Society has a theory. Get a good education, find a good job, work hard, fall in love, get married, buy a house, have kids, live a life of messy, challenging but ultimately satisfying domestic bliss.
But there are so many ‘what ifs’. What if you fall in love and it doesn’t work out? What if you can’t have kids? What if you don’t end up finding someone to spend your life with? What if you just don’t want those things? What if you’re not ready in the biologically allotted time? What if, what if, what if?
There is nothing people seem to have an opinion about more than what a woman in her 30s should do with her life. Articles are constantly warning us about regret, and the risks of wanting to have it all. About the perils of attempting to be a feminist mother, or not being a mother at all. It’s as if our entire value is wrapped up in the decisions we make in a handful of years. As if any of this is in our control at all.
‘Of course it’s in your control,’ they say. Just change your behaviour, change your mindset, change your waistline. Change change change. Change to fit the ideal. Change to fit the picture. Fit the picture. Fit in. Because god forbid you don’t.
And then there’s the other voice. The one telling you not to listen, to make up your own mind. But the problem is, the conditioning is already there. The first voice, the one telling you to fit in, it isn’t just coming from mothers, and
patronising concerned writers. The voice is coming from inside. Somewhere along the journey, the messaging got inside your head. Inside your heart. The chick lit and the rom coms and the fairytales, they embedded themselves in your psyche. So no matter how unconventional you are, no matter how much you think you’re different, how much you refuse to conform, there’s still a part of you that wants the ‘happy ending’. That wants someone to say they want to be with you for the rest of their lives. And to not get that is some kind of failure.
But is it? If I wrote a hugely successful novel, but never got a ring on my finger, would I be a failure? If I never wrote a successful novel, but had a beautiful wedding would I have succeeded? What if I just chucked it all in and worked in a cafe in in a small beach town, walked my dog on the beach every day and spent the evenings reading and drinking red wine? Would that make me a disappointment to my family, and to myself? What if it made me happy?
The truth is, there is no perfect life. So why are we conditioned to believe that there is? People get married at 27 and divorced at 35. People have kids who turn out to be a nightmare. People fall in love at 45 and have a blissful unmarried life together. People spend their lives thinking they’ll have kids, and then they can’t.
Do you think Oprah lies awake at night wishing she had children, instead of a hugely successful career, and empire? Maybe sometimes. Do you think the girl who got married at 27, and had 3 kids by 35, ever wishes she had a hugely successful career, and empire? Probably. We all sometimes lie awake at night wishing we had something we don’t have. That we’d taken a different path. But the reality is, you can only take the path you take. The best thing you can do is take the path that is in your heart. Then at least when you get to your destination, you’ll know you made your decisions for the right reasons. The challenge, I suppose, is to silence all the other voices and expectations, and work out what really is in your heart.
I have a beautiful, amazing friend who lives in London, has a fantastic job, lovely boyfriend, and jets off to Europe for holidays. She, like me, grew up watching too many rom coms, and still can’t help wishing for a big romantic gesture from the man she loves. But the reality is different, and sometimes she has trouble reconciling herself with that. She is 36, and she is watching her friends at home have growing families, and a settled suburban life. When she occasionally laments that there are elements of her dream life that are missing, I ask her, ‘If you could swap lives with any of those friends with kids right now, if you could live in the suburbs and do school runs, and make lunches, would you?’. ‘No’, she replies without hesitation.
In no way is she, or am I, judging that choice. It’s a wonderful choice, and is certainly the path to happiness for a lot of people. All I guess I’m questioning is whether it’s the path for everyone. And whether we should all be shoehorned into one ideal.
There’s a question they ask you in job interviews. Where do you see yourself in ten years time? Maybe what scares me the most is that I can’t answer that question with certainty. Maybe I’ll be on a farm writing novels. Maybe I’ll be raising a son called Edward and working part time. Maybe I’ll be living in beach shack and walking my dog on the foreshore. Maybe I’ll be right where I am now, working a day job and dreaming of something more. Maybe I’ll be alone. Maybe I’ll be with the man I love. Who knows? All I hope is that I’m happy, and at peace with my own decisions.
What did John Lennon say when his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up?
His teacher told him, ‘You didn’t understand the assignment.’
He replied, ‘You don’t understand life.’