Marriage. Mortgage. Money. Babies. If you can do that, you’ve made ‘it’.
If you’re a woman – the whole marriage and babies thing is probably higher on society’s definition of making ‘it’. If you’re a man – it’s money and a house. If you can accomplish that, you’ve made ‘it’.
But what exactly is ‘it’?
Charmaine Yam and I sit down for another girls night in on Skype. Most relationships don’t survive the test of time and distance – but for Charmaine and I, it’s been the other way around. The older I get, the more I grow to appreciate her, us and what we have.
“For a girl,” Charmaine says, “someone who’s done well for themselves in a traditional sense is someone who’s married well. If you’ve done that, you’re set. It’s a short-sighted thing to say. They might end up getting a divorce and being unhappy. We tend to think that men are providers and women are maternal. It’s almost like if the female works hard, it’s not a good life for them.”
Do we women really want a privileged and pampered life? Is it healthy for us in long run?
“I think that if you stay at home the whole time you end up relying on your husband for everything,” Charmaine says. “You are reliant financially. It’s very hard to keep a sense of self if you’re at home. There are some women who grow up wanting to be mothers.”
And there’s nothing wrong with that. But your kids will grow up and leave home. What happens then? Are you going to be that intolerable mother-in-law who just can’t let go?
“I think you need to have something else going for you,” Charmaine says. “You lose touch with the outside world because you don’t have to make money and may not know what’s going on. If it was me, if I was given the sole role to stay at home and take care of the kids – I would have to devote everything to my kids. I’d feel I shouldn’t take time to catch up with friends or have interests and hobbies. It’s a trade-off. You make things less about you.”
Is this set up healthy for men?
“A sole breadwinner has a lot of financial pressure,” Charmaine says. “There is a lot of expectation not to take risks when you have a family. And that must also restrict their own lifestyle.
“In Australian culture, men are quite commitment-phonic and don’t want to settle down. When you get married, you lose your freedom. Settle down with one woman, she’s the only one you’re going to have sex with, and then you have to send kids to private school. No more drinking out, no fancy parties. Listen to your naggy wife. It doesn’t sound like a great lifestyle to me. Who wants to do that?
“I think the men who do that are very responsible people who grow up in traditional families. They just think that that’s what it means to be a man. Asians are disciplined, responsible, maybe even a bit selfless. Their fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers and so on.”
There’s nothing wrong with tradition. I’m a big fan of some traditions. They give us a sense of self and make us who we are. But just how is following tradition making ‘it’. The problem with following someone else’s definition of success is that it will never satisfy you in the long run.
Marriage. Mortgage. Money. Babies.
Maybe it’s right for you. Maybe it isn’t. But don’t follow convention and then spend the rest of your life living in quiet bitterness and empty regrets.
Decide for yourself what ‘it’ is. And then go after ‘it’. Life’s too short to live any other way.