Monday, January 21, 2008

The Timeline Phenomenon

I’ve always mocked – internally, if not otherwise – those women who list off the ages at which they PLAN to meet someone, be married and have kids. Ever since the first time I heard a friend, acquaintance or crazed ‘Bachelor’ contestant, talk about timelines, I’ve been resistant to the idea. But recently I’ve been faced with a different phenomenon: reality.

One of my best friends may or may not need to get out of her two year marriage. Beyond the immediate pain and gravity of a decision like this, she is faced with the reality of the timeline phenomenon. Yes, it seems like you are devaluing yourself as a human being, to base your life decisions on your exponentially depleting youth, and for how long you will be able to have children. Although I certainly do not support basing your life on an idea that seems reminiscent of the 1950’s, I’m suddenly realizing that this timeline hoopla isn’t much of a phenomenon at all.

As I listen to my friend struggle with the biggest decision of her 28 years, I hear her state that she loves her husband, that all relationships are hard and that getting out feels like giving up – yet these are not deciding factors, but simply bullet points on an incredibly intense pro/con list. The other side includes things like an already sexless marriage, and a partner who seems paralyzed by her success and vivacity.

We have no time machine, no way to see the future, and while choosing a life partner is the biggest decision of your life, leaving one isn’t far behind. What if, after five years of dating and two years of marriage, it turns out that he is incapable of being the loving, tender and supportive man that she previously thought? Is she wasting her “good years” (ack, I know…that phrase is blasphemy) on a relationship that may lead her ten years down the road, where wrinkles will be more than a premature obsession, and her romantic options will certainly be fewer? Does she stay, and try to work it out because we’ve always said marriage is something we only planned to do once, no matter what. Or, does she join the growing population of divorcees, before her time to be young, hot and marketable is over.

It sounds sick, but there is a certain inevitability associated with this situation. I’ve always fought tooth and nail against those who wonder why I haven’t yet settled down, found a “good man” and gotten married. Aside from the obvious reasons (like the fact that I’ve never meet someone worth marrying), I have no intention of settling. A lifetime can be a very long time – I’m pretty determined to find someone whose company I sincerely enjoy. However, in ten years, I won’t be so cute, little, tight, etc. While I hope these youthful traits will be replaced with wisdom, humor and life experience, it would be naïve to assume that anyone worth having will be able to see straight to my soul.

The truth is that youth and beauty are overvalued in our society and your market value does, in fact, decrease over time.

I want to believe that safe in my mid-thirties, I will look back on my twenties as a time when I found myself, figured out my career, met a man and began to settle down. However, as my twenties move from a seemingly infinite saga to a chapter of my past, the timeline phenomenon moves off the shelf of pre-feminist ideas and into the overflowing bucket of scary realities.


Anonymous said...

I do love the vivacity and success comment:) thank you

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm waiting until my mid 40s to look back and see that I've figured out my career, met a man and settled down. Why start so soon?

Anonymous said...

Im right there with you!