The milestone-free life

By Caitlin Kelly


“There’s a thin line between pleasing yourself and pleasing somebody else”— Indigo Girls

Here’s a great post from blogger Infinite Satori. Her thoughts on milestones — and ignoring them:

Get married in your mid 20s, buy a house in your late 20s, have a baby in your late 20s and early 30s, and the timeline moves along. That’s what they say right? The reality is you don’t have to get married, you don’t even have to have a baby if you truly don’t want to. Before I explain this any further, please know that I am not against any of these. Because I would love to have at least one child one day and if I, one day, decide that marriage is for me it would be because I found the right one who I connect with in all levels. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. And more importantly, that it feels right to me. To my heart. To my soul. My point is, it’s very important to listen to what you inner voice is telling you. And if it’s telling you that kids aren’t for you, that marriage isn’t for you, listen to it.

You are probably meant for a different path in life, one that stays true to your purpose here on this planet. Don’t get married because your parents want you to, or because you’re in a long-term relationship and you might as well tie the knot, or have a baby because you’re a woman and that’s what you’re suppose to do, or because you’ve hit that “milestone” and you feel like you need to, or because you need a man to make you happy, or because your peers are all getting married and you don’t want to be left out. You don’t have to hit these societal milestones and timelines and you sure don’t have to plan your life around it most especially if you don’t want to. Create your own life.

Hell, yeah!

Most the women my age are now grandmothers or great-grandmothers, owners of multiple homes, thrilled with their expanding, multi-generational families’ achievements, running a business or enjoying a big fat corporate salary and title. Or they never had to work, having “married well.”

Few of these women, as I have and continue to do, stare into the sky at passing airplanes and still wish I was on one — heading to…who knows where? Somewhere new, somewhere to be tested, to not speak the language, somewhere I need to carry and read a map.

I feel completely out of step with them.

My life never really followed a tidy, laid-out trajectory. I attended university, and graduated, (after much prodding. I love learning, but didn’t enjoy a huge school, University of Toronto, where undergrads just didn’t matter much.) I never wanted an advanced degree so that was the end of that — until I studied interior design in my mid-30s. But after my marriage blew up, I didn’t finish my certificate.

I’ve always pitied people who feel the wrath or contempt from their peers or family for not doing what everyone expects them to — instead of creating and following their own path.

My parents never pressured me to marry, (young or at any age), or have kids or “settle down” or buy property or “grow up.” Thank God.

They wanted me, still, to enjoy life and travel and do the very best work I’m capable of. To be useful and kind to others. My maternal grandmother was married a bunch of times and my father has four kids with four different women, so “normal” doesn’t fit our family too well.

I freelanced as a journalist right out of college, (instead of desperately seeking a full-time job; luckily I had no student debt and Canada’s healthcare system covers everyone, job or no job.) I won a fellowship to Europe for eight months when I was 25, and only took my first staff job after that, at 26. I left after 2.5 years and went to a Montreal newspaper, stayed 1.5 years and followed my first husband to New Hampshire.

I married him late, when I was 35 — and was (sadly but somewhat relievedly) divorced two years later. I was single for six years, then met the man I’ve been with ever since.

Neither of us had children nor a desire to have any.

But when you don’t have children, nor even nieces or nephews, (none that we are close to, now adults anyway), life becomes weirdly shapeless. Nor have we attended others peoples’ kids’ birthdays, christenings, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and baby showers. I would have loved to, but we were rarely included.

(We have, sadly, attended wakes and funerals for the parents and partners of friends, honored and proud to do so.)

This makes our lives a milestone-free cycle — work, sleep, play, repeat.

Bizarre, really, when you scan the greeting card section of the drugstore and see the endless iterations of affection and progress most people officially celebrate all through their lives.

Not having children also really forces you to consider and examine — pardon the grandiosity of the word — your legacy.

You haven’t passed along your genes, or your sofa, to anyone.

No one will cherish our carefully-curated stuff 30 or 50 years from now, at least no one related to us.

We’re still stymied making out our wills, deciding who (who?) to leave our eventual estates and assets to: church, charities, friends, almas mater…

Do you feel compelled to hit specific milestones?

What if you don’t?

25 thoughts on “The milestone-free life

  1. Hmm…that’s interesting. I didn’t plan to marry. I thought maybe I’d have a baby on my own when I was about the age I am now. I did hope to have a mortgage by the time I was thirty, which I did, twice. I thought I’d have my master’s by thirty as well, and I’ve hit forty without it. One day, I’ll go back. I may be the only blue-haired lady in the classes, but I’ll go!

