As women in general, we talk a lot about timelines — where you should be in your career, when you should meet “The One,” how old you want to be when you get married, and the age it’s “smart” to start having children. The truth is that we often feel a lot of pressure to not only “have it all,” but when to have it.
The pressure to get married is especially strong for women in their 20s and 30s. All the single girls probably have heard “it’s time to settle down already!” from a nosy relative every Thanksgiving, and girls in relationships hear, “when are you going to tie the knot??” all too frequently. Loved ones often have expectations of when we should get married and who we should get married to. Since timelines never work out as planned, it leads to stress, disappointment, or even unhappiness and a lack of self-confidence when things don’t happen like you (or others) anticipated.
This video from one of our favorite skincare brands, SK-II, got us thinking about all these pressures we put on ourselves. It explores the lives of real women who are pursuing their own dreams, disregarding timelines along the way, and defying the expectations of loved ones. Since women around the globe share the same pressures, we wanted to hear from you about the pressure to get married, so we asked readers to share their experiences.
Watch SK-II’s video to learn more about the timeline society puts on women, then read on for real women’s perspectives about the pressures of getting married.
Selina, 30, San Antonio, TX
I definitely have a self-imposed pressure to get married. When I was younger I thought I would be married before 30, and maybe close to having my first kid. I can tell you now I’m not even close to any of that. The pressure I put on myself stems heavily from past societal norms. I get scared that if I don’t get married soon I will lose the chance to have a family. The pressure affects my relationship with my parents in some ways because I know they want that for me. My mom reminds me often that she wants grandchildren. It affects my relationship with my extended family (aunts and uncles) who always ask when I’m going to settle down or make snide comments on how I sure am focusing on my career — it has honestly caused me to avoid some family gatherings.
It’s also starting to affect my dating life. I’m starting to question if a relationship has marriage potential as opposed to just having fun and seeing where it goes. Mostly, I had this picture in my head of how my life would be. I’ve had to learn to let go of that pressure and accept that life rarely goes as planed, and remind myself there are many women in the position that I am. I will not let the pressure I put on myself make me not get what I want and I deserve. If I have to wait for it, it’ll be worth it in the end.
Delaney, 23, Claremont, California
Like so many of us, I really get caught up and brainwashed by the idea of having a “timeline” for my life. Most of my friends are either engaged, married, expecting children or already mothers! It’s wild how comparison can weigh on us if we allow it to. Sometimes I fall into the comparison trap and feel like I am falling behind at times. I definitely feel a continuous pressure to find my person and worry about when that time will come. It also doesn’t help going out to friend and family functions where everyone reminds me how great I am and continue to ask me “how are you still single?” or “when are you going to meet somebody?”
I know I have so much going for me. I’m a college graduate and have a steady job, good friends and family, opportunities to travel — but I still get in my head and frequently worry when I will meet my person and settle down. This creates unnecessary anxiety in my life that sometimes carries into my relationships and work. Everyone’s journey looks different and I shouldn’t feel “less than” just because I am not married or don’t have marriage on the horizon. In reality, nobody is worried about my life timeline but me! It is entirely self-inflicted and I wish I didn’t spend so much time worrying about marriage when I have so much else going for me in my life.
Sarah, 30, Las Vegas, NV
I’ve been in a committed relationship with my boyfriend for a year. We met on a dating app and fell for each other immediately. I know he’s who I want to be with forever. But, the crazy part is I feel less self-imposed pressure to be married than what I did before we met. Before we met, I felt this immediate need to get married and have babies. Obviously, I still want those things and I am with the man I want to continue to share life with, but I feel so at ease to be present and enjoy the now with him. I look forward to those milestones now, but don’t want to rush past these moments.
Stephanie, 30, Seattle, WA
I struggled so much with this that I saw a therapist for six months to learn how to handle my anxiety and to try and ease the pressure I self-impose of having the “perfect life.” It negatively affected my confidence, it hurt my relationship with my partner, and it consumed me.
