I’ve been thinking a lot about social scripts and cultural narratives lately, and the way we are rewarded for following them and punished for veering off the beaten track. I think one of the reasons wedding planning can be so difficult is that it’s the first time we’re introduced to cultural narratives full force. It starts with the (inevitable) bru-ha-ha about the engagement ring, and who proposed to who, and goes on to colors and flowers and How It’s Done. But for those of us who fought back and managed to (sometimes painfully) buck the social script for weddings, I think we often find that fight was just practice for the many fights to follow.
Recently around our house, we’ve both been thinking a lot about how we do things, and how we want to do things. Since we’re our own family now, we’ve given ourselves permission to develop our own traditions, and we’re starting to grow them – to recognize them. I’ve started to get used to the “You’ll seeeees.” The endless “Oh, wait till you have a baby, you’ll see,” and “Oh, wait till you turn 30, you’ll see.” I’ve started to try to block them out as unhelpful noise – because we heard all the “you’ll sees” about wedding planning, and in turned out most of them were not true at all.
But what I wasn’t ready for is what I call ‘The List.’ Once you get to the other side, I’ve noticed people have this idea that you’re going to change, that you’re going to ‘grow up.’ For those of us who have thoughtfully chosen somewhat non-traditional life paths, it’s a shock to realize that suddenly there is a (often subtle, often unspoken) idea that you’re going to change the way you do things. You’re going to:
- Buy a house
- Have a baby
- Move back to the suburbs
- Move back to the city
- Get a high paying job
- Get a higher paying job
- Get a more serious job
- Go to graduate school
- Stop going to graduate school already
- Settle down
- Stop traveling
- Give up your silly hobbies
- Buy a house
- Have a baby (yeah, those two deserve to go on the list twice)
And the list goes on and on.
And it’s tough. Because if you’re like me, you don’t want to disappoint people… and you want assurance that the way you’re doing things is worthwhile… and you want people to appreciate your accomplishments just the way they are. So when people are not delighted with your life choices, or are confused by your life choices – the choices you didn’t think were that non-traditional in the first d*mn place – it can be disorienting… and sometimes upsetting.
So in the same way that I found myself collecting inspiration (or really proof) that we could do our wedding our way, I find myself collection proof (or inspiration) that we can be married our way, that we can raise kids our way, that we can have careers our way, that we can be grown-ups our way.
Michael Chabon has a passage in Manhood for Amateurs about being a grown-up that I love:
We are accustomed to repeating the cliche, and to believing, that “our most precious resource is our children.” But we have plenty of children to go around, God knows, and as with Doritos, we can always make more. The true scarcity we face is of practicing adults, of people who know how marginal, how fragile, how finite their lives and their stories and their ambitions really are, but who find value in this knowledge, even a sense of strange comfort, because they know their condition is universal, is shared.
But more than that, this thinking brings up the passage by Anne Lamott, one of my all time favorite writers, in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, that has been rattling around in my head for the last five years. This passage is about her relationship with her teenage son:
… But most of all he needs me to be alive in a way that makes him feel he will be able to bear adulthood, because he is terrified of death, and that includes growing up to be one of the stressed-out, gray-faced adults he sees rushing around him.
Gray faced adults. Yes. Yes. Yes. As I move from my 20’s to my 30’s (this week) I keep focusing how I don’t want to be a gray faced adult. I tried it, briefly, over the last few years, and I never want to try it again. This is, in a way, what I went to art school for. And if I could brave three years of my crazy-ass BFA program as part of my quest to stay fully alive, I can face married life, I can face my 30’s on my terms.
So while it’s terrifying when you hear so many voices saying ‘it can’t be done.’ I have to remember to listen to that tiny little voice inside you that is saying not only CAN it be done, it HAS to be done.