Do you ever feel as though you’re behind in life? When you scroll through Facebook, it seems like every other person you went to school with is posting pictures of their surprise engagement, the keys to their new house or their latest baby scan.
If you find yourself feeling conflicted, then I totally get it – there’s an overwhelming societal pressure, especially for women who reach a certain age, to settle down, get married and have kids.
And the irony is that you can find yourself feeling pressured to get married and guilty about not wanting children – even if they’re not things you’ve ever personally aspired to. Whether it’s well-meaning comments from family and friends or just deeply ingrained messages from pop culture (Bridget Jones, anyone?), there’s a very real sense that if you don’t do these things, you will wind up sad, lonely and unfulfilled.
So whether you’re a happily single person or just enjoying a long-term relationship with no desire for anything more, I want you to know that this is absolutely okay! Building an intentional life means questioning the rulebook and knowing your values, so I hope this post helps you to feel empowered by your decisions rather than trapped by inflexible societal norms.
Can You Feel Fulfilled Without Getting Married or Having Children?
Of course – you can be perfectly happy and fulfilled without getting married or having children. The problem is that this message is sadly very much lacking in popular discourse. It’s often something we don’t stop to question – there’s a blind assumption that these are inevitable life paths we must take.
We watch Disney films where princesses grow up to marry princes, our wedding day is unquestioningly “the happiest of our life,” and a woman that doesn’t marry and have children is labelled “a spinster” or “an old maid.”
Thankfully, it’s now more widely accepted that a woman’s sole purpose in life isn’t tied to being a housewife and bearing children. She can pursue further education, travel the world, move forward in her career and explore her own passions and aspirations as she matures into adulthood. In short, her timeline is her own.
But the truth of the matter is that there are many reasons why a woman may never want marriage or children – plus be perfectly content with this choice. Perhaps being a wife and mother has never been your vision of success, you have other priorities you want to pursue in life, or you don’t want the decades-long financial and emotional commitment that kids inevitably bring (we’ll dive into these reasons in more detail a little later on).
Why Is There So Much Pressure to Get Married & Settle Down?
Despite progress, there remains an unspoken rule that once a woman’s twenties are ‘out of her system’, she will of course settle down into married life and start a family.
As a general observable trend, the average age at which people get married has steadily increased from 23 in 1970 to 31 in 2010. Marriage rates have also drastically decreased over this period from 415,000 to just 241,000. A similar trend can be seen with the average age at which women have their first child – rising from 26 years to 31 years.
If we look to explain this trend, then we might point out that for previous generations, a family unit was much more important for survival. Life expectancy was lower so it made sense to have more children who could then financially support you in your old age.
Even as recently as my parent’s generation, there was also a real stigma around divorce, single motherhood, and cohabitation or pregnancy outside of wedlock. Fortunately, a shift in cultural attitudes means that all of these things are now more normalised in 21st-century society, and so we are afforded the luxury of choice.
With financial independence, better health care and liberal attitudes, the notion that we should get married and have kids suddenly seems like a relic from a different era and actually pretty outdated. Yet under the surface, there are likely still plenty of ingrained self-limiting beliefs you hold when it comes to the ‘need’ to settle down.
Common Reasons You Feel Pressured to Get Married & Settle Down
There are many things we never stop to question in life – marriage and kids being an excellent case in point! Perhaps you’ve tried to convince yourself with some of the below arguments if ever you’ve experienced feelings of doubt.
You need it to make you feel complete
In just about every song you listen to on the radio, there’s a common interwoven thread that you need someone else to complete you. Whilst a relationship can undoubtedly bring fulfilment, all-pervasive language like “my other half” carries the connotation that we aren’t already whole and complete within ourselves. And it’s so easy to begin internalising this message without even realising it.
In my view, another person should never be “your entire world.” You should be your world, and a partner should add to your life rather than complete it – a crucial distinction which should empower us all as individuals towards personal growth. This in turn makes us better partners because we take responsibility for our own happiness, without the need to manipulate or control others.
It’s what everyone else does
It’s so easy to blindly follow the path of others around us and never stop to question the things we take for granted. Whatever blueprints we’ve grown up with as children are the belief systems we tend to adopt as adults – an easy strategy, but one that lacks intention.
Especially when you rely on external validation, a wedding becomes an important symbol of status, wealth and show, or your kids’ accomplishments are just another thing to boast about to your friends. We must see beyond social pressures if we are to build lives that truly align with our personal values.
You don’t want to disappoint your family
Ah, how many of us have fallen victim to our family’s expectations? It can be really hard when you know that these things are important to family members because you don’t want to deprive them of life’s key moments. Sometimes, it can feel like the less stressful route to just bite the bullet and do what’s expected of you.
The problem is that life becomes anything but simple in the long term. You have one life and the best thing you can do for everyone around you is to live it on your own terms. It’s not fair for parents or grandparents to put designs on your life or make you feel bad. Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s happiness, so establish healthy boundaries to reduce stress in this area.
You might regret your decision later in life
Perhaps the biggest niggling uncertainty of them all – what if you don’t want kids now but then you live on to regret it later in life? What if you really do wind up sad and alone?
It would all be so much easier, of course, if we didn’t have a biological clock. As women, time starts palpably ticking as we reach our thirties, and we end up feeling as though we have to make a decision right this second. It should go without saying that a decision made primarily from a position of fear isn’t the best place to start.
Even for people who know without a shadow of a doubt that they want kids – it’s hard work! So don’t make a decision based on perceived regret. A path with or without kids inevitably means closing doors to other avenues in life. Make the best decision you can that aligns with your values right now, and it will be difficult to regret later on.
