There were a group of young girls sitting next to me at lunch today. Late teens, early twenties. They were discussing typical young adult topics: boyfriends, love, marriages, and their futures. They took turns describing the perfect designer wedding gown. They envisioned their dream homes. They debated the ideal number of kids.
Suddenly, I had the burning desire to lean over the edge of their table and whisper to them the cold, hard truth:
That, in the grand scheme of things, not a single topic they were debating truly mattered.
Yes . . . you can wear an expensive, designer gown on your wedding day, and I’m sure that you will look beautiful in it. But when your wedding day is over, you will never wear that dress again. It will sit in a bag in the back of your closet. It will yellow and collect dust. That dress carries no meaning unless the person you’re marrying looks at you while you’re wearing it in the same way he or she would look at you if you were wearing a brown paper bag instead.
Yes . . . you can build your dream home. But it doesn’t mean that everything inside of it will be perfect. You could have a state-of-the-art kitchen, but never sit down together and have a family meal. Your bedroom could, at first glance, exude the appearance of a calm oasis. Yet, when you and your partner are inside of it, someone could cut the tension with a knife. You could have living space for five children, but what will you do with those spaces if they are never occupied?
Yes . . . you can debate the ideal number of those offspring. You might want three because you had two siblings growing up and you want your children’s experiences to be the same. You might want two because you don’t want to have a “middle” child. But the universe may have other plans. You may have none. You may have more than you bargained for. You may not carry all or any of them. What you pictured your family to be may never exist.
I wanted to tell them that dreams are beautiful, and they are important to have. Dreaming keeps our hearts strong and our creativity sharp. Sometimes, though, the focus of dreams are “off” — they are focused on the things and not the feelings. They get hung up on perfection.
Don’t get stuck there.
It doesn’t matter whether your wedding day photos were perfect, I wanted to urge. What matters is the feeling you get when you think back to that special day. Do those feelings make you happy? Do you remember the moment when your partner looked at you as you walked down the aisle toward him or her? Does your partner still look at you that same way? Does he or she still take your hand and move forward with you, in good times and in bad, and in sickness and in health?
It doesn’t matter if the house you want has a perfect back porch, I longed to say. What matters is the person you’re sitting next to on it, drinking a beer as you watch your dog play in the grass. Does this vision make you happy? Do you want to sit there, with that person, for the next 50 years and grow old together? Will you still love this house if tough times happen here? Will you be okay with all of those bedrooms if they are never filled with screaming children — as long as you have each other?
It doesn’t matter how many kids you have or if you have any at all, I needed to tell them. What matters is that, if you don’t have children, you don’t let anyone else make you feel like less of a woman for not being a mother. That you don’t beat yourself up because you can’t have them. That you don’t let others make you feel guilty because you don’t want them.
And, what matters is that — if you do have children — you teach them how to care about the feelings and not the things. You teach them that loving and being surrounded with love is what is most important in life. Even if you are still figuring that out yourself.