F*ck Your Timeline

Seriously, let it go

Once in a while I have these conversations with younger friends or the daughters of my older friends who will say things like, “When I feel sad about still being single at thirty (thirty-three, thirty-five, thirty-seven, or thirty-nine) I think of you Moe, and how happy you are now. You’re an inspiration to me!” The words meant as a high compliment always kind of stick with me in the wrong way. Is it really so inspirational that I got married for the first time at forty? My close friend’s sarcastic retort went something like, “You know Moe, you really are an inspiration. Let’s be honest, most women would have curled up and died instead of being single at thirty-nine.”

I know what these younger women are referring to. I should have gotten married out of high school, or out of college, or at age twenty-four, twenty-seven, twenty-nine, or whatever prime age is being published in the latest news article. Then when the appropriate amount of time passed I should have given birth to my first child, then a second, and perhaps even a third. I should have purchased a home with my loving spouse in the ideal perfect neighborhood located near a good school. There are some variations to the timeline, but the sequence of events is roughly the same.

When I grew up with my friends as teenagers, we speculated about the future. I grew up in a conservative Christian church and the narrative for young girls was the same. You would marry young. (Because it was better to marry than “to burn with passion.”) As a young married couple you raised your children “in the way they should go” and volunteer to teach Sunday school. If you were really devout, perhaps you would dedicate your lives to church planting in another city or country. This ideal timeline was taught to us as young girls. The highpoint of our young lives would be the day we walked down the aisle as brides. So it was a sad surprise to me when I found myself still single at twenty-nine and the last girl standing at the end of wedding season. To be single at thirty was the stuff of horror stories that struck fear and pity in the heart of every God-fearing girl at a slumber party. Life had not turned out for me as I had been told it would.

So my journey from age twenty-nine to thirty-nine was a long one. I left the church for a while. I went back to school. I changed jobs. I moved to a different city. I dated. I dated the wrong people. I dated a lot of wrong people. As I lay awake at night I could sometimes hear the ominous tick-tock of my biological clock reminding me that I was still very single at thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-five, and thirty-seven. I finished school. I got a better job. I traveled. I had a lot of single-girl adventures, and at times I was also very lonely. I went to therapy. I stopped dating. I took time to think.

When I met my soon-to-be husband for our first date, I was tired, jaded, and had almost given up on hope. Because of all the bad relationship experiences I had, I concluded that a healthy relationship was not ever going to happen for me. But he was a really kind and thoughtful man on that first date. To be honest there were no sparks or chemistry. I just remember looking at him over my bowl of pho and thinking, “He’s so nice. I would totally be friends with this guy.” Ultimately we got married, and that looked nothing like the big church wedding I imagined for myself when I was younger. (But that’s another story.)

It’s been almost two years now since we got married. We sit and make plans for the future and sometimes even talk about retirement. I guess that’s what forty-somethings do. I don’t know if children will be a possibility for us, and I regret that I didn’t meet this loving man ten or fifteen years ago. I think of all the wasted years I spent without him. But we both agree that if we had met then we would not have been ready. I would not have been mature enough to be committed to him. He would not have been ready for me either. Our paths crossed at the right time. The years I considered wasted were filled with experiences and heartache that prepared me to recognize how wonderful he was for me.

When my younger friends lament about their fears of never finding “the one” or how they’re too old to still be single, I sympathize, and I also want to shake them a little bit. Fuck the timeline. Seriously, let it go. Your life’s journey will not look like any other. In fact, I can almost promise that it’s not going to look like what you think it should! You are not living your Plan B life because you didn’t marry your first love or whoever it was you broke up with. (The same is true if you haven’t finished school yet or achieved some other milestone.) If you continue looking at life thinking, “But I could have had…” or “If only I had…” you will never fully enjoy what you have right now.

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  • Anne Schwartz

    Sparkle friend! This is fantastic. Thanks for this. <3

  • scw

    yes! a moe post! I actually did meet my FH years before we started dating. sometimes I have the thought that if I had seen in him then what I see in him now, I would have saved myself from a lot of terrible relationships (not terrible boyfriends, just bad combinations). but it’s not true. like you say, I wasn’t ready for him then. I needed those bad relationships to recognize my good one for what it is now, and I needed to grow up as a person and have my single life to prepare me for this partnership. I’ve seen many friends over the years insist on relationships that aren’t so great for them just because they feel like they ‘should’ be in something serious by now, and it can be hard to watch. I love the advice that, if you focus on the ‘shoulds’, you run the risk of missing out on the present.

    and while I’m typing… wedding planning has gotten pretty real and stressful this past week. I’ve needed a little break from wedding blogs but love apw too much not to read the new posts. then this week of fabulous posts- from brass rings, to stepmother, to this one- show up to remind me that the wedding is, really, a small thing compared to the marriage and the life we build with our communities. thanks for the perspective!

  • single

    Yes yes yes and Amen! Thank you for the reminder. I’ll hit 30 this year and while i’ve managed to finish college 3 times, bought a house and have a job i don’t quite hate …. the complete absence of prospective hubby can get to me at times. Seriously best reminder ever!

    • Moe

      Dang girl, I couldn’t even remember to check the oil in my car at 30. Rock on!

  • anon

    love this post, though I am saying screw the timeline from the other end.. engaged at 21 and the number of people who have bombarded me with annoying “but why? but why? why? why?” questions because of my age is ridiculous. well meaning folks for sure, but it is annoying as heck when people you barely know think it is okay to bombard you with assumptions about your life because they have this fixed timeline in their head that people should get married mid to late twenties. and anything before or after that is bad. Seriously? SCREW THE TIMELINE.

    • SarahRose2

      Married at 20, in a community that does NOT marry at 20 (and 19-year-old me didn’t expect to be married before 30). :D Right there with you.

      Moe said it best: “Your life’s journey will not look like any other.” I don’t get why we are all so stuck on this platonic ideal of a timeline when exactly NOBODY lives it. We are all just taking life as it comes, trying to do as well as we can, and deal with the fact that we only have limited control over a lot of the major things that happen in our lives.

    • sara g

      Yeah, I’m engaged at 23 (will be 24 when married) and I stil get people saying “Wow, you’re so young, are you sure?” blah blah, and then making thinly-veiled hints that we will get divorced.

