Laurie Graff, author and actress, talks here about her No Kidding essay, “First Comes Love,” and her choice to prioritize finding true love with a partner before becoming a mother. Laurie’s novels include the best-selling You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs, Looking for Mr. Goodfrog, and The Shiksa Syndrome. She’s a contributor to The New York Times Complaint Box, Live Alone and Like It, It’s a Wonderful Lie, and Scenes from a Holiday, and has penned several short plays and published monologues. Laurie lives in New York City. Visit her on Facebook or on her website.
In your essay that appears in No Kidding, you write about your choice to find true love before choosing to bring a child into the world. And consequently things didn’t turn out the way you thought they might in terms of marriage and children. Yet here you are a best-selling author with a successful acting career. Would you do anything differently if you could go back?
Well, my mom is in the hospital now, quite ill. It is dicey and scary, and I don’t have a partner or a grown kid to help or support me. In times like these you do miss that, even though being married or having a family does not guarantee that people will be there for you.
So last week I contacted a college beau who’s a doctor—he’s married with kids, but has always been available to me for things like this. And I thought, that’s the kind of guy you want to be married to in these situations. But at the time we were dating he didn’t want me to act or live in New York City, and so my dreams—not his—would have been compromised. And I know I couldn’t have put myself in a situation that didn’t allow me my freedom just because one day I’d need the security. I believe in my life that the things I let go of were not right for me. So while there are more things I’d like to have had happen for me, it’s not over yet, and I want to move forward. Not back.
Those of us who don’t have kids have many different reasons for—and feelings about—being non-parents, whether we got here by choice or not. The variety of perspectives in No Kidding bear that out. Do you find many others who believe love should come first and who stick by that, even if it means forgoing parenthood? Or do you feel your choice is not a very common one?
I think everyone believes love should come first. But I don’t know that it always happens that way. Or maybe people just think it’s good-enough love to fulfill their dream of having children. Women who are driven by the desire to have children will say that desire is a pretty big thing.
What about men: Do you think there are many men who opt for true love first, even at the expense of never producing children? Or do you think men are more likely to place emphasis on being a father at the expense of finding a soul mate?
My brother is having his first baby this month, a few weeks shy of turning 55. In his late 40s he got really interested in finding a wife; he’d been somewhat of a playboy before. He bought a house and planted the seeds and, as if by magic, met a woman who became his wife. And I do feel it is a love match. I will often hear from some men, “Oh, I was at an age and decided it was time to settle down and marry.” It’s hard to say whether that’s because they really wanted to be a father, or if it’s because they were really not romantic souls to begin with.
I just saw a college friend I hadn’t seen for 30 years, and she’s been married about 27 of those years. Her youngest son just went off to college, and she just left her husband. All that time she stayed “because of the kids,” and says she never felt great about the marriage to begin with. But each person’s “fill-in-the-blank” is different. By the way, I know I sound as if I think everyone is unhappily married, but I realize that’s not the case!
I love the analogy you use in your No Kidding piece of how building our lives is like painting a picture, and how women who want a child above all else make the child their picture and learn to “paint by numbers” in order to create it. Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean by that?
It’s similar to the question above about men. I think many people get to an age or a point in their lives where they feel “it’s time.” And the next person they meet they paint into that picture they have in their head of marriage and family. I think most people when they marry do believe they’ve met a soul mate. And sometimes they may have, but mostly I think it’s not the case.
In your essay, you make the excellent point that one can leave a legacy in forms other than offspring—for example, a great acting or writing career (or both, in your case). Yet, toward the end of your essay, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and writer you mention seems to deeply regret not having been a father. Do you think he really grasped the fact that he may not have had such success if he had been a father?
That journalist was actually held captive in Pakistan by the Taliban for 45 days in his quest to learn and write about what was really going on over there. It was a daring thing to do, to say the least. He was told not to cross the border many times, but he did. So if he’d had a wife and kids at home would he have taken that risk? Is that the question? No. I think, despite what he said, the ability to take those risks was more important to him than having a family. I think that was where he felt his passion.
Maybe it’s just human nature to idealize the path not taken, no matter who we are and what our path?
I do think it’s really okay to feel regret for the road not taken, even as one has embraced the road they are on.
Readers, what about you? Are you one who will not compromise in finding true love before having children, even if it means being childless/childfree? Did you hold out for a soul mate and now wonder if you should have settled for “good enough” in order to have a family? Tell your story below!