    I’ve never understood people who feel they need to be married, although I did identify with a biological clock ticking, but by then I WAS married. I seem to be one of the few women on the planet who supports her single, childless friends…I don’t know why people can’t respect a woman’s choice not to breed. Why should we care?

    Are there no young people in your life who would love to have a certain piece of art, or a cherished bauble? Charities are always happy to do estate sales for proceeds, but I rather hope you connect with someone who will appreciate your legacy before you go.

    When my youngest leaves home, I intend to close up house and travel extensively. I will be disappointed if my travels are delayed. That’s all I’ve got for the long-term milestones.

    1. I have young(er) friends, but they all live far away and we’re not that close. But you raise a good point.

      I wanted to marry, suddenly, when I hit 30, and did. I also did want to own a home, which I’ve done once, and am still in it. It’s grounding, which I both enjoy and chafe at. 🙂

  2. Good one. Makes you think of some fundamental issues in life – how to live it, the role of progeny, the value of relationships, the need to connect with others and the several choices we make, consciously or otherwise.

  3. Interesting question! I never planned out my milestones, although I did intend to get a degree (fail) and hoped to find a life partner and have kids (some success there, although the first marriage failed). I have childless friends – some by choice, and some by circumstance. I support their decisions whole heartedly, and if they are happy to be involved, include them in our family events. One set of friends who are a highly educated couple, both with doctorates, feel that their DNA has been passed in by their siblings, and their knowledge and stories have been passed on via mentoring their students.

    Although I have a pile of kids, I love to travel. I’ve been feeling grounded for the last 6 months or so, because I had two years of extensive travel for work prior to that. I get very wistful every time I go to the airport! We plan, once our older (shared custody) kids get to university, to take the two youngest who will be 12 or 13, overseas to live and work for a year or two. So I guess that’s a milestone.

    But overall, I am happy to live relatively milestone free, and just acknowledges the peaks as they come along. My goals each year become less and less tangible or material and more related to things like spending grown up time with my husband, or getting my kids involved in contributing to the world and being happy, kind people. I do appreciate the eagles I know who are high achievers, have 5 year plans and are generally successful, but I’m too busy loving each day (or trying to!).

    1. Hey, so good to hear from you again! Thanks for sharing this…I always assume that having kids is satisfying enough (but that’s my assumption). I love your idea of going overseas to live. It’s changed my life when I did it.

      I have never had a five-year plan. I just can’t see that far ahead, or life has too many curveballs. There are still a few professional goals I’d like to hit, but not that many now.

      1. I lived overseas in my twenties and travelled extensively then (from NZ, really anywhere is extensive) and loved it. Five years seems so far away, so apart from our possible live overseas plan, that’s it!

  4. mylifeinfocusblog

    I just attended the wake of one of my ‘friends’. She never married. She was too busy being an attorney in New York City. Needless to say, she never had any children. She stopped working as an attorney when she was 85 years old. She refused to leave her long time NYC apartment because the rent was so ‘cheap’. Most of her friends died. She had a relative who looked in on her, but the relative is in her 60’s and is waiting for a heart transplant. A few weeks ago, my friend fell in her apartment and broke her hip. Standard. Typical story. The operation went well, but she contracted pneumonia and died a few days ago. She was 93 years old. She died all alone. No husband. No lover. No children. No one with her in the hospital room to hold her hand. As I said, she outlived all her peers. She died a multi-millionaire. (*shrug*) Who cares.

    I knew this woman through my father. But my dad died in 2004 at the age of 91.They dated for 18 years and she refused to marry. Didn’t want a marriage to interfere with her career. I kept up the friendship because I knew she was alone. I would call her periodically to make sure she was OK. Despite my advice, she refused to leave her apartment and ‘retire’ to a 55+ community. “Don’t tell me what to do!” was her favorite expression.

    The whole scenario is just so very, very sad. She was a dedicated career woman, traveled the world, dressed well, followed her path. But in the end, her end, you have to ask yourself if the path was worth it. All of us are going to die and you have to think about how you want your life to end. For my ‘friend’……… her life faded slowly away in some hospital room with no one to know nor care.

    1. That is not a death, or life, that would make any sense to me.

      I wonder about her emotional history. She likely had some very strong reasons (perhaps private?) that drove her so hard to remain single. My mother never re-married or even lived with anyone or allowed any man close after she and my father split. She, too, has run through most of her friends and now lives in a nursing home far away. We create the lives we “want.”

      That is an incredibly sad story. Thanks for sharing it here.

