A College Girl's Perspective on Delaying Marriage
Chaney Mullins |
Are We Lying to Ourselves?
School! “School is the most important thing,” we’re constantly told. As a University of Virginia student, I’m a fan of higher education so I agree it’s important. Yet with more and more pressure to pursue graduate degrees, when does it end? When does it become culturally permissible to acknowledge that many of us have personal life goals as important as professional ones?
Many young college women have an innate desire to have children, but most college women will admit it only in hushed, ashamed tones as if motherhood is somehow an illegitimate goal. It’s a hope they can’t outwardly embrace unless pushed and coaxed. To do so is to become vulnerable, to open our hearts to the rawest places, and to risk sounding regressively traditional. We rarely consider how many other women around us may also hold, and repress, these same traditional dreams.
The dreams of family can be all encompassing for some women. At a sleepover in high school, my friends and I talked into the night about our plans and what we wanted to be and do. One friend said, “I want to be a stay at home mom. That’s all I have ever wanted to do.” Even I was surprised at her sincere, outspoken admission. Few young women today would have the courage to admit that even among friends.
For others, marriage and a family have never really entered the thought process. One friend, after sharing her enjoyment of engineering school, lamented in passing that she wasn’t on track to be a teacher and would miss the interaction with children. I responded that at least she’d have her own kids to enjoy. It was as if a light bulb came on as she finally admitted to herself—and me—how important marriage and a family were becoming to her.
The pressure for women to excel and achieve the highest educational and career goals may be a relatively recent phenomenon in history, but it is still a social pressure subtly exerted by many well-intentioned peers and mentors. At a training event I attended this summer, a college intern told how a mentor, who had been helping her plan her career goals, scoffed when she asked how to factor a family into her choices. “That’s at least 10 years down the road for you,” the mentor told her. “Don’t even think about it.”
Yet thinking only of career goals can lead to disappointment and missed opportunity. At a gathering I recently attended, a man told an interesting story of his quiet conversation with his son’s serious girlfriend. He listened to her talk at some length about the “boxes she’d checked” on her way to a medical degree. He asked her, “Is this what you really want? Because I’m hearing what you have done towards the goal, but not how much you want it.” She burst into tears admitting, no, that wasn’t what she wanted. She had been so conditioned for so long to strive towards that career goal that she hadn’t really stopped to consider what she really wanted out of life.
Then there is the male side of the family equation and the pressures men face. Traditional men still want to provide for their families. But “provide” has come to mean a four-bedroom house, two cars, and complete financial prosperity, not just stability. Men feel they must clear often exceptionally high financial and/or career hurtles before they marry. Based on discussions with some of my female college friends, I suspect many young men would be surprised to learn that a lot of young women (at least the ones worth having as wives) are less interested in “stuff” and more interested in the men with whom they can truly build deep commitment and fulfilling lives. Marriage used to mean starting out and building together, not the merger of two fully established careerists.
Of course education is important to ensure women have the capacity to live independent, self-sufficient lives. Contrary to feminist myth, no one wants to turn back the clock to a time when barefoot, pregnant and tied to the kitchen was the sum of a woman’s capabilities or her choices. Yet I have to wonder if, in the desire to permanently rid ourselves of one historical extreme, women haven’t swung to another extreme in which high-heeled, lonely, and tied to the conference room sum up our lives.
If my generation wants a traditional marriage and a kid-filled family life—and many empirical studies say we do—then why do we pretend we don’t? Why are we told to dismiss those thoughts and or repress those inclinations until much later in life?
Because it feels impossible to achieve? Because the wrong signals have gone out to men and they’re waiting? Because we are under the false impression that our careers define us or that they can provide complete fulfillment? Because society lies to us about what genuine happiness is and how one achieves it?
Whatever the reason, we need to stop lying to ourselves and start contemplating life in more holistic terms.
Chaney Mullins (pictured above) served as a summer intern at the Luce Institute.