The Put Off: Can Love, Marriage and Family Wait?

“So when are you getting married?” the mother of one of my long-time friends abruptly asked me in the midst of our small talk one day. Caught off guard, I replied: “One day soon I hope, but not right now. I have things I really want to do before all that.” She smiled, “Ok, just don’t wait too long.”

Her statement, loving yet firm, among other things has led me to think over what it is that I feel I need to do or accomplish to be ready for marriage and settling down. Of course, a yet-to-be-identified qualified suitor is essential. But for many other reasons, marriage is not a high priority for me right now, and her words made me question whether I was putting it on the back-burner. At twenty-three, I’m not quite where I would like to be in every aspect of my life--as is to be expected--but was I chasing an elusive pre-marital to-do list?

It’s no secret that women are marrying later nowadays. According to the U.S. Census report on marriage and divorce rates issued May 2011, nearly half of all women between the ages of 25 and 29 have never been married. In 2009, the median age for first-time newlyweds was 28 for men and 26 for women, compared to 23 for men and 20 for women in 1950.

Related: It Was All A Dream: Coming to Terms With Relationship Realities

As Black women in particular, we’ve been bombarded with statistics and theories as to why so many of us are single and unwed. Despite the constant hopelessly single narrative, there are also many of us who are intentionally opting to put-off marriage and raising a family to pursue other goals. In Gabrielle Union’s recent Ocean Drive magazine feature, the 39-year-old actress captures this sentiment as she shares she is in no rush to be a mom but alluding to maybe having children sometime later in life:

“I was never someone who thought about having kids—I mean, they’re great in theory, but I never imagined having one [myself]. Maybe over the next five years I could wrap my brain around becoming a mother and what that would mean in terms of sacrifice and dedication.”  

Gabrielle Union evidently hears no biological clock ticking, and has also stated numerous times she is no rush to marry her longtime boyfriend Dwyane Wade as well. Although both have been married before, Union still represents the growing number of women waiting longer for children. Observing the current statistics and social trends it may seem as though many women today have done away with the old saying “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby-carriage” and replaced it with: first comes college, then career, success, financial security, and everything else can wait.

But I believe it’s much more complex.

All things considered, the economic crisis in this country does come into play when planning for your future. Getting married, combining living expenses, taking on each others debts and having children can all be very expensive. Additionally, in this age of the independent woman, blurred gender roles and individualism, many no longer see marriage as an essential building block for a complete life. Or women feel they must have their own and have it all together financially and/or professionally before they can even consider tying the knot, much less take on the responsibility of children. There is also a subtle, yet unspoken notion among some women that once you are married with children somehow your life is over.

Related: Tick Tock and It Don't Stop: One Black Woman’s Quest for Motherhood

Within my circle of  friends--all of us in our early to mid twenties--we often ponder and discuss why so many of us have yet to be married. Our stories are diverse, yet they share commonalities. Some of us simply haven’t met ‘The One.’ There are those who feel the need to do it all career wise and academically beforehand, yet they also struggle with whether their ambitions could lessen their chances of finding someone of equal stature. Then there are those of us who view marriage and mommy-hood as something far off and way down the road.

We all want the fairy-tale ending to an extent, but different factors have impacted what the road to happiness and fulfillment looks like to each of us. Everyone has there own idea of when and how life’s milestones should fall into place for us. For some it could mean marital bliss and a white picket fence by 26, for others it could mean a Master’s and a corner office by then.

But for those of us who want to have the best of each world one day, as professional women, wives and mothers, I do think it’s attainable and success in one doesn’t have to rule out the other. We must caution ourselves not be too consumed with one that we neglect the other. For example, being so caught up in climbing the corporate ladder or professional pursuits that you never make time to invest in a relationship is just as bad as being so caught up in finding a husband that you lose sight of who you are and what you want out of life. Each extreme can lead to an unbalanced and unfulfilled ending. So while I don’t want to wake up 20 years from now, bitter and angry that I never took that life-changing professional opportunity before taking those infamous vows, I also don’t want to come home to an empty house filled with accomplishments and no one to share them with.

Despite anyone’s pressure, I’m a firm believer in letting things happen organically. And although, those well intentioned motherly words of advice had me questioning whether the need to feel like I’ve accomplished my individual goals was clouding my thoughts on when it will be the “right” time to settle down, I’ve come to realize that it’s not. I see nothing wrong with being ambitious,  yet I strive to seek balance and make time for all the things I want out of life. No I won’t “wait too long” for marriage and having a family.  In fact, I won’t wait at all. I won’t force it; I won’t rush it; nor will I run from it or put it off. In fact, I view all my goals in life as seeds of a flower carefully sown in fertile ground. And when properly nourished and attended to, they will sprout and blossom when they are meant to; whether it be simultaneously, one after the other, sooner than later or later than sooner.

Shahida Muhammad is a twenty-three year old freelance writer and editor from Philadelphia. Introspective and stylish, she loves to dance and her favorite color is orange. Every now and then, she drops an ill tweet or two. Follow @ShahidaAtLarge.

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