The phrase drives me crazy when said in the comparison of one individual to another, that modern society has a sequence of events, pre-ordained and pre-agreed, as we humans age.
I agree the masses follow a certain number of same activities. I don’t believe these are destined and must be adhered to or bad things will happen. A very specific phrase in that so-called plan that winds me up the most is ‘settle down’. As do the words and phrases – childless, finding another half and ‘going through a stage’ is patronising as hell. All terms likely created when women were in a very defined pigeonhole.
I am a very single 41-year-old woman and I’m surprised I don’t hear the “let’s find you a nice man” and “you don’t want babies?” [implied with exclamation marks at times] more frequently. My tendency for a devil stare does put people off testing my reaction. I usually have to caveat ‘single’ with ‘happily’ for those that don’t believe the two can actually co-exist. This is very much applicable to the male of the species too yet this subject is hardly ever said to or about.
The concept of stages of life has been discussed since the 17th Century and I would hazard a guess they were held true of society in the late 1800s to the 1960s but really, now c’mon, I am not the only one bucking the steps and yet currently happy, single, especially older, child ‘less’ women are considered newsworthy; somehow unusual and in need to explain themselves. If you’re unsure what I mean by the chronological stages. Note, scientists define better. Not AA’s 10 steps but here goes…
- Meet a partner
- Move in together / Marry
- Buy property / ‘Settle down’
- Parenthood by procreation
- Retirement / Grandparent-hood
Most countries in the 2nd or 3rd worlds also have an unspoken expectation but a stripped back, minimal list based even more heavily on family.
I imagine each decade had a rebellion against this tradition. I bet there was an influx of babies outside of marriage in the 60s and 70s. The UK used to dictate marriage was only applicable to a person of the opposite sex, however, I’m sure same-sex couples have been together for over a 100 years. Even retirement had a positive change recently that those who enjoy work over 70, can. This is the simple human evolution over time. Humans question their existence, environment and consequently change.
What I ask is that we stop presuming this traditional thinking applies now. That your choice to follow the above – consciously or not – is the only way.
To suit the modern world the list is no longer linear but includes offshoots:
- Second marriage
- Blended families
- Parenthood by adoption, fostering, surrogacy, artificial insemination or IVF
- And… those that do not want children
- Those that do not want marriage
I find the phrase ‘to settle down’ to be such an oddity. I know the positive intent is to become familiar with a place and to feel happy and confident in it [with or without a significant other]. I, on the other hand, see the two individual words a little negatively. Settle: to accept, make do. Down: despondent, dispirited. I cannot imagine it, just not for me.
I joke that I have itchy feet to ease the confused and quizzical. That I’ve not yet found a location that keeps me entertained and happy – that is a little white lie. London is most definitely my city because it is multi-faceted and always exciting. However when sucker punched in the last 2 years by the mundane routine of commute, work, eat, sleep, repeat. This ‘settling down’ was not necessarily a happy one even in my beloved London.
While I have clarified I am a happy single person. How many of you readers who are in couples probably thought ‘ahhh, you haven’t met the right person’. That the mundane routine wouldn’t have been bad if I’d been coupled up. This could be the case yet the routine of ‘settling down’ is what I push against.
Am I content with this routine? No. Do I need to just get on with it as ‘this is life’? How saddening that a good majority of people believe this. I can only say my motto is that ‘if I’m not happy, do something to change it’. It doesn’t have to as extreme as giving up work to travel Europe with no return ticket but then again, why the f not. If I did meet a one person I’d like to spend the rest of my life with – supposedly my other half [Don’t worry I know I need to keep this blog length down so I’ll leave this one for another posting.] – he’d need to be happy with not settling down just yet.
Childless speaks for itself – all of a sudden the word suggests I am without because I am without. In my very early twenties, I fleetingly thought the stages above would apply to me, that I would be a wife and mother before I was 30. It may be strange to you but I am grateful I am neither. I can assure any doubters that I do not feel any loss that this word ‘childless’ suggests. My hopes and dreams do not include these scrappy, noisy creatures [can you feel how maternal I am] but this does not mean my hopes and dreams are not any less ‘grown-up’.
I do object to explaining it to you, these days I still make a jokey reply so the inquisitor will move on from the subject. Internally I am raising an eyebrow, shaking my head and rolling my eyes – you get the picture. If you could resist the question unless I bring it up and use the term childfree that’d be grand. A far more positive sway to describe my choice.
After all these years of societal development, we still stereotype, I believe we always will. The spinster and bachelor have long since been an old-fashioned joke that the former ‘old before her time’ lady is on the shelf because no man would ‘have her’ and lives with her 5 cats. Even the Oxford Dictionary recognises their definition is an aged stereotype: An unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the age of marriage. Now, what was that limit to marry again? Whilst the suave rich bachelor has chosen his singledom to gad about town seducing the ladies at his whim.
Not all political correctness is needed. We only need to be more considerate and aware of how we compare others to ourselves and our ideals. Think before we speak.
Consider the many women that struggle to conceive and would give anything to be a biological mother. This is a pain I will never connect with but I can have empathy and quizzing her about her maternal plans is too close to the bone. I recognise I do it and have resolved to stop; if a couple are happy and stable – I would ask when is the wedding, when can I buy a hat? If a couple has had baby no. 1 then I raise the query about baby no. 2. If a couple have just got wed, it’s too easy to ask are they ‘trying’ for a baby.
With friends and family then, of course, their lives are of interest to me, I want them to be happy and hopeful for whatever their wants and future plans are. Its none of my business to ask outright.
If you feel happiness and well-being with the achievement of each stage then I am eternally happy for you too. What I am requesting is that we not compare one life to another by these so-called stages. That we even align success by these stages is ludicrous – the ownership of brick and mortar is deemed a success yet do we admit to the 25 years or more of mortgage debt we actively signed up for. And I include myself in this craziness.
Is procreation in an overpopulated world a success if you cannot afford to provide a secure future for the child? If you have ever watched the Jeremy Kyle Show on UK television or Jerry Springer in the states, the characters featured attest to a lack of financial stability combined with a frivolous attitude to having children.
That said, this was their choice. They chose their path. I prefer ‘path’ to ‘stages’. Simply a journey, no not an X-Factor or American Idol journey. A roller coaster to some, a route to the trig points you have chosen, in any order you so desire. Ultimately, don’t compare yourself to others, whats the point, it serves no purpose, the path is entirely up to you. Throw those preconceived ideas in the bin. Relish your own path now and enjoy others exploring their way.
We all have one guarantee. We are all gonna see the very same ending no matter how long it takes us or how we get there.
Tell me, especially any happy long-term travellers, do you have a question that irks you about how your life has evolved or a phrase how society thinks ‘we’ should live?