Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Ripe Old Age of 20-Something - "Why Aren't You Married Yet?!?!"

Hi, friends! I've been MIA the last couple of weeks, especially since my New York trip. I'm sorry! I've been holed up at home trying to finish this thesis, with no room to blog, to eat, to blog, to breathe. But, thank God, it's almost done. I'm so glad it's almost done. I hand in my draft this week. And not a minute too soon, since I'm starting to lose grip on my sanity, I'm telling you.

Anyway. I'm taking a break from editing my thesis to mention something that happened over the weekend. It was an.... interesting encounter.

So, my parents and I were at a social function. It was fun, it was great, the food was good (that's always important. Who else makes a beeline for the canap├ęs? Anyone?). And, as per usual, as my parents and I mingled, I was asked what I was doing in school, where I go to school, etcetera.

And, as I did, the following conversation occurred between myself and a middle-aged couple - with a number of people within earshot. Mr. A and Mrs. A are in their mid-40s, with a couple of teenage children.

Mr. A: So, Barbara, are you almost done your Masters?
Me: Yes, I'll be done in 2 weeks!
Mr. A: Oh, I see. But... how old are you now?
Me: I'm 23 years old.
Mr. A: Don't you turn 24 years old soon?
Me: Well... yes. In a few weeks.
Mr. A: So, you're 24 years old. And you're still going to law school after?
Me: Well... yes.
Mr. A: So how old will you be when you're done?
Me: I'll be 27 years old.
Mr. A: (a little condescendingly, a little knowingly, a little concerned): Oh.. I see.
Me: Why do you ask?
Mr. A: Well.... you know... you're getting old. Shouldn't you be getting married soon? Why waste another 3 years in school? In the Philippines, girls your age are already married with kids.
Me (looking for an exit, trying to be polite): Oh... okay.
Mrs. A: Don't you even have a boyfriend yet?
Me (desperately trying to find my way out of the convo): Um... no. I've been busy with school.
Mr. A: Well, you know. You're getting old. It's something to consider.
Me: *splashes water on his face*

Haha. Kidding. Okay. That last line didn't happen. I eventually spotted my parents and excused myself from the conversation, more baffled than anything. And a little irritated, I'll admit. Am I really, really that old? In this grad life of ours, are we really at that age where we're already hounded about marriage? Hello, the 19th century called. It wants its life back.

Because. Wow. Way to make a 23-year old feel like a spinster, no? As I stood, listening to Mr. A's rant above, the following thoughts immediately crossed my mind: Mr. A, this should not be happening. Comments implying that something is wrong with a woman if they're not married by their mid-20's should not be happening. And most importantly, belittling someone's pursuit of education in favour of marriage isn't very tactful, bee tee double yew.

I shouldn't be introducing you all to my ten cats and twenty parakeets until I'm at least done law school with a job to throw myself into. (Although, when I do acquire said animals, I promise to upload pictures to this blog. Wink wink). Anyway, sarcasm aside, I'm not an old maid, folks. Please get a grip. At least, by my standards anyway.

After that conversation, I had to take a step back and remind myself that I'm not a minority. That I'm one among many friends who want to finish their education (multiple degrees, if desired), who want to travel, to work abroad, to start their own businesses, to experience life ---- before even considering settling down the way Mr. A implied above.

And, from my perspective anyway, there's nothing wrong with wanting to experience life as a 23-year old without the worries of a family to support and a mortgage pay, right? That's for a few years down the road. Not now. And, if we don't feel led to, if we don't desire to, we shouldn't be in such a hurry. Age shouldn't dictate when we want to "settle down."

Is that really so wrong?

That's my own mantra, anyway.

But, after a few days, and a more stable blood pressure rate later, I have to admit something.

Because, okay. Though the conversation irritated me, I understand where Mr. and Mrs. A were coming from, and I respect what they have to say. And I'm not talking about being a good little Asian girl and respecting my elders' opinions (although there's probably some of that thrown in there, let's be real). I respect that, while their opinions aren't in line with my own, I know many people think differently from me. And I accept that.

Taking a step back from my annoyance, I completely respect what they have to say.

Because, like. On some level, I understand where they're coming from. I know that sounds ridiculous, a little crazy. I'm spewing out all these ideas about choice, and experiencing life, but in other cultures and contexts, I accept that I actually am an old maid.

Because, let me put this into context. Mr. and Mrs. A, along with their teenage children, only arrived to Canada a few months ago. From the Philippines. Where, like he says above, it's true - a number of girls my age already have families, married for several years. I don't think they've been in Canada long enough to absorb or understand how different North American approaches to "settling down" are.

I was talking to Mr. and Mrs. A's 16-year old daughter later that evening, and the following conversation ensued:

Me: Are you excited for high school in Canada?
The A's Daughter: Yes, I am. I really like science.
Me: Oh, do you have an idea of what you'd like to do in university?
The A's Daughter: Yes, I want to be a doctor. To go into medicine.
Me: Oh, I see! That's great!
The A's Daughter (glancing at me significantly): But, Ate Barbara (Filipino endearing term for older sister), unlike you, I want to be married when I'm 24 years old.

Ohh, snap! Daughter taking after Daddy, no? Bless your heart, sweetheart. Thanks for your concern. Oh, and medical school and marriage by the time you're 24 years old? Erm. Speaking on behalf of a number of friends in medical school right now.... well, no comment. Good luck with that. Keep me posted.

I always wondered why Asian families pushed their daughters to be married so early, particularly in the Philippines, China, Korea, Japan, etc. But, the thing is... 20-something isn't early. It can also be considered late. Very late. Getting married at 18 years old isn't uncommon in other parts of the world. And while conversations like the one above may irritate us, we should probably put ourselves in check before we judge. We might think they're way off base - but they're acting on what they think is common sense too, you know?

I don't think my conversation with Mr. and Mrs. A is just an example of different generations clashing, or a random difference in opinion regarding that oh-so-sensitive topic of marriage. I think it's also a clash of cultural expectations. And I don't think such cultural expectations are wrong, per say. Just different from what we're used to. And, growing up in Canada, we might think what they say is wrong, debasing, and even insulting. But they're acting on what they think is common sense. And cultural common sense isn't necessarily wrong, right?

I guess I'm saying - before getting offended by these kinds of comments (and, let's face it, in this grad life, as we continue life as 20-somethings, we're sure to get these kinds of comments as we get older, especially from older crowds who think we should get married ASAP), take a step back and see where these people are coming from.

Don't get offended right away - understand them instead. And politely decline and turn down their hints to "settle down" or, uh, their requests for you to "meet their sons" (*face palm*). There's nothing wrong with saying no, saying you'd rather concentrate on school for now, doing it without irritation.

So, Mr. A., lay off calling me an old maid, and I'll help your daughter buy her MCAT study guides when the time comes, deal?

Life would be so much easier if we just understood each other a little better.

"Accept who you are; and revel in it."
— Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie)

"We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."
— Carlos Castaneda

"I wouldn't describe myself as lacking in confidence, but I would just say that - the ghosts you chase, you never catch."
— John Malkovich

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