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As a geriatric millennial (or someone on the way there), I’ve seen from afar the many milestones that people my age have gone through. This includes marriages, buying of properties, the birth of their kids, their kids’ rights of passage, people moving houses, getting promoted at work, and sadly some deaths.
While all these are considered rights of passage, milestones, and life goals, some of us have taken a different path: to not go through these life events and instead chartered courses of life that are unlike the norm. That can be in the form of not getting married, not having kids, going on our own adventures, or quietly cruising through life. I belong to this group at the moment.
In the movie Private Life, a middle-aged couple Rachel (Kathryn Hann) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) wanted to build a family of their own, after focusing on their careers for decades. Though it seemed they are late in that game, they decided to go through the process from natural conception, considering adoption, and lastly, through IVF. The road to a child is painful, heartbreaking, and expensive. In an interview I read, Director Tamara Jenkins (whose life story is what inspired this movie), said of the characters:
“If Paul and Kathryn’s characters don’t have a child, then marking time is watching the other person die. Whereas when you have a child, you’re watching something thrive. It’s such an enormous distraction from your own mortality. You’re so focused on that life you’re trying to help you’re not looking at yourself.” If we follow this logic, it means I am currently closer to death, with me looking at my future self six feet under, much earlier than my pals and cohorts.
Child-rearing and the many other aspects of building a family of course are important, but we honestly can’t deny that having a child (or other important societal milestones and obligations) is a diversion from our own mortality. Being on the opposite end of the spectrum, I can fully agree. Now that I have this moment of life in my hands, I become more aware and thoughtful of how my life is going, what I have done and where I am going. Facing these truths and realities is not pretty. Luckily for me, I face these questions now and save myself from a mid-life crisis that many Gen X and Baby Boomers have gone through.
I cannot speak for people who are in a different season of life, only for fellow outliers. I know that for some of us, it can be a companionless journey but for the most part, I disagree. Perhaps it helps to look at our lives as a “Pick your own ending story.” For me, I chose not to make work my sole identity, but as a means to earn a living. Despite not having the life I imagined as a teenager or young adult, I chose to be grateful for what I have now and what I can do with it. I try to make good use of my time doing things I may not have been able to do had I lived a different life. I chose to surround myself (in person or online) with people who are on the same path in life, support my choices, or at least not be judgmental of them. I chose not to judge people who choose to live conventionally, for they may be genuinely happy where they are now. I chose to spend time helping other people in small ways through volunteer work. It also helps to be “away” from the “normal” environment where I grew up. Less pressure, questioning, and expectations to conform.
While I don’t know yet what life will hold in the future, for now, I commit to embracing this gift of freedom and choice and try as much as possible to use it wisely.
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Source: Having a child is a distraction from your own mortality’: Kathryn Hahn and Tamara Jenkins on their IVF film