Byanca, 25, Chicago, IL
I’ve been in a relationship for about seven years (rare high school sweethearts) and we are very much in love, openly talk about marriage, and want to get married. But I’m constantly battling myself in my head about if I should already be married or not. Friends around me are constantly getting engaged (and I am over the moon for them, genuinely) but we have no money. We decided to make the move from Michigan to Chicago and that took precedence over getting engaged, and I’m happy about our decision. My family is always making jokes about when we’re going to get engaged — and there were even some uncomfortable conversations had about us moving in together but not being married (which is absurd in my opinion, but to each their own). I take comfort in the fact that I know where we both stand on marriage and it’s something that I know will happen.
I put that pressure on myself because I know my parents want to be grandparents one day, and I want to give that to them before they are too old to enjoy it. I know you don’t have to be married to have kids; I also want the partner aspect for myself. My career has never been my top priority in life, but now that I’m almost 30, I kind of use that as an excuse as to why I’m single. “Oh, I have been focusing on my career and don’t have time to date.” Which is better than saying, “I’m trying, but no one seems to like me.”
McKenzie, 29, Indiana
I was always so hard on myself about getting married, and that that’s what had to happen after college. A year after graduation, my boyfriend proposed and I accepted — but almost immediately after saying yes, I started experiencing horrible anxiety. After countless amounts of breakdowns, I called off our wedding six months before the big day. I started therapy the next day and soon realized that I was putting so much pressure to getting married because I thought I had to stick to a timeline I was unrealistically pushing on myself. I can happily say my fiancé stayed by my side through therapy sessions and breakdowns to actually have me propose to him a year later. We’ve been married for two-and-a-half years and I couldn’t have made a better decision for myself.
Ashley, 27, Phoenix, AZ
I was born and raised in North Dakota, and moved to Arizona a month after college graduation for my career. I’ve focused on it, but am still looking for a guy in the meantime. Every time I go back home, the residents from my hometown ask why I’m not married yet. I explain to them why and it’s like THE biggest disappointment to them. Literally, almost everyone from my graduating class is married and has at least one kid. I want to go to my 10-year reunion next year, but I don’t want to be judged just because I don’t have a man. I’m a strong believer that it’ll happen when it’s suppose to happen, but I’m also way too focused on it with all the dating apps on my phone.
Allana, 22, Virginia
My family jokes that we’re good at two things: getting married and having kids. Almost all of my family members were married with a child by the time they were 24, and I was always told that would happen for me too. I’m in a serious relationship of three years, and we know we want to get married, but the timing isn’t right just yet. Meanwhile, my family‘s favorite question to ask is when he’ll propose. I’d love if we could shift the focus from when we get married to how our relationship has developed. We have become immensely better people since we started dating, and I owe a lot of my personal growth to him.
Megan, 24, Los Angeles, CA
I went to a Catholic university where most of my friend met their future spouses in college, and have been getting married and starting to have children rapidly since graduation. Being single for that whole time just made me feel like I was left behind and that there was something wrong with me. Now that I’m at the start of a new relationship, I’m worried that I’m going to move too fast to “catch up.”
Christine, 30, Boston, MA
My boyfriend and I are celebrating our five-year anniversary this summer, and our one-year anniversary as homeowners. There is a sense of pressure to be married. First a dog, then a ring, marriage, house, and babies — it’s what I’ve heard since I was little. I’ve realized that most of it is external; that it’s what people expect. It wouldn’t change much about our relationship other than putting a ring on my finger and possibly changing my name. I think people take “husband” to mean more than boyfriend, especially in the workplace. There are so many good things that make us work that if we do get married, it will be when and how we want it to be, not because of societal expectations.
