We're at Cirque du Soleil on the beach, amazed and giggling and holding hands. It's a children's wonderland. We're not children — my husband and I are in our 40s. But we're having the time of our lives, until we recognize a couple we know across the big top … also in their 40s, there with their small children and disapproving looks.
We don't have children. We are conspicuously alone, in an altered state, and have been caught falling out of our seats with delight, popcorn spilled in our laps, tears streaming down our cheeks from the sheer joy of it all, not to mention tripping. And we realize from the couple's demeanor that it's happened again: We've been labeled the "what happens when you decide not to have kids" cautionary tale.
My husband, Matt, and I have been together 15 years and in that time have watched most of our friends partner and then, inevitably, mate, as if they had flipped some evolutionary switch that neither Matt nor I possesses. Sure, we talked about whether to have kids, but we always ended up arguing over who would have to be the primary caregiver. Even in the most mutual parenting arrangements, it seems one partner still has to step up a little bit more than the other (The Primary), and we both would only concede to being a reluctant Secondary.
We debated having children the same way we talked about getting cats — weighing the pros and cons; considering how it would affect our lifestyle, our sex life and our furniture; evaluating the costs of medical care, grooming products and toys. We got cats.
Kids just didn't seem right for us. Or, frankly, that much fun. And there is nothing, we've now learned, that brings more scorn ("Selfish!"), bitter envy ("Must be nice … ") or judgment ("Alcoholics!") — from parents of young children in particular — than two loving, partnered adults choosing "fun" over procreation.
Our parenting friends are swamped overseeing trombone lessons and tooth fairy visits, and their one date night out on Saturdays is usually booked further in advance than a new small-plates restaurant, usually with other procreators.
So with two careers and no tuitions or braces to plan for, we now have some disposable income and the free time to enjoy it — but no one to play with. We've tried befriending younger couples not yet struck by the urge to replicate themselves. They're fun, energetic and don't dominate the conversation with debates about whether cupcakes should be banned from classroom parties. But they want to go to exciting, of-the-moment places that don't get hopping until late. Without kids, we don't have to push back adult activities to later in the night when parents usually steal time for themselves. We're used to toasting the day at 6, having dinner at 7, and then we're the ones who are down by 10. Single friends, similarly, want to go places where they might actually find other singles — also late.
We've shared early-bird specials with retired couples, hoping for a connection, but inevitably conversations drift to sobering health issues, cruises and debates about whether cupcakes should be banned from their grandkids' classrooms. So seniors too are a no-go.
It's not that we're lonely, exactly, or bored. Matt and I both have separate social lives, and, most important, we love the time we spend together. We take all-day walks around L.A. and make each other laugh. We travel to other countries with only a carry-on suitcase and no itinerary. We have sex whenever and wherever we want, though usually inside our own home these days.
But we'd like to have couple friends to share all the fun with, who can relate to the more disquieting issues surrounding not having children. How are we going to take care of ourselves when we're old? Where will we spend holidays? Who will play Scrabble with us if one of us dies before the other?
These questions seem difficult to raise with parent couples, who might offer good counsel but can't help but speak from a place of relative security. They can assume their kids will be there for them. So it's not the same as having comrades in bucking-the-norm. We want friends like us.
The couple at the circus hustles out quickly, herding their kids away. Matt and I ride our bikes home along the beach path, the evening warm and humid, reaching out our arms so that the tips of our fingers touch from time to time. At home, we pull a blanket out onto the grass and lie on our backs looking up at the stars alongside the huge bird of paradise in our yard where the cats crouch, hoping to catch moths that hover out of their reach.
We are having the time of our lives. But we also wonder what more is out there, hovering like those moths, just beyond our grasp.
Jill Cargerman is a television writer who lives in Venice with her husband and two cats/heirs.
L.A. Affairs chronicles dating, romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.