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Glyn­nis MacNicol on why her new home be­came the ul­ti­mate es­cape for her mar­ried friends.

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A sneak peek at Glyn­nis MacNicol’s new mem­oir.

A FUNNY THING be­gan to hap­pen af­ter I moved into my dream apart­ment in Red Hook, Brook­lyn. Fairly quickly, as friends came over to visit, it be­came a strange sort of con­fes­sional booth, as if peo­ple sensed I was so se­cure in my life that they could more freely con­fess their worst fears about theirs. It al­most al­ways be­gan in the same way: A friend would ar­rive, take a look around, turn to me with a slightly awed face and de­clare “I’m so en­vi­ous!” It be­came the most ut­tered phrase in my new home the first month I was there.

The idea that I could be a source of envy was still some­thing of a revelation. On pa­per, at least—sin­gle, child­less, 40—I con­tin­ued to be the def­i­ni­tion of the thing most women be­lieve they should avoid be­com­ing at all costs. And if it had been just one friend who’d men­tioned it, I likely wouldn’t have no­ticed. Ob­jec­tively speak­ing, it was a great apart­ment. I was a New Yorker, af­ter all; some peo­ple here aim for apart­ments the way they aim for ca­reers. This was the equiv­a­lent of a cor­ner of­fice with great ben­e­fits. But when it kept hap­pen­ing over and over, I be­gan to take note. It was as though by com­ing into my home, my friends were be­ing given the chance to walk a few steps down the path not taken (or avoided) and were dis­cov­er­ing it wasn’t as dark and thorny as they’d been taught. Or per­haps it was dawn­ing on them that there was an­other path. (It’s not as though women are raised be­ing over­bur­dened with the sense that they have op­tions.) “You make me want to be sin­gle again,” said one friend who’d been mar­ried for more than a decade. “I mean, I love Sam and the kids, ob­vi­ously, but this is in­cred­i­ble.”

“So, this is your apart­ment,” said an­other, a mother of two, grin­ning in a hun­gry sort of way.

“Can I please come over and lie on your bed some af­ter­noons and pre­tend I’m sin­gle?” “I want your life,” pro­fessed one woman I’d known for years, who had a much-de­sired two-year-old at home, be­fore ly­ing down on my bed and weep­ing. “I wish I’d been braver about not get­ting mar­ried,” said an­other friend, newly divorced and a mother of two. “I re­mem­ber be­ing 32 and in a state of near-to­tal panic at the idea that I might be sin­gle at 35.”

Ev­ery woman I knew seemed to think she was fail­ing in some way, had been raised to be­lieve she was lack­ing and was cer­tain some­one else was do­ing it bet­ter. Had been told never to trust her own in­stincts. Taught to think of life as a so­lu­tion when “done right,” when in re­al­ity we ex­ist in a kalei­do­scope made of shades of grey, able to be very happy and very sad all at the same time.

I knew the only rea­son I was hear­ing all this was be­cause in me they seemed to have found the rare as­sur­ance of non-judg­ment. I was not a par­tic­i­pant in the moth­er­ing Olympics; it wasn’t as though I was go­ing to ad­mon­ish some­one for not breast­feed­ing. (I was al­ways thrilled when some­one switched to for­mula be­cause it meant I got to do the feed­ing.) Nor did I get too frus­trated by the fact that they could not hold a con­ver­sa­tion for more than 45 sec­onds at a time—I could see their own frus­tra­tion at this. They were lonely too. Which was painfully ironic since I was cer­tain that more than one baby, not to men­tion a few mar­riages, had been con­ceived by women tired of be­ing left out of ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion her mar­ried-with-chil­dren friends were hav­ing. “Don’t ever have kids,” said nearly all of them at some point.

“They don’t mean that!” said a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­woman I knew who was ex­pect­ing her first grand­child. She seemed shocked and of­fended at the very idea. I wanted to sug­gest to her that she might have changed her tune had she had to do her small-chil­dren moth­er­ing in the age of 24hour email and so­cial-me­dia Greek-cho­rus­ing. I knew they didn’t mean it—not re­ally. What they meant was “Don’t fall for the hype.” They meant that it was harder than any­one had ever warned them it would be. They meant that the longer they’d been able to rule their own lives, the harder it be­came not to. They meant that they had been promised that things would get eas­ier and bet­ter, not harder and more re­lent­less. They meant that they’d lost their own hard-won iden­tity in ways they weren’t pre­pared for and were still try­ing to re­con­struct it.

“I’m so tired of hear­ing women tell me how ter­ri­ble it is to have chil­dren,” said my friend Kim one af­ter­noon when she came over to help me or­ga­nize my closet. Kim was in her early 30s, had been mar­ried a few years and, I knew, was start­ing to think se­ri­ously about kids. “The non-stop neg­a­tiv­ity is just ex­haust­ing.”

This was the flip side, I sup­posed. I’d watched so many of my friends go into mar­riage star­ryeyed and thrilled and then be bowled over by the re­al­i­ties of child­care that it had never crossed my mind what it must be like to hear only the bad parts over and over and not know, as I did, that it came with plenty of good too.

“I think they just feel like they were never warned,” I said. “And they don’t feel like they have the right to be un­happy. It’s the same as peo­ple con­stantly telling me what my life is miss­ing, as though they can’t be­lieve I could be happy alone—I think they’re told they aren’t al­lowed to be un­happy when they have the only two things women are sup­posed to want.”

Of course, not ev­ery woman came over and com­plained like this—and never my newly mar­ried or about-to-be-mar­ried friends, who were caught up in the throes of ro­mance and wed­ding plan­ning. Nor did my sin­gle friends, some of whom had set­ups sim­i­lar to mine, or younger friends, who per­ceived my life the way peo­ple in their 20s per­ceive ev­ery ac­com­plish­ment of some­one older: the prom­ise of pos­si­bil­ity.

But lis­ten­ing to these friends un­leash their doubts and fears did make it that much eas­ier to re­mind my­self, on days that I needed re­mind­ing, that every­thing was just as good as it was bad and not an ei­ther/or. n

EV­ERY WOMAN I KNEW SEEMED TO THINK SHE WAS FAIL­ING.

Copy­right © 2018 by Glyn­nis MacNicol. From No One Tells You This: A Mem­oir by Glyn­nis MacNicol, to be pub­lished by Si­mon & Schus­ter, Inc. Printed by per­mis­sion.

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