Let's Stop Shaming, And Start Celebrating, Everyone's Life Choices
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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