Chick Literal Let's Stop Shaming, And Start Celebrating, Everyone's Life Choices Andrea Greb

There’s this episode of Sex And The City, “A Woman’s Right To Shoes,” that I used to really not like because I thought Carrie basically spent the entire episode being an annoying brat.

The synopsis is that Carrie gets invited to a baby shower, the guests are asked to leave their shoes at the door so they don’t track dirt in and get the kids sick, and at the end of the party, Carrie’s Manolos end up missing.  The hostess offers to pay Carrie for the shoes, but balks at learning they cost almost $500.  Carrie gets all neurotic and Carrie-y about it, the hostess can’t believe she has so much time to spend thinking about the issue and ultimately Carrie ends up making a pretty valid point about how she’s celebrated all of her friends’ weddings/babies with showers, gifts, etc. but that there’s never an event to celebrate her choices.  When I first watched the episode, I thought Carrie was just being selfish, and she sort of is (why ruin years of friendship over a pair of shoes and all that).  The thing is, though, she’s not being any more selfish than anyone else, she’s just making different choices.  Carrie makes it very clear she’s happy, even delighted, to celebrate her friends’ life events.  The problems start when her friend “shoe shames” her, judging her for choosing to spend her money on really expensive shoes, rather than more “valid” expenses like those associated with kids.

I was reminded of this episode after a recent conversation with a (single, childless) friend who’s having a rough time at work, and feeling extremely judged by her (married, child-having) coworkers for choosing to spend her free time hanging out with friends and going to the gym.  While they felt it was perfectly acceptable for them to leave work to spend time with significant others and children, they felt that her free time should always be available to work late or attend various events, as if a family was the only ‘legitimate’ commitment one could have outside of work.  While unfortunately this isn’t an isolated problem, I find that these sorts of judgments, whether stated or implicit, are pervasive outside the workplace as well.  It’s not acceptable in polite conversation to react with anything less than joy to someone’s announcement of an engagement or pregnancy.  (I used to work with a guy whose reaction to another coworker’s engagement was “To each their own, man.”  This isn’t even that bad, but it remains to this day a punchline to inside jokes because of its general inappropriateness as a reaction.)  So why is it okay to judge life choices that don’t include poofy white dresses or cribs?  If someone’s pregnant, you would never say “Well, good luck with those stretch marks,” so why is it okay for people who hear I’m running a marathon to say “Well, that’s going to totally mess up your knees”?

This is not to say I’m equating running a marathon to having a baby, but here’s the thing – there is no Great Hierarchy Of Life Choices in which Marriage and Baby reign supreme over Everything Else.  We’re all just living our lives, and as long as our choices are making us happy and not hurting anyone else, then can’t we all just be happy for each other?   If someone is taking the time to share life news with you, be it an engagement or a promotion at work or just that they finally redecorated their bathroom, it’s obviously because they’re excited about it, so is it so hard to just say something congratulatory or encouraging in response?

If you’ll forgive me one more running reference (I apologize, it’s what I’ve spent most of my free time doing for the past five months), when I tell people I’m running a marathon, I get a lot of reactions along the lines of “Oh, wow, I could never do that.”  My response tends to be “Well, you actually probably could if you wanted to, but I realize it’s not for everybody.”  It’s not “Oh, you just haven’t found the right race yet” or “Your life won’t be complete until you do.”  I recognize that running is something I love, and something I genuinely think everyone can do, but I recognize that not everyone wants to.  Why, then, is it so often when someone says they don’t want marriage or a family, the reaction is “You just haven’t met the right person” or “Give it a few years, you’ll change your mind.”  Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but when people respond this way, well meaning though they might be, they’re not respecting this person’s choice.  A spouse and kids are great, but they’re not for everybody.

At the end of the day, we’re all just making choices, trying to live our lives the best and fullest way we know how, by pursuing the things that matter to us, whatever they might be, and I think that’s worthy of celebration.  Yes, some of those celebrations are going to be bigger than others, which is all well and good.  Weddings and christenings and those sorts of things are about more than just celebrating and having excuses to eat cake, they’re about introducing new people to families and social circles.  I’m not going to go register for $400 shoes to celebrate my “wedding to myself.”  I am going to keep being excited for my friends and all the great things happening in their lives, no matter what they might be.

