Marriage, Home Ownership, Parenthood, and Other Goals No One Is Actually Forcing You to Achieve
In a way I’m happy to see that generational angst isn’t limited to one generation.
Look wherever you want the last few weeks and you’ll find someone who’s unhappy with the way American life turned out for them: Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic examines why women still can’t “have it all,” Sierra over at the phoenix and the olive branch has an Open Letter from a Millennial about our acute awareness of our own shortcomings, and poor Jimmy Carter’s just sad that we don’t play nice with other nations (like we did back in his day?).
Okay, the last one’s less about expectations for American life than the others; I just enjoy Carter’s post-Presidential role as our political system’s loving but quietly-disappointed father.
But as far as the other pieces (and many, many more like them) go, the point is pretty basic: the rules have changed. The game kids got told they were going to play is not the game anymore. It’s getting harder and harder to achieve professional success and have that married, non-divorced, two-child household in a suburban home with a white picket fence.
And that’s sad and surely someone’s fault and yadda yadda yadda. If you want to read those sorts of articles I linked to two of them up top, and you won’t have to work hard to find more. I have a slightly different issue to raise, mostly with my generation but also to some extent with those above me (and very much with those below me, though I hope no one too young is reading this blog).
So serious-talk time, guys: Do you actually want to get married, buy a home, and have kids?
And if so, why?
I feel like those are goals that most people have not looked at objectively. The same way we’re finally starting to backpedal from assuming that everyone needs a four-year undergrad degree to “compete,” we need to be re-evaluating the “success” of getting married, buying a home, or having children.
Because you don’t actually have to do any of those things. They’re not inherent needs. They can be fun if that’s your thing, but is it actually your thing? Why?
I’m not saying some people don’t have a good answer for those questions; I’m saying many people seem to not be asking themselves those questions at all.
A whole lot of my friends and peers are desperately working their way through the dating scenes, both virtual and non, trying to find a perfect soulmate so they can get married before they turn
25 30 35 whatever depressing benchmark comes next. And they hate it. They hate the dating, they hate the websites, they hate the people; they hate the gnawing sensation that somehow they’re screwing up.
I have no idea why most of these people would want to get married.
For the people that do meet an awesome partner and decide that yes, this thing is going to be awesome now and forever, wanting to get married makes perfect sense. Marriage is a great goal for people who have found a fantastic life partner and want to arrange their life around that partnership.
But why, in the absence of that partner, would matrimony be something that weighs on your mind? It’s really not something you have to do.
Likewise home ownership. A mortgage is often cheaper to pay month-to-month than a rental lease, sure, but it ties you to that one spot and puts you on the hook for repairs and maintenance. Which is a trade I can totally see making — if you were in love with a particular house in a particular place and were willing to take those burdens to get that specific home that you wanted.
As just an abstract thing you feel like you should do, forget it. Houses are not the even vaguely-guaranteed increase in personal value they used to be. “Safe as houses” is a punchline these days. There’s no reason to take the added responsibility and the inconvenience of being tied to one place until you’re sure that it’s the perfect place and the house built on it is the perfect house.
And kids? Seriously now.
You don’t have to rush to have kids while you’re young and healthy. You don’t have to rush to have kids ever. There are already more of them than the planet can handle. Planting/popping out a couple of your own is about the most wasteful self-indulgence you’ll ever make in terms of environmental impact. Don’t do it unless it really is the major meaningful project you want to do with your life. If it’s not, do the thing you want to do, rather than doing both and moaning about how hard it is to balance your dreams with your family.
If the family wasn’t the dream in the first place, don’t fucking have one.
Now, all these things — getting married, owning a home; having kids — are things that some people might genuinely enjoy doing. They’re also things that some people might happen to be good at. In a few rare cases those two qualities might even overlap. And I support everyone’s right to decide whether they want to strive for those goals or not.
But if you’re still in the process of mapping out your life, you should take some time to think about whether or not those major “adulthood” milestones are on the route. Examine the if and the why. Question your assumptions.
And recognize that if you’re just doing something because it’s what grown-ups are expected to do, then you’re probably not doing a very good job of being a grown-up.