Thursday, August 20, 2009

Riddle me this, Batman....

Why is it that we often feel compelled to jump onto bandwagons that we actually want nothing to do with?

The more I get to know about myself (LOTS of therapy, you know), the more I realize that most of my life I've been HEAVILY influenced by the opinions of society and especially my friends and family around me. There can be good and bad things about that, but for someone who is a "people pleaser" such as I am, it makes discerning what it is that you really want for and in your life very difficult.

For instance, growing up I always felt like if I wasn't married and had at least 2 kids by the time I was 30, then my life was bound to be a failure. Well, here I am in my mid-30s with no husband or kids around and that's ok. In fact, most of the time I feel like it's a really great thing. I get to do things, go places, have experiences on a whim that I wouldn't be able to have if I had the familial responsibilities of a husband and kids. I have a house of my own and don't have to pick up after anyone else. (Which is a good thing too because I have a hard enough time cleaning up after myself, two cats and a dog.) I enjoy my "alone" time and I like that if I want to go to bed at 8 or stay up all night long, there's no one to stop me. The problem with feeling this way and living in the midwest one believes you. I get the feeling they think I must be lying. I couldn't possibly enjoy spending alone and I MUST want to hear the pitter-patter of little feet.

Don't get me wrong. If I felt like it was the right time/place/thing to do for myself, I would certainly take the plunge into matrimonial bliss. If my husband and I then thought that the experience of having children and truly being there for them would enrich our lives (and theirs), I'm open to that as well. But if I should decide that's not the life I want to lead, I don't want to explain that to everyone that I encounter. There should be no looks of pity for those of us that are voluntarily single. We aren't defective despite the fact that this world is set up for couples and families. (If you don't think this is the case, simply try to have a meal alone in a restaurant or go the movies unaccompanied. I guarantee you will get looks.)

Ok, so let's say we've conquered the midwestern pressure to couple up. There's another sort of peer pressure that I think is out there and much more insidious. The struggle to "keep up with the Joneses". I succumbed to it about 8 years ago when I bought my house. I felt like life was passing me by. My (younger) brother was married and he and his wife had just bought a house. What did it say about me if I didn't have a house as well? So, after looking at a LOT of houses, I bought the one I currently live in. Despite the fact that perhaps it was a bit more house than I needed as a single girl (1800 sq ft, 4 bdrms), I fell in love with it the minute I walked in. It just felt like "my" house.

At the time, the mortgage payments seemed like a lot, but I wisely did NOT borrow as much as they were willing to give me and thankfully 8 years (and many raises) later, the payments are quite comfortable. I've been able to furnish it. The utility bills don't cause my heart to race every month when they show up. I'm still able to eat and occasionally splurge on myself in nearly whatever way I see fit. Sure there are lots of things I want to do to continually take care of her and spruce her up, but show me a 60-year-old house where that isn't true.

So, why is it this morning when I overheard someone talking about the offer they made on a house (quite a bit more than I spent), I suddenly felt somehow inadequate? Would a new (bigger, more expensive) house make me happier? Would I feel more loved and more important to those I care about? Would a big house really reflect my values and opinions? No. Do I still somehow feel the societal pressure to keep up? Yes. Why is that?

Is this true for other people or are other people more secure in who they are and what they believe? For them, do these things not even register on their radars? Are they somehow able to not even notice the constant "buy, buy, buy" message that is sent out because they know that if they bought that new car or bigger house, that would be the wrong decision for THEM? If this is the case, how did they get that way?

What about you? What kinds of societal pressures do you have to confront? How are you doing with those confrontations?

1 comment:

Jill said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean! I remember thinking in high school that in the year 2000 I'd be 27, and I immediately thought, "I hope I'm married by then." I wasn't. Have had to hear friends breathe a sigh of relief over getting married before age 30, and other friends who are younger than me have said they're too old to have anymore children. I'm not sure I'm old enough to have kids.

Same goes for housing. When the boom was hitting, I thought I should buy a condo. Then I took a home buying class and decided not to. Even though I'm so tired of renting and want my own house, I'm really glad I didn't succumb to the pressure of buying a condo (lot of shoddy "luxury" --i.e., overpriced--construction here in Chicago).

It's so much easier to look at other people and waste your energy comparing yourself to them. It's much harder to get to a place where you have the patience to wait for what's right for you and be willing to say "no" to yourself a lot in order to live the life you really want--at least, that's what I think.

Good post!! Isn't it a pain to have to shake the Midwestern upbringing sometimes?


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