When I was almost 31 years old, I went through a very draining breakup with a boyfriend. I breached the lease of my shared apartment, was faced with $10,000 in penalty fees, and had two weeks to shove my belongings into trash bags to move out.
I had a lot of questions, but mainly, “Why is my life moving backwards?”
Most of my friends had already settled down and were starting families, and my life felt on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Fast forward to present day, and I’m 34 years old. Although I’ve never gotten married and don’t have any children, I no longer feel like I’m moving backwards.
Still, when people find out my age, I’m asked two questions: “Are you married? Do you have children?” I always politely answer, “No.”
Friends of friends, coworkers, strangers… and, really, everyone asks me these questions. They’re normal, friendly conversational starters, and I welcome them. The questions are as innocent as, “Hey, how’s the weather?” Many my age are married and have families, and should be able to share what makes them happy.
But unfortunately, the third question that always follows is, “Lisa, do you want to get married and have kids?”
And I always answer that, yes, I’d like both.
I know that there are so many others out there who are in the same boat as me. And if you are, you understand the context behind the question, which is, “Then why don’t you have them?”
I never answer the quizzical looks to maintain my privacy. Since sharing my perspective with TODAY, friends and strangers have reached out to share the answers they keep private too: miscarriages, unhealthy relationships, and personal crises – to name a few.
Onlookers might think, “Who cares what people think? Just get over it already!”
My answer is that I care less about what people think, and more about the stigma I face as a never-married female without children. For instance, my sexuality and stability have been questioned even in the workplace, though I’m unsure why either matter.
I can also say – and with a laugh – that not one person has ever offered me a congratulations when I’ve claimed my single status. Instead, their faces always fall as they internally question what’s wrong with me and then come up with creative ideas to fix my situation. Sometimes, it’s hard to “get over it” when you’re constantly having to explain yourself.
That said… I understand the questions to some extent. People want to believe that everyone deserves a shot at true love and happiness.
But what if these two factors occur at different times in our life?
I find that when people are at one life stage, they assume that others should be at that stage, too. We want to relate out of simple human nature. I’m thicker skinned than most, and so comments like, “You’ll understand when you’re a mom,” make me wonder how sensitive introverts feel. As innocent as conversation can be, those types of quips always hurt me, because I do want to be a mom one day. I want to understand. Does the sting of these quips last longer with others?
And despite being an extrovert, the most uncomfortable situations about my dating life are always public ones. One evening, while my breakup was still fresh, I met up with a group of friends for dinner, and a friend raised her glass and said, “Here’s to being thirty and married!”
Everyone lifted their glasses in unison, and I did too because I was celebrating my friends. I noticed some whispering, and some glances my way. They finished off with a hurried cheers and then asked, “Lisa! Do you have any funny dating stories?!”
There wasn’t any malicious intent and they were trying to include me. I mean, I love them all and we all say things that we don’t mean to be hurtful. Still, the exchange was, frankly, humiliating. I drove home in tears because I felt like I was deficient in hitting life’s expected mile markers: Marriage. Children. More children.
I know that I’m not alone with this feeling and, eventually, my humiliation turned to sheer curiosity and questions of my own.
Why don’t more individuals celebrate happiness?
Why can’t we ask more questions like, “What’s been making you happy lately?”
I’m able to answer that question now. Yes, I would like a husband and children, but I value my self-worth, first and foremost. I’ve finally learned what that means. Some of the happiest people I know are married and with children. And some of the happiest people I know are divorced and single.
My version of happiness is defined by the love that I have for myself, which is fueled by hard work and acceptance. I accept that I am no longer entitled to whatever I want. I work hard and spend long hours writing, because one day I will never have this time to myself again, and I want to invest it wisely.
I also want others like me to know this: You’re not alone.
When I’m much, much older, I’ll dig this piece out of my archives and pass it to my future children. And I’ll read over this and congratulate myself for loving all of life’s transitions, its ebbs and its flows. My path is always pushing me onwards and upwards, even if I can’t always see it.