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This week, brave shero Jennifer Aniston wrote this brilliant op-ed on the Huffington Post regarding her frustration with the media for scrutinizing her body and family structure. She has previously spoken out on these frustrations and chose to write a public post after some elaborate false reports that she was pregnant were plastered all over the internet. In her most recent piece, Jennifer noted:
Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own “happily ever after” for ourselves.
While the interrogation of my life never usually includes whether or not I’m pregnant, there are similar questions circling me whenever I’ve been in a significant relationship for a while:
Have you started talking about getting married?
Do you think you two will get married someday?
Do you think he wants to get married someday?
When do you think you’ll get married?
You think he’ll propose during (fill in the blank)?
Admittedly, being interrogated like this was much much worse in my early 20’s when everyone around me was pairing up and getting engaged. When I wasn’t dating, I was being grilled with the “are you dating someone” questions. And if I was married, I would be asked when I would be starting a family.
All I want to say in my increasing anxiety and frustration is “BACK OFF!”
Now, I don’t mind a question like this from my six year old niece because children have no filter to their curiosity. But a thirty, forty or seventy-something should know better.
I get it: people really want to see me get my “happily ever after.” Or maybe they are just curious. Or maybe there are one or two people out there who really want to know how my life has not come together. Who knows… Overall, it makes me feel invaded, odd and, in many ways, shamed for what I have or have not done yet with my life.
I must confess that I’ve taken part in a system that places expectations on other people. I read tabloids that steal moments and fabricate stories about celebrities. I’ve asked people about the relationship in the past. And for being a part of a system that tries to pigeonhole women, I am truly sorry.
Almost two years ago, I wrote this post about Jennifer Aniston and her frustration with this checklist everyone thinks she should have accomplished. Yesterday, I watched a video of the “Magnificent Seven,” or the seven U.S. women gymnasts who won the gold medal for gymnastics in 1996. They were all in one place, updating the world on their lives and reflecting back on their stunning achievement. As one of the Olympians stated “Twenty years later, it’s good just to see that everyone’s happy, everyone’s healthy, everyone is married (and) either starting families or have families of their own.”
What if they hadn’t all gotten married or planned on starting families? Would they have been incomplete as an individual or a group?
It comes down to what we believe full completion is in a human being – especially a woman. It isn’t enough that she just is a human being caring for other human beings in the world. It isn’t enough that she is made in the image of God. She must also be married and have children. And we will keep asking those questions and begging to read more until her life finds this level of completion.
Jennifer and everyone else, I’ve grown tired of this narrative too. I’m tired of feeling like I need to explain or justify to people the progression of my relationship. I’m tired of trying to fit into the world’s expectations of what I should have accomplished by 43. It’s no one’s business except mine, my significant other’s and God’s. When the time is right, we will take our relationship to the next step…
You know what? I don’t even need to say that.
And like Jennifer, I will be the one to tell you when I’m engaged or when I’m getting married. I will be the one who tells you when anything big happens in my life… if and when I feel like it. Like Jennifer, there are things I want with my life as well. But life doesn’t happen in a prescribed time, and sometimes we just want to live without the painful reminder of what we should have.
Every time one of these questions pops into our heads about our cousins, co-workers or celebrities, maybe we need to change focus. As Paul says to the Thessalonians “we urge you, beloved to (love) more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs…” It’s time for us to love one another where we are at right now without setting our minds completely on the future and what they may or may not bring.
In the meantime, I will work to enjoy the valuable small moments in life – with my significant other, with my friends and with myself. Life isn’t about waiting for the big moments. It’s about cherishing the sunshine in between the clouds.