When we reach a certain age, a certain point in our lives, the people around us seem to reach certain milestones deeply embedded within each of us from a young age. It was sung to us, taught to us, drilled into us. It was the expectation set by our communities, our parents, our friends, and our society. First comes love, then comes marriage and then comes a baby carriage. It is not only expected of you, but it is something you should be expecting of yourself.
When I hit 30, I noticed my social media fill with announcements of engagements, weddings, new homes, new pregnancies, thriving careers and growing families. The new couples I speak with have their nights filled with home cooked meals, popcorn and movies while snuggling, and other nauseating activities. The couples with more time in, perhaps married and already with kids have routine baths and showers, homework and early bed times. Saturdays are bustling with visits to the park, trips to the community pool, family cookouts, date nights and farmers markets. Vacations involve road trips; Sandals resorts for the lovebirds, particularly fond of PDA, or kids running carefree in sprinklers, and having a first time at the beach. I am swarmed with images of couples in loving gazes, and cheesy, staged photos, sparkling diamonds on nicely manicured hands, wedding receptions, baby bumps and toddler pictures.
Worst of all, I am bombarded with the same questions such as "Are you married?" "Are you dating?" "Are you having more kids?" "What do you do for a living?" and my favorite, "How do you afford to travel so much?" It feels as though the goal is to make me feel shamed rather than celebrated. The tone is never one of genuine curiosity, or sincere conversation. The questions feel more like allegations. They seem filled with disdain, disapproval, and pity. However, they are often also soaked in envy and bewilderment. How does this woman make life look so good with no husband, no boyfriend, no job and the responsibility of raising a child on her own? How and why does she continue to do it on her own? What is wrong with her?
I began to contemplate the state of my life over the past few years and even jumped on the bandwagon for a time. There is something wrong with me; I am not living how I should be, doing what I should be, and feeling like I should be. I felt stuck and far behind. I was unable to keep up with these simple societal acts. Why was I unable to stay afloat in the massive pool of triumph? What defect did I have, that no one else had? In other words, why was I alone?
Only recently have I come to terms with my inevitable, but not necessarily negative, truth. I am where I am in life for one reason only. Myself. I am not here because I am less than anyone else, not because I am unworthy, not because I am unappealing, not because I fall short when bringing attributes to the table. No. Due to a series of choices made by me, and only me, I am here. I remind myself that the race is long, and in the end, it's only with myself. I remind myself that regret is a heavy burden to bear and the pain that comes with it is far from cheap. I remind myself that doing what makes me happy, regardless of what others think, is not the most important part of life, it is the only true and sure part of life.
The truth is, if I wanted to be married, I would be. If I wanted more kids, I would have them. If I wanted a thriving career, it would be exist. And I would be surviving. I would be comfortably content. However, I do not want to survive. I want to live. I do not want to slow down; I want to speed up. I do not want to settle down, I want to soar higher. I do not want the comfortably content version of events. I want the intense, passion filled, adventurous version. I live on my own terms, and it has cost me dearly, but I know no other way to live. I want to continue to grow, wander, and push the limits. I want too much to stop now.
I would like to think that I would meet a companion in the future, and have a career that makes an impact on others, a career I can be proud of. I would like to think I could find love and continue to live life, and achieve my dreams. My race looks different than most. I am racing on my own, in my own lane, with my own clock. It is not how I planned it, but life rarely is.
I need not be ashamed because I took a road less traveleld, less accepted. I need to applaud my ability to do it all on my own. I need to pat myself on the back for refusing to settle, in any aspect of my life, and I need to continue to do things that make me happy.
The most important relationship that I have is with the one person I can never escape from. And I have tried. The one person I wake up with in the morning, and lay my head down with at night. The woman staring back at me in the mirror.
Now when I am asked those questions, I do not dread them, I do not let them effect me, I do not care what anyone else has to say on the matters of my heart, wallet, family or travel habits. To be clear, I am not married because I have not found the love of my life yet. I do not plan on having more kids, but one never knows. I am finishing school after switching professions so that I can have a prosperous career and I travel so much to feed my soul. I travel so much because I have to. It is a need that stirs deep down in my gut, in a place I cannot reach. So I make it work. Those are my newly formed answers to the absurd questions aimed to make me squirm and second guess. I make it work, I make it happen and I love it. I am happy when I am having adventure, and am alive when I am taking risks, living on the edge, stepping out of the box. I am not scared of the way I live, I am scared of not living. I am not scared that there will be no cord to catch me, I am scared of not jumping. I know this may scare you, but I do not apologize for it. I know you may not approve but I do not answer to you. And I know it sounds glorious and yes, you are absolutely missing out.
By Ariella Laya
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