This morning when I logged in to twitter, someone had sent me a DM with the following question (edited to remove potentially identifying details and broaden the scope of my thoughts):
If I write a post about <insert life choice> and all the pressure as a <insert stage of life> to <re-insert life choice>, will <insert all those people at previous stated life stage pursuing previously stated choice> get mad at me?
Oy…what a question to start the day with. My first instinct? I was annoyed that this individual felt they had to ask. NOT annoyed that they asked, because I was happy to share my thoughts. What bothered me about the question was that they knew there was a possibility - okay, probability - that there would be negative (judgmental) reactions to their choices.
You see, we have this idea that life should go a certain “ideal” way. Here’s the general order in my experience:
- You’re born.
- You have a childhood.
- You go to university or college.
- You date.
- You start your career.
- You get married.
- You buy a house.
- You have kids.
- You have a career.
- You retire.
- You travel/downsize/become a snowbird (for Canadians).
- You die.
But darn it all if humans - who made these rules - don’t bother to follow them! (I know…shocking!)
Some people don’t get a degree, including me.
Some people don’t get legally married.
Some people don’t buy a house.
Some people don’t have kids.
Some people don’t establish a career.
Some people don’t retire.
Despite all these exceptions to “the rules”, people still push these narrow and highly unimaginitive expectations on the people in their lives at the stages when they get there, disregarding entirely any possible reasons that someone might not want to follow this path.
Every time a high school graduate crosses a stage to pick up a diploma, there is someone waiting on the other side to ask them where they’re going to go to school and what they’re going to study.
Couples who date for more than six months or so fend off questions about when they’re going to get engaged. Then, they get engaged and you’d think people would be happy, but NO! That merely starts the round of wedding date inquiries.
The wedding should satisfy people, but it really doesn’t. How many weddings have you been to where the question of kids hasn’t come up? Not many, eh? Didn’t think so. Seriously? Give them AT LEAST a day before you start asking, people.
I think the time from high school graduation to probably late thirties/early forties have to be the most intense period of life changes and busybody interference and questioning.
I know people mostly mean well, but I personally found it really difficult - emotionally - when I was asked when I was going to have children. This went on for years, because I’d already lost a baby and you don’t just share that information with everyone you meet. That decision was intensely personal for me and Matt; it wasn’t something that was anyone else’s business. After one particularly awkward conversation with someone who was barely an acquaintance, I vowed that I would not ask anyone else when or if they were going to have kids. If we are meant to have that discussion, it would come up naturally in a way that the other person is comfortable with.
Then I watched a co-worker get relentlessly nosey questions (practically interrogations) about when she was going to get married to her long-time boyfriend for over three years. She handled it with grace and dignity, but it got to the point that even I was uncomfortable when it happened. So, I extended my rule to other life stages as well.
Because I don’t want to make assumptions about choices that others are making. We’re all different. We all have different experiences and backgrounds that affect our choices. The road I take is right for me to the best of my knowledge. It isn’t necessarily right for anyone else and it’s better that I build a relationship with someone to talk about these things than unknowingly creating a potentially awkward situation for them or me. Ultimately, I’ve found that I develop more sustainable and deep relationships with people when I don’t dig too deep too soon.
Have you ever felt the pressure to make certain decisions about life choices from people around you? How did you handle it?