We Need To End The Toxic Milestone Mentality— Here’s Why

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“When you’re 35 years old and you’ve never been married – and don’t have kids – you have a lot to explain to society. You shouldn’t have to, but I’ve learned when you reach a certain age, that’s just how things go. I used to explain myself with, ‘Unfortunately, my relationships haven’t worked out as planned,’ or I’ve deflected the awkwardness of nosy questions with humor.

If I wanted to answer honestly, I’d explain I stayed in toxic relationships longer than I should. I took time off to work on myself. I wanted to focus on kids when the time was right for me. Some days, I’d feel a need to overcompensate by pointing out other areas of my life, like the accomplishments I’ve hit in my career as a writer.

The truth is, I do want kids and my age is a source of anxiety for me. Sometimes it keeps me up at night. Am I fertile? Can I have kids? Will I ever know what it feels like to be pregnant? Will I be able to chime in when my friends talk about their pregnancies?

Sure I’ve been told, ‘Hey, there’s adoption!’ That’s certainly on the table for me, even if I can have children of my own. I’m a huge proponent of adoption, because I myself am adopted. And therein lies the other source of my anxiety, which is not knowing my medical history. I write this not to deter anyone from adopting though, because loving, beautiful families are formed through it.

But yes, I would like to know my genetic risk factors. Knowing would inform me more about the complexities of my own health, particularly as I age. Yes, I can eat and exercise better. Yes, I’d like to know if breast cancer and MS, and a spectrum of other diseases could be vulnerabilities for me and for future kids of mine – if I can have them. Yes, I can do genetic testing, but it’s different. I can’t call my mom and she can’t say, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I had that too.’

I laugh because when I was in my twenties, I shuddered at the thought of kids. I went to graduate school and I pursued my dreams to be a writer. I dated along the way and, as I got older, I learned I wanted to pursue my own version of happiness. I learned I’d rather be happy and independent than unhappy and in a relationship.

Still, a woman is judged as complete by way of our Toxic Milestone Mentality: marriage, children, and more children. The perfect home. The corner office. And so women, like myself, are constantly peppered with questions as to why we haven’t hit achievements by a certain age. As if we can 100% control all factors of life. As if life’s some foolproof recipe.

But what if our unnecessary judgment and questions push someone else to stay in her toxic relationship – simply because it’s where she ‘thinks’ she should be in life? What if the questions we ask each other compromise another’s happiness?

Shouldn’t we celebrate happiness in all seasons of life? Shouldn’t we celebrate walking away from a toxic relationship the same way we celebrate walking down the aisle?

Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to embrace life’s timing and its ebbs and flows. I’ve learned how to use this precious time to grow into the person I am today, learning as much as I can.

Now, at 35 years old, I’ve learned my age can also be on my side. I’ve learned the importance of a healthy relationship. I have that now. More important, I have that now with myself. I’ve learned to pursue my career goals with my faith and fiery work ethic, and I know now anything is possible.

I’ve learned that, no matter the life stage, if you keep wondering what’s next, if you keep wanting the next big thing, you will never have enough. You will never be enough. And through that, I’ve learned life doesn’t happen how I want it to happen. Sometimes, tremendous growth comes from pain.

It’s OK to be happy where you are in life – but still have anxiety about what’s next. Sometimes life is the bigger picture.

But in other times, it’s the smaller picture, and right now it’s best for me to live my life day by day and through the small moments, before I let it pass me by.”

Courtesy of Desiree Ortman Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lisa Cleary, a tough love self-help writer and author of How to Survive a Breakup: When all of your friends are birthing their second child. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here.

Read more from Lisa here:

‘Don’t wait for the guy. Order the takeout, draw the boundaries. Stop buying lavish gifts for family and friends and save up for that laptop you wanted.’: Woman urges ‘happiness starts when you stop waiting’

‘Dear mom, you’re never a bother. I love you, and what we have will always be special.’: Woman urges ‘tell your mom you love her’

‘Virtual happy hours, Facetime, Google Duo… There were always so many ways to take 5 minutes out of our day to show someone we love them, and we care.’: Woman says ‘this is a global reminder to speak with love at its fullest’

‘Here’s to being 30 and married!’ Everyone lifted their glasses in unison. I drove home in tears, 33 and single.’: Woman faces ‘stigma’ for being ‘unmarried and childless’

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