      • anon

        omg this. people making thinly veiled jabs that I’m probably just pregnant, that we will starve to death, and get divorced and my poor parents will be the ones to clean up the mess…. gahhh!! I just keep trying to tell myself that these people act like this is all so important now, but once we actually get married, people will shut up and move on to find something else to jab at.

    • Alyssa M

      We’re in our mid-twenties, so our engagement seems to fit most people’s expected timeline… but still my favorite line from this is “Fuck the timeline. Seriously, let it go. Your life’s journey will not
      look like any other. In fact, I can almost promise that it’s not going
      to look like what you think it should!” because I get sick of hearing from those who marry later that “oh there’s no way you’re ready to marry in your twenties, I was still a baby!” and the prevailing APW sentiment that you’re not ready to get married till you’ve lived out your crazy single life.

      I met my life partner in high school. I have only ever slept with one man. I’ve never been a single adult, and I (God willing) never will be. That’s just what my life’s journey looks like so far.

      • Valerie

        We also met in high school, and weren’t in any hurry to get married…our wedding date will be our 16th anniversary! We got plenty of nudges and pokes from people before we decided to get married, and we’ve gotten plenty of “Finally! I’d just about given up!” comments since. You cannot fulfill everyone’s expectations or standards, so there’s no point in trying. But I still can’t seem to get rid of the self-protective wincing sheepishness I feel when people ask me how long we’ve been together, which is really fucking annoying.

    • Jennie

      You can never get it right. We started dating at 21 and it took my husband five years to be ready to get married & we got married after we were together six years. Everyone kept asking why we’d waited so long. But if we’d been ready after two years, we would have been 23 and everyone would have thought we were too young. ‘The Timeline’ isn’t a real thing.

      • ediblesprysky

        Thank GOD for this site. THE TIMELINE IS NOT A REAL THING. Amen. We have basically the same timeline as you (I was 20 when we got together). But we’re not engaged yet, and that’s okay too! And I’m doing the same wincing sheepish shrug that Valerie mentioned above, every
        time someone asks me how long we’ve been together. And we’ve only (only!) been
        together for five years. Yeah, it feels like a lot, and I would certainly like to be engaged by now. (Not going into THAT here.) But five years together, in the
        context of a marriage? No time at all.

    • K.

      We’ll be 26 and 27 (The National Average™) when we get married. My parents think we waited too long, his parents think we should have waited until 30. It’s all super arbitrary, which is why saying “fuck the timeline” is appropriate for everyone.

      • LaikaCatMeow

        Whoops, I turn 26 next month and boyfriend is younger than me, so wedding isn’t happening for a few more years. So much for averages!

  • emfish

    One of the best things I did for myself in my mid-20s was decide that I would not make marriage or children a goal. It’s not that I didn’t want those things. But since getting them was not something I could make happen on my own, I figured it would be a waste of time to focus on them. Marriage and children generally require another person, and finding that person involves luck and timing. I didn’t want my happiness to rest on chance.

    I’m not saying this decision magically made me happy, or that I loved every minute of being single. But it made me reframe what happiness meant to me, and that has had a lasting, positive affect on my life. I understand that it’s my job to make my own life joyful and fulfilling, even now that I’m sharing it with someone else — you can’t rely on another person for that. And I’ve learned that creating that joy and fulfillment doesn’t necessarily mean doing the thing everyone else says I should do (like get married and have kids, or pursue a prestigious career). That knowledge helped give me the courage to change the way my life and career function after I was laid off, so now I am actively pursuing a career I’m passionate about.

    So yes — f*ck the timeline. Not just because it will help you appreciate what you have now, but also because learning to say know to societally-imposed bullshit is a pretty damn useful skill.

    • Meg Keene

      This is all really interesting conceptually, just in terms of thinking about framing things for ourselves. I knew I wanted to get married and have kids, but (possibly because of how my parents framed it for me?) I never thought of it as a goal. I’m not sure how I framed it for myself, more as something that I figured would happen later when I was ready, and would happen however it happened.

      I really loved being single, and I put (then and now) huge value on creating my own life and internal happiness. In fact, there was a point where I could have started dating David, but he was just out of a relationship and wanted a new relationship and I was like, “Oh seriously dude, get your shit together and make yourself happy on your own terms.” Not that I seriously thought I’d ever end up with him, just that I was never going to date someone who wasn’t happy on their own terms. Then, later, he was really happy on his own. Funny enough, we started dating after that.

      So. Interesting stuff. Perhaps we should never ever think of it as a goal.

    • Jenny

      Yes, I agree! I have always been big on making life lists, putting my dreams on paper. But for me marriage was never put on there because I always felt like it was something out of my sole control. It was something I wanted if I found it and it felt right, but it didn’t feel like something I could really work towards. Some time during my 20s I decided I needed to make my self happy, and that my life needed to be enough, just me. I didn’t want my 20s to be the time I spend at bars and clubs I didn’t really like, and joining activities because I might meet someone, especially if those didn’t work out. I acknowledged that I would be sad if marriage didn’t happen, but that I would be fulfilled and happy on my own. It was hard, and honestly it was work to reframe and start making decisions without the “but you might meet someone there”

      So yes, make your self happy, as you.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    “You are not living your Plan B life because you didn’t marry your first love or whoever it was you broke up with.” Uh huh. Absolutely. This Plan B life bullshit? No thank you.

    • That Plan B part connected with me too. This is the only life I get, so even if things haven’t gone as I wanted them to go…. I will make the best of it… and hope that that what’s gone “wrong” will be redeemed somehow later by something beautiful that comes along that never would have happened otherwise… That’s my hope, anyways…

  • Amy March

    I’m really tired of being told that it’s wrong to worry I won’t find someone to have children with before it’s too late. Why is it wrong to be scared that your life won’t turn out the way you want? To be sad that you’re alone when you don’t want to be?

    • Violet

      I hate when people tell me how to feel too! I would never say that it’s wrong to feel how you feel. (Mainly because an emotion can’t be “right” or “wrong.”) I’m not sure that’s what Moe is doing/intended to do here, but I can’t speak for Moe, so I’ll leave it at that.

