Thursday, April 25, 2013

Car = Normal?

I am in my 40s and have never married, and never wanted to. I have never wanted children.  I'm a feminist.  I have never really wanted to own my own home.  I'm nonmonogamous. I tend to date queer women.  I haven't owned a car for almost 20 years.

I've been thinking a bit about these things; there is a lot of social pressure, some of it invisible in the fish-don't-notice-water sort of ways, to act in certain ways. Hetero-normative ways. Consumer-culture ways. And I'm no rebel--I'm a white, middle class man, and as such I have benefitted from and participated in the dominant culture for 40 years, and will continue to do so to whatever degree.  But I have also been proud of the ways I have ducked a few kinds of normative pressure--I've been proudly childless and carless, for instance, for a while. I think folks who don't want kids shouldn't be pressured into having kids--most of the pressure is just general social pressure, though some folks have more obvious pressures put on them by their families. The general social pressure includes folks who say, "Well, you'd understand if you had kids." Sometimes this may be true, but it's often said in a way that implies that folks who don't want kids are somehow less mature than those who do, or those who have them.

And to a lesser extent, I feel the pressure of normativity almost every day--people ask me if I own my home, if I'm married, if I have kids, if I own a car, if I have a college degree, stuff like that, all the time. But mostly I kind of rail against that type of pressure, am kind of proud that I haven't "given in".  "I bike everywhere," I sometimes say, "though I do use zipcar from time to time," as if I were doing the world a favor.  But mostly I don't own a car because it's a pain in the ass--the payments, the upkeep; it's just too much for me, mostly. And when people find out I don't own a car, they sometimes look at me askance--just like they do when they find out I don't want kids, or don't want to own a home. But the difference is this: I kind of feel like I'm immature about not having a car.

I don't know why the car thing is different, but when I am driving my partner's car, I feel more like an adult. When she bought a new car, and I started driving it sometimes, I felt like I had somehow matured. I felt the gentle caress of approval from others that can come from doing the "things adults do"--people get these sorts of sentiments of approval when they get engaged, or get married, or buy a home; they get them when they have children.  They even kind of get them when they get divorced, as if that was yet another stage of adulthood.

I wouldn't feel more adult if I got married; neither would I feel more mature if I bought a house. But I do feel more adult driving around in a car that isn't even mine--which is weird. Not sure why it's different for me, but I sort of feel like, yeah, a person *should* own a car by the time he's 42--even though in the next moment I am proud that I bike (almost) everywhere. We now have a second car (briefly), while we decide what to do with my partner's old car, and I got really attached to the idea of having that car as mine, even though it's a bad idea in varous ways.  (For instance, it's bad for my health--within a couple of weeks of having it, I stopped riding to work, and gained a bunch of weight.)  It's odd, because the mature thing to do is to donate the car, and to continue mostly riding everywhere I go--but part of me thinks that I'm still being immature, imagining I can go through life without a car. 

1 comment:

noelle said...

It's control. It's almost the opposite experience of being a human... you get in this hunk of metal, larger and heavier than you could ever maneuver on your own... and then you maneuver it on your own. You go faster than you have ever gone, to places you could hardly get on your own feet, and as an added bonus you get to feel like a badass.

I hope to never own a car again, because I think the limitations of not owning one makes me more conscious of my choices. And I also fear fighting with my partner in a box. But if someone gifted me a Mini Cooper? Oh my hell yes, cross country trip until those tires are rims.

PS the married and therefore feeling adult thing wears out real quick.