Everyone has goals. Everyone has a certain path they’d like to follow, with points along the way to check off their “life list.” I want ______ when I’m 30. I’d like to have done ______ by the time I’m 40. There may be specific things you have set out for yourself that are slightly less generic than the rest of society, but depending on where you are and the culture you’re born into, there are common goals we all seem to aspire to. In the environment I’m living in, there seem to be a couple that trigger the “have you _____ yet?” question. And not surprisingly, when comparing to the “ex”, these touchstone moments seem to be slightly more sensitive.
A couple days ago while leaving the grocery store, someone made eye contact with me and asked “Are you on the radio?” While I was answering, I scanned the man’s face trying to figure out where I knew him from…familiar, but not crystal clear in the memory bank. He replied “You dated my daughter.”
1 Mississippi. (SHIT, who IS this guy?)
2 Mississippi. (OH RIGHT I REMEMBER QUICK SAY HIS NAME.)
It isn’t that I’ve dated a plethora of people, it’s that I honestly couldn’t place the face to the person, so after quickly scanning the potential answers, I shouted his name (and that of his wife) out quicker than my lips could properly form the words. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged, and after some quick counting, I realized (and relayed) that it had been a solid fifteen years since I’d seen them last. I’m still debating whether his remembering me so quickly was because of a positive or negative memory of the situation (I had ended the relationship), but the next part of the conversation is the part I’ve found myself returning to in the time since. He started:
“She’s gotten married, expecting a kid pretty soon now.”
“Oh, that’s great, good to hear!”
“What about you? Married? Kids?”
“Not yet, we’re heading down the path and we’ll see where it takes us.”
“Good, good, well, take care.”
In no way was the conversation hostile, sarcastic, or overly probing…it was a general “state of the union” conversation, and shortly thereafter we went our separate ways. But as I drove home, I started to replay one specific part of the meeting. “What about you? Married? Kids?” It made me think about a funny “rule” when it comes to breaking up. In most cases when a relationship ends, you never wish ill on the other person. You just don’t want them to find happiness before you.
In this particular instance, this wasn’t what I was feeling. (I find the more distraught you are at the end of a relationship the more you want it to be true, but that’s just one humble person’s take.) It was more thoughts of “Wow, I spent a portion of my life with that person, our paths divided, and that’s where they are now.” That’s really all life is…a series of moments and opportunities and decisions that lead us in one direction or another. That wasn’t the sticking point. The part I kept recalling was “Married. Kids.” And that’s when I asked myself the follow up question we sometimes ask: Am I behind them?
As mentioned before, everyone lives their own life with their own goals, but there are common achievements based on the culture you’re consumed in. And where I am, marriage and kids seem to be the two big ones. I ran through some other recent meeting with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and I started to notice a pattern. Marriage…and kids. None of the times I was asked seemed intrusive, they just seem to be the fallback general questions to ask.
But should they be?
I thought about how I had gone into these conversations, and usually when you meet up with someone you haven’t seen in a while, you relate to the last shared experience/moment of conversation you had. (I saw you last at that public event, so let’s start there.) But once we’ve gotten past that point, what’s the next step? Is that the default for most people? Marriage? Kids? Is that because it’s a good general question, or is it because of where I was in my life in our last interaction? When I’m inquiring about what’s new, I usually start with that question: What’s new? An open ended question that allows for whatever answer of importance to be shared. But when asking the Marriage/Kids question, there really isn’t too much wiggle room between Yes and No. Maybe yes, coming up, or no..but that’s it.
And honestly, if we look at Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and any other social connections (blogs included), what does a yes/no question get us? A comparison to where we are in our lives with other people. People want to feel they’re on “the right path”: i.e. I’m “this old”, people my age are “doing this.” Getting the yes/no answer is the check for that. Ask, get answer, compare, analyze life accordingly.
And so here I sit today, after getting a yes/no answer without asking for it, and I find myself analyzing my life accordingly. The good thing is that I feel I’m not spending too long a time burying myself in it, because of where I feel I am, and where I want to be. But the more I think about the entire situation, the more it leads me to this conclusion:
People are too concerned about what other people are doing.
This isn’t a malicious statement. It doesn’t apply to everyone. But I can make a list of people everyday who look at their “life list”, compare it to what other people are doing and get stresses out about it. The “other people” statements. “Other people are doing _____, so I should be there too.”
Here’s the way I look at that, and my overall result from this entire thinking process: When something like this happens, and for whatever reason you look inwards and apply that information to what you’re doing and where you’re headed, it should not be held up to theirs to be judged. It should be used as an opportunity to check in with yourself and decide if you are happy with where you are. There are really three answers to this:
1) I am happy with where I am.
2) I am happy with the direction I am heading.
3) I will make changes to get to where I want to be.
That’s it. You’re either exactly where you want to be, you’re doing the things you have/want to to get to where you want to be, or it’s a great mirror check to figure out where it is you’d like to be, and then go ahead and get changing things to get there. No one is “better” because they have this/that/the other, your life is what it is at this moment for whatever reason, and now is the time you can continue or change. We can be happy for others reaching their goals, and we should be, but we can’t hold our lives up for comparison with a “better or worse” decision. No two people’s lives are ever the same, and though paths can be shared, we’ve all walked separate ways to get to this point. Be happy with who you are and where you’re going, and the rest will fall into place.
So there is the end result: that chance encounter and conversation gave me a chance to analyze where I am in my life, and where I’m heading. I’ve done that, and I’m happily moving forward. I hope that any time the same moment comes to anyone else, they take it for what it is: An opportunity. Check your goals. Understand why you want to reach them. And then get on with it. That’s all we ever really control in life, where we want to go. Don’t let someone else pick your direction for you. relationship relationships