels or flats? I pick up my 6 inch Louboutins and smile.
Who cares if I’ll be uncomfortable, I’ll be holding them all the way home anyway.
Where to next?