Kelsey, 25, Arkansas
As I prepare for two weddings this year where I’ll stand by my friends and watch them marry the love of their lives, I sometimes get filled with worry about when it will finally be my turn. I want the other side of life. I received a master’s degree by 24 — which is something I am so happy about — but I want to fall in love with someone and begin a new life. I also worry about being too old to have children. I want to be young [when I have them], and I know that’s a personal choice, but I have to believe that everything happens for a reason.
Allison, 29, Wichita, KS
I want my boyfriend to marry me. Although we own a home together and have the most beautiful baby girl, I want marriage. My wish for marriage, and a baby crying in the night, have honestly been our only conflicts throughout our relationship. For as confident as I am in myself and our relationship I often meditate on why I put the pressure on. I think lately it’s the first impression to others. For a long time I thought it was the combining of our name, our story, and our legacy, in addition to the ultimate promise to each other. I think I just want to plan “elope” with the minimum, but I think we may have a wedding one day?
Jenna, 32, Delaware
I recently got out of a 10-year relationship that I held on to for so long hoping it would turn into marriage — I was terrified of being in my 30s and not being married. This self-imposed pressure resulted in me being unhappy for a long time, because I figured if he didn’t want to marry me, no one would — so I stuck around. I think there has definitely been an upswing on positive social media regarding not having to fit into a certain timeline and it has helped me understand that what’s supposed to happen will happen at the right time.
Madison, 24, Tennessee
I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s in journalism with a focus in political reporting. The reason I feel that I have to be married soon is that everyone else seems to be married, and I hate feeling like I am the only one. I’ve been together with my boyfriend for three-and-a-half years, and we have lived together for two of those, and I just feel like I’m so behind. I grew up in New England but live in Tennessee. Down here, people tend to get married younger than back home — at least in my experience.
I just feel like it makes me look more put-together and stops making people look at me funny when we aren’t even engaged and are nearing our four-year anniversary. I know deep down that marriage doesn’t make everyone respect you more, but for someone who took her time in college and still hasn’t found that “big girl” career yet, it makes me feel like that even if I haven’t found my career yet, I can have some stability in my life. It’s hard to feel like you’re so behind not only in a career, but also your love life. It’s the worst.
Emily, 27, Chicago, IL
I’m 27 and recently I have felt this intense pressure to get married. I have never felt this way before, but I believe it comes from being from the South where so many people are already married with at least one kid by 27. Since graduating college, I have been pretty career-focused — I moved across the country twice for my career — which seems great. I know a lot of people admire me and think that I’m this hot-shot career woman, but it honestly gets lonely sometimes.
I sacrificed two relationships that I truly felt could have been “it” for me to focus and put my career first. Don’t get me wrong, I love my career and I feel very strongly that a woman should value and put her career first, but it’s hard. Recently, I feel like I have been fixating on the fact that I turn 28 in a few months, and not only am I not married, but I’m not even in a relationship. Sometimes, it leads me to not focus or feel as driven at work. I feel like my friends are so tired of hearing me talk about the fact that I’m not married, and the thought of up and moving to revisit those relationships that I gave up for my career has crossed my mind at least once a month for the last year. Basically, I feel like this pressure I have put on myself has lead me to acting a little crazy.
Kelly, 29, NYC, NY
Although I live in a big city now, I was raised in a small town where people usually stay put to start families. Although I’ve accomplished all of my biggest goals, whenever I’m home, I still feel that people don’t understand my singleness. I know the right relationship is coming, but it’s easy to feel pressured by my humble beginnings.
Amanda, 27, Louisiana
I’m from the South, so if you’re not married by your mid-20s, what are you even doing with your life? That’s probably where my pressure to get married started. I’m 27, and the older I get, the more I feel like there I’m in a race to “seal the deal.” Since my early 20s, I’ve second-guessed a lot of decisions because they could jeopardize my chances to get married — even if it was clearly the right decision for me.
