Saturday, January 15, 2011

"What is success? It is a toy balloon among children armed with pins." ~Gene Fowler

I have just returned home from an evening with a few ladies for dinner, wine, and the usual female chatter. As most girl-gatherings do, the conversation revolved heavily around love, relationships, the future, kids, etc. The dynamics of the group were as follows: a married woman with a 4 year old; a woman in her early 30s in a stable, happy, committed relationship that she expects to lead to marriage and family; and me--32 and basking in the glow of singledom and independence, armed only with the answer "I'm not entirely sure" when asked if I'm seeing anyone.

The intention here is not to delve into the complexities of relationships, the desire or lack thereof to bear children, the merits and tragic difficulties of finding a good man. Instead, what I find most interesting about the course of the evening is what each of us deemed a "successful" life, what is required to achieve it, and the opportunities and do-overs that have long passed some of us by.

You'd think by now the idea of success, particularly for women, would extend so far beyond finding the right guy, getting married, and having a family. Divorce rates, shattered glass ceilings, lesbianism... any of these might serve as glaring arguments against this being the tried and true path. But it seems that no matter what else is on the table, lack of a partner and no hope for generating more people is perceived as a future certain to be lacking in happiness. One of us who didn't ever think that lifestyle was for her is now hoping to fit comfortably into that mold. And I don't begrudge her that. Who's to say that, if put into the ideal equation, I might not want the same?

But here's the irony:

The woman who DOES have the husband, the house, the kid, and the domestic life is almost wholly dissatisfied with all of it. On the rare occasions that this particular group gathers, this woman often laments the life she could've had. Of course she loves her child, but the rest of it seems to cast nothing but sorrow and frustration on most of her days. And yet, she still insists that having children is the greatest thing. "Don't give up on having kids. Just find the right guy to do it with."  She is the most bitter and cynical of us all regarding men and their behaviors, and yet... the biggest champion of choosing one, mating, and birthing.

I find it puzzling that, when one (particularly female) presents the idea that a successful future does not have to revolve around or even include a relationship, marriage, OR kids, she is met with several of the following answers:
  • Well, you still have time.
  • Kids are the greatest thing. You'd understand if you had some.
  • So, then, what ARE you going to do? 
I can tell you what I'm going to do, if I am blessed enough to make MY version of the successful life a reality. I'm going to do whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want. And I'm not about to hop up on a pink soapbox, set a bra on fire, and flush my mascara down the toilet. But I am going to boldly suggest the idea that success  is not solely contingent upon marriage and parenthood. I freely admit that companionship is a beautiful thing, and that everyone loves to curl up next to someone at night. But this is a mere ASPECT of a wholly successful life. I don't believe that success can be hung on the sole peg of being a spouse and/or parent. Success is relative. We get educations, we work for careers. We have hobbies and interests and involvements. I'm sure being a parent is tremendously rewarding, but so is waking up on a beach in Maui, completing a project after round-the-clock effort, or being rewarded for a philanthropic act. As far as I'm concerned, sleeping till noon on a Sunday is rewarding as hell. Find a parent, and ask him or her the last time that was possible.

To those of you who can't fathom the idea of success resting on anything but marriage and family, I ask you for this: Look past the sippy-cups, and acknowledge that those of us who choose a different path can be as fulfilled as you. And for Christ's sake, don't pity us for not wanting what you have. Next time you're elbow deep in poopy diapers, haven't had more than 5 minutes to shower since your kid was born, and have replaced all your favorite CDs in the car with Barney sing-alongs, think about what the rest of us are doing and ask yourself if maybe you're not just a wee bit jealous.


  1. Amen, sister. I think this is a really great example of "the grass is always greener" syndrome. Like you, I have made it my mission to become comfortable being a single woman in her 30s. That was my goal. I never really expected to actually LOVE IT. But you know, I do, and I have temporarily put the brakes on all else. The marriage? Can wait. Kids? When they come (if they come). I don't rule anything out but I see nothing wrong with celebrating the moments in life that provide us with sheer bliss and--as you said--basking in the glow of singledom, which includes (but is not limited to) sleeping in late on the weekends, not having to deal with trips to Home Depot or Buy Buy Baby, making whatever the hell I want to eat for dinner, and strapping on a pair of heels to hit da club (or Birkenstocks for my various Phish concerts). Life is what we make of it and we are in a great place in life :)

    This post sings to me, ya know. Very, very well done, Nikki!

  2. Thank you so much for all your comments, Bunny. :-) I am so excited to be a part of this new little community. Please tell me how to add a link to your blog, too. I have no idea how to do that! LOL!

  3. Nik, it's Annie. I hear what you're saying, but I think it goes both ways. Yes, your life becomes much different once you have kids; that goes without saying. Ava makes me literally insane at times, but I can honestly say I wouldn't change a thing. I had a horrible pregnancy; I literally was in serious danger of losing my life by week 35 of my pregnancy. I still suffer serious pain from all of the complications during & after. That pregnancy lead to 3 major surgeries & left me unable to have any more children. I would still do it again. Marriage is hard; no doubt. However, I was lucky. I married a man I was best friends with since we were 15. He's still my best friend today, after almost 13 years of marriage. Don't get me wrong, we bicker & argue; have our ups & downs, but I could not picture my life without him. I guess my point is, to feel fulfilled & achieve your goals, you will have to make compromises & sacrifices...regardless of what your goals are. Mine has always been to find true love & be a mom. Yes, I had other dreams too, but those were what I wanted most. Yours were obviously different. No one should pity you & you shouldn't pity those of us that rarely get to sleep in or have an uninterrupted conversation. It's all relative; we all have stresses in our lives related to our lifestyles. Women, in general, should be happy for & support one another. If you're happy in your life choices & situation (and you certainly seem to be), the people that you surround yourself with should be happy for you! I know I am! I think you're amazingly strong, ambitious, & a tremendous success~because you are happy! Happiness IS what makes you wholly successful!

  4. Oh I don't disagree with you at all, and you are an exception to the types of people that I am talking about because you recognize the flipside. I'm talking more about the people who insist that that's the ONLY key to a successful future/happiness. That only THOSE choices are the best. My "pitying" was me trying to make EXACTLY the point you are: it's all relative, for sure. The key to everything you said is, "regardless of what your goals are." That's exactly what I mean. There are many paths to an individual's idea of success.

    Thank you so much for reading and being supportive, too. It means a lot. xoxox

  5. I think it's so wrong that it is just assumed that a woman's view of success and/or happiness must be marriage and a family. If a man decides that he is happy in his life single & without children, it's rarely even questioned. I can't understand why people even care how others choose to live (provided it's not hurting anyone, of course). You've always shown that you're not afraid to do what makes you happy, regardless of what people think (I might not be there to see it, but I always got updates on you). I've always thought that just made you awesome! You just keep on loving life & wherever that takes you is where you belong, Living for yourself is "freedom"!