Can you imagine working your whole life to reach a goal & have society tell you it isn't enough for you to be accepted and celebrated, that there's more you need to accomplish in order to be fully accepted as enough?
A friend recently shared a video of a man at a conference communicating to a room full of men and women advice his father provided him as a rule regarding women. The message was that “there’s something wrong” with a woman over the age of 32 who has never been married and does not have children. The speaker added that every time he’s applied this rule, “it’s been accurate”. There was a strong reaction from others at the conference with one women explaining to this man that the described woman was making life decisions to support herself and her future family. In short, the described woman is a boss.
Even with that powerful response, what do you do with this man’s generality if you are the 32 year old woman who is not married and does not have children? How is it possible to not internalize this statement to some degree or at least have to deal with it in some manner, as it seems reflective of a larger societal belief?
These questions aren’t rhetorical. For many women, these questions are a reality. I had to answer these questions as a 32 year old woman who achieved my goal of becoming a physician and also completing graduate school while being well aware that I wasn’t married and didn’t have children. It didn’t matter that in high school I had decided that 35 was a good age to get married. At 32, I was feeling the pressure of this expectation.
One approach to checking off this marriage and children item on a perceived list of societal requirements to be complete and fully accepted as a woman is to find a guy that someone else thinks is perfect for you and marry him.
I tried this approach.
It didn’t work.
I don’t recommend it.
After being in various relationships throughout my 20s and choosing to go on blind dates that could be episodes for TV comedy or drama, I still looked to others’ opinions on my love life. After a short, long-distance courtship, I agreed to wed a man that some members of my family thought was perfect for me while I ignored red flags and my own intuition. Once living in the same space, I quickly realized the mistake I had made and the damage it could do. I just as quickly filed for divorce.
My approach to this perceived societal expectation to get married was painful. It also was a wake up call that led to amazing self-discovery and growth. After some initial healing, I was able to ask myself an important question.
What would happen if I didn't get married or didn't have children?
Ouch. That question hurt … initially.
Instead of running from it or keeping myself busy with projects at work or going out with friends or on dates, I sat with that -at the time- painful question. Answering this question led me to recognize all the awesome and amazing things I had done and was doing. Asking and answering this question provided healing, acceptance, and clarity. This question led to investment in myself and a subsequent reclaiming of my sense of self on my own terms. I acknowledged that my life is full as it is and I am complete as I am. Therefore, I chose to fall in love with me.
I then made a commitment.
I promised to always be true to myself.
I memorialized this commitment with a fancy ring for the fourth finger of my right hand.
Then came my personal honeymoon!
I recognized that if I was to ever get married or have children, this would be the only time in my life that I would have the freedom of being single and doing whatever whenever I wanted. I shifted my perspective to view being single as a blessing and one that I wanted to cherish and enjoy. Therefore I embraced this gift and began tackling items on my bucket list, including bungee jumping, speed dating, and traveling to Egypt to see the ancient pyramids.
Moreover, my honest self-exploration led to the realization that I was the common denominator in all of those relationships, dates, and scenarios. As such, I had the power to make shifts in my life to create the life I desired. When I was ready, I chose to invest in gaining clarity on the romantic partner best suited for me.
This clarity and investment in myself became a time and energy saver while dating. With my heart, head, and gut in sync, I became empowered to trust my instincts. I found the partner to whom my heart, head, and gut all enthusiastically exclaimed “YES!”.
And guess what.
We got married when I was 35.
Not everyone will understand why a woman or man is single after a certain age. That's okay. I encourage you to challenge perceived societal rules and assumptions, especially if you are the one making them. Wherever you may be in life, you are enough as you are. Be present, commit to yourself, and recognize how you are the boss of your life … then go on your personal honeymoon.
Questions to consider:
Where in you life can you challenge rules or assumptions that cause you pain?
How can you invest in yourself to bring you greater peace, clarity, and a life that makes you feel whole?
Describe your personal honeymoon. What’s one step you can take today to help make it a reality?