In a time where there are over 127 million women in the workforce, it seems like the days when young women got hitched and became stay-at-home moms are definitely a thing of the past. Many women today enjoy hybrid roles, living a life rich in both career and family life. But old habits die hard in my household and I’m very much feeling the repercussions of not following tradition.
In my experience, the old-fashioned European family has deeply rooted customs that offspring are supposed to follow. It’s almost as if there was a strict path set out for me before we I was even born.
Anything that remotely deviates from the envisioned destination, whether it be an interest, an idea or a dream, is subjected to such a high level of scrutiny and belittlement that any hopes I had of becoming the first female anything were crushed. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very loving (and hilarious) family. They want the best for me, so as long as ‘the best’ was becoming a lawyer, wife, and mother in that respective order.
But like any good Gemini, I gladly skipped off the beaten path and know firsthand what it’s like to feel the constraints of dreaming big in a small, box-like world. In a true rebellion, I left home; I left my friends, my relationship, and my family behind. I purged myself of anything that felt restricting and suffocating for the sunny skies of California where looking out to the ocean represented what I saw in my future: endless possibilities.
You may think that being a 32-year-old, well-educated, career-oriented woman is something to be proud of. Yet often, I felt like a failure because being an unmarried woman with no husband and children of my own to share things with, my family felt sorry for me, even if I had chosen this life. I might as well have been working as a cashier at the gas station because my accomplishments were worth nothing more than the cheap Dollar Store frame my parents put my diploma in. In their defense, they swear it’s a really ‘good quality” frame.
Deep down, I believe my parents are proud of me. For the most part, they supported my choices and when they came to my graduation ceremony they bragged to all the neighbors about my travels & kick-ass job.
It started with a trip to the South of France with my girlfriends in my late 20s. It was liberating to be away from every one, on my own, exploring another culture. The bustling cities also had a certain calm about them. While people seemed to be hardworking, there always came a time in the afternoon when people would sit back, have a slice of cheese, a piece of baguette, and enjoy a glass of wine. I wanted that balance (and that great apartment overlooking the Eifel tower.)
Then came the cool job. Having been employed as Bitchin’ Kitchen’s community manager since its YouTube days had its perks. Not only did I get to travel to from Canada to New York, Miami, Austin, Denver & California for all sorts of great food festivals every month, I also got to travel and write about all sorts of new lifestyle trends for the show’s website. When I won the award for Best Community Manager, my family was ecstatic. My father would even print out any articles about the awards the show or I had won. When I was featured in a local magazine, he proudly gave copies to all his co-workers. He did the same when my first article was published in a five-page spread in a Canadian food magazine.
But at some point, Nina the nosy neighbor asked them if I was married yet and that’s when they felt that pity they so desperately try to avoid showing me they feel. I can sense it, though, like that feeling you get when someone is creepily staring at you.
I sense it in them and in my community because some underlying social norm hints that women should be married in their late 20s. I notice it on Facebook too – the amazing race to the altar. All my friends are doing it. And every so often I get a call “ Did you hear? Tina got married!” Sigh. I envision my sweet grandmother praying for me at Sunday mass so that a man will someday marry and take care of me.
I can take care of myself.
In a time when women are getting 60 percent of the 1 million bachelor’s degrees earned each year and have riveting careers — why is it that the greatest accomplishment for a woman is still spawning children? A great accomplishment in itself, but not the only one. There could be many reasons for my family’s splintered way of thinking: old norms, the proverbial biological ticking clock, or the genuine fear that I will die alone. Hell, they even have a part of me anxious.
Regardless of the reason, it was important for me to avoid falling fall into the trap of being guilted in to submission. A great author once said “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure”. Whatever dream I had, even if that dream was as ludicrous as becoming the Ultimate Female Fighting Champion of the World, it was and still is crucial for me to try to achieve it. I’m not opposed to having a family in the future, but I didn’t want one then, not when I hadn’t done anything for myself. And that’s something that not many of them get to this day, even if they understand English perfectly well.
“Why don’t you come home,” they say. Well, I can’t answer that question just yet, simply because I do not have the answer. Or maybe, I don’t intend on coming home at all. Not when there are so many more championships to win.