This weekend I went to visit my little nephew, who is absolutely gorgeous and completely adorable. I very much enjoyed seeing him, and seeing my brother and sister-in-law, but I dreaded the inevitable, unanswerable question:
“Don’t you want to have a baby?”
My brother and sister-in-law have been together for nearly nine years, are happily married, have good careers and a lovely home. I am 26, single, renting in a shared flat and paying more for it than my other brother is paying for a full flat to himself, working part-time during a part-time Masters degree, and have very vague ideas about what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s a pointless thing to ask somebody in my position if they want to have a baby, because of course I don’t at the moment- who would?
There have been several pieces in the media recently around this topic, and the wider topic of a ‘lost generation’- the young people graduating in a recession, with more limited options and surrounded by uncertainties. The Times ran a piece called ‘Generation Medication,’ about the many young people who feel lost and are taking higher numbers of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. There have also been several pieces on the new ‘quarter-life crisis,’ young people in their mid-twenties gripped by a panic at the passing of time more commonly associated with those in their forties and fifties.
I have plenty of days when I am asked these kinds of questions and become panicked and anxious about what I’m going to do. There is an expectation when you are younger that by this age you will be settled into a dream career, with a steady partner and with things pretty much sorted out. I do have friends who appear to have things worked out far better than I do: most of my friends are in long-term relationships and several are openly disappointed when I see them and tell them that no, I’m just me. The inquisitions from my mother whenever I mention any men means I don’t talk about anyone anymore. Even telling her they’re gay or already in a relationship doesn’t necessarily put her off.
I also panic periodically about career decisions. I graduated in 2009, the first year out into the full swing of a recession. I was woefully under-prepared, as all the way through my education my path was set out for me: GCSES, A Levels, degree, and then someone would just sort of, give me a job. I didn’t think about it nearly enough. I worked in publishing for four years and hated it, so I went back to the only thing I had enjoyed: more education, which stopped the questions about what I was going to do for a bit and gave me time to think. But now that I’m halfway through the Masters, people are asking me what I want to do again, and I’m still not sure. I was thinking about a PhD but that hardly looks inviting with the amount of work I’d need to do before I could even apply, and the strikes that have interrupted my degree all year as PhD students and lecturers battle for better pay. People expect me to have answers that I simply haven’t got.
Of course, what I don’t know is how much of this would still have been the same even if I’d graduated into a healthy economy. Quite probably I would still be making my mind up about what I wanted to do, trying different things and working towards something that I will enjoy. The view at 18 of what life will be like at 26 is, clearly, ridiculous and imaginary. The older you get, the more obvious it seems that very few people ever really work everything out- and that’s okay. There will always be more things you want to do, more places you want to see, and questions that you ask yourself about your own life. Most of the time, I don’t mind being single and I don’t feel too worried about where I’m going. I have a lot of interests, I enjoy my job, I enjoy the Masters, I have a lot of friends and I don’t really believe that this recession has set every single person my age back by ten years. It hasn’t been ideal, for sure, and the government isn’t necessarily helping, but I am a little tired of reading about what a state we’re all in and that our lives are effectively ruined. Keep telling us that and of course we’re going to be depressed! Just please, stop asking every woman if they want to have a baby, regardless of their circumstances, and accept that not knowing exactly where you’re going isn’t necessarily the worst thing.