The Pressure to “Settle Down”

Everyone is impacted by the society around them, whether they like it or not.  You may not care what other people think, but that isn’t going to stop them from telling you what you “should do” or asking you why you haven’t done it yet.  It’s not just the people around you either, it’s everything around you every day.  My Facebook is constantly filled with weddings, engagements, and babies.  TV shows are all about finding love (“The Bachelor”), getting married (“Say Yes to the Dress”), or life with kids (“19 Kids and Counting” or almost any sitcom…).

Anne's Wedding - Toronto, 2016

This pressure is especially strong for women, who are told they need to have all the kids they want before they’re 35, apparently for health reasons.  I don’t think there’s a woman over 25 who hasn’t been asked about her future plans to marry and have babies.  In fact, I remember when my friends and I were about 23.  A friend of mine had a bit of a freak-out because she was newly single.  She reasoned that she was 23, which meant she was almost 25, which meant she was almost 30! She was single and needed to find a guy RIGHT AWAY – so that her timeline of dating for 2 years, engaged for 1 year, married for 1 year, and then 2-3 kids before 30 could come to fruition!  Man – that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, and it doesn’t help if the society around you agrees.

Kim's Bachelorette Party - Toronto, 2016

This feeling is exacerbated by being a nomad, a traveller, someone who isn’t in one place for an extended period of time.  It’s not easy finding a partner if you’re only in a country for a few days or weeks at a time.  It’s difficult to decide where you want to live permanently (or even if you want to live in one place) if you’ve been to so many beautiful places around the world.  Some people don’t want kids – or if they do, they may not want to have them in a country where the hospitals aren’t as well-equipped, or they don’t have a family support system to help them out.  There are a lot of barriers to the “typical American dream” lifestyle when you travel all the time.

Thankfully, I have a supportive partner and we’re on the same page about our future timelines – but my single friends aren’t so lucky.  If they’re in Bolivia (like I am, for instance) for 6 months, should they start dating a Bolivian man?  If so, what do they do after 6 months – leave them behind or try to deal with a complicated visa process for people from “developing countries” in many western countries?  Do they start dating other foreigners?  What will they do when their paths end up leading in different directions?  It’s quite the dilemma, and I’m really not sure what the solution is.  Thankfully, many women who travel are very independent, and don’t feel that they “need a man” to make them a complete person or to have a happy life.  I completely agree.

 

The questions (or not-so-subtle comments) are never ending:

  • If you’re single: “I’m sure you’ll meet a nice boy soon.”
  • Once you have a boyfriend, the questions is: “Is he the one?”
  • After you’ve been dating awhile: “Are you guys going to move-in together?”
  • After you move-in together: “When do you think he’s going to pop the question?”
  • After you’re engaged: “Congratulations, when’s the big day?”
  • After you’re married: “Are you going to start having kids soon?
  • After you have a child: “When is this little one going to get a little brother/sister?”

It’s exhausting!

Jenn, Kelly, and I at Jessy's Wedding - Ottawa, 2016

Do you know a girl in your life – one who isn’t “settled down” with a husband, kids, and a white-picket fence?  You probably do, because we all do.  No matter what stage of life they’re in, they probably don’t need a lot of complicated questions about their future.  People already stress about what they’re going to do next, how they’re going to get a better paying job, and how they’re going to find a life partner – they really don’t need you to increase that pressure and make them feel bad about themselves.  I’m sure if they wanted advice about finding a date or a new job, they would ask! Instead, try to ask them about what they’re doing now, and take an interest in their current life, whether they’re happy or sad. Here are some questions and comments she would probably rather hear:

  • “Wow, you’re going to travel the world. That’s amazing.  I want to hear all about it.”
  • “Sorry your friends ditched you last weekend.  Do you want to come over tomorrow? We’re having a party!”
  • “You look really happy. I’m glad you’re feeling good about your job.”
  • “That sucks that your boss was being a jerk. Is there anyone at work who can help you talk to him?”
  • “Your new boyfriend is really cute! Where did you meet?”

Nuit Blanche - Toronto, 2013

Next time you think about putting pressure on another person, and what they “should” be doing – take a step back and think.  Have you always done everything that someone expected of you?  Even if you have, you may have had other dreams and goals that had to be ignored to pursue the dreams of your parents, friends, or peer group.  How did that feel?  I’m guessing not great.  By pressuring someone to make a decision they don’t want, you’re contributing to the likelihood or a person being unhappy with their partner, kids, job, and every other aspect of their life.  Who wins in that situation?  I think no one.  So, next time you encounter a single lady of 34 with no kids, don’t think “that’s so sad”, instead you should talk to her, and find out what makes her happy in her life right now – I bet at least part of it is having the freedom to travel and be her own independent person! 🙂

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