Anyone can offer advice for living the good life – no qualifications are necessary – and many people do. Those who have gotten the most attention lately include Sheryl Sandburg with her book, Lean In, the haughty Princeton mother telling the undergraduate women at her alma mater to grab a Princeton man while the grabbing is good, Ann Marie Slaughter telling women they actually can’t have it all, and now Elsa Walsh in the Washington Post, telling women to settle for a good-enough life.
What is striking about all of these offerings is just how stunningly limited the components of a good life seem to be, in the eyes of these self-appointed sages. The conversation is all about three domains: work, marriage, and children.
For those of us who are single-at-heart, there is potentially so much more. I think that even for people who care most about the tired three, there is more about life that attracts their interest and maybe even their passion.
First, consider the people part of the equation. A spouse and offspring are fine for those who want them, but what about all of the other people who matter? What about friends and siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and grandparents? What about mentors and teachers and other special people who helped us and believed in us all along the way? What about colleagues and neighbors and fellow members of groups that welcome us, be they political or religious or civic or educational or athletic or artistic?
How about the draw of time away from people? We who are single-at-heart cherish our solitude. It refreshes us, offers us space to be creative or contemplative or to pursue what interests us, on our own terms and in our own time.
How can we talk about work without recognizing its many forms, from the onerous to the exhilarating? There’s the work we do to pay the bills and the work we might do even if we were not paid for it.
Where, in the tripartite equation, is a place for contributing to a cause that reaches beyond your own nuclear family? Where does volunteering fit in, or spirituality, or pursuing social justice, or creating works of art or encouraging thoughtfulness or working toward a more sustainable planet? What about those who want to lead a more expansive life? Or those who like to focus intently on one particular passion? How about those who want to live a simple life – why isn’t that a valued choice?
I’m sure there is much more that could be added to my list. I’d like to hear about what I missed. Mostly, I’d love to see our high-profile conversations steer themselves out of the marriage-kids-work rut and soar into more imaginative spaces.
Friends photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 22 Apr 2013