Marriage expectations and a very single daughter
I’m glad my parents never made me feel that I had to get married and have children. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable for them to have that expectation and to push me in that direction. Born in the early 1930’s, their generation was more marriage-minded and married young. My sense of my parents is that they wanted me to be able to take care of myself and to be a contributing member of society. Marriage would most likely happen along the way, as that is what people tend to do. And in my family, it was made clear to me that children came after marriage.
My dad has never been one to delve into my personal life. He’s never asked me about my dating life or given me advice on love or marriage. He’s not that kind of guy. Instead, he would ask “How’s your job?” or “How’s your car?” Sometimes he would venture into the state of my house in Atlanta and the tenants. Other times, “Girl…you still got your side hustle?” My side hustle is the part-time faculty jobs that I’ve held over the last 12 years. He always ends with — “Yeah…girl…keep your side hustle. Keep your side hustle. People crazy these days. They crazy.”
The most excitement my dad has expressed about my life was when I told him that I had bought a house. I did not tell either of my parents that I was looking so it was a complete surprise to them. I could tell that he was very proud: “You bought a house! Girl…that’s good! That’s just about the best thing that you could do for yourself!”
Maybe Grandpa Linzie had something to do with my father’s expectation of me. Linzie Calvin *Tompkins, Jr. was born in 1910. I don’t remember him — he died when I was 2 years old. However, I know about him from my father and his siblings as he was a strong presence in the family. I was told that he often said, “I want my girls to be educated. In case they end up with a sorry husband they can leave him.” Hearing that many times throughout my life told me two things: I should go to college and that I don’t have to be trapped in a marriage.
My father’s side of the family is full of alpha males, but this didn’t preclude them from being progressive about the education and independence of women. They also married very accomplished, resourceful and independent women and expected the same of their daughters.
Of course, mother-daughter relationships are a bit more complicated. I know that my mom can see that her daughter is faring well in the world and able to care for herself. My life is very different from hers for a myriad of reasons, mostly due to social-cultural factors that shaped her perception of the world and limited the opportunities that were available to her. Even if she observed and experienced that traditional roles of women has not resulted in all that was promised, she’s still invested in them. In some ways, my choices and my life path…even my attitude about them…seem foreign to her.
I have felt that mom would be more excited about my accomplishments if they were framed as We — traveled, purchased a home, bought a new car, or moved from one city to the next for career opportunities — instead of it being I. She was very euphoric about the one (and only one) man in my life that she had met a few times as it was a real possibility that we would be married. And she was deeply disappointment about our breakup.
I can’t be that upset with my mom as she is consistent with the rest of the world — even with my good friends and relatives who know me well. If I have exciting news to share and ask them to guess, their response is often— “You met someone!” I know that any other news will pale in comparison to finding Prince Charming. I stopped asking people to guess about my exciting news.
From time to time, my mom has asked about my dating life and wondered just what in the world was going on. Over the years, she grew tired of my standard response “If something happens you’ll be the first to know.” But that has been the most honest answer that I could give her. I feel no need to trouble nor tempt her with every man that has come across my path.
Just last year, I asked my mom if she was disappointed that I wasn’t married and had kids and she said, “No…there’s so many single women out there. I guess if you wanted to be married you would. You could be like those women that marry a man and just take care of him…a lot of women do that.” Her delivery was unintentionally comedic, causing me to laugh. But she seems to understand that I am not alone in my singledom and that I have some choice in the matter. I’m not that cute puppy at the shelter waiting for someone to come get me.
While my parents did not make me feel as if I had to get married, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t have expectations or hopes that I would be married. This could be due to many reasons. All parents want their kids to do better than they did. If they had a so-so marriage or divorced, then of course, they want their kids to have a great marriage that lasts.
People want to be successful at parenting. They are seen as more accomplished in this role when their children are married. Also, the competition that exists between parents doesn’t stop with little league and academics — but continues as their children enter adulthood, get married and have their own children. Children, for good or for bad, reflect upon their parents.
Marriage is still considered as a major milestone, demonstrating that one has officially crossed over into adulthood. If a person does not reach this milestone, then it could be seen as they are not fully developed in some way.
But mostly, parents want what’s best for their children — to be well-adjusted, happy, safe and protected in the world. Isn’t this what everyone wants? What may not be understood by parents is how what’s best is defined and achieved by their children, especially today’s single woman.
*By the way, Tompkins is the actual spelling of my last name but some of Grandpa Linzie’s children, including my dad, were told by a teacher that they were spelling their name wrong and that an “h” was missing. Therefore, two spellings exist in the family.
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