We live in a world with great expectations, and I’m not just talking about the classic novel. From a young age on we are constantly exposed to societal “norms” that make us think our lives should play out in a certain way.
The story history teaches us is that there is only one “normal” timeline. And we all should follow it for a happy life.
A little girl is supposed to grow up and fall in love (as soon as possible, thank you very much), get married (during peak child bearing years), and then have all those children (before geriatric pregnancy begins at 35). Once becoming a mother, she will be happy no matter what (I mean, how can she be depressed to finally have children since that is a female’s natural role?), be content in her marriage, maybe have a job or a career, and never question the order of her life.
It sounds totally silly and outdated when you read it like that, but how many of us realize that in the moment?
Because even if we grow up and re-set our priorities there is still often that nagging feeling of what we should be doing by a certain age.
I know this all too well. After getting through high school and college completely boyfriend-less I realized I needed—and wanted—to focus on a career. I wasn’t going to just expect to meet someone and follow that path. But even as I threw myself into my work and began a 16-year television career, I still expected marriage and children would soon follow.
I was wrong.
When I hit 30 and still had never had a boyfriend, I became concerned. A couple of years after that I decided it was time to talk about those concerns, and I began seeing a therapist. A year or so after that I realized I couldn’t deal with those concerns on my own and went on a mild anti-depressant.
But by the time I hit 35 I started to panic. I was no longer loving my career or my future prospects in sports broadcasting. And, most concerning, I still found myself completely single. I had never been on more than three or four dates with one guy and was scared to death that I would end up alone.
I go into much more detail about these fears in my Love Lessons series, but the general theme was, “holy crap, I’m not married with children by the time I thought I would be, so now what?”.
While my parents never put pressure on me to follow the marriage norm, just their presence did. I was fortunate to grow up in a wonderful family with parents who loved and adored each other. But my mom and dad met on my dad’s 20th birthday, were married when they were 24 and 23 respectively (my mom robbed the cradle) and had me at 27 and 26. I was not following in those footsteps, a fact of which I was all too aware.
And it made me question myself. What was wrong with me? Why was I failing at what I should have been doing?
Yet, I had a successful career. I was making six-figures, lived in an amazing apartment in New York City overlooking Central Park, had great friends and loved my freedom. If I wanted to spend a stupid amount on a handbag I did. And if I wanted to meet a girlfriend for a drink at 11:00 on a Tuesday night, I did. I also had family with whom I actually wanted to spend time, and a cat who made coming back home a welcome retreat.
But my struggle was real. I wanted to be “normal”. It became so consuming that I wasn’t even sure anymore if I wanted a boyfriend or if I just thought I should have a boyfriend.
Then a funny thing happened. I started envisioning a future without all of those societal norms. For the first time I allowed myself to think of what my life could look like on my own. Because up to that point I hadn’t allowed myself to believe I had a future. My future would only start once I finally found a boyfriend and all of those other missing pieces.
I had been holding myself back.
In the end the only thing keeping me from accepting who I was and where I found myself in life was me. I kept telling myself what was “normal” and what I was supposed to be doing at each stage of life. But it was time for me to come up with some new material.
This is when I truly began to own my timeline.
It took me many years and many more tears to realize there is absolutely positively NO SUCH THING AS NORMAL. It is possible to determine the “average”, but that is just a numbers game and isn’t indicative of how you should lead your life.
Your life is normal for you. No one else. That is your timeline. You have worked hard to make it what it is, so let’s celebrate it instead of pointing to all of its perceived flaws.
For some it is a lack of a boyfriend or husband that makes you doubt who you are. For others it’s being unable to have children. And for many it’s having a career that hasn’t followed the proper trajectory. There are plenty of ways we tell ourselves we are coming up short.
But there are also so many ways in which we are thriving.
To own your timeline is to begin to accept who you are and everything that has happened to get you to where you are right now. In this very moment. Yes, it is so important and healthy to have goals and to hope for certain events and milestones in our futures. But we also need to appreciate who we are along the way.
Six weeks after finally allowing myself to imagine and create a future as a single person, I met Marc.
I’m not saying that self-acceptance is the key to finding a boyfriend. There simply are no guarantees in that department. But it is the key to finding love. Because the love you give yourself is the kind that truly matters.