When it comes to marriage and babies, I’m still trying to figure this shit out. I love babies – their strange alien faces and their tiny fingernails – but I never seem to get past the reality of how they signify a huge injustice. I can’t really get past how my life and career will be altered by them in a way that a man’s just won’t. I also love a good wedding. And having been 12 when Baz Luhrmann made Romeo + Juliet with a young Leonardo DiCaprio means I’m completely signed up to romance. Yet I still can’t separate hetrosexual marriage from the institution that has oppressed – and, in some cases, continues to oppress – not only women but girls. And here’s the really confusing bit: being the flawed, contradictory human being that I am, nor have I ruled out either of these things.
Like, I said, not exactly straightforward. Yet all of these unformed thoughts have been brought to the surface in the last couple of weeks because babies and weddings are becoming A Thing in my friendship group. And, as the announcements flood in, I’m feeling a pressure to figure out what I actually want and how I actually feel, because, Lord, it feels like I really should have a point of view on this – a bit like Brexit, with precisely the same confused and unknown position. And, worse, when trying to figure out my own thoughts, I’m starting to getting distracted, perhaps even unconsciously swayed, because – hey, the worst excuse in the world – it’s what everyone else is doing.
Entering (alleged) adulthood, my group of friends were the ones who rushed out of university, ran to the biggest cities we could find and worked as hard as we possibly could. While girls from school posted engagement rings on Facebook, we marvelled about the seemingly impossible future where we’d start earning our age. We squeezed our way out of big relationships, drifted around the world on our own and tried people out for size with tragi-comic stories to tell in the pub on a Sunday evening. We were the same types of women: career-oriented, hungry (in every sense), ambitious, single(ish). However, that has changed.
Holding on to your ideas about life – especially things often prefixed with a 'should' – becomes a tricky task when you feel like you’re going against the tide
While we were all headed in the same direction, now I feel like the gang has taken a sharp left turn, but I’m not so sure if that’s the right way. In what feels like an overnight tectonic shift, there’s suddenly a pregnancy, an engagement, plus a couple of joint mortgages; I think we’re even close to a dog. And when it starts to feel like everyone around you is doing X and Y, you suddenly begin to wonder if you want X and Y, too. Like, do I really want those black Topshop cowboy boots? Should I think about living in a small market town? Holding on to your ideas about life – especially things often prefixed with a “should” – becomes a tricky task when you feel like you’re going against the tide. And, as peers’ lives unfold around me, it’s as if I’m clinging to a lamppost as a stampede storms past me in the opposite direction, yet I’m not sure which way I want to go yet. Gripping to the lamppost, as my legs flap about, I’m desperately trying to stay put, while I figure out which way to turn. And, most of all, not get swept up in the wave of “that’s just what you do now”.
Plus, unlike the most famous new mother in the world, Kylie Jenner, who allegedly knew she wanted to have a baby since the age of 15, these are new thoughts for me. Sat in my friend’s kitchen just last week, I mentioned I thought I did, possibly, maybe, want kids. Really? He seemed bemused. I’d never mentioned it before. And I realised that I’d never really talked or thought about it before, because partly being a mother or wife is wrapped up in a socio-economic, political, cultural minefield that is presented to us from birth – women are supposed to be wives, women are supposed to be mothers (and all the shit that comes with those two things) – and partly because I don’t know. I’m really enjoying the path I’m on. Is it time to get off it because everyone is? We’re tribal animals – our instincts from over thousands of years is to follow the crowd. But I’m trying to resist. Not because I think babies or marriage are wrong (complicated, however, yes), or even because I don’t want them, but because I’m trying to make sure the decision is truly mine.
Looking at other people’s lives is hard to avoid these days – as well as deceptive, thanks to the nature of our filtered-Instagram-image-led existence. But there's absolutely nothing new about what is happening around me – a woman getting to a certain age, accepting a ring, pushing out a baby and continuing the cycle. People doing what we’ve always done and therefore maybe what we should always do. What is new, however, is that I have a choice. A real, actual choice. And that’s a privilege too special to mess around with. Whatever decision I make, I want it to be my own, not something borne from the fever of everyone else’s (very similar) plans.