Life/Style

Ire­land has changed for the bet­ter over the past years and ref­er­enda. And yet the gos­sip about one’s life choices en­dures. Why do we ac­cept this? asks Anna O’Donoghue

Irish Examiner - - Front Page -

Ire­land has changed for the bet­ter over the past years. And yet the gos­sip about one’s life choices en­dures. Why do we ac­cept this? asks Anna O’Donoghue

They say that the mil­len­ni­als are the most open-minded and ac­cept­ing of all the gen­er­a­tions, so why does it feel like I’m be­ing pointed at? “How do you house-share?” “How’s that love life of yours?” “You’re push­ing on.”

“Sure, you’re al­ways out.”

If I had a euro for the num­ber of times I had to put on a face to an­swer these ques­tions, I wouldn’t still be writ­ing to Eoghan Mur­phy with my hous­ing cri­sis hor­ror sto­ries.

These are ques­tions asked by the very same peo­ple who preach about how this gen­er­a­tion has shifted the norm, bent the rules, and opened peo­ple’s minds.

This lit­tle coun­try of ours has come a long way in the last few years. We now have the choice to marry whomever we choose and, most re­cently, women have gained power over their own bod­ies, so why can’t I just sim­ply live my life the way I want to with­out feel­ing like I’m on 20 Ques­tions?

There’s still an ex­pec­ta­tion that by a cer­tain age you will cou­ple up, buy a house, get mar­ried, and have kids.

Al­though the age range of this ex­pectancy has ex­tended greatly, it’s still classed as the ‘norm’ and the fairy­tale end­ing of ev­ery life story.

But what would be so wrong with an al­ter­na­tive end­ing?

It could be as dra­matic as some­one liv­ing the fairy­tale wed­ding but choos­ing not to have kids, or hav­ing two kids, never get mar­ried and us­ing the ‘wed­ding fund’ to home­school their kids while trav­el­ling the world.

Or as lit­tle as never mar­ry­ing, never set­tling down, and em­brac­ing a life with no ties.

Un­less peo­ple’s choices in­volve hurt­ing them­selves or oth­ers, it doesn’t make sense for any­one to be both­ered by the fact that other peo­ple take dif­fer­ent life paths than we do; and yet *in­sert Count­down theme tune here*.

Ac­cord­ing to stud­ies in hu­man so­ci­eties, the phe­nom­e­non is called nor­ma­tive ide­al­i­sa­tion.

The ten­dency to ide­alise a per­son’s own life­style and be­lieve that oth­ers would ben­e­fit oth­ers.

“Do you hear that?”

“No.”

“It’s your bi­o­log­i­cal clock, my dear. You know my life didn’t be­gin un­til I had my kids”

“So, mine didn’t be­gin when I spent a few years back­pack­ing around Aus­tralia or when I grad­u­ated with my 1.1 master’s de­gree?”

The idea seems very in­no­cent at first. Just kind-hearted peo­ple who like their lives and want to share that sen­ti­ment with oth­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to The What I Am Is

The Way You Ought To Be, a paper pub­lished by re­searchers at Stan­ford Univer­sity and Univer­sity of Water­loo, it’s much more than that. They found peo­ple tend to look down on other life­styles to make them­selves feel bet­ter about their own.

But sure, don’t mind that black­guard­ing, Ir­ish peo­ple would never do that — hush, will you.

Sound fa­mil­iar? In most cases, yes, but what if these peo­ple are well and truly happy with what they’ve worked to achieve and don’t in­tend to set out to make you feel in­fe­rior.

Let’s face it, not ev­ery­one asks you about your strug­gles with the rent­ing cri­sis and your sin­gle sta­tus to try and make them hap­pier about their four-bed­room bun­ga­low and can­vas-printed wed­ding pho­tos.

But why do the ques­tions make you feel like you’ve been life- shamed? Be­cause you have.

They are just fully un­aware that they’re do­ing it.

“Did you see Mary wear­ing that skirt the other day?”

“No girl­friend by Paul yet, he’d want to cop on to him­self, I know.”

“Did you see Martin’s son is bring­ing his kids off to Dubai… Dubai, of all places.”

Now THESE phrases sound fa­mil­iar, don’t they?

We’ve grown up with it. Dur­ing our child­hood, these ques­tions popped up ev­ery­where, from our school halls to our lo­cal shops and the GAA side­lines.

Ire­land has been ob­sessed with the nor­ma­tive for as long as any­one can re­mem­ber. If you didn’t par­take in the stan­dard ‘Mass-publo­cal shop rou­tine on a Sun­day morn­ing, ev­ery­one in a 10-mile ra­dius would have heard a dif­fer­ent side of the story.

Our need for ac­cep­tance, and fear of not be­ing ac­cepted (also known as be­ing talked about) has been a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence on our thoughts and feel­ings from very early days.

Group in­clu­sion has been seen as nec­es­sary for sur­vival in all ar­eas of life and with to­day’s ad­di­tion of so­cial me­dia, you have cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion of anx­ious peo­ple-pleasers.

While anx­i­ety is a brain dis­or­der and not a choice, self-ac­cep­tance can qui­eten those lo­cal gos­sips in an anx­ious mind.

If you’re con­stantly judg­ing your­self based on the school­yard chat­ter, how can you see your self-worth? In the words of RuPaul: “If you can’t love your­self, how in the hell can you love some­body else?”

The strive for self-ac­cep­tance dif­fers from per­son to per­son but proves dif­fi­cult when the sound­track to Count­down con­tin­u­ously plays in the back­ground.

It looks like the only way to stop the mu­sic is to marry the first per­son you vaguely en­joy the com­pany of, book the church wed­ding, pay a down-pay­ment on the house and have the kids. Even then the pop quiz mur­murs in the back­ground: “Did you see their lit­tle boy plays with Bar­bie?” Make. It. Stop.

Why do we take one gi­ant step for­ward and scream from the rooftops that we be­lieve, in this day and age, a man can marry a man in this coun­try, but tut at the het­ero­sex­ual mar­ried cou­ple who choose not to have kids?

As well as be­ing the gen­er­a­tion to stand up and speak about change, let’s be the peo­ple to ac­tu­ally fol­low through with it.

Let’s ap­plaud the peo­ple out­side of the ‘norm’ box in­stead of gos­sip­ing about why they are out there.

‘If you’re judg­ing your­self based on the school­yard chat­ter, how can you see your self-worth?

Pic­ture: Larry Cum­mins

As well as be­ing the gen­er­a­tion to stand up and speak about change, let’s be the peo­ple to ac­tu­ally fol­low through with it, writes our colum­nist.

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