Sitting with a group of women friends this week, we shared stories about how often we are approached by others asking why we had not married and settled down with a family. Hearing the consistency in how often it occurs, recognizing the judgment implied as similar to what I often hear, and understanding the impact on the other women, brought me comfort. I was reminded that I am not alone in choosing to develop myself first and then find someone to share a life with second.
Those questions started zooming around when I finished my Ph.D. and turned 27-ish. "Why haven't you found anyone? Aren't you worried about getting older? Did you know women's eggs go bad at 35? Hasn't anyone told you that women have a ideal age?" The questions are still asked of me on a surprising and sadly consistent basis. The conversation is not gender nor age specific, rather it is both women and men, younger and older who asked.
Looking around me when the questioning started, I saw that most of the women I went to high school, undergraduate, and graduate school were all settling down. I searched for role models of women that continued to pursue their career as first priority but they were few and far between. I fought hard to avoid settling.
Sitting in a room of women friends discussing this caused me to reflect on how this experience is not specific to just this topic of not marrying; the impact of other peoples judgments and ideas can be absorbed by any of us in a wide range of different situations. Homophobia, for one, another person's opinion that people should be straight. Ageism, for another, someone's idea that youth is preferred. White supremacy, anti-Semitism, wealth focus, thin preference. All of these are merely someone else's preference and personal opinions placed on us.
Although these preferences, judgments, and conversations will never cease, we each have the ability to live our best life, the life that makes us individually and uniquely happy. Asking ourselves the question of what we really want and tolerating our own answer is a significant part of staying healthy. My clients have often come to me with worries and sadness after many attempts at trying to live someone else's way. I too, have struggled with the feelings left behind after trying my hardest to conform to another's viewpoint.
Although rebelling against societies' or individual's preferences leaves us lonely, confused, hurt, or shamed, it also leaves us free and authentic. Each of us is unique and it is living precisely in that uniqueness that brings forth our health and wellness.