Discuss: Geographic Relativity

Feb 4, 2011

As many of you are aware, I grew up out West in a fairly small town and most of the people who I grew up with have stayed within 125 miles of home.  So when I go home for vacation, I see a lot of the people who I knew in high school and before.  But it wasn’t until this last trip home that something occurred to me, I’m one of the last three who aren’t married with children.

At 28, most of my former classmates are on their second child.  A few are even on their second marriage.  They all seem so grown up with their strollers and their mortgage payments, while I, the independent, Big City single girl am asked over and over again when I intend to move home and have babies.

Frankly, I’m not convinced that I want to do either.

It’s funny how geography can change your perspective on something.  Working on the Hill and living in D.C., I rarely think about the fact that I’m almost 30-years-old and single.  No one in D.C. has ever asked me when I’ll be ready to get married or suggested that I’m some sort of mutant because no one has put a ring on it.  But when I’m home, the revelation that I’m not married usually yields a quizzical look followed by one of two questions, “Why not?” or “Well, you probably have a boyfriend, right?”

I never feel pressure to date, marry or have babies when I’m in D.C., but when I’m home, I feel like I’ve failed in some way.  Like everything else that I’ve accomplished means little to my former classmates most of whom have a gaggle of children with odd or oddly-spelled names to coo over and husbands to complain about.  In my hometown, there is only one path and that path leads to marriage and children, though not always in that order.  

As a result of this geographic relativity, it’s almost like time passes more slowly in D.C.  Here I still feel “on track,” never left behind.  But at home, I feel like Peter Pan lost in a world where everyone else grew up and I ran away to Neverland.  And I can’t be the only person who feels this way, certainly some other Washingtonians have noticed that it’s more acceptable to be single at 35 in D.C. than it would be most anywhere else.  

In my office, where the average age is 27, only two out of ten employees are married and only two more are in relationships.  Among my immediate friend group, the average age is 32, but only one out of six of us is married and one is engaged.  This certainly wouldn’t be the case out West or maybe even just down the road in middle Virginia.  

Does it seem to you like expectations are different in D.C. with regards to marriage and children?  And how do you explain to friends and family living elsewhere that being single at this age or that just isn’t such a big deal here?  And for those of you living elsewhere, do you think expectations are different where you live than they are where you grew up?


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  1. K says:

    I've been really aware of this recently on my Facebook page. I got married at 24 and have no intention of having children (ever? for now? anytime soon?), even though I'm 28 now. However, I assume because of the blizzard that hit the Richmond area, I have 6 high school classmates (that I can think of without looking at FB) who are due with their first child within a week of one another.

    My best friend is like some of your hometown neighbors, except she's still single, and has resigned herself to the fact that, since at 28 she's not married and pregnant, nobody will ever love her. Trust me, I wish there was a way to respond to that without wanting to scream.

    I applaud you Belle for enjoying being single. If I had it to do over, I would have made my 2 year engagement a 5 year engagement, and I'd still be with the same man. Enjoy it. You don't ever get to be single and in your 20s or 30s ever again. There's no good response to the people at home, but I'm sure plenty of them are secretly jealous of your freedom.

  2. Zoe says:

    Totally feel you on this post. No one in my office is married or has children and the average age is 30. I'm personally a fan of this!

  3. Christina says:

    This is a great post. Although I was married relatively young, I have no interest in having children in the immediate future. I find that very normal here, but odd at home. I sometimes feel like a child-bride when I'm amongst friends in DC.

    My favorite line of your post: In my hometown, there is only one path and that path leads to marriage and children, though not always in that order. My husband always says that his hometown friends, “join the military, get married, and have children…in no particular order.”

