“Do you have a boyfriend?”
It’s a question my family asks me whenever I see them, something I’m sure many Asians can relate to. I’m Thai and Iranian, and in both these cultures, women are expected to get married in their early to mid-20s. I’m 28. And I’m not just unmarried, I’ve also been single for longer than I care to admit. I understand my family’s concern. I’m worried too. But, honestly, I don’t need reminding that my biological clock is ticking.
I first experienced “baby fever” three years ago, when I was 25, the average marrying age for women in Thailand, where I’ve lived for the past four years. I was working as an English teacher and one very cute, very sweet toddler made me feel a kind of affection for children I had never felt before. I don’t want kids right this second, but I definitely want them in my early 30s. I imagine I’d be happy with just one kid, but I may realize later that I want more. Still single in my late 20s and with no serious prospects for a partner, these goals seem to drift farther and farther away.
Dating in Bangkok is hard, or at least it is for me. I grew up in the United States, and find it difficult to date Thai men because of language and cultural differences. Meanwhile, those who move here from other countries only stay for a few years, and don’t usually look for long-term relationships. I struggle to find someone I can genuinely click with, while actively pursuing my other goals—a stable career I’m passionate about, learning new languages and skills, and traveling. I can’t help but compare my experience to those of men my age, who are in the same dating pool but look—at least to my eyes—like they’re enjoying the ride a lot more.
This could be for a number of reasons, but that darn biological clock has a lot to do with it.
Men’s fertility lasts longer than women’s, and without the same pressure from their biological clock, men have a longer time to date, have different partners, and grow their careers until they feel stable enough to start a family. Meanwhile, women are at their reproductive peak between their late teens and late 20s. Fertility starts to decline at age 30, then rapidly in your mid-30s, and by 45 years old, it’s very difficult for most to get pregnant. This stark difference has dramatic societal consequences. Since men don’t have to start planning their futures as early as women, they basically have an extra decade to figure things out. I’m nowhere near 45, but I’m already dreading each year I age, now feeling like I’m in a race to live my life, a race where I’m already lagging behind.
“I’m nowhere near 45, but I’m already dreading each year I age, now feeling like I’m in a race to live my life, a race where I’m already lagging behind.”
I have a job, but there are still a million and one other things I don’t have—a house fit for a family, savings for our future security, a monthly income to fit our daily expenses, just to name a few. I’d like to have a child after getting married and, to get married, I have to date and, ideally, be in a stable relationship for a few years. If I want to have my first child by the time I’m 32 years old (to avoid fertility problems), then I don’t have much time to make it happen—I need to meet someone, well, now.
Women are under more pressure to transform from a fun, carefree 20-something, to a responsible, successful 30-something. Us, millennial women, we’re taught at home, in schools, by movies, and even by strangers, that we can have it all. That, if we want it, we can be successful career women and caring mothers. That we’d be happy once we become both. But they never tell you about what it takes to get there. And that even when you tick all those boxes—successful career, happy family—success isn’t guaranteed. Or that when you do succeed, you won’t necessarily be happy.
A year and a half away from turning 30, I suddenly want to hit pause. But life keeps going, so I defy expectations and change my perspective instead: I still want to get ahead in my career, but at least I have a job. I might not have a boyfriend, but I do have a solid set of friends. I may not have children by my early 30s, but perhaps that will prepare me to become a better mother.
One thing that’s helped is learning about women who are happy to have had children later in life. Sometimes I seek out these stories, other times they come by surprise—in books, magazines, and daily conversations.
I remember reading a Facebook post from an acquaintance who talked about what it was like growing up with an older mom. Her mother’s “depth of wisdom,” after having lived longer, and positivity during difficult situations became a source of motivation. That even when her mother was in her old age and struggling with her health, it’s this image of her mother that inspired her to keep chasing after her dreams.
I’ve also read articles by mothers who said that they have a more relaxed outlook on life than they did when they were younger, which helped them stay calm when their kids threw tantrums or got sick. They’ve been through enough difficult situations to know that, in the end, things will turn out OK. I think it will turn out OK for me too.