Is marriage more important than “having it all”?

having it all
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Everywhere you look there are thought pieces on how the modern woman can juggle a relationship, a career and children to “have it all.” It’s presented as the ambitious, educated woman’s brass ring to replace the antiquated stereotype that a woman’s place is in the home. When I look around to the millions of successful, busy, multi-faceted unmarried women out there, I wonder why society doesn’t naturally categorize them as “having it all.”

Before anyone thinks this is a biased piece written by a career-driven spinster, I would like to state that I have been in a healthy relationship for 6 years (not that it should matter). Even so, however, I have been challenged by family and friends on why I’m not “fulfilling my life” by seeking a ring and children – never mind the fact that I have friends, committees, travel adventures, awards, a career and, yes, a man now too. I’m still seen as unfinished until I check off the marriage and kids’ boxes. But why?

I’m still seen as unfinished until I check off the marriage and kids’ boxes.

There seem to be only 2 suitable boxes to put us in: Family-oriented or Frantically balancing family and career. Sadly, many still see a stigma around saying “career-oriented,” as if that is a euphemism for “I’ve given up on love and life.”

Being an ambitious woman doesn’t mean you are doomed to be a rom-com stereotype: “the robotic, boss lady who lives for her jobs and will die alone until some stud comes along, takes her glasses off and shows her how to really live her life”, usually played by Sandra Bullock. In reality, most women live very full lives and attain lofty life goals. So why is it that announcing an engagement on social media gets more likes than announcing that you’ve made partner in your firm? Is a relationship a better accomplishment than a promotion? I’d like to argue that it is not.

Finding someone who you truly feel is your other half in this big, crazy world is a real feat for sure, but that still requires a bit of luck and chemistry. Yes, relationships take work, but you can’t work towards it like a degree. There is no one skill set that you must hone or one way to apply. There are also plenty of couples out there who marry for the wrong reasons, on reality shows or just settled because they wanted a wedding by a particular age.

We all know at least one couple like this- the ones who make me want to give the heteronormative “sanctity of marriage” speech a big fat eye roll. I mention these instances where one can have their ‘happily ever after” on Instagram perhaps without the work or emotions behind them to prove that the simple act of having a wedding isn’t exactly an accomplishment.

On the other hand, there is a specific set of criteria you must complete to finish college, become a nurse, get certified for a trade, or earn your next promotion. There are long hours, tests and benchmarks that you must get past before getting to the next level in a career. It is a quantifiable accomplishment yet many women might pass on a graduation party, but would never dare to think of not having a bridal shower.

Think about this: The average woman is expected to have the biggest celebrations in their lives based on personal milestones, like a bridal shower, a wedding, and a baby shower. I’m not suggesting we need to throw “Promotion Showers” but I do think it’s a bit absurd that in 2017, women are only feted for something that they are doing with a significant other. It should be just as socially required to have big graduation parties or celebrations for your big break. Perhaps a registry for your new home, even if that new home doesn’t come with a partner or kids?

Trust me, I love my boyfriend, but figuring out a mortgage and buying my first home felt like a much larger success than making it to our next anniversary. So why not celebrate it? Why must we be made to feel that it’s bragging to party for that but it’s acceptable to have an engagement party?

The average woman is expected to have the biggest celebrations in their lives based on personal milestones, like a bridal shower, a wedding, and a baby shower.

We must change our focus so that all women can find the freedom and acceptance to sculpt her life the way she sees fit. We all have different aspirations and bucket lists. What I find rewarding and may never be someone else’s idea of a dream life, nor does it have to be. I am not writing this to denigrate stay-at-home moms, working moms, or anyone else. I am simply trying to open the dialogue up for all the other women who are tired of trying to convince the rest of the world that they are fulfilled with a job, friends, pets and/or hobbies.

Having it all shouldn’t be so narrow as to only mean having a career and a family, but it should just mean living your life to the fullest in whatever manner you’d like. Striking a work/life balance is the key and that comes in many ways. For some it means, getting the corner office, hanging with friends and taking time to travel. For others, maybe you just want to have time for yoga or hikes with the dog. Find whatever the yin is to your yang. If that’s marriage and kids, great. If not, great. But we, as a society, need to grow past the notion that there is only one way to have a full, happy and complete life.

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Renee Cafaro

Renee Cafaro is the US Editor of plus size fashion magazine, SLiNK and lives in New York City. She started her luxury plus size style blog, Foxy Roxy, in 2010 and has been published in Yahoo! Travel, NY Post, and several other online outlets. Prior to her recent writing career, Ms. Cafaro had a 13-year career in City & State politics, including becoming the youngest member of senior staff for then-Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.  She then moved on to join New York Governor David Paterson's administration in 2008, the same year NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases diagnosed her with Seronegative Arthritis. This was an additional diagnosis that she wasn't expecting when she went in search of treatment for the Fibromyalgia pain she has dealt with since around age 11. She has worked very hard to find success in her life and career in spite of her chronic pain disorders and a lifetime of bullying, but it hasn't always been easy.

At 17, she was starting her junior year at Stanford University and struggled with misdiagnoses and dismissal about her condition from the administration, which ultimately led her to leave before graduation. Despite this set back, physical hardships and a general lack of support, she has found success and happiness in her life now that she can share her story to help those with similar paths. She toured the US as the Arthritis Foundation’s National Honoree raising awareness for invisible diseases, has lent her voice to countless causes on Capitol Hill, and now spends her career helping others find their beauty and confidence, while combatting the effects of cyber bullying, misogyny and size prejudice. She also uses her voice as a singer in a hard rock cover band to give her much-needed balance and another form of self-expression. Cafaro will always be passionate about speaking out in hopes that other women will never have to feel alone or helpless.

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