  4. Leila says:

    Belle, this post pretty much embodies the culture/regional clash I live in. That chick just down the road in Virginia? Thats me! I grew up in the northern Virginia area and come from an “ethnic” family. At 26, my dad told someone at Christmas that he doesnt think that I'll ever have kids. Like you, all of my classmates and cousins (all 8 billion of them) are married and have kids. I try to stay in touch with my family while keeping my happy single girl staffer lifestyle. I haven't found a healthy balance, there are days when I feel like moving to DC, having a job that I adore a super cute studio with a closet full of accesories and suits that I love are nothing simply because I dont have a husband or am even engaged.

    I'd like to one day have the white pickett fence, perfect hubby, two kids and shi-tzu, but those day dreams happen much less often than my career aspirations. A wise latina once told me, “you can have it all, just not all at once.”

  5. keighty says:

    I am from Pennsylvania and I totally agree. I am only 22 – an age at which I assumed most people were focusing on school and careers. That is, until I went home for Christmas. Of my 4 best girlfriends from high school, two are engaged and two are in serious (3+ year long) relationships, and looked appalled when I told them that I'm not looking for a relationship now and am perfectly happy being single.

  6. Telisa says:

    My hometown is exactly the same. i've been getting pressure to be married since i was 18 (no joke). It's hard to explain how a career and/or education can for some people- at least temporarily- be as important as starting a family or that I haven't met anyone worth marrying because they have no frame of reference for such ideas. You're not alone in this.

    BTW the average age for women in DC to get married is 32. I throw this stat out to anyone that tries to convince me I'm not normal because I'm not married.

  7. This rings so true. I lived in DC for three years & rarely felt pressure to get married or pop out kids or even date, even at age 26, which was older than most of my friends in the city. It's such a career culture that it's just not tops on anyone's minds. But when I moved back to Ohio? Holy crap. I went to a wedding & met up with an old coworker & his first question, “Is that your husband?” of the friend I'd brought as a date. When I said I wasn't married, he still asked if I had any kids!

  8. Ash says:

    I think this goes both ways. I was lucky enough to find the man of my dreams young and got married at 23 – something I never thought a thing about until I moved to DC and my new co-workers looked like I had antlers coming out of my forehead when I told them I was married. So just like your friends from home look at you like an anomoly people look at me the same way here.

  9. CatG says:

    I'm also 28, and I, and in addition to two more of my friends, am the only one who is not married and on, in most cases, THIRD child. Of course, this is my friends from right here – the VA/DC/MD area.
    My friends out west where I went to college are all just getting married, or engaged/in a serious relationship, or on their first child.
    I think it's a religion thing more so than a regional thing to be honest (although religious culture and small town culture go hand in hand much of the time). I have no real interest in marriage or motherhood myself (although I don't dislike children per se). I just like being an aunt, and being single. No one gives me a hard time about it other than some people expressing surprise that I'm not at least married.

  10. LPU says:

    I think grew up within the same 125 miles (literally) — this post is so true! The constant question while I was home this summer was: “SO, when's he going to pop the question? Will you be getting married here?” I'm 24, and the [shotgun] weddings started at 18. At 19, my Grandma asked me when I was going to start having her great-grandbabies (I'm the third oldest female grandchild, mind you)

    A majority of the pictures I scan through on Facebook from home are: engagement photos, wedding photos, or up close baby pictures. It's all darling; but I am so not in that place in life! A few friends have 2 kids already, some of them already in school (that's the part that boggles my mind the most). Only one of my friends from college is engaged, and my other DC friends who are engaged are older. It is an entirely different environment out here, and I don't think its just because some of our friends out west went to college for their MRS Degree.

    Cheers to being single in the city!

  11. Rose says:

    Belle, I'm loving the direction the site is taking right now – throwing these questions out there along with the wonderful typical fashion content.

    I grew up in New England, but went to school in Virginia (what I call “Virginia Virginia,” not DC-area), and most of my high school friends are starting to get engaged/married around now, which is age 28. However, my college friends, even those who live in DC? 90% married or engaged.

    It's definitely cultural and geographical. In DC, I don't feel out of place being unmarried; however, when I'm in DC with my college friends, I definitely feel out of place. I started dating someone, and all the college friends asked me when we were getting married. Crazy! But my coworkers and non-college DC female friends are mostly single – average age 30!

