You know those people who at age five knew what they wanted to be when they grew up? Maybe they wanted to be a doctor and they would spend time dissecting insects or frogs whenever they could. Or maybe they wanted to be a chef and made their first three course meal when they were ten years old. Or maybe they wanted to get married, have children and be a stay-at-home parent. Well, I was not one of these people. I’m still not sure what I want to do when I grow up, but what I have known since I was a young gal is that I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world.
When I graduated from high school an aunt of mine took me to London and we did it all. We saw Big Ben, the change of guard, Westminster Abbey, Picadilly and much more. We ate fish and chips, drank at pubs, and went to Harrods for high tea. It was amazing. I loved all of it. When I came back to the States I started to plot my next adventure.
As of today I have visited 42 states and been on 6 continents. During my travels I have couchsurfaced, stayed in hostels, AirBnBs, cruise ships, hotels, resorts, retreat centers and even a few school gymnasiums. In Australia I stayed in the scariest hotel room I have ever come across (thankfully, I wasn’t alone) and in Hawaii I stayed in the nicest resort suite I will probably ever see again (where I also survived my first earthquake and hurricane).
I drove a car on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car and managed not to hurt anyone. I arrived at Amsterdam at 6 am and saw a grown man in a Superman costume walking around and kicking trash that was on the street and had to ask my friend if I was hallucinating, due to lack of sleep, to which he assured me I was not. I teared up when I saw the pyramids in Egypt. I drank more wine than a person ever should when I was in Paris. I tried to sing along with the two bachelorette parties I stumbled across at a pub in Ireland who broke out in energetic song to John Denver (yes, John Denver). In the Caribbean I swam with sting rays who were terrifying. I got the worst stomach bug I’ve ever had in India. In Uganda I met women who filled me with pride when I saw their strength and determination. In West Virginia (yes, here in the U.S.) I met children who had to use a bucket as a toilet, and shower at school because they had no hot water at home and it broke my heart.
I have had a lot of experiences that I am proud of, and I truly love this life I have been able to live, but I’m always amazed that the question I get first and the most, whether it’s from a stranger or someone I haven’t seen in a while is if I’m married yet. As if I have somehow dropped the ball on what every grown woman should be aspiring to do. When I tell them I am not, and sometimes more quickly then I mean too, they seem either perplexed or sad for my situation. I kid you not. Let me give you two examples from this past year alone.
Example #1 – I was at the doctors office back in late May getting an annual exam and the nurse was updating my chart. She confirmed my birthday (I’m not sure why because that never changes) and then asked if my marital status had changed and I told her no. She then looked at me and asked, “don’t you ever want to have children?” I was so shocked by her question that it took me a minute to process. Did this woman have a crystal ball and could see that I was going to die in the next three to five years? Or did she have some kind of super power that allowed her to x-ray my ovaries and see I only had a few viable eggs left? Also, what does being married have to do with having kids? You can be single and have kids, many people do. This nurse truly seemed concerned about my “situation” of being single and barren so I tried to let her down easy by saying that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not (which is honestly how I feel right now), to which she responded by looking at me silently for a very uncomfortable 10 seconds and then tried to joke off the situation by asking if I wanted to take her kids (yikes!).
Example #2 – At the end of July I was at a hair salon in San Antonio having my hair done for a wedding I was about to be in so of course the stylist and I were chatting about marriage and she told me all about her recent wedding in Vegas. I have always loved the idea of a destination wedding so I was happy to hear about how she had a cheap Vegas wedding and then she and her hubby spent their money on a glamorous Hawaiian honeymoon. It sounded perfect to me. She then asked me if I was married, and I told her that I wasn’t. She told me that she could see it happening for me soon. For some reason she was trying to comfort me and I thought it was a sweet thing for her to do. I should have just said thank you but instead I told her that I wasn’t sure if marriage was for me. She went silent for a few seconds and I could see her face in the mirror and could tell she was struggling with what to say next. She didn’t look sad for me, she just looked uncomfortable, like she had never heard anyone say something like this before. I quickly changed the subject and asked her about Maui because I have only been to the big island of Hawaii and our friendly banter was soon resurrected.
It is amazing to me how much value we put on women getting married. We could come across a woman that we haven’t seen in a while and she could be accomplished in many ways. She could have just completed her graduate degree, started her own business, ran her first marathon or climbed Mount Everest, but what we start jumping up and down over is whether she has a ring on her finger or not, as if marriage is the ultimate accomplishment, which it is not. Let me say that again, marriage is NOT an accomplishment. It is wonderful for women who want it, but as Natalie Brooke put it in her Huffington Post Article, “you don’t have to have a brain, drive or special skill set to get married. You just have to have a willing partner.”
Need further evidence of the value we put on marriage? Take some time over the next few days to notice what people react to on Facebook. This weekend a woman from a mastermind group I am a part of made the comment that she will post something about a social justice issue, like a brilliant article about how schools can better meet the cultural needs of students of color, and it may get 10-20 reactions, but then she will post a picture of her and her hubby, or a picture of her children and she will get 100s of reactions. What does it say about our culture when we don’t feel compelled to react to an article about Brock Turner’s early release but manage to heart the relationship status update of a person from high school we haven’t talked to in 11 years?
My plea is that we find a balance in what we celebrate for women. Marriage should certainly be celebrated but so should a number of other things. At the very least let’s have the question we ask first be about what she has been working on, or where she has traveled to, or maybe just a simple how is she doing. My other plea is that women not feel bad if they have not aspired to marriage. You are still able to live one heck of a life and although nobody may ask you about it or like it on Facebook you will still have the joy and lessons of those experiences to fill your thoughts and reflections. Also, if you ever find yourself traveling alone in Cannes River, Australia looking for a hotel room for the night just keep driving to the next town. Trust me.