As we grow up, we wonder what the future will hold for us. Travel, career, marriage, babies, not necessarily in any order: whether it’s a passing whim or a long-standing desire, it can be exciting to daydream about the endless and varying scenarios we are yet to experience.
Then, in the blink of an eye, we are all grown up. Suddenly we are living the life we spent all those years imagining – or are we?
Recently a friend of mine began questioning her life choices. Now in her late 30s, she spent her 20s building a successful career in finance. Since then her life has been a whirlwind of high pressure work demands, adventurous travel, and relationships with several very different, yet alluring, men.
I assumed she loved her life as much as I loved living vicariously through it, but a recent casual encounter clouded her perception.
While rushing through the city to get back to work after a Friday lunch meeting, she ran into an old school friend she hadn’t seen since graduating some twenty years earlier. They exchanged pleasantries and then gave each other a snapshot of their respective lives from school until their chance meeting.
Having shared a friendship and similar life aspirations during high school, neither could believe how vastly different their lives had become. My friend is a single, corporate woman living in an inner city apartment. Her school friend fell in love with a boy she met at university, married him in her early 20s and now lives in country Victoria raising their four children.
As they joked about how different yet fulfilling both their lives were, the school friend commented that she wasn’t surprised my friend hadn’t married, as she never saw her as the marrying kind.
While my friend initially thought very little of the comment (it was true she had never been particularly interested in marriage), by the time she reached my place for a coffee that afternoon she was openly offended. She then proceeded to question every relationship she’s ever had and wondered why they never ended in a trip down the aisle.
As we sat dissecting her previous relationships, I asked her why her friend’s flippant observation had affected her so much. Many of her friends, including me, are married, but spending time in our company had never prompted her to question her choices.
Eventually she admitted that, for the first time, she was questioning whether not marrying was, in the long term, something she’d regret. She made the decision, many years earlier, that she didn’t want to have children and while has always been open to a long term committed relationship, marriage is something she gave little thought to. Now as she approached 40, she was noticing more people, including friends, family and co-workers commenting on her single lifestyle and she was often left with the impression they disapproved.
My friend is not alone in her belief that you don’t need to be married to enjoy a successful long term relationship or have a family. A recent study undertaken by RSVP State of the Nation found that only 41 per cent of single Australian adults would like to marry. Yet the younger generation, it appears, is still tied to the belief everyone should find a soul mate and marry – with 67 percent of Gen Y respondents wanting to head down the aisle.
RSVP's resident relationship expert and psychologist John Aiken confirms what many women are feeling. He says, after analysing the results of the study, "singles still place social importance on marriage and many are feeling the pressure – especially women."
But clearly not everyone agrees with Aiken. As Kate Bolick, 39, famously wrote in The Atlantic, “Modern women are at best ambivalent about the idea of marriage and babies.”
The response to her claim - that due to technological advances in assisted reproduction, the gains of the women’s movement and the relative economic decline of men more women are choosing to remain single - was noteworthy, with many applauding Bolick’s choice to stay single.
But, like my friend, Bolick isn’t anti-marriage, nor is she ruling out the traditional happy-ever-after ending for herself. She is simply embracing the ability to make her own career and relationship decisions, in her own time.
As my friend and I continued chatting about the multitude of life options she was yet to explore, her phone rang. It was a man she’d met at the lunch meeting that day, just before her fateful encounter with the past. He explained he had thoroughly enjoyed her company and wondered if she would care to have dinner with him.
Smiling at the incongruity of his timing she accepted his invitation and as she departed, her familiar smile etched firmly across her face, we reiterated the irrelevance of her school friend’s comment.
“One of the best things about life,” she said, hugging me goodbye, “is that each of us have different dreams and the opportunity to pursue them.”
As she got into her car and drove away to meet her date, I had no doubt she would make her dreams come true. Whatever they may be.
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