  12. Colleen says:

    Same here. My husband and I married young – 22, just shy of 23 – and have been married for almost six years. We don't have kids yet, and for the most part, we're okay with that. We've traveled quite a bit, and are generally enjoying the DINK (Double Income No Kids) lifestyle – last-minute plans, sporting events, etc. Those are experiences we wouldn't have had if we already had kids, and I know that when we do have kids, we'll look fondly back on those experiences. Here in DC, people get that, even if they do sometimes look at us oddly sometimes because we've been married for so long already.

    Back in my small, Midwestern town, however, it's a different story. Many people I went to high school with have two or three kids already. We're looked at as downright bizzare because we've been married for so long and don't have kids. Frankly, the biggest reason we haven't had kids yet is because the cost of living is so high here – which appears to be something many back home cannot comprehend. I'd like to be a stay at home mom, and financially, we're not in that position yet. And we're certainly not in the position to be footing a daycare bill on top of student loans, a car payment, rent, etc. People in my hometown just can't seem to get that we're okay waiting for parenthood until we accomplish a few other things and acheive a place where we'd feel comfortable taking on additional responsibilities.

    It actually really ticks me off when people comment on it to me. I don't say anything about the fact that they stayed in our hometown and chose to become parents. I'd appreciate the same respect about my decisions.

  13. L says:

    I definitely agree. Most people in my town went away for college and then moved back home – but somehow those 4 years away didnt seem to influence them as much as it did me. I'm only 24 and all of my best friends from home got engaged within the last year and several other people I grew up with (although not as close with) have kids already. My closest friends have been badgering me for months because I wasnt even trying to date anyone and basically said “You cant just work and go to school all the time, you need to have a life” but I think that my career and education is my life right now and I love it. I have friends and other activities that i'm involved with – it's not like i'm a hermit. I just dont feel like being in a relationship. Just to stop their nagging I registered for some online dating sites and have been going on dates, but I dont really feel into it. I'm the youngest person in my office downtown. Most of my colleagues are married, engaged, or in a relationship but they are all 30+ and have already completed their graduate degrees and are well into upper management positions within the company. Also, I have always made it known that I dont want to have children – ever (which my friends also think is crazy). This makes it extremely difficult to date because almost every guy i've met wants to have kids. But it also means that I dont need to be in any hurry to find a guy because i'm not racing against a biological clock. I also don't want to have a house or live outside of the city and commute hours to work. Even if I was married i'd just want to my husband and I to live in an apartment where I could walk to the office or quickly hop on the metro. I travel for work a lot, and love to travel, so i'd also have to date someone who didnt mind it if I was gone all the time. My lifestyle basically doesnt lend itself easily to a relationship. My friend's advice to me is to “make sacrificies” and maybe travel less, or take less classes, or move to the suburbs…all to find a guy. There is NO WAY I would ever change any of those things for a guy and everyone that I know from home thinks that means there is something wrong with me. I never feel pressure from anyone in DC like I do when I talk to people from home.

  14. R says:

    Although I married young at 24, I receive the same reaction and share the same experience when it comes to having kids. My husband and I are also enjoying the double income, no kids lifestyle, and it's nice to be married and have someone else to share your life and experiences with. We don't want to rush into having children, and some don't understand why I want to work full time forever. I cringe when people ask why I want a full time career, as though women are supposed to only clean, cook, and pop out babies while the husband makes the money.

    Personally, I have worked too hard to earn my degrees and follow my career aspirations to just give it all up. In the end, you just have to do what makes you happy!