      Some people (I’m not saying you, I don’t know you) become so overwhelmed by their negative emotions that it creates problems in other areas of life. (Eg, I have a friend who is SO depressed by the fact that it is now extremely unlikely she’ll have bio children, which is a desire of hers, that it clouds her relationships and makes living her life the fullest extent possible very challenging.) At some point, if those people want to say, “Enough, I don’t want these feelings anymore,” it can be helpful to have support. Specifically, other people re-affirming that negative emotions can be let go of, if they are no longer serving a purpose for you. Anyway, that’s what I took away from this piece.

      • Moe

        Wasn’t my intention to tell anyone how to feel. I can really only speak from my own experience with any authority or clarity. As long as I could remember I always wanted to be married and have someone to share my life with. BUT, then there were behaviors that resulted out of that worry that weren’t so great. I stayed with the wrong person. I beat myself up and labelled myself a failure. I believe that no one would ever love me. I made bad decisions for myself more times than I care to admit.
        I don’t disagree/disapprove with the longing of wanting to be in relationship because it’s such an innate part of who we are as humans, to want intimacy, to be known, etc… BUT to go down a bad road because you’re making decisions from fear isn’t something you want to do.

        • Stella

          Exactly to the point about not making decisions out of fear!

        • Violet

          I didn’t think it was your intention, but I make a point not to speak for other people’s thought processes. ; ) Thanks for this wonderful and thought-provoking post, Moe! It’s really helping me think about how to best support my friend (mentioned above).

    • Violet’s second point (below) is exactly the point I wanted to make—for SOME, being told to let go can help them reframe thoughts/negative feelings. And I wanted to reiterate, as always, that all APW posts aren’t going to speak to all people, and Moe’s piece is just one side of the argument.

      One the other side, I give you Amy Poehler.

    • I think that’s fair. The book “Meeting Your Half-Orange” was actually super helpful for me a few years ago because it’s all about admitting that you WANT to find love. That was…a huge shift in my mindset. The author compared wanting a relationship to wanting presents on your birthday. Like, it’s okay to hope for birthday gifts and be bummed if you don’t get them…you shouldn’t necessarily let the lack of it ruin your life, but it’s an okay thing to want even if it seems shallow or silly. Reading that book helped me feel comfortable saying, “Yes, I’m totally independent and have a TON going for me…but also I want someone to share it with. Big fucking deal.” (And…right after I said that out loud and on the Internet, I found it!)

      On the other hand, I think the concern a lot of people have is that when we focus on big things that we can’t totally control (whether it’s a dream job or a relationship or children), we’ll get so caught up in that and be devastated if it doesn’t work out…when the reality is that sometimes those changes of course work out really well for us in the long run. So I think that’s where a lot of the messaging of “It’s okay if things don’t go as planned” comes from.

      • Amy March

        You are in my head! I also loved Other Half Orange, and have in fact now found mine :). But the sadness of being single is still really close to me. Love the distinction between being sad, and experiencing devastation that interferes with the rest of your life.

        • rys

          I really enjoyed Moe’s piece and the spirit contained within and emanating from it, but I think it’s really important not to paper over the “sadness of bring single.” The past 4 months are really the first time in my adult life that being single has just been reality without being a painful burden. Yet that is not the result of an epiphany or a conversion moment, but rather wholly tied to the incredibly deep and devastating sadness of my father’s sudden death. So I suppose the f*ck timelines has a particular resonance for me right now.

          That said, I can also see how the essay could feel like reading an increasingly common narrative that harnesses the emotions of relationship success achieved without reflecting, much less lingering, on the really difficult, often sad, frustrating, and lonely, feelings that suffused the process. Even my favorite essays on the challenges of being single in one’s 30s (Sara Eckel’s brilliant Modern Love column, last week’s APW essay, etc) all start or end with an acknowledgement that writer has found a partner (permanent or otherwise). Those essays capture a lot of the things I’ve felt and I derive a lot of strength from them, but I do wonder if they could be written and work without the hook or endpoint of finding someone. If you rock out on your single life, admit you want to find someone, and then….nothing, not just for months, but for years and decades, well, where does that leave you? I don’t know, but it is something I think about a lot.

          • Erin E

            “If you rock out on your single life, admit you want to find someone, and
            then….nothing, not just for months, but for years and decades, well,
            where does that leave you?”

            Yep. This about sums up my 30’s. It just gets exhausting reinventing yourself again and again after ended relationships (and spans of voluntary non-dating). Something I thought about a lot was “OK-fine. What if I never find anyone? Like, ever. What will my life look like?” and I tried to start building a life that included a lot of fulfillment from different areas. Almost like a backup plan in case I truly never found someone. And then I also read “100 Years of Solitude” and took comfort in the idea that people find love at any age and every age. Just because I didn’t find someone in my 20’s doesn’t mean I won’t find an amazing love in my 40’s or 60’s or 80’s. Life is (knock on wood) long and there are many chances to find love along the way. Best make a life for yourself that inspires you in the meantime. Framing it like that helped me a lot throughout my 30’s.

      • Fiona

        Other Half-Orange! I’ve never read the book, but the expression is the best. The only place I’ve heard it, though I’m sure it’s not exclusive, is in the Dominican Republic. It’s the Dominican way of saying “soul mate.” …you are the other half of my orange.

        Anyway, great points, Rachel. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • zoe

      Yep. I know the feeling. I think having a timeline for marriage and a timeline for kids are two completely different things (even though they often go together). I firmly believe that you can find love and/or get married at ANY age. 21, 35, 50,75, whatever. BUT if you that that (FOR YOU) its important to conceive and carry your biological children, unfortunately, it’s a much more limited timespan. And it does have an end point. That doesn’t mean we should all freak about being unmarried at 29. And it doesn’t mean you should settle with the wrong guy. But it does mean that if those things are dear to your heart/what you want in your life, you might want to consider things like freezing your eggs, becoming a single mom by choice, etc. It sounds so anti-feminist, but until science progresses even further on reproductive technology (and i hope it will), it’s still a biological reality.

      • Bets

        My timeline for having children has emotional factors as well as biological ones: I want my children to get to know their grandparents, so for me that means having kids in the next few years. I had a great bond with my grandparents so it’s important to me to try to give my future children the same thing. Some of my girlfriends want to have kids around the same time as their siblings so they can raise them together. I think timelines for yourself (finding love, growing as a person) are different from timelines that consider family or other people who are important in your life. I don’t want anyone – church, society, parents, whatever – to tell me when to get married or have kids, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t consider how my choices will affect their role in my life.

