“Don’t worry. You still have time.” I’ve been getting that a lot recently. I suppose that it’s meant as some sort of consolation, as in “I can take my time to move on from my abusive ex-boyfriend because I’m not that old, yet.” Despite the person’s good intentions, this phrase always comes off as a negative. A reminder that I don’t have it together, that I’m still a mess even though it’s already been 9 months since I broke up with my abuser (but hey, who’s counting?). This phrase inadvertently sets a deadline for when I should feel better. I may still have time now, but how much longer until it’s too late? How much longer until I am permanently deemed a mess and a lost cause?
But on a deeper level, it’s a reminder that I am not conforming to society’s expectations of me. Because people my age are starting to get married and settle down, or at the very least are in a serious relationship. Me? No, I remain terrified dating. It’s been quite a while since I broke up with my abuser, but the thought of a man coming near me, being close to me physically or emotionally, makes me want to run the other way screaming.
But the thing is, I don’t know that I want what society expects me to want. I don’t know that I want marriage, kids, and living in a house with a white picket fence. I don’t know that I ever really did. And sometimes, that leaves me feeling like a failure.
There is a tremendous pressure on young women to do it all – earn the degree, get the amazing job, find the perfect husband, have beautiful children who will go to ivy league schools and be just as successful as you are. And wanting those things is most definitely not bad. It’s human nature to want to find companionship and have a family. But not wanting all of those things is also okay. Yet we seem to forget that so easily. If we aren’t married/dating/having kids, we feel the need to make excuses – “I’ve been busy with work,” “I don’t have time,” “I just got out of a serious relationship.” We make these excuses because we fear being looked down upon, or being subject to others’ pity or judgment. We’re left wondering “Am I failure because I don’t have these things right now, and I’m even not sure if I do want them?” But there’s no need to justify what we want or don’t want in life, and there is certainly no reason for anyone to judge.
Some of the most remarkable and successful people never married or had children. For example, Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel refused to conform to society’s expectations for her from day 1. She wore pants and comfortable clothing instead of corsets, she didn’t ride sidesaddle on horses, she traded in the ostentatious hats popular at the time for simpler designs so she could work, and let’s not forget about the fact that she was building her empire when women had just barely gained the right to vote. She not only revolutionized the world of fashion, but also helped liberate women from the dependent and rigid lifestyles they were expected to live. Born an orphan, she came from nothing, and yet the work she did and the movement she inspired lives on to this day. Gabrielle did all of these amazing things but she never married or had children. However I most certainly wouldn’t say she was a failure. I would say she was probably one of the most successful and extraordinary women that ever walked this earth.
I honesty don’t know much about what I want right now. But I do know what I don’t want – I don’t want to be pitied or judged, either because of what I went through or because I don’t have all the things other people my age do. I don’t want to be compared to them or to anyone else. I am truly and uniquely me. And for the first time in my life, I think I am finally starting to be okay with that.
All I ask, is that when you want to comfort a person by telling them that they still have time, think the better of it. Tell them that they are beautiful and amazing just the way they are in this very moment. Chances are, those are the words they really need to hear.