  5. Caitlin there is such a dichotomy in your posts of wanderlust and the need to nest. The thrill of leaving this perfectly nurtured home, and at the same time, the thrill of showing off your treasures that you have long collected for your nest.

    Go with what makes you happy. Grow those opportunities to nurture others through teaching, dance, design, etc. And those relationships will grow your legacy.

  6. i’ve always hit mine in a bit of an ‘out of order’ way, so not really. funny, now people want me to be married again, and i do want a partner in life, though not sure what our relationship will look like, living together, married, 2 houses, and i’m curious to see how it will all turn out.

  7. I already feel like I’ve spent too much time trying to do what other people wanted me to do, and I’m trying really hard to avoid pressure to follow trajectories that don’t suit me. As the daughter of a college professor who’s graduating this year, all of my Dad’s colleagues have recently approached me stating (not asking) “So you’re going to grad school next year!” Ummm….no. Not a chance. Granted, I’ll probably go to get an MA in something eventually, but certainly not until I’ve satisfied a bit of the restlessness and wanderlust that’s accumulated over the last few years. Thankfully, my parents are so supportive and don’t care what I do as long as I challenge myself and am happy.

    1. Good for you!

      I was burning out in undergrad and went to the registrar and asked (sad) why am I an English major anyway? Did I want to teach (no, later yes) or go to grad school (no, still no)…then why have a major? School drove me nuts, and I could not wait to flee. I love learning and read a lot of serious and challenging stuff (history, economics) but sitting in a classroom being droned at. Hell.

      I would die if people expected me to go to grad school. Yet I am still out there competing against everyone in my field who did, and it has shut me out of many interesting job and teaching opp’s. But I still hate the thought of two more years (or more) sitting still and going broke while I do.

      1. As a parent, I think we get side-swiped by the raising of children so much that we are subsumed by their needs, and they can, by default become our legacy, when, a legacy perhaps should be something aside from them. I have a friend who babysat for us for years. Old enough to be a grandmother now. Never married. Retired early. She has no one but the communities she serves and a handful of faithful friends. I’ve often wondered what her life feels like and I shudder thinking I could be one accident away from such and have to consider what it is I would do and who I am without my family and what I do. But mostly, what is it that I do that makes the world a better place in my wake. And, that’s perhaps in part the crux of what your post led me to think about. Thought-provoking. – R

      2. “She has no one but the communities she serves and a handful of faithful friends. I’ve often wondered what her life feels like and I shudder thinking I could be one accident away from such and have to consider what it is I would do and who I am without my family and what I do.”

        But she has chosen that life, and maybe, for her, it’s every bit as nurturing and satisfying as yours…? I am not sure how I would survive or enjoy my life without Jose, as the intimacy of my other friendships pales in comparison to that. But some people choose not to marry (if it was a choice) for a lot of reasons and some people are far happier with “only” close friends and not the slogging grind that some marriages, let alone parenting, demand.

        I do think that parents often disappear into their families and those of us who can’t point to offspring as a source of pride must figure out what, if anything, we have done to improve the world.

      3. On the “slogging grind that some marriages, let alone parenting, demand.” Well said. And likewise, it’s dangerous to lose oneself in thinking that children are our legacy. It’s a foolish legacy. As Gibran points out they come through us but are not of us… and it’s such a quick fallback point to consider them a legacy. It’s not fair in some ways to them or to ourselves. You’ve inriectly-for me– pointed out that even for those of us with children — it’s our intentionality of our legacy that counts– not the fallback position. My apologies – my wording about my friend who has found her legacy in community may have sounded a bit callous – I look to her as a source of inspiration, wondering what I would do in her shoes. I think she is largely happy and she is intentionally placing herself in a place that leaves good footprints–which will blow away in the sands of time– but that’s all of our fates. But for those people who are left with legacies they didn’t choose — that must be hard.

      4. Part of my perspective, not surprisingly, is my family of origin. My father has four children, three of whom I know, and a sister about 7 yrs younger I’ve not met. None of us — and the three I know are all highly accomplished, talented, interesting people — have had children nor are we likely to. That’s just sad. Really. But it’s a direct outgrowth of the lives we led growing up.

        If you loved being in a family when you were younger, you probably wish re-create that for yourself as an adult. For others, no.

        Then what? Work? Enough already. There are only so many targets to hit, tickets to punch, awards to win. No one is going to stand at your memorial service and say “Such a hard worker!” They will, one hopes, recall our kindness, humor, generosity to others.

        Legacy is a biggie.

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