  • CBledsoe

    Amen! It’s like I could have written this myself. My fiance and I are getting married next year just shy of my 36th birthday. We both agree that had we met in our 20s, we probably wouldn’t have liked each other. I needed all the bad relationships and bad dates and years of being single to recognize how good this one is. Thanks for writing this!

  • jashshea

    YAAH! More Moe writing! Such a good reminder that the “way many people do things” “the right way to do things for me.”

    I met my husband in my late 20s, and while we were ready for a serious relationship, neither of us was ready for marriage for several years. I sometimes lament over the fact that we waited so long and how it’s altered some expected timeline or another (kids, travel, living overseas, retirement). But that’s so silly to worry about! I, personally, am a terrible predictor of where I’ll be and what I’ll want 5-10 years into the future. Thank you for reminding me to live in the moment (even if the current moment is a cubicle moment).

  • Kat Robertson

    Oh, I can relate to the church culture you describe. In my Southern Baptist college ministry the only acceptable paths to take after graduation were marriage or missionary. If, like me, you chose neither no one really talked to you much anymore. Church is a difficult environment difficult to be single in and I also quit for a while. I’m in a much healthier church culture now, but still Fiancé and I are getting married a good 3-7 years older than anyone else at 29 and 30. I have no problem with getting married young – the friends who did mostly have wonderful marriages (and cute babies!) but I wish my path had been honored also, because it turns out that it was the perfect one for us.

    • mere…

      “You would marry young. (Because it was better to marry than “to burn with passion.”) ” – I didn’t know whether to roll my eyes along with or laugh at this sentence because it was SO familiar!

      • Kelsey

        This fact frustrates me to no end–did they all miss the part where Paul wishes everyone would be like him? I volunteer with a para-church ministry that sends leaders to specific high schools, so my subculture is focused on a very demanding pattern of ministry. So many leaders get married young, because they don’t want to burn with passion, and they’re burning with passion because they’re making out with their boyfriend, and they’re making out with their boyfriend because they don’t want to be alone. The whole getting married part is great if its what you’re called to, but then they try to do both, and they end up letting their ministry detract from their marriage and their marriage from their ministry. I just want to yell at them all to pick one and do it with excellence. One of the people on our team is about 27, a great leader, dedicated to his students and the younger leaders he disciples, quite happy to be single and focused on ministry. People are always trying to fix him up, like his life won’t be complete until he’s married with 2.5 kids. It drives me crazy. (this topic is one of my 2-3 major theological soap boxes, so excuse the long reply)

        • Moe

          Growing up it was a huge issue for me too! Don’t get me started!

    • Moe

      it’s my personal opinion that churches don’t know what to do with single people, divorced people and single parents. often I’ve seen these groups kind of trying to fit in and some churches are making a better effort now.

      • Alyssa M

        I’ve yet to find a church that has any sunday school group between college and “young marrieds” and it’s a huge frustration. Even after my wedding, my partner won’t be attending church with me and I doubt I’ll be able to find my niche…

        • Kelsey

          My personal solution to this problem is to go to a tiny new church plant, where there are two groups, and they’re divided based on whether you’re free on Tuesday night or Wednesday night… Not sure what our church will look like in 30 years, when its more established (or if we’ll even still be around), but for now the people I interact with at church/small group include a middle aged newlywed couple, several families (kids–both children and teenagers–included), a few 20-something singles, and a family that includes two adult sons with intellectual disabilities.

          • Alyssa M

            I don’t know of any new church plants in my area(small city that already has more churches than church-goers)… but trying the churches too small for segregated sunday school groups is an idea I hadn’t considered before…

          • Outside Bride

            And isn’t that going to be fantastic, because not only are you benefiting from all those different perspectives, you are also building a support network where you may be able to take advantage of each other’s different time commitments and skills. Those 20 somethings might be thrilled to house-sit for you and use the big screen, when all your same-age friends have the same commitments you do that bar them from moving in for a week. That couple in their 50s has had a more or less successful home renovation and would love to help you figure out where to start and pass on lessons learned. This seems like a ideal model to me.

        • mere…

          One of the biggest complaints I hear from people about our church’s “adult singles” classes are that the majority of people go there spouse hunting, rather than utilizing the group as a place to grow in faith. I was actually so frustrated by those complaints that I didn’t even attempt to visit the group after graduating college.
          Later on, my (then) almost fiancé and I joined a group that was actually called “nearly/newly married” because we wanted a community with shared beliefs and were specifically seeking other couples in similar life phases as us. We were questioned multiple times about if we belonged there because we weren’t actually engaged, despite having been together longer than most other couples in the group and having stayed together through some pretty big, challenging life events that really tested our commitment. We both absolutely love our pastor and appreciate his thought-provoking sermons, but I have been really discouraged by the congregation’s (as a whole) inability to welcome us or know where to put us because we didn’t follow the Bible Belt’s “life plan”.

          • Alyssa M

            That whole “questioned multiple times if we belonged there thing” is a huge church failing in my opinion. If there were more intermingling of demographics, and we weren’t SO concerned with everyone being in the right group, I feel like we could learn a lot more from eachother and build a tighter knit community.

        • Dawn

          Our church has a ” young adult” group – It includes families, couples, and singles from college through 40s. And it’s not a huge church. I went to this church for a few years before my now-husband and I got married in part because it was that rare comfortable church in which to be 30 and single.

        • Kara E

          I wound up in a fabulous church in DC that had a good “young professionals” class/group. It was so lovely to not be buttonholed into single/not single as the way to organize my corporate faith journey. People tended to stick around until after their first kid(s) – and then mainly because life got too messy.

      • Yep. Agreed. I was in category 1 for ages. (I got married in my early 30s.) Now I am in category 2.

