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Beyond Marriage and Children: Milestones Worth Celebrating

We should mark many meaningful events in our lives, not just the usual ones.

What's really important to you? What goals have you set for yourself that mean a lot, so that when you achieve them, you might be tempted to gather around you all the important people in your life to celebrate with you?

In the U.S., a place that prides itself on its sense of creativity and innovation, our imaginations are strikingly limited when it comes to celebrating milestones of adult life. Weddings—oh, yeah, Americans are all in. The more elaborate, the better. And it is even fine if it is your second or third or even fourth time promising to be there till death do you part. Babies, too. There are plenty of baby showers. Maybe an occasional retirement party.

But there is so much more than marriage that makes our lives meaningful. And for those of us who never marry, or who never have kids, weddings and baby showers are not in the picture at all.

Before the pandemic, someone in the Community of Single People asked, "If you were going to throw a wedding-size, wedding-style event to commemorate something in your life, what would it be?" I think it is a question worth considering even if you are not the fancy-party type or if you think there are better ways of spending money than throwing a big bash.

It is important because I think we should all honor what makes our lives meaningful and the goals we have accomplished. Even if we don't want to celebrate them with a party, we should value the people and causes and accomplishments that make us proud. And I think it is especially important to recognize all the ways our lives matter that have nothing to do with marrying, precisely because weddings and coupling already get so much attention.

Here are some causes for celebration mentioned in the Community of Single People, and a few from elsewhere.

1. Celebrate friendship.

When I was researching How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I interviewed Karen Hester and was so impressed with her. Here's some of what I said about her in my book:

One of the things I love about Karen is her open-armed embrace of all of the people who matter to her. She does not limit herself to celebrating only those people our culture conventionally acknowledges, such as romantic couples. At a time when one friend after another was celebrating how long they had been coupled, Karen decided to celebrate something else—her twenty-fifth year of living in California. (She grew up in Lubbock, Texas.) She reserved the historic West Point Inn at the top of Mount Tamalpais, about forty miles north of San Francisco, and invited her sister, her nephew, and about twenty of her closest friends. “We don’t really have rituals for celebrating these long-term friendships or…just about who I am.” Two of the couples whose anniversary celebrations motivated Karen to celebrate the important people and milestones in her own life have since broken up. Karen’s friendships endure.

2. Celebrate your professional achievements.

Landing that job you've always wanted. Getting a promotion. Earning your master's degree. Finally getting your Ph.D., after all those years of studying and writing a dissertation. Getting tenure. What's great about so many of these professional achievements, and others like them, is that no one can take them away. Your bachelor’s degree can’t divorce you. When you invest in your education (with or without a degree) or in mastering a new skill or craft, that enhanced learning and broadened perspective is something you get to keep for the rest of your life.

3. Everyone gets a party when they turn 25.

One person who has thought a lot about alternatives to the huge wedding celebration is Jaclyn Geller, an English professor and the author of Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique. Here's her suggestion:

I suggest that when every person turns 25 he or she gets a party. The celebrant can register for house wares, furniture, linen. He or she might even have a ceremony that involves committing to important people, one of whom might be a lover. But these material rewards would not be contingent upon finding "the one." There wouldn't be this mad husband-hunting mentality. It's moving that the older generation wants to help the next generation get a start in life, but reserving this support for those in amorous couples is outrageous.

4. Celebrate milestone birthdays.

Two friends had a 99th birthday party when one turned 50 and the other 49. Cathy Goodwin insisted that her milestone birthday be cheered with the singing of "I did it my way" instead of "Happy Birthday."

5. Celebrate the house you just bought, your move to a new place, the day when you have finally completed your travel to "every single independent country in the world," when your "book sales have reached 1 million copies," or an athletic or artistic accomplishment.

These are just a few examples. I bet you have some ideas of your own.

6. You're moving on from something difficult—celebrate that.

If life tried to crush you and you're still standing, you deserve a celebration. When her oncologist declared that her cancer was in remission, one Community member had a special thank-you gathering for the five friends who were there for her throughout her treatments. Someone else said that she would have thrown herself a divorce party at the time if she had the resources. Another said she is going to host a big-time party when she pays off her student loans, even if it takes until she is 75. More whimsically, Kristin Noreen said, "I had a wake for a car that died once. It was a blast. I served lemon vodka punch and played funeral music. There were dead flowers all over."

7. Every little thing.

Some Community members suggested that celebrations are in order even for the small stuff. One person urged us to come up with offbeat themes and reasons for celebrating. Julie Harm said she would like to celebrate her one-millionth cup of coffee, if only she knew when that was. Someone else said, "I feel like just surviving and being awesome on a daily basis is worthy of celebration."

Embracing Single Life, Not Just Accepting It

I have been thinking about the question about milestones, even though it was first posed several years ago, because of a related question a student just asked me: “What does it mean to embrace or celebrate your single life, rather than just accepting or acknowledging it?”

In response, I mentioned some of the milestones I have already discussed. I also said:

There’s nothing I won’t do just because I’m single. I cook sophisticated meals if I am in the mood. I decorate my home for the holidays. I travel and go out to dinner, either with friends or family or on my own.

I hope that if you are single, you live your life fully, too. It is not just the milestones that count, but also what we do in our day-to-day lives.

Facebook image: Ivanko80/Shutterstock

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