  15. kat says:

    I just had two friends from the South come visit me and we got into a huge debate because they just couldn't understand why my career is more important to me at 27 than being married and having children. Both of them are single and devastated about it and are planning on marrying ASAP and staying home. They really didn't get that after having suffered through law school I might want to put that education to use and possibly get married sometime in the next 5-10 years. On the other hand, my college and law school classmates would laugh at the idea of getting married right now! I really think it does come down to geography and exposure. When I lived in South Louisiana I was the only girl I knew over the age of 20 who didn't have kids and they all thought I was really weird but a friend who was married in law school felt like a lone wolf. A lot may also have to do with opportunities within that geographic area. It's a lot easier to be single in your mid-30s in a city like DC where you can seriously pursue a career. In small town Iowa, there just isn't that much else to do.

  16. Kate says:

    I feel the same way. I'm 23. Everyone from where I went to school is married (for several years) and having kids. I really do not understand it.

    I have never felt the I need to get hitched (boyfriend or not) and really don't want kids.

    It also helps that absolutely no one in my family has ever asked me about it, I think they know better lol.

  17. Amy says:

    Agreed all around. Born & raised outside of Chicago and lived in Iowa before moving to DC–both at home and in Des Moines I'm in the minority being 27 and not having a husband, 2 1/2 kids, and a mortgage. It's so refreshing to be in DC where I'm “normal”.

  18. Shannon says:

    I grew up just down the road in Woodbridge, and most of my friends who stayed there are married with kids (or divorced with kids). I'm 34, and my friends are about 50/50 married vs. single. I don't think it's a question of “judging” for not being married with kids, but being unable to comprehend a very different lifestyle.

    Washington is, frankly, inhospitable to early marriages and young parents. We live in a city where the trappings of adulthood are out of reach for many “average” people. Aside from the work-work-workiness everyone talks about, it's so EXPENSIVE here. Washingtonians live in studios well into their 30s, day care costs an arm, a leg, and maybe an ear, commutes are epic, and real estate is out of reach. So you have to wait until you're more financially established to think about marriage and babies.

  19. Govvie says:

    I watched this video on Huff Post yesterday, where this scholar dude talks about marriage. His comment about how women get the short end of the stick made me think, A LOT. I am married and I feel as though I bear the burden of “keeping the house,” managing the social calendar, and buying gifts for his friends and family. Marriage changes you because you are constantly focused on your spouse's needs and you definitely set aside your interests and pursuits to some extent. Even if this shift in focus is subtle, it would definitely not be appealing to someone who is extremely career-focused. (I for one work solely for the paycheck, so it's not soul-killing for me to have this other “job.”)


  20. ashley says:

    This post actually made me feel a lot better about where I am in my life. I broke up with my 2 year + boyfriend shortly after moving to DC (whom I thought I would marry) and have been feeling very demoralized having to “start over again” at the age of 25. From your post and the other comments I realized its normal for me to be single right now…live it up!

  21. redskins.couture says:

    Truer words have never been spoken. Well done, Miss Belle.

  22. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    FWIW, I'm 28 and have been married for two years. No one in Washington has ever asked me, “So when are you having kids” although my coworkers and friends just sort of assume my husband and I will. They'll say “Oh, when you have kids this and that.” My husband's family, however, who live in Florida and Alabama think it's crazy we aren't on the baby track yet. Whenever they ask I say, sort of jokingly, that my husband has to make a $1M to make up for my lost earnings. That drives them bananas. I think it's hilarious.

  23. Lola says:

    This post has made me feel better about my life as well. I'm 34, single, never married with no kids. I just temporarily moved back to my hometown after having lived in a large midwest city for eight years. As the years have gone by I've certainly felt the clock ticking, but never moreso than the last four months I've lived here. I was at the grocery store yesterday and saw an old high school acquaintance with a 13 year old daughter. I felt like the unwanted crypt keeper growing a second head.

    Logically, I realize that I haven't met the right person for me yet, and my single time has been well-spent getting a graduate degree and working on my career. But in reality, it's hard to have the “loser” card thrown in your face over and over again.

  24. Emily says:

    What about a man's perspective? My boyfriend works on capitol hill and in his (almost entirely male) office, only the COS and scheduler are married. There's a lot of live-it-up bro be-free-forever type of pressure.