I’m in a great long-term relationship, and marriage isn’t our priority right now (because #adulting and financial responsibility and so many other good reasons). But I still feel this urgency to move to the next step, and I don’t feel like I’ll ever be secure in a relationship until there is a ring on my finger. The logical part of me knows that a ring doesn’t change a relationship, but my low-key obsession with marriage never really goes away. It’s even caused me to question whether I’m in a relationship for the right reasons. I’d LOVE to get married — but for the right reasons. The pressure I put on myself is definitely something I need to work through before I can say marriage is the right choice for me.
Melanie, 35, Bradenton, FL
I felt a self-imposed pressure to get married because all of my college friends were marrying their college boyfriends. I had always done everything “right” — good student, went to a great university, played college and professional soccer, and always “won” at everything I did. I pressured myself and my college boyfriend to get married at 27, and we were divorced by 30. I don’t quite understand why we impose this pressure, but society and societal norms do play a role in relationships.
Courtney, 28, Columbus, OH
I think older generations just don’t understand why I’m not settled down with a baby. I had an old boss ask why I wasn’t waiting for a husband to purchase a house versus doing it alone — and that I better find him soon since my biological clock is ticking. (Old guys can be such stereotypes sometimes!) Also, it could be a Midwest thing, but my cousins who are younger than me are married with children.
Work and friends used to be the two sources of my pressure, until recently when all my friends started settling down. I am happy for all of them, but I have this nagging question of whether or not I’m being left behind — is it my fault I haven’t found someone? It sucks because a woman who has paid her own way through college, works full time, paid off her car, bought a house, and handles everything that comes with home ownership still isn’t seen as successful. It’s frustrating that the only accomplishment is marriage.
Katy, 30, Kentucky
As my 31st birthday is fast approaching, I feel the pressure increasing to “find someone.” For me, that pressure comes from being surrounded by people in serious relationships. I am literally the only single person I know right now, and it feels isolating in ways. I am also the ONLY single one out of my siblings. It can be hard to relate or find ways to get out of the house when I’m going to be the third wheel, or when no one is available because they already have plans with their significant other. This absolutely affects my relationships, my work, and my self-esteem (but I’m trying not to let it). I feel that any time I do spend time with friends, it will inevitably lead to someone trying to set me up — which in turn, makes me less likely to want to go out or hang out with friends. It feels isolation, being the “single friend,” and as I’m not getting any younger, that label feels increasingly present.
Danielle, 32, NYC, NY
I definitely feel this hardcore. It’s hard. I’m 32, live in my own apartment in NYC, am a director of marketing at a large media company, make six figures, work out daily, and yet, because I’m not married or in a relationship, people automatically think I’m a failure. It’s disheartening — I worked really hard to get to this place and I’m single moreso because I haven’t found the person who fits into my life and is their own person. Many of my friends are married and many relatives will berate me with questions about my dating life before they even congratulate me on my recent successes. It’s sad, but it’s reality.
Anonymous, 32, Chicago, IL
I come from a very small community in Iowa. I have traveled all over the world and have accomplished a lot, but when I go back to visit the first question I’m asked is, “Are you married yet?” I am very happy, but when I hear this, it stresses me out to think I don’t know why I’m not. Am I supposed to be as successful in my personal life as my professional life? Do I need to change myself to be more outgoing or more confident? Do I need to change up my social circle?
Anonymous, 25, Los Angeles, CA
I grew up in an Indian family where graduating from college and marriage are the only two milestones in life. I feel obligated to find “The One,” because the kids of my parents’ friends are already engaged or soon-to-be engaged. I’m 24, and my “life plan” was to date for three-to-five years and be engaged by 26, which means I needed to find “The One” like, a year ago. I want to be a young mom, but I also don’t want to rush a marriage. It affects guys I date because I automatically rule them out for not being “marriage” material, and I instantly seek men with “husband” qualities rather than growing with my partner.
How does SK-II’s #ChangeDestiny campaign resonate with you? Leave us a comment below.
This post was in partnership with SK-II, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.