Not long ago or far away, someone suggested that I do a thing I had not done. ‘That’s what most people do,’ she said, in laughing reproach.
She was right. The thing I had not done was what most people would do. She had reason and rationality and common sense and empiricism and correctness on her side. I had nothing. Except that I am not most people.
It was not said with any rancour or unkindness. It was a mere statement of fact.
It was a knife to my heart.
A lot of the time, I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that I am not most people. At those times I don’t even know who most people are. Surely each individual human is as idiosyncratic as a snowflake?
Then there are times when I yearn to join the glorious cohort of the Most People. They do exist. They have conventions and cultures and things in common. They have the steadiness of the majority, because they are the majority. They, without even knowing it, get the blessing of the zeitgeist, because they play by its rules.
They have sorrows and setbacks and losses, just like everyone else, but they don’t have to paddle madly against the current, because they go where the river goes, gracefully towards the sea. They may take this for granted, because they don’t know what it’s like to be going the wrong way.
When I was much younger, I took what seemed to me a very ordinary and logical and rational choice, but what the wider world considers a radical and even bizarre decision. I knew, deep in my bones, that I did not want to get married and have children. I hate doing things that I am not good at, and I knew that I would be no good at those things. I looked in awe and wonder at the people who were good at them. I look in awe and wonder still. I watch those who make a great family in the way I watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello or I once watched AP McCoy ride a finish. I take off my hat.
This is not what most people do. It is especially not what most women do. It is taken as read, carved in stone, preached in pulpits, written in newsprint that all females long for marriage and babies. There are quite a lot of people who consider this the grand fulfilment of their life and their biology and their very being. It is really hard for those who naturally follow that river of the majority to understand what it feels like not to paddle down that stream.
Every atom floating in the culture tells you that you are odd and other. I suspect that married people don’t realise this, because it is so usual to them that it becomes like white noise. But every time you turn on the radio or get a cold caller (‘Is that Mrs Kindersley?) or open a magazine or read a newspaper or have a conversation with a stranger or watch the television, the notion of marriage as normal, wonderful, expected and admired is present. Those who don’t want husbands and wives and children and family life are so beyond the pale that they don’t really feature, except for the occasional article where some poor woman has to explain, at great length, why she refuses to fulfil her biological imperative. She has to twist herself inside out like a pretzel to prove that she is not vain and selfish and weird and cold and generally peculiar. However articulate she is, nobody really believes her.
Even good friends, with kind hearts and intelligent minds, don’t always get it. ‘You have a womb, surely you must use it?’ (That person had a first in classics.) ‘What is she doing up there in Scotland, all on her own?’ ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right man.’ ‘If you refuse to find a husband, why don’t you get a proper job?’ Because I not only won’t get married, I sit at home and write books, a job that comes with no regular salary and means that it is financial feast or famine, so that there are times, like now, when I annoy everyone by having to refuse all invitations until I can get a deal, and I don’t know when that deal will come because it’s not a proper job.
Nobody throws a party for the stupid single people; there are no white weddings, no gushing speeches, no anniversary celebrations, no greetings cards, no diamond rings. Married people damn well should have a party, in my book, because making a good marriage is incredibly hard work and the ones who make a success of it should get prizes. But it’s a zero sum game. Those on the outside, the ones who are not most people, are invisible, and not to be celebrated, the bolshie buggers. Why can’t they just stop making a fuss and do the decent thing?
As if my strange decision not to procreate were not enough, I am an introvert. Introverts are about 25% of the population, and, if you are as far along the spectrum as I am, that minority status grows even more acute. Introversion is hard to explain because it is so often misunderstood. It falls constantly into category error. People think that introverts must be shy and silent, when in fact many are garrulous and perfectly composed in company. The difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts are exhausted by people while extroverts take their energy from them. An introvert may be the life and soul of the party, but she will then have to sit quietly in a silent room for three days afterwards to fill up the tank. I often turn down perfectly lovely invitations for this reason, which causes raised eyebrows and wounded incomprehension.
Solitude, which I love and cherish, is considered another oddity. Most people, perfectly naturally, don’t want to sit in a quiet room. They live in families and work in offices and go to pubs and move in packs. I like eating in restaurants alone; I like going to the races alone; I much prefer going to the cinema alone. Odd, odd, odd.
Most of the time, none of this matters. If I am robust and at home in my skin and have taken my iron tonic, I can make jokes about it and accept it and even, if the light is coming from the right direction, take a little secret pride in it. When I am a bit bashed and battered, as I am at the moment, I feel wearied and worn down by it.
I don’t generally complain, as the Dear Readers know, except about dangling modifiers and people spouting jargon on the Today programme (‘What does that mean?’ says poor John Humphreys, driven to distraction by acronyms and management-speak). I am too keenly conscious of my luck. But occasionally I give in to a little wail. Today, I’m having a wail. Today, I’m lacerated and when that happens, I have to write about it.
Nobody reads this blog on a Saturday anyway, so I can shout into an empty room.
Occasionally, my wailing self says, I am sick of having to explain myself, of having my oddities questioned, of being so damn other. Occasionally, I look with envy at Most People, and wish that I could canter along with them. Occasionally, I wish they might understand.
Perhaps this is part of the reason I love my red mare so, quite aside from all her glorious qualities. She is a horse, and she has no idea what most people do. She does not do the funny laughs or the funny looks or the funny comments. She takes me just as I am. She does not wonder what I am doing, all on my own. As long as I feed her well and work her well and love her well, she does not care about the rest. If I leave my cares at the gate and give her my best self, she thinks I’m pretty damn fine.