Ever since I was about 16 years old, I’ve always felt like I was at least two years behind my friends and classmates. Small things like having my first kiss and a first boyfriend happened a good two years after my closest friends hit those milestones, and for most of my adolescence, that trend continued in uncanny ways.
I was two years behind my college friends to actually live in a dorm (I commuted to college) and I studied abroad as a senior, not a junior. Now, I’m a freelance writer without a steady, full-time job, and I’ve spent my first two years after my college graduation watching my friends and peers talk about work wives, commuting hell, finding apartments, and so on. I contribute little to these conversations because I work and live at home. I haven’t hit those milestones. I’m still exactly two years behind.
I’ve always felt like I was falling behind in this race, and for a long time it bothered me, then it made me laugh because of the strange coincidences that always meant I was playing catch up. And that’s it: I always felt like I had to catch up.
But why? Why should someone else’s life cast harsh shadows upon mine? This idea really hit home to me recently, and taught me that I’m not the only one who feels pressured to “catch up” and hit milestones. My two sisters both got married in the past couple years. They had beautiful weddings and are in loving, committed relationships with men I consider my brothers. Both have been married for a few months to a year, and wherever we go, my two sisters, both under 31, are constantly asked about babies.
The comments, always made my near-strangers and well-meaning acquaintances, go like this:
“So is there a bun in the oven?”
“Are you having kids soon?”
“Are you trying to get pregnant?”
“You know, it’s almost tiiime!”
When this happens, I constantly see my sisters squirm, visibly uncomfortable and straining to maintain a polite expression. Because you see: these are not appropriate questions to ask a stranger. As a sister, I feel like it’s not my place to suggest when my sisters should start procreating. There’s no “time” to start: it’s all up to you.
Which brings me to my own milestones, and my lifelong feeling that I had to catch up. The same people who ask my sisters when they’re finally going to have kids are the same people that tell me that as the youngest sister, I’m “the next one” in line to get married. They ask me about my career, if waitressing is “the only thing I’m doing” and are then judgmental when the word “freelancer” comes out of my mouth. They tell me I shouldn’t have picked English as a major, that I’m still behind. But for the first time, I’m asserting my right to say that I’m not behind. I’m not catching up to anyone. I’m doing my best and I’m right where I need to be.
Currently, I’m a freelancer and part-time waitress. I haven’t moved into my own apartment, haven’t ever worked a full-time, soul-deadening job, and am nowhere near getting engaged or getting married. Not even close. And maybe these people are truly interested in my life, and are offering genuine advice from a well-meaning heart. But it does more damage than they realize.
So when you ask me about my milestones, instead of asking me what I still have to “accomplish,” ask me what I’ve already done. Ask me about the places I’ve traveled, ask me about the books I’m reading, ask me about where I’ve been, not where I’m going. Because when you tell me I should be further than I am, it makes me feel like a failure. And that’s not okay.
I am going at my own pace. And that’s okay.