    I went to school in the south but am from the area, and I have friends all all different places – everyone's experience is different and they're all ok, But pressure is not ok.

  25. Sarabeth says:

    I completely believe and agree with this post, and the comments. Kudos to all!

    Personally, I moved to DC a year ago for work around the same time as the man I had been dating. We did not move down here for or even because of each other, but for our separate jobs, and have since broken up. I was made painfully aware of the standard women are held to (to get married, have babies, etc.) after a certain age when I was home for the holidays, and everyone expressed their sympathy because I had broken up with the man “I had moved to DC for”.

    I was offended by those who assumed the only reason I would leave small town New England would be because of another person. Moreover, if I was a man would people have had the same reaction? How often are our male coworkers and friends who are the same age asked when they are getting married, why they are still single, and when they are having children? It's an interesting thought.

  26. J says:

    Belle, you are on fire lately! This is totally right on the money. And looks like every girl who lives here and has commented feels generally the same way. For me, I feel absolutely no pressure to have kids or get married, but I wouldn't mind it either if the right guy came along. Unfortunately, this city is a DESERT when it comes to dating. Ah well, it's the life we chose!

  27. capiappe says:

    My DC friends and I have had this conversation no less than 30 times while we're out at a fancy restaurant and several cocktails deep. I got hitched at the ungodly old age of 28 but boy did those comments used to irk me!

    Thanks for putting all those girl gab sessions in print.

  28. SB says:

    I'm a 31-year-old single Southerner…back home you would think I'm a bra-burning, man-hating cave dweller that is in desperate need of dating advice and a reminder of my biological clock from everyone who crosses my path. Here in DC, most of my friends are also Southerners around the same age, and most of us are all still single. We all agree the pressure we get when we get back home to “hurry up” with our lives is overwhelming…pretty sure we're all having a great time with our lives the way they are up here. Yes we may all be slight workaholics that could seek out a bit more balance. But the thing is, we are pretty much okay with that. Why can't everyone else be? You are not alone Belle.

  29. sara says:

    I'm also 28…Hill staffer…oldest of a set of twins…6 months ago I heard the 'biological clock' BS from my stepmom…3 months ago my mom texted me that she wanted grandkids after Paula Deen announced that she'd be a grandmother on the “Rachel Ray Show.”

    People back home, for me in the Midwest, just can't understand what keeps a person from getting married. I try to explain the age acceptance of marriage and kids here in DC (is there one?) to them and they chalk us up to “self-involved yuppies.”

    No matter what we are and no matter who they are, geography has a big influence. Some people never leave…and they find people who never want to leave either.

  30. Claire says:

    I'm 26 and while I've certainly seen the wedding/baby rush among high school/college friends from the Northeast, I've also seen a bunch of unhappy 30-35 year olds getting divorced because the person they married at 21 has completely changed. Sometimes you see couples who have been together since forever, but generally it seems like better relationship decisions are made when you're older.

    I'd much rather (politely) tell people off when they ask when I'm going to marry/reproduce with my current bf than be unhappy with another guy I might have married too young. Then again being from the NE I didn't get peer pressured for not being married by my senior year of college, which a couple of my southern/midwestern female friends were.

  31. Maggie says:

    I got married young, and where I lived previously that was completely normal. We waited to have kids until I was 29, an “old lady” in that area. When we moved here, I suddenly became the young one in my group of mommy friends, and I'm good with that. I hate the pressure of marriage and children. That's how miserable marriage followed by miserable divorce and even more miserable children happen. I got married young because that just happened to be when I found the man I wanted to marry; we still had a lot of stuff we wanted to do before children, and I'm so glad we waited.

    Marriage and children aren't the only accomplishments worth having!


  32. MLW says:

    funny you should say this. i recently had this conversation with a friend from home (south carolina). im 23, and feel absolutely NONE of the pressure that i did when i was at home to “settle down and get married”

  33. Marie-Christine says:

    It has absolutely nothing to do with DC. It's all about city size. My mother lived 100 miles from San Francisco and everyone was married practically right out of high school and breeding right away. Needless to say, that's not the case when you start hitting 250,000 or so. Not in the US anyway :-).