  • Sharon Gorbacz

    Cheers to you! I just got married a few days ago, 4.5 months shy of my 40th birthday. The timeline is totally bogus – I envisoned myself married and pregnant at 21 because my mom had been married at 18…

  • merryf

    Yes! Thank you! I started dating my husband in 2007 when I was 42 (we knew each other casually for several years before) and we married in 2010 just after I turned 45. And one of the first things we ever talked about is saving for retirement ;-) My life turned out *exactly* the way I hoped — a fabulous single life all the way into my 40s, with travel and education and adventure and experiences, that were possible only because I wasn’t in a relationship. And I needed all of that time to figure out what I wanted in life and how to grow up enough to be able to see it. I had to have all those decades of dating and bad relationships to know what’s important, not only when I’m 40, but when I’m 80. Sure I was sad I was alone some times. But like Thoreau wrote, you have to Live the Life You Imagine.

  • Brilliant. My life has turned out much better than I could have ever planned. The plans were totally unhelpful and created much stress and drama. Let go of the timeline!

  • lady brett

    “Your life’s journey will not look like any other. In fact, I can almost promise that it’s not going to look like what you think it should!”

    yes, that. for me it’s almost the opposite of the timeline you’re talking about (getting married and having kids was *not* what i thought my life was going to look like), but wherever you’re coming at it from, that is so true.

  • Fiona

    This is brilliant. Truly brilliant. Marriage isn’t a race, but lord almighty, we make it feel that way. Reading this probably isn’t going to make any lifechanging feels for people struggling with this, but it does give me a moment of peace and the permission to chill out.

  • Ash

    I love this piece Moe. Congratulations on your relationship and following the path that is true to you.

    I have a different example of timeline expectations… I am getting married to my partner of 7 years next week(!) I am 29 and he is 27. A lot of people tell us that we are too young to be getting married. Others tell me I’ve waited too long. It’s surprising to me to hear that and interesting to hear other peoples perspectives. Everyone has their idea of what ‘timeline’ is appropriate. I find the whole idea so absurd. We have been through so much together and are getting married because it is what is right for us. Should we wait longer to meet some arbitrary age criteria? Should we have done it sooner because that’s what you do? I really hope people don’t actually adhere to these expectations and make big life decisions based on what is expected.

    F*ck the timeline!

    • Eh

      After my previous relationship ended I met with a counselor who said that you should date ten people a year until you are 30 and you shouldn’t even consider marriage until you were 30 (I was 26 and I had been in a relationship with the same guy for 5.5 years). She also said that if I wanted to get married young that I should move to a small town. She was the second counselor that I fired in the week after my ex and I broke up. (The first told me to start dating right away – this was the day after we broke up – and he thought that I was subservient and dependent on men. The second one also thought that I was needy and chronically depressed. I found a really awesome one the next week.)

    • Moe

      Opinions are like noses, everyone has one huh?

  • Julia

    Love this line you wrote: “You are not living your Plan B life.” Whenever I start to get all “what if”-y and too focused on the past (what happened, my choices, what could have been, etc), I think of this quote by Kazuo Ishiguro, “There was another life I might have had, but I am having this one.” It reminds me, like your post, to stop obsessing about what did/didn’t happen and enjoy what I’ve got right now. Beautifully written!

  • galfromaway

    Your story is so similar to mine. I didn’t meet my husband till I was 36, and we got married when I was 39.

    Moe, you wrote:

    “I don’t know if children will be a possibility for us, and I regret that I didn’t meet this loving man ten or fifteen years ago. I think of all the wasted years I spent without him. But we both agree that if we had met then we would not have been ready. I would not have been mature enough to be committed to him. He would not have been ready for me either. Our paths crossed at the right time.”

    So does this mean you don’t regret meeting him sooner in the end?

    I met my husband 6 years ago (as of today!) and we had our daughter in Feb 2013 (that’s a story unto itself). There are times where I wished I had met him sooner, and wonder how our lives would have been had that happened, but both of us agree that we had things that we needed to experience in life before we met, and like you said, our paths crossed when they were supposed to.

    I hope children are a possibility for you, however that’s meant to happen (biological or adoption). :)

    • Moe

      My husband and I lived less than 3 miles away from each other and we also happen to have a number of friends in common. We discovered this after we met online. I’ve speculated that perhaps we could have met some other way if we had not gone online. So who knows? I hope that we can have decades of being together. Children? I don’t know, that’s a whole other post. Still trying to figure that one out. :)

      • galfromaway

        Three miles apart? That’s amazing. :) So close, yet so far!
        I’d be happy to share my “having kids” story with you if you ever want to hear it.

  • E

    Maybe they meant it as a compliment because some of us get married when we shouldn’t and admire someone who didn’t/doesn’t do that. I get how it sounds like a backhanded compliment and probably doesn’t come across the way they intended.

  • Eh

    THIS – “But we both agree that if we had met then we would not have been ready. I would not have been mature enough to be committed to him. He would not have been ready for me either. Our paths crossed at the right time.”

    For us it’s the opposite – he would not have been mature enough and I wouldn’t have been ready for him. In the end everything lined up and we met each other at the perfect time.

  • macrain

    I will be 34 when I get married, and one of my biggest anxieties (and also one of the biggest fights I’ve ever had with my fiance) is when we will have children. I want to start right away and he doesn’t feel he will be ready. So, this post is pretty salient for me.
    When I do get worked up about it, I remember that there is a lot of joy in what’s happening right now. I’m thankful that the wedding planning process has been more or less a happy one for me, and this feels like a very special and super close time for our relationship.
    I think it’s important that I don’t view this time in my life as the time where I was dying to start having children (and feel as if I’m suddenly surrounded by babies). It’s hard tho.
    Beautiful post, Moe!

    • Dawn

      Having kids is such a huge time-line issue! It doesn’t matter what others think of your child-related time-line, but it does matter what your spouse thinks.

      It sounds like you’re a woman, and you’re engaged to a man. It’s sad to think in stereotypes, but this dynamic is so common. I think it’s very hard for men to understand the pressure and anxiety women deal with in regard to fertility. My husband and I talked about this before we got married, and one of the questions we considered was: which sounds worse for each of us– having a kid before you decide you’re totally ready or waiting and finding out it’s not going to be as easy as you thought (maybe you’ve waited too long, maybe you have a mysterious fertility problem, maybe it takes years to have a child –fertility treatments, adoption). How stressful is it for each of you to wait to try, for each if you? You may not have the same answers, in which case the communication is all the more important.