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  1. I am 26 and the only one of my group of friends not in a long term relationship. I recently got asked by a married, father of 1 friend ‘Do you not want children?’. My response was ‘Well yes, but I haven’t met the right person yet and I am still only 26′. Totally no appreciation of my life choice to focus on working hard and other things other than marriage and babies in my twenties, but I was there at his wedding and child’s christening.
    Perhaps its so much them not celebrating others choices, but maybe just ignorance and an inability to see other choices other than their own

  2. I’m a culprit when it comes to not celebrating other people’s life choices as they’d want me to; I always give them the response I feel appropriate, and don’t lose myself in the joy of their achievement or plans. Thank you for this article because it’s highlighted that I should try and lighten up for other people and not discount their excitements just because it isn’t something I’d do/ want to do. I’ve also been on the flipside of this where I found a lot of people were considerably underwhelmed by my choice to do a charity skydive. I couldn’t get why they didn’t see that it was such a big thing for me! So thank you for this article, you’ve deposited a determinism in me to make more of a big deal out of other peoples achievements and plans!

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  4. Nice perspective. At the end of the day though, you die with the memories you created with the humans you love, not a few hundred pairs of shoes or a brand new Ferrari.
    I don’t have kids nor am I married, and everyone has the right to enjoy whatever makes them happy, but at the end of the day comparing the happiness obtained through material objects to a true spiritual connection with another human being, or learning a life lesson that essentially makes you wiser at the end of your days, just doesn’t measure up.

    • I don’t think she was suggesting material connections are the same, I think she was just using a popular culture reference. It doesn’t matter what someone chooses to invest in (time/money/energy) as long as they’re happy and not hurting anyone.

      I love this post – it fosters such a positive feeling.

  5. This is so true! I think it goes to a lot of aspects of life as well. People shame others for all sorts of life choices (body related, job related, relationship related). If you don’t fit into the traditionally accepted box then people see it as their right to let you know as if it’s better for you to then change your life to fit into that. I say if people are happy then to each their own! I don’t find it my right to judge how others choose to live.

  6. Thank you! This is the best article I’ve read in a long long time!

  7. My best friend is a creative writing major, and when people find out, they always tell her, “well, at least you’re doing what you love…” as if there are no such thing as journalists or editors anymore, and like the only important thing about a career choice is the money you get out of it.

    • Very good point Emily. I am a currently studying marketing in college and volunteer with an animal welfare non-profit group in my spare time. I have decided use my business degree to work in the not-for-profit sector in the future. Many of my friends don’t understand my career choice and I get that same response when I tell them. It’s like, to them, my consolation prize for not making a lot of money is working for something I’m passionate about. They can’t even imagine that money isn’t a vital part of my decision-making process.
      And a great article Andrea! I too have been “rediscovering” some shows/books and finding new perspective and appreciation for them as I get older!

  8. Excellent points, and very well stated. I am actually finding the reverse to be true: Even though I live in an extremely family-friendly state, I am still surprised at the comments I get about being a mom (sometimes from total strangers, no less). In particular: I’m expecting my second and third children, twin girls due in January. It’s amazing to me how many people say to me and my fellow twin moms, “Wow, you’re going to have your hands full!” That’s at best. At worst, we get a host of questions about our fertility histories and remarks along the lines of, “Well, good luck with that. Better you than me.” This is especially crazy because it’s not like we made twins happen! And yet the judgements keep coming. Still, I think the core issue isn’t so much a matter of judgement; just one of poor manners. Whatever happened to, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”?

    • What happened was social media allowing us to say anything we want when we want and for some reason people think this also applies to the non-internet/social media world as well. Personally I wish people would keep their comments in their heads rather than blurting them out.

  9. THANK. YOU.

  10. I think it should be the same for weight; stop shaming people because they are heavier than others. Not everybody is going to be thin and like celebrating cultural diversity, we should also be celebrating that each person is unique. I am not saying that everybody should become morbidly obese, I am just saying that shaming people because of their weight isn’t the correct way to go about it.

  11. All the awards to you and this article, AMEN! When did life become a race where we see who reaches the first conventional milestone first (or at the most appropriate time), instead of a walk (or run or jog whichever you prefer) in the park where we learn and find the things suited to our wants and needs at our own time? Anyhow, absolutely loved this! :-)