I am far from cynical.
I cry at weddings, I love romantic comedies, I have read way too many articles about love and soulmates. I will always have a soft spot for cheesy teen soap operas and I try not to think about how much of my life I have spent watching the Bachelor and Bachelorette.
And I am filled with joy and happiness in my heart when people I love find their person.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know that I’m meant for it.
As I get older I see my friends settle down, get married, talk about their plans to have kids. In these conversations I hear an urgency in their voice to get it done before it’s too late; as if they have an expiration date and the clock is ticking. They speak of their life plan to get married by 30, buy a house by 31 and have all their kids by 35. I happily listen to them with excitement, but also with an unsettling feeling in my gut… am I supposed to want that too?
The only time I feel the absence of a partner in my life is when societal expectations force me to look at it. When I bring my sister as a plus one to an event, or people in my life say “when you get married…”
I always wonder why that sentence starts with “when.” What’s wrong with it starting with “if?”
Does it make me less of a woman, less of a person, if that never happens for me?
I ask that not because I believe it, but rather to question how we judge success in our society—especially for women.
There are TV shows and movies that highlight a woman’s path to the altar, but not about her journey to becoming CEO. There are magazines and books on how to attract a man but not how to attract job offers. We encourage little girls to plan their wedding days, but not their graduation days. People throw multiple parties that cost thousands of dollars when women get married—but not when they get promoted. We give them gifts when they have babies, but what about when they achieve a milestone not associated with being a wife or mother?
There are so few role models who have consciously chosen not to define themselves only in their relation to others: wife, mother, girlfriend, partner.
I want to be clear that I have zero judgment for women who decide to be wives and mothers. Being a good mother is the hardest job in the world and I respect the hell out of women who give a herculean effort to be good at it.
I just want to know that if I decide to have a husband or a family at some point in my life, it will be a decision I make knowing it’s a choice. A conscious commitment to have this person join me in life and enhance what is already beautiful; not to fill a void or be my “better half.” Because I am whole and complete as I am.
“A woman who knows what she brings to the table isn’t afraid to eat alone.”
This well-intentioned quote has been sent to me by many people who love me… and I have mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, hell yes. Being aware of the value you offer and being confident enough to showcase that is powerful. However, I don’t like that it sends the message that if you aren’t in a romantic relationship you are alone. I have amazing friends, an incredible family, colleagues that I respect and mentors that I admire; and they are all at the table with me.
I am able to pour into these relationships because I’m not consumed with my own. I can babysit my nieces without needing to verify weekend plans, or go on vacation with my best friend without involving anyone else in the decision. I’m able to drop everything and be with someone in their time of need without thinking about how that might impact others.
I can work until midnight, build a business, invest in myself and my career without worrying how to balance it with anything else. I’m a better leader, community organizer, friend and advocate because I have space in my life to prioritize things I care about. I can treat myself with kindness by committing my energy inward; spending time alone and doing things that bring me peace.
Does this mean that I don’t want a partnership?
Of course not. It just means that I won’t settle for something that’s not right just to check a box on my life list. It means that I won’t feel like my life or my worth is less than just because I don’t have a ring on my finger.
If I meet someone good and kind and strong, someone whose strengths compliment mine and who loves me because of, not in spite of, my ambition; I will make room in my life for that relationship to thrive. But until then, or if we never cross paths, I still have things to do.
I wonder how this might play out in the rest of my life and which milestones I’ll choose to define my success by.
My parents might not be able to cry at my wedding, but they’ll laugh at my TED talk. I won’t get to have a crazy bachelorette party with my girls; but I can throw a rager when my company makes seven figures. I may never know that insanely tiring and beautiful moment when I hold my child for the first time; but I will get to watch my nieces discover what makes them feel purposeful. I might not feel the elation of getting proposed to; but I will know the euphoria of seeing the northern lights for the first time.
Liberation from societal expectations is a tiring, lonely and sometimes scary process.
I would be lying if I said that I never second guess my decisions or wonder if I should invest in hiring a matchmaker. But if I sit with those thoughts and let myself sink all the way to the bottom of what’s underneath them, I find that they don’t ring true to what’s at my core being.
What I want in my heart of hearts is to be free.
Free to love and live and experience and grow and soak up all the wonderful, weird, scary, thrilling adventures that life has in store for me.
I want to go to my grave exhausted but smiling, knowing that the only measures of success I used to define my life were my own.