Britany Robinson and her parents in 1989. Photo: Supplied.
My favourite photo of my parents and me is from 1989. My mum is rocking a poodle-like perm and a daisy-print dress. My dad is wearing a beige suit and a boyish smile. He's holding a three-year-old me upside-down. We're on the stairs of my parents' first house, and from the looks of it, we're bursting with happiness.
My mum is about 30 years old in that photo. This year, I'll be 30, too.
This blissful snapshot hangs on my fridge. Sometimes I imagine my mum popping out of the picture – she shakes her head as I eat chips over my sink and let my dog, Jackson, lick peanut butter off a spoon.
I live alone, so I can do things like that. Jackson appreciates it when I share.
My mum worries about me, like all mums worry about their kids. But I suspect that because I'm nearly 30 and perpetually single, my mum worries a little extra.
I recently ended a three-month relationship with my first boyfriend in six years. When I called to tell her about the split, her response was more emotional than my delivery.
"I just want you to be happy!" she exclaimed in a shaky voice, as if this breakup might prevent that.
The photo on my fridge is a typical picture of happiness for my parents' generation. Marriage? Check. House? Check. Kid? Check.
We were a team of three, then four (and much later, five) who marched to the beat of domesticity. Mum and Dad argued about whether Dad's speakers demanded too much space in Mum's exquisitely decorated living room. The dog barked in the yard while "Wheel of Fortune" appeared on the kitchen TV at 7 pm and we ate pigs in a blanket.
My life is nothing like that.
I'm in the process of buying my first home, but there's no husband or child to pose in it.
Before we broke up, my ex helped me look at houses. But I knew that whichever place I chose would be for me, not the two of us. I've grown so accustomed to being single that I rarely imagine the long-term with anyone else in it.
If that sounds selfish, that's because it is. I'm in a pretty selfish place right now, and I like it that way. I want my new home to be a reflection of my style. I don't want to consult anyone about the colours I'll paint my walls or how big my speakers should be.
Sure, I've thought about how nice it would be to have a partner help me move my thrift-store furniture from one side of town to the other, then the two of us would eat takeaway food on top of unpacked boxes. But the image that feels more familiar is what will play out when I move in a few weeks: I'll pack my life into boxes on my own, hire movers, then eat candle-lit takeout by myself or with friends.
Being on my own, after all, has allowed me to focus on other priorities over the years. I never could have toiled away at my writing career for the better part of my 20s if I was trying to start a family. You can't feed a baby with "exposure" in publications that don't pay.
But if you're single and childless, you can work late nights at a bar, then roll out of bed the next morning with just enough time to write for an hour before your day job begins.
A lot of us live like this. A 2014 Gallup survey found that only 16 per cent of people my age (18 to 29) were married. Getting hitched and having kids in our 20s is more the exception than the rule. For our baby-boomer parents, however, this reality might be more confusing than liberating.
I can't expect my parents to understand a life that differs so drastically from their own, just as I'll never understand the nuances of the lives they've lived. Maybe they fought after that photo was taken. Maybe they were stressed about finances. Maybe I'm not wearing shoes because I threw a tantrum and refused to put them on. Photos never capture the whole story.
When my parents think about me moving into a house by myself, they might picture me struggling to lift heavy boxes and swearing at a pile of Ikea rubble - two things that probably will happen.
But the bigger picture includes the fact that I have a career I love, supportive friends and a dog that makes me smile every day.
And I'll have the satisfaction of lifting those heavy boxes and building a new life on my own.
The Washington Post