Last spring, a few of us Govi-Altai PCVs (the ladies) were invited to speak at a Young Families Conference. Fifty couples, married 2-5 years, participated in this conference. Topics covered included: family planning in the context of marriage, children’s rights, nutrition (including breast feeding), domestic violence, alcoholism, and financial planning. We were there to show that there is great variety in American families, so that these Mongolian families can recognize that they have choices. The information for the first part of this blog comes from our meeting with the Director of the Department for Children and Family Development. These were my notes taken during an informal session and I take responsibility for anything mis-heard or misunderstood.
love (lower-case L) in Mongolia
– average age for first baby: 22-25
– parents encourage marriage after completing university
– average age for marriage: 25
– more common to marry baby’s father
– divorce is common after a few years marriage
– variety of family-planning methods available: pill, condom, IUD, shot
– men may think pregnancy prevention is not their responsibility
– both parents are financially responsible
– women are more highly educated, so expenses mostly fall to them
– belief that if a woman has an abortion at the first pregnancy, she will never become pregnant again
– belief that giving birth is more difficult after 30
– women generally want a baby, even if they don’t have a husband
– high-risk women who don’t have children “find it difficult”
– average number of children per woman: 2-3
Love and love
Of course, I did the math before I even applied to the Peace Corps. If I started at 36, I’d finish at 38. It would be 2014, the year of my 20-year high school reunion. I mention it because the thought had crossed my mind that, with Peace Corps service, I’d be taking myself out of the dating pool and that maybe I’d miss out on meeting someone. But, the likelihood of that seemed so remote, that it was hardly a deterrent.
My single status is not something I think a lot about. I’m comfortable with where I am in life and never really put much effort into “finding someone,” outside of a few half-hearted craigslist posts over the years. But, when I do think about it (usually having nothing to do with February 14), to be perfectly honest, I find it kind of crazy. I’m a catch, man! I could rattle off my good qualities, and think my bad qualities are pretty insignificant to a relationship. But, no love for Love.
Love and love in Mongolia
After name and nationality, rounding out the top 5 most commonly asked questions in Mongolia are age, marital status and children. (Mongolians are very direct about these things; these questions aren’t considered rude. Also, they all guess that I’m ten years younger than I am 🙂 ) Common follow-up questions to my being single and childless are, “Why?” and “When will you get married?” During PST, we were taught to view such forward questions as an opportunity for a cultural exchange, rather than take offense to them. For example, I can explain that most people in America don’t get married in their early 20s. But, that doesn’t really answer the question of why I’m still single, does it? In fact, these questions sting more than the reality because they remind me that my single status isn’t my choice. Not being a mom isn’t my choice; it would have been a conversation to have, if there was someone to have it with. But there’s not. This here is the best I can do to answer these questions in English. In Mongolian, all I have is “bi medexgui” (I don’t know).
While it may seem improper to share these thoughts with such a wide audience, they are a part of what goes into making the decision to apply to the Peace Corps when you’re a single woman in your mid-30s. Yet, in all my pre-Peace Corps research, I didn’t find anyone else speaking from this perspective. So, I’m assuming that role for the other 30-something single ladies who want to apply to the Peace Corps but are hesitating because they are 30-something and single. I had wanted this Peace Corps experience for a long time, but I wasn’t ready in my 20s. Just like many people (at any age) who get married and have children (in some order) aren’t ready for those responsibilities. In that way, I’m kind of lucky that I didn’t have kids when I was ready to serve in the Peace Corps.
love (lower case L) in the Peace Corps
Despite the fact that I’m single, Peace Corps romances are pretty common. In our group of 60 or so volunteers, there are lots of couples and the cynic in me wonders if they would have paired off under different circumstances. Not that it matters. They’ve got someone to comfort them during these two years away from home, someone who (merely by being a PCV) probably shares some core values, someone who can understand their day-to-day challenges, and I bet that’s worth a lot to them. Of course, there are occasionally Volunteers who find love in a Host-Country National (HCN, in Peace Corps speak) and my little group has those, too; two engagements (that I know of)! I’d love to see their pictures in the Peace Corps marriages photo album.
And, finally, to reinforce that I have a sense of humor about my single status, here is a list of the reasons to date a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), which will be me in just a few months!
PS, responses welcomed, but, in case it needs to be said, please refrain from any of that “you’ll find someone” type of encouragement since the point of this post is that, whether my being single is by choice or not, I’m content with my life the way it is. Which isn’t to say that I’ve “given up on love” or ruled it out for my future, but just that I’m someone who lives in the “what is” and not the “what if.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!