Graduation day: When everything, including motherhood, was possible

On June 7, 1974, I sat with my fellow journalism graduates in the middle of the football field at San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium, baking in our caps and gowns. Everything was changing that month. After 16 years of school, I would finally be free of classes, homework, finals and term papers. I could pursue my blossoming career in newspapers, and in two weeks, I was getting married.

I don’t remember who spoke at the ceremony. I have vague memories of people passing marijuana cigarettes and tossing a ball around. My classes done, I was obsessing over clothes. A sewing maniac in those days, I had made the blue and white seersucker mini-dress that I wore under my robe. I was making my wedding dress, one of the bridesmaid’s gowns and new outfits for the honeymoon. I was dealing with flowers, photographers, and last-minute bridal showers. I was setting up our new apartment, which I had no doubt would be only a temporary home until we bought a house. Soon I would be having babies and writing books, living the life I had always expected to live.

I was so very young, 22 going on 12. Look up “naïve” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of me. Webster defines it as “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment.” That pretty much nails it. Raised in an extremely restrictive home, I hadn’t had my first date until my first year of college. By the middle of my second year, I was engaged. I had had three actual boyfriends in those 18 months or so before I hooked up with Jim.

Hooking up didn’t mean what it means now. I was a virgin until three months after I started dating Jim. And I probably would have stayed a virgin a bit longer if he hadn’t pressured me so hard to have sex, and if I hadn’t gotten drunk and let him because I knew he’d dump me if I didn’t. Ladies, how many of us have given in simply because we were afraid to lose the guy? Anyway, coming from this strict Catholic background with minimal knowledge of the world, I assumed that since we were having sex, we were getting married. And since he was getting pressured by his parents to find a wife, he said, yeah, sure, we’ll get married. No ring, no down-on-his-knees proposal, and oh by the way, let’s not tell anybody yet. Anybody hear warning bells? I heard them, too, but I thought I had made this commitment and had to stick with it.

As for having kids, I had no idea he wouldn’t want them. He was great with other people’s children, and I just assumed he’d be great with ours. Did we talk about it? Nope. He did escort me to the college health clinic to get birth control pills. He did have a supply of condoms on hand. After we were married, his theme song was “not yet.” Turns out he wasn’t big on employment, monogamy or sobriety either, but lest you think he was just a big shit, I loved the guy with all my heart. We had a wonderful time together. The sex was amazing, and we could talk for hours. I thought we’d be married forever.

I thought I’d be a mom, and our parents would be fabulous grandparents. I’d also have the career of my dreams. Like I said, naïve. As the marriage died, we agreed that we could have had a fantastic affair but should never have gotten married.

If I had just said no to sex with Jim or enjoyed the sex but realized I didn’t have to marry him, my life might have been completely different. He would have dumped me, and I might have married someone with a good job, someone who wanted the house and kids, maybe even someone who’d go to church with me. But no. I thought this was it. It didn’t have to be “it.”

I haven’t talked to Jim in over 30 years. I have heard that he remarried two more times and never had any children of his own. I don’t think much about him or our six-year marriage. Fred, who came later, was my real husband. I didn’t have babies with him either, but the love we had was worth it. And we did talk about it.

On that hot day in San Jose when I graduated from San Jose State, I had no idea what was coming. What would I have done if I’d known? Should a person get married two weeks after graduation? I don’t recommend it. Live a bit first. And take time to make sure you have the right partner. Life is not like “The Bachelorette,” where you have to make a decision in 10 weeks. Be sure. And if you’re not sure, don’t do it.

Does this stir any thoughts or memories? I’d love to hear your comments.

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9 thoughts on “Graduation day: When everything, including motherhood, was possible

  1. This post stirred some sadness in me and made me ask myself “what the hell were you thinking???” I was 20 years old marrying a 28 year old man with a child and a vasectomy. Never did I imagine I wouldn’t have children with him. So Sue… You will find my picture right next to yours with the definition of naive!!!

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  2. When I graduated high school l thought I would get married and have children. I married at 25 started trying at 26, looking back my husband never ever spoke about having a baby, never showed interest in children. I wasn’t close with my sister or mother and moved away from home at 21. In hindsight if I knew then what I know now I would’ve walked away and found someone who did.
    I teared up reading this post Sue & agree Candy, this was not how I thought my life would be. Mine is the third picture of the definition of naive.

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  3. Sue,
    I’ve seen many people have the same experience that you have. I agree, if you’re not sure about your fiancé, don’t do it. I believe that you would have made a wonderful mother. I didn’t think I’d have made a good father for years. I was wrong. I would have.

    I’ve been wrestling with leaving my wife for a much younger woman to have my own family. Or stay married and feel cheated.
    I have a hard time on Father’s Day. For stepfathers it should be called National Chopped Liver Day. As that’s what most of us feel like.

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  4. Had you not had that experience with Jim, you would not be giving us this safe and familiar forum for us to share in our united childless story. So perhaps you did not have that life you had expected. Many of us haven’t. But your life all the same had lessons, meaning and purpose. I for one am thankful that I have a forum where my childless angst can be understood xx

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  5. I can really relate to this for sure. I think the best day of my life was my first night at college. Everything was still possible and I hadn’t messed anything up yet. At that point, I wanted to be a doctor. I also assumed that I would get married and have children at some point also.

    As time went on, I compromised more and more of myself. I got good grades but they weren’t straight As, so I decided not to keep working towards applying for med school. I now know there were people who managed to get in, although sometimes out of the country or a DO school, with my grades or even lower and I should have kept at it. I met my current husband during my first year in college, and then compromised just about everything else. I had thought of getting a PhD in psychology instead but when he wouldn’t move near the schools I could get into, I dropped it. I married him knowing he didn’t want children naively thinking that maybe that would change, because all married people end up having kids magically somehow right? Obviously he didn’t, so eventually I compromised that final dream also. I think by graduation, I already kind of knew I was on the road to ruin already but hoped maybe things would turn around without me having to do anything. I wish I had realized that I was so young and still could have changed everything, but somehow at 21 I already felt old.

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    • Erica, I sympathize. I did a lot of that magical thinking, too. My first husband would straighten out, we’d have kids, we’d have a house, life would be just like I imagined. Nope. I was 22 and didn’t see any other way to go. We are so stupid when we’re that young. I hope you can find peace with the way things have turned out.

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