      Our mutual agreement was to wait what would sound to most like not long enough, and then wing it. A few details: my husband and I both definitely wanted kids. We used NFP so no potential bc issues. We’re not Catholic, btw. I was simply way too stressed to wait for a few years to try, and our lives are stable enough for kids. I’m pregnant now, and we haven’t been married a year. He’s more excited than I am, possibly because I’m in e first trimester and feel sick all the time. I also feel lucky because I’m 33, and as has been pointed out, fertility imposes a time-line if pregnancy is involved.

      All that to say–good luck.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Sounds like you handled this really well. I’d love to see a post on how someone who could hear a ticking biological clock taught a partner to hear it too. It’s a 2-fold thing: Just educating them about statistics, and then trying to explain your resulting feelings. My mother is an OB-GYN and had fertility issues before and after I was born, so I’m keyed into all the statistics and stories on these issues. I’ve had the “babies don’t always just come when you plan” discussion with a few serious partners, including my husband, but usually tears were involved.

      • Anon for now

        I’m with you on the fertility conundrum. My DH and I lived together for 2 years before getting married, and because I was 33 when we married, we decided to go off of the pill and start trying right away. After 17 months of no luck, we started fertility treatments this fall/winter – still no luck. Took late Feb/March “off” from treatments and now I’m 6 weeks into my first trimester just like you. We’re both excited, but Dawn, I am right there with you in feeling uncomfortable during my first trimester. Good luck to you!

        @macrain – something to share with your husband, as Dawn pointed out and as my situation, “trying to conceive” make take one try or it make take years of trying. TV & movies have us all screwed up thinking it happens “just like that.” Yes, for some people it might, but for others of us, especially as we get older, it gets a lot harder and takes a lot longer. I hope you and your fiance are able to figure out together what “ready” looks like and are able to keep the conversation going. Good luck!

  • friedpod

    What a self-possessed, wise piece. as my therapist used to say (god what an american, urban phrase!)’there is no should’. so glad she’s sharing what more people should be thinking.

    • anon today

      my english teacher in high school used to say “stop shoulding all over the place!”

  • Class of 1980

    Forties? How about fifties? So, I’ve been sitting on top of a secret. Only a couple of people in my life even know.

    Late last year, two separate psychics told me that an ex-boyfriend would come back. They said he thought of me as “the one who got away.” I immediately thought of someone who I’d never take back and thought it didn’t make sense anyway. But it wasn’t that person.

    Last month, by a total fluke, I reconnected with an old boyfriend from high school who told me he’d been looking for me since January without success. He divorced 14 years ago and I divorced 13 years ago. He didn’t jump back into anything serious because he was still raising his children, and I didn’t because I’d had enough of men for a while.

    We met in high school 40 years ago 1973-1974 in debate class, became friends and started dating that summer. In spite of it being the most blissful and easiest relationship of my life, I broke up with him for no reason. We still contined being friends for years. His first marriage caused us to lose touch. The last time we spoke was 30 years ago.

    He was so excited when we reconnected. He said he didn’t understand what happened to us, that he had loved our banter, that he had really liked me, and said “you were so fucking cute!” He used to like to wind me up by pretending to hold overly conservative views just to hear me explode. We debated gun control in class. I wrote “Male Chauvanist Pig” in his yearbook, as he reminded me. ;)

    We’re in the process of going over old times and talking about our current lives. Eventually, we will meet. If anything, the things we liked about each other are even more evident now. We are even more ourselves than we were when we were young, so our conversations are like a firecracker … who would think we could entertain each other even more than before?

    Far from the end of life, it seems like a new beginning. He retires next year, but will go out on his own and keep working. He runs marathons and rides motorcycles. If anything, the whole situation is more heart-stopping and exciting than ever before. Besides, who wouldn’t want a second chance with the guy who introduced you to French kissing? ;)

    • Violet

      Awww, this reminds me how I re-met my husband in high school (we originally met in elementary school). We were on the mock trial team. So nerdy. Love it. Hooray for your second chance!

      • Class of 1980

        Thanks! On the day we started e-mailing, neither of us knew the other was divorced. I was very nervous, telling myself “he’s probably married, so just say your “hi and bye” and you can calm down then.

        I went to a cafe to pick up a salad, and in the boutique next door there was a perfect 1970s outfit – jeans and an embroidered tanktop. In the pocket of the jeans, someone had tucked in a little sign that said … “Miss you more”.

        Later that night as we were e-mailing, we discovered we were both single, and the flood gates opened. He just laid his feelings on the line. I felt like I’d been hit with a ton of bricks. For the next few days, I couldn’t focus on ANYTHING. ;)

        • Violet

          My goodness, I got *chills* reading that. So good!!!

          • Class of 1980

            I’m living with chills. It’s really torture. Calming down some would be a relief.

            It’s hard to wrap my head around such a sudden change. One day, I thought of him as far away and married. The next day, he’s back and asking what happened to us!

            I had often asked myself if I’d missed the boat with him. I just didn’t know he felt the same. I also didn’t know I had such strong feelings about him until the Universe re-opened this window.

          • Emma Klues

            Um please vow to update this thread every 10 minutes. I feel very personally invested in this story for no reason. Not even that I want a certain outcome, but just love reading what you’re saying. Kthanksbye.

          • Class of 1980

            Let’s see what else? He said “I thought we had chemistry; I hope I’m not the only one.”

            Is that good enough? That’s all I’ve got for now. We will be taking it slowly. ;)

          • Emma Klues

            :) I’m not pushing anything, just enjoying the serendipity of life. Have fun!

    • Meg Keene

      <3 <3

    • This makes me so happy to hear! I wish you all the best on this new adventure!

      • Class of 1980

        Best wishes are always welcome. Thanks!

    • Melissa

      Such a lovely story! Enjoy the chills and energy and chemistry! Wishing you the best of everything on your new adventure!

