Society regularly influences the decisions and actions we take in life. One example that I’ve noticed more and more recently is the expectation of us (and more commonly women than men) to marry and procreate. I’ve begun to ponder what our “purpose” is, by society’s standards, if we don’t feel that these are things we want.
After reading Catherine Gray’s “The Unexpected Joy of Being Single”, I began to question society’s demands of me to marry and bear children and whether this was something I actually wanted, or had just been led to believe I wanted because that was the norm. As Catherine quotes in her book, “Society, films, song lyrics and our parents are adamant that a happy ending has to be couple-shaped. That we’re incomplete without an ‘other half’, like a bisected panto pony. Cue: single sorrow. Dating like it’s a job. Spending half our lives waiting for somebody-we-fancy to text us back. Feeling haunted by the terms ‘spinster’ or ‘confirmed bachelor.'”
I can’t speak for men, because although I know a couple of them, I’m certainly not one and wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of them. In fact I can’t even speak on behalf of women, because many women do feel that marriage and babies is something that they want to do. So I’ll just verbalise how I feel personally. Growing up as a little girl, the idea of finding “the one”, floating through a picture perfect relationship before receiving the most romantic proposal followed by a fairy tale wedding, and then bearing my husband a litter of our own spawn, was always what I felt was expected, and what would certainly happen in my life. I also thought that this was definitely what I wanted, because that’s what every little girl dreamed of. I grew up watching chick-flicks where the credits followed the inevitable story line: girl meets boy, they fall in love, have lots of babies and live happily ever after. Fin.
I’ve begun to wonder what my purpose is, the meaning of my existence, if that isn’t how I want my story to play out. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve realised I don’t have the aching ovaries that many of my peers do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ruling out marriage or kids, but it isn’t anywhere near the top of my “things I want to achieve in life” list. I want to travel to Iceland, I want to write a book, I want to raise awareness on the importance of cervical screening, and I’d really like to eat breakfast with giraffes at Giraffe Manor in Kenya. Those are all things that I’d like to, when I’m knocking at death’s door, look back on and think “I did it, I got all I could out of life.” I absolutely do not mean that I believe getting hitched and having babies means otherwise, but they’re just trumped by these other to-do’s on my bucket list.
Keaton Henson said it so eloquently in his song, “You”. He croons: “If you must work, work to leave some part of you on this earth”.
What happens when we die? Hopefully, our legacy lives on through those we loved and whose lives we touched in some way. For many, this is through their children. For me, the part of me I want to leave on this earth isn’t necessarily offspring. I want to touch people with my writing; I want to educate people and spread the word on the risks of HPV and its links to cervical cancer; I want to paint a picture that will one day hang on somebody’s wall solely because they think it’s beautiful. As Irvin Yalom writes in When Nietzsche Wept, “It is wrong to bear children out of need, wrong to use a child to alleviate loneliness, wrong to provide purpose in life by reproducing another copy of oneself. It is wrong also to seek immortality by spewing one’s germ into the future as though sperm contains your consciousness!”
Perhaps I’m seeking my immortality through other platforms.
The stigma against those who choose not to have children is real, and when researching this I found a number of resources which told me so. I stumbled across an article the other day by medium Kris Gage. In it, she writes “Psychology professor Leslie Ashburn-Nardo conducted a study where participants read about a fictional person (described as male or female with either zero or two children) and then shared their feelings on them. What she found was astonishing. When childless, the fictional people were “perceived to be significantly less psychologically fulfilled,” and not only that, but participants expressed emotional reactions such as disgust, disapproval, annoyance, and anger towards them. Ashburn-Nardo wrote,
“People experience moral outrage when they perceive someone has violated a morally prescribed behavior, something we’re ‘supposed to do’ because it’s what we see as right.”
So you see, it’s generally frowned upon by society when someone makes a conscious decision not to procreate.
I am not ruling out my having children entirely, but there are so many other things that I want to achieve and feel are my “purpose” more than having children. I am in no way bashing those who do want to, or who do get married and have children. Pledging to spend the rest of your life with someone? Committing to creating and raising another human being? More power to you. That’s a pretty admirable choice and commitment. I’m just not sure if it’s my choice. Hey, maybe it just isn’t my choice right now and I’ll read back on this in ten years when I’m cradling a child in my arms and my husband reads over my shoulder, and I’ll think “how did I not want this?” But for now, I’ve got a couple of other things to tick off my list before I kick the bucket.