Victoria Marie Page 26.12.16.

Not even at the second date yet and we’re already married, baby on the way and living in a beautiful big apartment, at least in my head…and not just with him, but it seems I’ve been married, become pregnant by, and moved in with multiple men, all before knowing whether they snore or if we’ll have orgasmic sex (clearly the important things to know about a potential life long partner).

Why have I tied the knot, pushed my body through life-changing, pelvis-expanding pain before even deciding, honestly deciding for myself, if I even like this guy? The realisation of this illusion I am certain will mean that I have finally made it, I will have finally become a fully fledged “woman”, one that my mum would be proud of. But have I ever really stopped to think about whether or not this is the future I imagine for myself; do I even believe in marriage and do I truly want to make the life commitment of having children?

It becomes overwhelmingly disappointing when I realise I don’t even like him, or when he’s “divorced” me before I’ve even got to find out if he meets my two hugely important criteria. And when the majority of the real relationships that I’ve been in have ended, the tears that followed have, if I’m honest, half the time not been because I think I’ve lost an incredible lover, partner or soul mate. To be frank, far too many of the men I’ve been with have been completely incompatible for me and not worth the time and energy I put in (of course there have been exceptions) – something that has all too often been blatantly clear to my friends. These tears too often have been because I’ve felt that my womanhood, my ability to keep a man, albeit a completely incompatible one, has failed again.

Many might say that this the inherent female instinct, that no matter how successful, and how independent we think we are, all we want is to make babies and dote on others. However, I know that for me, this has been 30 years of family, media and societal expectations that have scarred my thinking, a deep discoloured mark on my psyche. Not only has this ingrained in me a sense that my ultimate life goal is to get married and become a mother, but essential to that, that I will marry and start a family with a man. Maybe that will happen, but the point is that maybe it won’t, and maybe I don’t want it to. The reality is, that truly knowing what I want separately from what society wants me to want is like the chicken and the egg all over again. The problem is that we limit our ability to be fully human and to see each other as full human beings not limited by gender norms – and to decide truly for ourselves the lives we want to lead and the lovers we want to love.

I turned 30 this year, I have just completed a masters of science at one of the top 5 universities in the world, and done nothing less than gained a distinction. I’ve moved to a new country, learnt a new language, presented at the UN and I’m healthy, in-shape and know how to move to a rhythm. But this seems to be completely irrelevant to me because still no ring, no bump, no seal of approval that I am of “marriage material”. And as each relationships ends, I feel so sure that I have failed in being a woman, that I am a rubbish woman and that soon enough everyone else will realise the same thing.

But what one single man my age contends with these same feelings of self-doubt and inability to see their own achievements simply because they haven’t had enough unprotected sex to bring sperm and egg together? Of course it’s none. And how many men my age have already picked out their first child’s name based on the mixing of his features with the woman opposite him, decided the beach where they’re going to get married and planned out the next 20 years of married adventures all before a second date?…hmm, yep, exactly.

Now this isn’t my rational or conscious brain; this is that little chattery voice in the back of my head that seems to have watched far too many rom-coms. But the problem is that this voice and the voices of society are persistent and stubborn, constantly reminding us of our gender, of what our supposed ultimate life goal is. But other than not being sincerely our own voice, this voice sabotages relationships before they’ve even begun and they stop us from being truly ourselves, free of expectations and fully present.

To fully disconnect ourselves from the cultures we have grown up in, from ideas of who we “should” be – there it is, that word, “should”! – based on our gender identity, is near impossible. We are products of our environments and our environments are characterised by sexist self-limiting ideas of what we can do, how we can dream and what we can be. Like I said, our psyches are scarred by these ideas.

So I cannot take myself out of the years of socialisation based on my female sex, nor can I turn scar tissue into it’s pre-scarred softness, but I can become conscious, each time a little more, to the voices that are not mine, and I can try, finger by finger, to let go of them. And I make this promise to myself and to the next man or woman I choose to commit to. If I choose to marry you, or have children with you, it will be based on the quietest voice in the back of my head, turned down to the lowest volume possible, and based on the loudest butterfly in my stomach.

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