It’s what we’re put on this Earth to do
From a biological and evolutionary standpoint, there’s no denying the fact that we are hardwired to procreate for the survival of the human race. Arguably, it’s the meaning of life itself. Plus culturally, in many religions, marriage and family are held as sacred.
However, from a lived experience, this certainly doesn’t have to be the case. In a 21st-century world, we have the power of choice and can pursue fulfilment in whichever way we please. Your legacy can live on through your deeds, actions and life’s work – not simply through your genetic line of ancestry.
7 Reasons Why It’s Okay To Not Want Marriage & Kids
Now that we’ve unravelled some of the main reasons why you may be feeling conflicted, let’s take a look at why we should normalise life paths that don’t involve marriage and kids.
1. You have other plans for your life
If you’ve ever heard that innocuous little phrase that it’s possible to “have it all,” then perhaps you’ve felt hopeful that you can spin many plates in life and keep them all in the air at once.
Whilst it’s possible to make compromises for things that are important to you, don’t be blinded to realities. Living intentionally means, by definition, that you have to make difficult choices to work out what really matters to you. And that usually means doing less rather than trying to do it all.
Whatever your priorities are in life – whether it’s travelling the world or having an impact on the lives of others – it may be that these are more important to you than traditional family life. Which isn’t to diminish anyone that does want these things. The beauty of intentional living is that each of us gets to decide what fulfilment looks like as individuals.
2. You don’t want to support patriarchal systems
Whether you like it or not, marriage as an institution has traditionally been an institution used as a way of controlling women legally and financially. From the symbolism of a virginal white wedding dress to a husband-to-be asking for permission from a woman’s father, it’s plain to see how throughout history, women have been treated as commodities rather than unique individuals with their own autonomy and goals.
There is also an archetypal image of the mother figure in myth, stories and religion as completely self-sacrificing; a martyr who will consistently put her family’s needs above her own, regardless of the repercussions to her own sense of self and well-being. Again, the difficulty with this is that she isn’t treated as a person in her own right.
You can of course break stereotypes and push boundaries, but carefully consider whether you’re standing in alignment with your own beliefs and values.
3. You don’t want the financial burden
According to a 2022 study by Hitched, the average cost of a wedding in the UK is a staggering £18,400 (it seems absolutely crazy to me that you could spend this much money on one day). On top of this, a child will cost you an estimated 150-200K from birth until they leave home at 18 – now multiply that for every child you have!
Even for the most financially stable, this is a huge long-term commitment that shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. For those in a committed long-term relationship, forgoing marriage and kids means you are going to be able to afford a much better quality of life. This not only gives you more financial independence, but crucially, more of your most important resource – time.
4. It’s the more sustainable option
What’s the most sustainable thing you can do – above getting rid of your car or adopting a plant-based diet? Yep, stop having babies. I was pretty taken aback by this too! But if you think about it, it makes complete sense.
Having one less child means using less resources and energy, plus avoiding a whole lifetime of environmental impact and waste. According to a 2017 study, this would reduce your carbon footprint by 58 tons of CO2 annually. People may call you selfish for not having kids, but the truth is that the world can barely support the current population (let alone if we keep adding to it) – so arguably deciding to go child-free is one of the most selfless acts there is.
5. You’ve never wanted a wedding or kids
Some of my friends tell me that they’ve dreamt about their wedding day from a young age – all they’ve ever envisioned for themselves is being a wife and mother. And who am I to question their decision?
The thing is, there are those of us who never dreamt about these things as kids. I had a childhood in which I was encouraged to pursue my passions – I remember at different points wanting to be an author or an artist, but I can honestly say that none of my aspirations centred around marriage or motherhood.
If the thought of a wedding does nothing for you – the planning and organising of it sound draining, you don’t like the limelight, and you don’t feel like you need it to prove anything about your relationship – that’s okay! Similarly, if you don’t particularly have the maternal instincts to want to be a mum, this doesn’t make you any less of a woman.
Don’t feel that you ‘should’ do anything in life simply because it’s the path most trodden.
6. It’s important to be a role model for others
You may not realise it, but it’s actually incredibly brave to forge new paths that may not be wholly accepted or approved by society. By making a conscious choice not to get married or have children, you pave the way for future generations who may be feeling the same way as you. It’s so much easier when you have a role model to follow.
The thing is, someone has to do the initial hard work of challenging perceptions and societal expectations. Whilst you may have feelings of stress, doubt and worry, never underestimate how important this work is.
7. Because you say so!
Last but not least, so long as you aren’t hurting anyone, how about you shouldn’t need to justify your individual life choices to anyone?!
Rather than feeling like we need to come up with a million and one reasons why, it should be enough to have the conversation once and draw a line under it. This isn’t to say that you’re closed off to possibilities or that at some point you might change your mind. But right now, you’re confident in your decisions – whatever the reasons may be. Enough said!
Overcome Societal Expectations & Go Your Own Way
I find it so sad when successful women are being interviewed and the conversation inevitably turns to the only question people seem to care about – their relationship status and whether or not kids are on the cards. I think it’s fair to say that men don’t face the same kind of intense scrutiny.
And this is the crux of the problem. It threatens most peoples’ limited worldview by suggesting that fulfilment is possible outside of traditional narratives of womanhood. But as a society, we must stop basing a woman’s value on her looks, her dating life or her fertility. Aside from the fact that a woman may not be able to have children, there is absolutely no shame in deciding that this is not the path she wants to take.
Whether you’re happily married and child-free, you have children but you’re not bothered about marriage, or neither of these things appeal to you… whatever you do, just make sure that you live your life for yourself and focus on the things that matter, because you only live once.
If this article speaks to you, then sign up to join the intentional movement today! Plus don’t forget to let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.