Saturday, July 03, 2004

A Place Called 35

By Alya B. Honasan

Of course I'd love it if Prince Charming zoomed into my life today, at the onset of my high-risk pregnancy years, preferably in a late-model car. But women like me aren't holding our breath anymore; we've got too much living to do.

WHAT was that awful ratio again? Something like five single Filipinas to every eligible Filipino man? About five to ten years ago, that statistic threw me and my friends into wide-eyed panic. The prospect of never finding a Significant Other and spending every Saturday night or (worse) Valentine's Day alone for the rest of one's life was unnerving indeed, notwithstanding the assurances from both the cynics ''Better than settling for a jerk'') or the optimists (''There is somebody meant for you somewhere in this world'').

When you're 35, and there's not a glimmer of commitment and/or motherhood on the horizon, things aren't so simple. You wonder if the jerk won't be rich and funny enough to make you happy; you ponder whether that ''somewhere'' is an East Timor war zone, and The One Who Was Meant For You just got blown away in the last skirmish. Heck, you can be really philosophical about it.

Thank goodness the days of the inevitability of marriage are gone, even in this country, where your aunts still ask about your chances at every family reunion (although in fairness to them, my dear sensible aunts have gotten off my own back). ''Old maid'' has become more a matter of personal style than an age bracket. Filipinas are marrying later than ever, and fertility doctors are making conception possible into our early 40s, even if 35 is supposed to mark the onset of the years of high-risk pregnancy, if you haven't gotten around to it earlier. Even when there is a man waiting in the sidelines, and he's neither married nor gay, Filipinas are opting to wait.

Those who are unattached, like myself, are no longer as pressured
about meeting biological deadlines and using that uterus before it gives.

Which is not to say 35-year-old single Filipinas don't get lonely. This is not a naive celebration of female independence or an exercise in man-bashing. Any single woman my age who says she is never, ever lonely is lying, and there are some really good men out there. But some of us run into them, and some don't.

For me, staying single has not always been a bold and painless choice. I thought I'd met someone I wanted to marry, but things didn't work out. I do believe in love, and am still of the opinion that sex is more than just a biological need akin to eating and sleeping.

I'm not mad about diapers and losing sleep, but I do think I'd make a fun Mom. I would love to marry someone willing and able to make the commitment that a real marriage entails, somebody I love and who loves me--but I haven't met him yet, and I feel no urgent need at the moment to comb the streets in search of him. I've also learned enough, vicariously and through my own close calls, to see marriage for what it is--not an escape, not a solution, but a privilege that will also take a lot of work.

A writer once told me that one should get married as soon as one falls in love, before one changes one's mind-- a romantic notion, but a bit too flaky a course of action for me. Like I said, I'm a believer in love, but I'm also convinced it takes a lot more than that to keep two people together. At 35, if you still waltzed into an unwise relationship hoping love will conquer all, then, girl, you haven't been paying attention.

With the discrimination that comes with age, I've come to view
marriage like every other major decision to be made If conditions
aren't ideal, don't bother. There are other things to do with life.

The biggest difference between 25 and 35, I guess, is that the older you get, the less frightened you become of loneliness. You've confronted it often enough,you've learned how to make it go away or, better, to see it for what it really is. And you've seen enough evidence that a husband, babies, even friends may not be able make that occasional emptiness in your heart disappear miraculously. In short, you have to learn to love yourself enough to be comfortable going solo if you have to, just you and your Maker jamming in that solid place inside you.

Why isn't it such a bad idea anymore, staying single today? Well, at 35, most of my contemporaries and I are sitting in jobs we generally like, at levels of professional accomplishment and financial security that we've worked our butts off to reach. We may not be millionaires, but we can take care of ourselves, with room for occasional indulgences. At least when I go on a week-long diving trip to the Sulu Sea or have to rehearse late for a play, I don't worry if my toddler has fallen down the stairs when her yaya wasn't looking. But then again, I won't have a little angel running into my arms when I get home. Such are the trade-offs.

I read somewhere once that you have to have made peace with everybody in your life by 30, so by 35 you must be bursting with goodwill. We, my friends and I, have befriended our parents and siblings, become mentors and doting aunts to favorite nephews and nieces, and figured out more or less which friends will be with us for the long haul.

It's a warm, strange place, being a 35-year-old woman. You're not yet quite middle-aged, but you're no girl, either; you can swing between the wisdom of your years and the enthusiasm for a good time that you can still express without looking ridiculous. To be more concrete, you can get bloody drunk on the finest wine
one you bought with your hard-earned money one weekend--and spend the next one curled up at home with a good book, leaving the night to the 25-year-olds without feeling too washed up.

A few weeks ago, I got together with some of my dearest, oldest
girlfriends in the world, schoolmates since first grade, to celebrate a birthday. There were four of us, all age 35, and only one in a relationship, with marriage still a far-off prospect. Yet, over the years, our conversations had expanded from fleeting heartbreak blues and family conflicts to the bigger picture--what was going to happen to us in this country we called home, what options were still open to us, what did we want to do with our lives.

We threw around our dreams and plans, what we wanted to do, what we could do. We joked about snagging rich husbands, but we all knew we would keep dreaming, alone or with someone by our side. When you're a 35-year-old Filipina, you've still got your options, and they aren't at all bad.

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