  34. jaime says:

    Well, I am 44 and have 2 little boys. Got married at 33 and had my first child at 35 and second at 38. I had a great time in my 20s and lived pretty much like yourself. But you know what-I now wish that I would have had kids earlier for several reasons: I now find that I would love one more and at my advanced maternal age I really cannot. Instead of my kids still being in elementary school they would now be in high school and I would be planning my next stage. And when I look back through the eyes of maturity those party days of my 20s weren't really that much fun and most definitely not fullfilling. I would gladly give up everything I accomplished in my 20s if I could do it over. You will be amazed at how much your values change and how much you change once you have children. It makes me sad how many young women are choosing career over this. I have done both and let me tell you its not even a contest.

  35. Lynn says:

    Belle – It is post like these that encourage the most important post resonse…constructive dialog. I look forward to more insights such as these. Great, honest writing.

  36. Kate says:

    Jamie, I appreciate that your comment has added balance to the comments here but I take slight offense at your description of our 20's as being party days. If I think about the last 8 years, the last true party time was when I was 21 and in college. Other than that, I spent two years living in a very rural town teaching English and another two years working full time while going to graduate school in the evenings so that I could obtain my master's without debt. Years since then have been spent, yes, working on my career, but also building a very strong committed relationship with my boyfriend and rekindling hobbies long left beyond. Now, I have a strong feeling that motherhood will be more fulfilling than any or all of these but I really don't think I will look back on these and say they weren't fulfilling at all. In fact, each time I have made a decision about where to go next, I have much encouragement from the women in my family because each of them married and had children young and see a loss in the opportunities that they had with such a path.

    Is there a right formula for us to use to that we can have both? No. But, many of us aren't spending our 20's partying and working 80 hours a week to get ahead. I hope that when I look back at my 20's i hope to see it as a time that I spent bettering myself through experiences and education. I guess only time will tell.

  37. Jessie says:

    I just moved to DC from New England this past summer and broke up with my boyfriend of 3 years soon after. He was still up north, and he was willing to move down with me, but I did not feel ready to take that next step with him. This is my first time really being on my own and I am loving it. I haven't dated anyone yet, but I am enjoying work, graduate school, making friends, and exploring the city. All of the people I have met in DC totally understand my decision to be single again and also realize why I'm not even interested in going on dates. They know everything DC has to offer beyond the dating scene and they are excited to show me– and I can't wait to see more!

  38. Danae says:

    Thank you for posting this so honestly, Belle. When you go home, you really do feel like you are the only one, yet this following of capable and lovely women posting here prove a much different story!

  39. Steffanie says:

    I'm just shy of 28 and married. My main group of friends in DC are all married. Being from the Midwest, whenever I go home, I feel extremely out of place. Former friends have 2, 3, and even 4(!) children. I would like to have kids, but it isn't the right time for us. We can't buy a house for $100,000 here like they can back home. We don't have built-in daycare because our families are far away. It is a give and take to live here and live the life that we want to. My husband is from Southern Virginia and his friend back home are also in the reproducing stage. He likes kids, but clearly states he isn't ready to have his own yet.

    I don't think anyway is better than the other. I do know that this way is better for me and my husband. I am very lucky because my mother doesn't expect grandchildren; she just wants me to be happy. I do think it is important to figure out what is best for you and go for it! As long as you are happy, does it matter what anyone else thinks?

  40. Jaime says:

    Hate to tell you this Belle, but it NEVER ends! I was working on the Hill, having a great time, got married at 27 (yes, I kind of felt like a child bride at that age in DC), had my first little one at 30…thought all was great. Then….about 3 months after he was born, everyone on the face of the earth started asking me when I was having another baby! This has not ended and the first one will be 3 this year…I almost want to have another child just so I don't have to answer that question ever again.

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