I'm starting to feel older. Already when people ask me how old I am I tell them "26", even though that milestone is still two months away. Perhaps it's living alone, perhaps it's the serious conversations with my bosses about how to turn my job into my career, perhaps it's all the research about retirement funds I've been doing, perhaps it's having an immediate family member not immediately available to me, and perhaps it's the seriousness and marvelousness of my relationship with The Boy beginning to make sense in my brain.
I feel like I've matured rather significantly over the last six months or so, and I think it's because for the first time I'm actually taking my future seriously. When I graduated from NCC I had all the hope in the world (and none of the ambition) that things would fall into place. I was young, I had time. I've since seen that success takes work, and that I'm finally not-as-content enough to begin to put in that work. There have been a lot of late nights spent pondering what my values are, what I want for myself, and readjusting the image I've had for my life that has always been in the back of my mind.
It was, perhaps, growing up with my primary caretaker being my mom that led me to believe that I, too, would be an independent lady who had my own house and my own car(s) and my own life. My mom owns a toolbox and she knows how to wield the objects therein. She would go to work in the mornings, cook us dinner at night, drive us to gymnastics and piano lessons, and read stories to us before bed. She would go line dancing with friends sometimes. Whenever something broke in the house she'd either fix it herself or knew exactly who to call. My mom always had a plan and an answer for everything; at least it seemed to be so when I was a kid. My mom did whatever was best for herself and for us. This is the model of grownup life that I have fashioned in my mind.
It was also, perhaps, being exposed to the "Girl Power!" movement and the slow scraping away of the veneer of social expectations that made me feel obligated to be a strong, independent lady. The glass ceiling still exists, wage disparities are still significant, social expectations are still wildly privileged toward men and detrimental to women and as a socially conscious young woman I feel this overwhelming burden to contribute to the de-stigmatization of women in the public eye. On the one hand, I've largely succeeded. I went to college and I graduated from college with a degree and without a husband. I pay my own bills, people respect me for my intelligence and wit, I am the sole leaseholder on my apartment, and I can't cook worth a damn.
I never assumed I would get married, but I also never assumed I wouldn't. I mostly just figured that if it happened, I wouldn't let it interfere with my life. Obviously, I never spent much time thinking about it at all. The Boy and I are tiptoeing our way toward that goal, and now that it's more of a real possibility than ever before I'm finding myself reaching with one hand for a paper bag to breathe deeply into and with the other for something solid to keep me mentally upright. I love him more than I thought I was capable of and I couldn't be prouder of him, his accomplishments, and to have him by my side. He has become family and I can easily glimpse snippets of Future Us (most notably 90 year-old Us sitting at the kitchen table in the lake house he built as he asks me to help with the Sunday crossword and I snap at him that, for the zillionth time, I'm awful at those things. Pass the World Politics section, please), but I'm very suddenly unsure of what this means for myself and my bright, shiny, independent lady life.
Believe it or not, his life and his goals are important to me, and it very viscerally feels as if I'm betraying my gender by caring about someone other than myself, most especially a man. To compromise is to have a healthy relationship, but to compromise on even the smallest details of my Grand Life Design feels traitorous. I had this awful, panicky moment several months ago when he was pondering pursuing a job in Kentucky and the mere thought of going with him made me feel like a monumental failure. After everything my mom sacrificed, and how hard she worked, and how far society has come, and after all the expectations of greatness my loved ones have of me, I was going to bow down to the patriarchy and uproot myself and everything I know for a man.
I'm slowly piecing together what happiness looks like for me, but it's a much more difficult process than I originally thought. So many messages are directed toward young girls and young women these days that I'm not sure we even notice the impact they are having until the worst possible moment. I'm proud to feel so empowered, grateful to be aware enough to know I have options and choices and to know that I could, if I wanted to, shoot for the moon and write my name among the stars. I do wonder if a balance is needed when it comes to empowering girls, though. When being told I could be anything I wanted to be I'm not sure the best way to demonstrate that was with a big red X through the image of a wife wearing an apron vacuuming the living room. Someone has to vacuum. Especially when you live alone and the entire place is carpeted.
Navigating adulthood is hard, you guys. I'm enjoying my fully developed brain and stabilized body chemistry but the weight of the world has become quite the burden.