Many years ago, one of my colleagues became a father for the first time. One time, as I held his tiny baby in my arms, my colleague looked at me, grinning broadly, and said, “Bella, you’re a natural!”

He meant it as a compliment. He thought I seemed totally comfortable with his daughter. I was. Yet, something about the supposed compliment rubbed me the wrong way. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of my reaction, and never said anything to him or anyone else.

Over the past several months, I’ve been reading about research and theory on adults who do not have children. Much of the work is focused on women. For a long time – and even today, to a large extent – having children was considered one of the defining characteristics of a woman’s identity. To have children is to do what a woman should do. To interact with children “naturally” is to be a natural woman.

I think my resistance to my colleague’s remark came from a feeling that he was trying to fit me into a conventional, traditional box. (I saw lots of men pick up his baby, and hold her comfortably, but he never remarked that any of them were “naturals.”) He was implying, I think, that I should want to be a natural – that I should be proud of it, even.

Maybe the experience is analogous to when other people tell you that you would be a good catch. Such people are assuming that you want to be hooked and reeled in. They are seeing you through their template of what an adult should want, rather than discerning who you, as a real person, a unique individual, actually are.