      • Class of 1980


  • js

    The part of this post that sticks out for me is, “To be honest there were no sparks or chemistry…Ultimately, we got married.” This makes me so sad, I had to comment. I may have completely misread this but it sounds a lot like, “when you get to be my age, you’ll have to settle for the nice guy, with whom you have no sparks or chemistry, if you want to get married.” I’m old, at 34, by some people’s marriage standards, but I can assure you the sparks were there, are still there. If you don’t have the sparks, then how do you get through the tough times? I have a crazy hot husband who I am crazy hot for. Why is burning with passion the exclusive property of the young anyway? It’s sad that the overall feel of this left me with a sense of regret, defeat and resignation. It’s disturbing and it’s given me a lot to think about when I talk to other younger friends about my marriage.

    It also makes marriage sound like a route canal or something even more unpleasant, which I’m sure was not the intent. I have to laugh, too, at the idea of 40-somethings being able to retire in this economy. 40 is not old. 39 is not old. It’s troubling that, after reading this, the message still seems to be that life is over once you get married and that it hasn’t really started unless your married and have kids.

    • Alyssa M

      Yeah, I can’t speak for Moe, but I definitely read that a lot differently than you did. A LOT, LOT, of people in great passionate relationships didn’t have “sparks” on their first date… and while 40 isn’t old… it is an age that makes pregnancy a calculated risk, and retirement planning a necessity…

      • anon today

        yeah…i started retirement planning at 22. for when i’m “retirement age.” still feel behind some days :)

    • Teresa

      I took it more as, when you are a little older, you realize that sometimes that stuff comes later. She knew he was a good guy, and so not having crazy sparks was not a good enough reason to not go on a second date. Perhaps the longer she knew him, the more their relationship and passion grew, because it was based on really knowing each other as people and partners. That was my take…

      • macrain

        YES. When I met my fiance, I just found him charming and adorable, but there were not necessarily sparks. I just wanted to know him better.

    • Meg Keene

      Oooo. I wouldn’t misread that way. Mo’s super happy. ALSO, I think they way we sell marriage is crazy and unhelpful. I had no sparks or chemistry with David FOR A DECADE. Then it started clicking, and I made a conscious choice to pick him, because he was a good match for me. We’re so much happier than I ever would have been with those guys with sparks. Sparks are WAY overrated. You make sparks.

      • Violet

        AND I’d add that no matter how spark-y at first, after around two years with the same person, it’s fairly well proven scientifically that making sparks is on you. Some people may not realize that’s what they’re doing, but the pheromones, oxytocin, etc, are NOT the same after around two years. Lots of people read that shift as they don’t love each other anymore if they have to *try*, but it’s just the shift from passionate love to companionate love (that still involves sex though!).

        • Meg Keene

          Which is why I’d argue that the fact that we, in particular, started with friend love and worked to passionate love has really helped us. Not only to we have a base of friendship, but we know how to move towards passion, when it’s needed.

          • Violet

            Yes! I totally agree that in cases where people started as friends, it helps normalize the effort needed for long-term sparks, rather than assume effort means there’s a problem. My partner and I every now and then have to go, “Oh yeah, we were 18 when we met. DUH there were sparks, because, ummm, hormones raging much?” Whereas when you come into it knowing that there’s work involved in love, it helps mitigate that.

        • js

          I don’t agree. I’m not trying to be difficult and I’ve read the science, I’m just saying it’s been seven years and things are still hot. If the word “sparks” bothers some, then how about passion, lust, etc. Of course I have to work at it sometimes or try harder than others, I just mean passionate love is very important to me in my relationship.

          • Violet

            Don’t worry, I don’t find disagreement to be inherently difficult! In this case, it makes this conversation more full to hear from lots of perspectives. What has been bothering me is that there seems to be a predominant perspective in media/what’s talked about that you should feel the same level of lust for your partner throughout the years, and if you don’t, then something’s Wrong. That just hasn’t been my experience. Doesn’t mean I don’t still want sex with my partner, doesn’t mean my partner and I don’t have sex. I do, and we do. Passion is important to me too! But it requires more thought and effort now, which many assume is antithetical to being “sexy” or romantic. For us, it’s either make it happen or it won’t happen. We choose the first, and it’s great! But definitely different.

            It sounds like you’ve got a good thing going too, just in a different way!

      • Moe

        Yup. Third date? Sparks were everywhere.

        • anon today

          I had a similar experience. First date was kind of weird, no sparks for me, and I was pretty sure date #2 would be the last (I thought I’d be nice and go on a second because we had a friend in common…aren’t I polite). Date #2…I drove home so woozy with excitement I don’t even know how I made it. I thank my lucky stars I went on that second date!

      • Emily

        I feel like being able to make sparks is what gets you through the lows in a relationship, because sometimes those original sparks have burned out.

        • Meg Keene

          THIS THIS THIS. Marriage is long, man. You gotta make a lot of sparks, sometimes when you feel Exceedingly Spark-less and Quite Grumpy.

          • H

            Heehee. “Exceedingly spark-less and Quite Grumpy” defines my first year of living with my fiancé. We’d been dating eight years already, and it’s incredible how you can be blindsided by cohabitation even after a longer and very stable dating life. Spark-manufacturing is a necessary skill to learn. And yes, it can take a full year to figure it out.

          • Violet

            THIS. And NOBODY talks about it! Drives me nutso, as you can tell.

      • js

        Not questioning her happiness, not at all. I wrote from a place of genuinely questioning the tone and message of this post. I didn’t get out of it what others did. I think there’s a lot of ways love happens, and I’m not talking about sparks in the Disney Princess, Happily Ever After kind of way. I’m talking about passion, lust, romance. Those things are important to me and were there right away for me and my husband. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong or that friends first and passion after is wrong. Now, seven years later, sometimes we make our own spark but the urge to rip his clothes off when I look at him across a crowded room is still there. I wouldn’t want to be without it.

      • K.

        Sparks are also rarely constant. My fiance and I had WILD sparks in the beginning, which led to some… unhealthy choices (and being relatively young/immature 19-year-olds didn’t help). Then we weren’t sure if we had sparks and then we had too many sparks again and then we grew the hell up together and chose to stick it out together and now we are in the most solid, incredible partnership that either of us can imagine, where we utterly adore one another and want the best for each other.

        Do we want to jump each others’ bones as much as when we first met? No, thankfully, because neither of us would be functioning adults. But we LOVE each other and are 100% in love with each other. But maybe not as “madly” as in the beginning. But THAT’S OKAY. Again, we’d rather be well-suited partners who can sustain our awesome (in all senses of the word) connection and deep love for each other over decades than be “madly” anything.

