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Boyfriend, engagement, wedding, babies: I’m 33 and tired of the pressure of 'next'.

I was 21 years old and three bites into my bagel – extra pickles, of course – when I noticed a woman sitting at the next table, looking my way. 

She was middle-aged, bustling with joy, and eager to start a conversation. I was… eating my bagel… and as anyone who has frequented the Melbourne institution of Glick's will know, bagels are a near religious experience and one’s full attention is required. Please.

Alas, she seemed pleasant, and so I smiled and chatted along. But before long, I could feel the conversation veering into different territory, and oh okay, yes, it’s time for the interrogation now. 

“Are you married?,” she enquired with a smile, her eyes quizzing my face.

Mia shares about her wedding day. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

I chortled on my mouthful, “Nooo!”. 

“Oh, but you have a boyfriend?,” she nodded, eyes brimming with hope. 

“No… I don’t,” I found myself offering a slight smile. (Was I... a little apologetic?)

 Pause. Her brow furrowed with concern. 

“Oh.” 

I detected a faint whiff of pity. And then, she found the most hopeful words she could muster:

“That’s okay, dear. Even though time is getting on for you, you still might find someone yet.” 

I was 21 – and speechless.

“Who cares!,” I hear you say. “Laugh it off!”. “She’s a stranger! It doesn’t matter”. And yes, it’s true, and I did… but also, I never forgot it too. Because that moment jolted me. It was the very first moment, I felt the pressure of ‘next’. The pressure of what ‘should’ be: The pressure to find someone. To settle down. 

That despite everything that I was and the things I’d achieved, I was being perceived through a lens of lack; of what I didn’t have, or rather, who I didn’t have… yet.

I’ve been fortunate. I was raised by a mother who is open-minded and supportive. Who has never put pressure on me to be something other than who I truly am, or the life that I want.

But I can’t always say the same for my community; my dear Jewish community that I adore, but can push my buttons in the way only a beloved but annoying family member can… You know?

I’ve been set up on a blind date with someone purely because he had a PhD, and convinced to give another guy a second date just because he is a lawyer. 

I’ve had well-meaning parents of friends raise a glass to me, publicly declaring their hopes that I “find someone soon”. 

I’ve had brides tell me “not to worry” – I wasn’t – and that “you’ll be next” – I wasn’t – and endured far too many tables of miscellaneous singles at weddings.

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So then, you might think that when my partner and I got together three years ago, finally everyone would breathe a collective sigh of relief. 

Rebecca has found a “nice, Jewish boy”! Mazal tov!

But then, almost instantly, the pressure of ‘next’:

“That’s very nice… So, when is the engagement?” 

*Sigh*

Look, I’ve had friends – Argentinian, Greek, Vietnamese, Russian, Indian and Lebanese – with not dissimilar experiences. Next level pressure of 'next'. Every culture has their own narratives that define and bind identity, and for my community, persecuted and threatened for thousands of years, Jewish dating means Jewish marriage and Jewish continuity. Another generation assured. Tradition continues for a marginalised minority. 

It’s a big deal. 

But, when are the expectations of ‘next’ ever enough?

Because I’ve had girlfriends – of all backgrounds – slip a ring on their finger, and immediately, be fired with, “When is the wedding?”

No sooner after they’ve cut the wedding cake, they’ve been charged with, “When is the baby?”

And still bearing the stitchers from giving birth, “When is the next baby?”

And enough already!

Since when was life reduced to a series of checked milestones? Are we just racing to an invisible finish line? And what about when there is nothing… 'next'? 

Because even I know, a checklist of ticks, does not necessarily equate to a life well lived.

Instead, it sets us up against a generic set of measurables. If not attained – by choice or circumstance – we feel ‘less than’, and others feel entitled to an explanation. 

And why are the life choices of women deemed public knowledge, open to discussion? And yes, I say women because, even my guy friends admit – they seldom receive the same incessant questioning as we do. 

It’s not a zero-sum game. But perhaps that’s why so many of us – accomplished, successful, beautiful women – often feel like we’re failing on some front. If we don’t “have it all”, then we have nothing?

My life feels full. At 33, I am grateful and proud with all I have achieved in my career, the travels I've had, and the very special people (and pets!) with whom I share my days.

Yet after three years of happily dating, I’m asked almost weekly, when will I get engaged…

And so I lend you some wisdom from my Jewish mother – one of the best retorts she’s coined, perfectly accompanied with a wry smile.  

“You don’t neeeeed to know!”

And people really don’t. 

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @rebeccadavis___

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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