I don’t know.
It’s my new favourite phrase, and a seemingly common response to a set of questions that seems to keep presenting themselves to me lately. It’s a response that seems to elicit a certain reaction from people – a mix of confusion, an unconvinced smile, a head tilt that is filled with sympathy and concern.
I’ve been responding with “I don’t know” to questions that people think I should know the answer to. And the expression on the face of the asker – the furrowed brow, the wavering smile – tells me that they’re trying to work out what’s wrong with me. How can I not know?
Something strange happens as you approach the age of thirty. It might not happen to you, but it happens to other members of society. If, like me, you’re single and child-free the questions begin in earnest.
“Why are you still single?” (It may not always be that direct, but there are many variations of this one). My response: I don’t know. What I would really like to say: are you implying that my life is somehow inferior because of my single status? Are you concerned for my well-being in some way? Do I perhaps need to commission a celebrity of some kind to hold a fundraiser to assist me in rectifying the apparently horrific situation I am in? There are so many things about me that are much more interesting than my relationship status. Like, for most of this year, I’ve been living in a developing country; want me to tell you about it? I have a pretty cool job; want to know more? Not only was I living overseas, I’ve travelled a bit this year, what about you?
“Don’t you think one day you’ll change your mind and want children?” Here it comes. My public coming out. I don’t want children. Never have. It’s not that I dislike children, I just don’t want them. I don’t know why. That biological clock that people talk about? I don’t have one. There is nothing ticking away in my uterus that demands I go forth and breed. My response to this question is “I don’t know” because it’s easier. It means that I don’t have to deal with the bullshit that comes with explaining that I just don’t want kids. What I would really like to say: Don’t you think one day you’ll change your mind and not want your children? Seriously, wouldn’t you rather be in my position and regret not having children rather than having them and regretting it? (Of course, I could never say that. Because judging a person’s life choice is just bad manners. Unless they’re single and child-free, apparently…).
“What are you going to do when you’ve finished your PhD?” My response: I don’t know. Plain and simple, I have no idea. At this point, I’m just focusing on finishing. Because, honestly, it’s a big fucking deal and it’s a lot of fucking work. Finishing will be achievement enough, what comes afterwards will be whatever it is.
“I don’t know” seems to unnerve people. Somehow, the fact that someone who is thirty doesn’t know the answers is unsettling, as though my age signifies that I should have met the expectations of society – marriage, babies and a clear career trajectory. Someone somewhere set a whole heap of benchmarks that we’re expected to meet by certain ages, and if you fail to do so something has gone horribly awry.
I like not knowing. I’m not afraid of not knowing. To me, it means that the possibilities are endless. I’ve never really known exactly what I’m doing, never had all the answers. And my life has taken me in the most amazing directions, all over the world, without a single regret (except maybe for one or two less-than-stellar fashion choices).
My age might be my age (and there’s nothing I can do to change it), but my life is exactly that – my life. And I’m doing it my way. Whatever that may be – because I still don’t know.