      • Thanks for this, Meg: “Sparks are WAY overrated. You make sparks.” My now-ex-husband left me because he felt “sparks” with someone else new. Those damn sparks exploded my life, so it is reassuring to hear your perspective and be reminded that not everyone thinks sparks and butterflies are paramount. (I mean, I definitely think chemistry is necessary, but I also believe that there are seasons and a brand-new relationship is not like a 5+ year relationship.)


    • Moe

      I didn’t experience the hollywood-movie first date with this foreshadowing that I was on the brink of something great. A girlfriend challenged me to not agree to go on a date with anyone until I knew for sure I could go on at least three dates with them. She said this because I had a long series of first dates and rarely a second one. So my husband was the first guy I corresponded with and was willing to go out with at least three times. I don’t know if her theory really works, because it was my last first date. :)

      • js

        I just want to say that I don’t know you or your relationship. I got a different message out of this than some others but I meant no disrespect. I think different people will get different things out of this post, depending on where they are in their lives. It was definitely thought-provoking. I like the idea of last first dates though and can definitely get behind that :) You have good friends.

    • april

      Just to add my 2 cents, there was no immediate spark for me and my husband either – and we married at the tender age of 27 (after about 8 years of dating). We were in the same friend group, then we eventually became good friends, then we eventually fell madly in love.

  • Moe

    Thanks everyone, for the support and commentary. I wrote from my experience. It’s a mash-up of things I’ve heard, things I was told and things I figured out along the way. I hope it’s thought-provoking at the very least.

    When I moved to a new city and met a new friend for lunch she asked me how I came to be in this new location and I explained how I didn’t get married young and I was making a new start for myself. I said “so I guess this is my Plan B life!” She asked me to reconsider that way of thinking. To deem something as Plan B was passing judgement on how I thought things should look. She suggested that I might be as open to welcoming new experiences into my life because I was already rating them with a lesser B-grade. It was a life changer for me.

    • anon today

      that Plan B life sentence really struck me. when i broke it off with my ex, who i thought i would marry (more because we’d been together so long than because i felt real joy about it…hindsight etc.), more than being sad about losing him and our relationship, i felt completely lost and terrified because my Plan had been interrupted and i felt like a failure. i now see that that was the best lesson i could have learned, and the life i’m living isn’t “What Happened Because I Failed,” it’s “The Adventure Continues.”

    • Melissa

      The Plan B sentence was the kicker for me. Just a really excellent thing to think about, and a way to reframe the experience that makes a lot of sense. Thanks to you (and your friend) for putting it out there!

    • LaikaCatMeow

      Your little bio says you live in LA — definitely, definitely something that shouldn’t ever be considered a Plan B. I love this weird city so, so much! (I guess it was kind of my ‘Plan B,’ too, now that I think about it! LA is funny like that!)

  • moonlitfractal

    It’s funny. I never had a timeline for marriage/kids (probably partly because my mom got married at 35+ and had her youngest at 40), but I always assumed that I’d have a doctorate by my late 20s. Now I’m facing down 29 with no grad school but with a happy marriage and a baby on the way. I still sometimes mourn the life and career I envisioned, or feel inadequate because I haven’t achieved ‘as much’ (I guess in terms of advanced degrees?) as my peers. But you’re right: “Your life’s journey will not look like any other. In fact, I can almost promise that it’s not going to look like what you think it should! You are not living your Plan B life because you didn’t marry your first love or whoever it was you broke up with, [or get your PhD. before age 30].” I’m not living my Plan B life. I’m living my life.

    • Audrey

      This was totally me at 29, except for the baby. I never expected to be married before 30 or leave academia, but here it is – and it’s pretty awesome.

  • Dana

    “I think of all the wasted years I spent without him. But we both agree that if we had met then we would not have been ready. I would not have been mature enough to be committed to him. He would not have been ready for me either. Our paths crossed at the right time. The years I considered wasted were filled with experiences and heartache that prepared me to recognize how wonderful he was for me.”
    omg this.

  • Kara E

    >>>>>I think of all the wasted years I spent without him. But we both agree
    that if we had met then we would not have been ready. I would not have
    been mature enough to be committed to him.<<<<<<<

    I could have written this too. While I wish I had met my husband 10 years earlier, I'm so very grateful that I met him when I did, otherwise I might have missed out on a life with him.

  • I am going to work on trying to think of this as simply my life (and not my Plan B life). It might take a while though. I am not sure I will ever be able to forget the pain of what was lost (what I thought I had…what I thought my future would be), so I am focusing on accepting that it happened and it’s a part of my life…but it will not be the last chapter. And I’m thankful that my life has given me so many amazing experiences that I never would have imagined for myself…ever…but it’s also brought some pain like I never would have imagined. Best of times, worst of times… I guess sometimes life is complicated like that.

  • Tessa Menhenett

    thank you for writing this

  • Ambaa

    What drives me crazy about these timelines is the suggestion that we have any control over it at all. I planned to marry young. I expected to marry in my early twenties. But guess what? I didn’t meet anyone who wanted to marry me! I even tried to force men tomarry me and I couldn’t. Nothing i could do could make me married. You really seriously can’t plan for it.

  • Lindsay

    So, I’m 25 and getting married next month. I know that according to some narratives I’m getting married at the “right” time, and who am I to complain about getting married at this age? But by my family’s standards I’m doing it all wrong. My family is so disappointed that I’m getting married so young. I was raised by a staunch feminist, who married at 30 and adopted her kids at 52, because she had her own life to lead, and she raised me to “lead my own life” as well. I always planned on getting married no earlier than 30, because I was going to spend my 20s building my career, and figuring out who I am, and all that jazz. But then I met my fiance, an incredibly loving and accepting person who is committed to walking next to me as I grow and change, and not inhibit it. So we got engaged. My mother asked me numerous times when I first got engaged to wait 2, 3, many years before going through with it. I’m the first of my friends, and I’m a lot younger than I ever expected to be. But I’ve basically had to tell myself, and the people around me, “Fuck the timeline!” No one gets to plan when they’re going to meet the right person, and we ALL need to lay off everyone else about following the scripts we’ve been told we have to follow.