I'm at that life stage where the majority of my friends are getting married and having kids.
And there's an invisible script that once you hit 30, people feel like they need to wrap their 20s in a neat little bow and become "adults."
Step 1) Find a partner and get married
Step 2) Buy a house with a white picket fence
Step 3) Have 2.5 kids and live happily ever after
I don't see anything necessarily wrong with this life. But why is this everyone’s goal? And why achieve it by some arbitrary age?
I’ve seen people in my network rush to check all the boxes only to break up with their partner right before their wedding, or less than two years after.
Luckily my friends didn't have kids yet before they split. But I saw my parents go through a rough divorce that impacted my siblings and me forever. It sucks for everyone.
So what's my gripe with this magical life?
Having everything "figured out" by 30 (or any arbitrary number) is a dumb goal.
For the record, I don't blame my friends, or more than 50% of marriages that end in divorce, for their decisions. I simply believe our culture has brainwashed us that we need to have X and Y things before Z age.
Then guess what naturally happens? People are more incentivized to settle for a lower-quality partner to hit the timeline metrics.
And once you get married and buy that house that society validates you for, it slowly hits you.
"Oh shit. I have to spend the rest of my life with this person."
Then you realize,
"This person is nice. A pretty decent choice actually. But do I genuinely want to spend the rest of my life with them?"
It may take them a while to pull the trigger but there comes a point shortly after where they separate. Or an even worse scenario: enduring the marriage for 20+ years and eventually getting divorced anyway.
We should flip how we think about this invisible script
Our default should be to live life single and child-free.
And to be genuinely happy with our lives if it naturally turned out that way. For me,
- I'll be a crazy uncle to my nieces, nephews, and friends' kids
- I'll continue to pursue meaningful work and hobbies that excite me
- I'll get involved in my local communities and potentially be a teacher, coach, or mentor
To those wondering, yes, it's possible to live a meaningful life without starting your own family. 😜
Yes, it's possible to have meaningful relationships, platonic and romantic, without subscribing to monogamy or the idea of marriage. 🤪
And if we find an amazing human who we’d feel would be a great partner and parent, we can then consider if the family route is what we want to explore.
Notice the difference.
- Invisible script: "Settle" with someone in order to start checking the boxes of buying a house and having kids by some random age.
- New default script: Live a meaningful life. Build amazing relationships. If you find a lovely partner who you'd be excited to start a new chapter with, great! And if not, great! Life is still amazing.
Depending on the day, I don’t subscribe to ever starting a family. But honestly, I'm super open to changing my mind. And it depends a lot on the partner I choose (more on that below).
I actually see a life where I fully live my 20s/30s to the fullest, doing 90% of all the experiences on my bucket list, and reaching a point (don’t know when) where I feel like I’ve done more than enough with my life. Then I may feel inclined to start a new chunk of my life by starting a family.
But that’s not my end goal. I’m not trying to succumb to the social pressures of checking all the boxes to finally live happily ever after.
I’m flexible in where life takes me knowing that I’ll probably be happy with either path. This is the key.
To have kids or be child-free
I love this response to a question about why young people don’t want kids.
I hate how the default path is to have kids.
The kids are the ones who suffer when one or both parents didn’t want children in the first place.
I believe you should have kids if:
- You really want to have them (obviously)
- You are committed to a lifelong journey of being an amazing parent
- You have support around you. This could be your partner, nearby family, close friends, or your local community groups.
- You have enough resources to take care of them
OK before you cancel me of trying to control who should and shouldn’t have kids, hear me out.
I’m trying to express how much it sucks for kids who have to grow up with neglectful/distant parents. I know what that’s like. And some of my friends know the extremes of having physically and emotionally abusive parents.
I want to live in a world where parents have kids because they genuinely want to. Not because it’s the thing you should do because we’re at X life stage and Y age.
Note: The most legitimate reason I’ve seen for finding a partner at a certain age is strictly biological. But still, my worst nightmare would be to have kids with someone who I’m not confident would be an amazing partner and mother.
Thoughts on choosing your life partner
If you subscribe to the traditional view of marrying someone and staying committed for life, choosing your life partner is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make.
Sure, you’ve been on plenty of dates. You might have had many amazing relationships before.
But have you written down what you’re looking for in a life partner?
- What are your non-negotiables? Nice to haves?
- What does your future look like? Are your futures in sync?
- Where would you like to live? What do your ideal days look like?
- What is your philosophy on parenting? How committed are you to being great parents?
- How will you both split the physical and mental load? What expectations do you both have on being great partners to each other in the years to come?
It blows my mind how little people have thought about questions like these. Two 20-somethings fall in love and get married quickly. And then later discover that they don’t agree with their partner’s conservative views.
I’m not saying to find a perfect partner. Or to choose your “soul mate.”
I actually don’t think either of those exists.
I’m saying that choosing a life partner is a freaking big deal.
Think about it (a little, please?). Take your time. Don’t pick someone just to introduce to your parents so they’ll stop asking you about who you’re dating. Don’t settle for someone just to satisfy society’s expectations.
You may meet someone past the “ideal” age. You may discover a beautiful life without a traditional life partner.
Don’t pigeonhole your life so that it has to go in one path or else you'll never be satisfied. Be open to what comes your way–the universe may surprise you with what you need instead.
I don’t want to look back knowing I made my biggest life decisions because I was trying to fit in with what others are doing.
I want to look back knowing I lived my life aligned with my personal values and philosophies.
And I’ll say this louder for those in the back who have never imagined a life like this before.
Default to being single and childfree. Opt into a life partner and/or kids if that feels right to you. Ignore what everyone else is doing and live a life aligned with your values.
Tam Pham's Blog
I write about my adventures, learnings, and reflections on living my weird, unconventional life. Subscribe below!