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“It’s always such an issue of ‘are you married yet… have you had your babies yet?’ It’s just constant… I don’t have this sort of checklist of things that have to be done, and … if they’re not checked, then I’ve failed some part of my feminism or my being a woman or my worth and my value as a woman because I haven’t,.. birthed a child… I’ve birthed a lot of things, and I feel like I’ve mothered many things. And I don’t think it’s fair to put that pressure on people.”
When interviewing Gloria Steinem back in February, she stated “Being in the public eye, us women come up against this, that our value and worth is dependent on our marital status and or if we’ve procreated.”
It’s not just people in the public eye, Jennifer.
I remember the pressure that starts somewhere around 21 years old. Who are you dating? When are you going to get engaged? Are you planning on having children soon?
Could we please have a little time to figure out what we want? In fact, can I have a lifetime to figure out my life?
Immediately after college, I ran into the mom of a classmate from grade school. Her son was getting married and “achieved” the privileged position of having his engagement in the local paper. She then inquires “so… when will your picture be in the paper?”
See. No pressure.
Over the years, I’d catch up with high school and college friends after a few months. One of the first things out of their mouths was always “Are you dating anyone?”
I’m really not sure if they were trying to make casual conversation, if they really cared about me or if they were seeing how far along I was in the checklist.
I would grade my life an A on life’s wilderness and a D on life’s checklist. My life has been about the journey, the people I’ve encountered and the experiences I’ve embraced. I’ve experienced great things like receiving a master degree, having a one-act play staged, writing for religious sites, living in various areas in this country and being ordained. But according to the orthodox life checklist of marriage, babies and house, I have accomplished little.
So here I am asking you today.
Think before asking single people about their dating lives. If the non-married friend feels like sharing with you, you will know. You’ll may see photos of the new couples on social media. You may hear a former singleton ask if they can bring a date to your party. If the relationship is substantial, you will undoubtedly hear about it.
After a couple is dating for a while, think before asking them when they are getting engaged. Stop making comments along the lines of “When are we going to hear wedding bells” and “Let me know when the date is set.” They may not know and may not be in the place of their relationship to discuss this level of commitment. But all of us in relationships can tell you this: it’s rarely anyone else’s business. It’s between God and the two people who are considering sharing a life-long covenant. Please pause before asking a divorced friend if she or he is dating again.
After the engagement happens, it’s understandable to wonder when someone will set the date. Some people choose to remain engaged for a longer period of time. Please rethink your comments to the engaged person on the length of their engagement. Maybe they’re waiting until a family crisis is over or until they’ve saved enough money. But they may not feeling like they need to offer an explanation to why the wedding has not happened up until this point.
Once the couple is married, reconsider before asking them when they will have children. Deciding to have a family is a huge decision. It’s not a choice that two people should take lightly. Having children is expensive and has the potential of requiring one person in the relationship to place their career on hold. Furthermore, the couple may be having issues with infertility or other reproductive losses, and they do not need you to remind them of what they don’t have in their lives.
And then, finally, pause before asking when the next child will come along. One child may be enough for a couple. As I mentioned maybe the couple is having fertility issues. Again, if and when the second, third, fourth or seventh child is on its way, they will tell you.
So why can’t we encourage one another from our different life paths? Why must we force people onto a specific life checklist? Right now, is there a piece of you that wants to make the person feel bad for not “completing the list?” Or are you genuinely concerned about the life of the person? Instead, would you be willing ask them how they are doing, what is new in their life or inquire about a hobby/job/etc. with which they are already involved?
There are certainly friendships where asking these questions are normal for the relationships – you are close and talk about many intimate life details. But if you rarely talk with a friend, why would you ask them so many invasive questions?
I know I’ve asked the invasive questions, and I’m truly sorry that I did. Sometime, I was uncomfortable of where I was on my journey, and asking the question was my attempt to work through my own insecurity. One time after being asked “are you dating someone” for the billionth time by a good friend from college, I asked her “when are you starting a family.” (Maybe because I was tired of being asked the question by this friend.) She got quiet and said to me, “we’re trying.”
From that encounter I realized that these questions are sacred ones, and we ask them with great care. Whether it’s extended singlehood, divorce, finances, challenging marriages or infertility, we all encounter struggles in life.
I remember the Genesis story of Rachel, waiting years before being able to marry Jacob, and then struggling with infertility. She watched her sister get married and have children with the man she loved, and had to patiently wait for the time when it was right for her to “complete the list.” And then there was Hannah in 1 Samuel, struggling with the shame she received from Peninnah because of infertility.
Questions like these which seem harmless can bring shame and embarrassment to our friends or acquaintances. Let’s stop the exhausting shaming inquiries. And let’s focus on the beautiful small moments of life.