In the summer of 2013, my friend, Lucy, saw two blue lines form a cross in the small plastic window. She was 31 years old and happy. She had just started a new job. She was, as most women are, beautiful and capable and strong. But for months, she could not remember the new rules. That is, that today, in modern times, anything goes when it comes to your personal timeline. While my mother married at 18, I, at 25, am not even engaged. It's not an issue. But Lucy couldn't remember that. Panicked, all that her brain could focus on was the old rules.
'She's still on and off with her ex,' my friend, closer to her than I, explained. 'She's nowhere near married. She just wanted things to go in order.'
There it is.
The thing we cannot seem to shake. The 'order' - to some traditional, others antiquated - is existent for all of us, even if just from the way our grandmother's lived, or murmurs we heard in the air, snippets of passing conversations. The rules from yesteryear - stiff and non-negotiable - still lurk within us. They dominate our desires and hopes without us knowing, tip-toeing in while we're asleep, while we think we're liberal and free.
They are the reason that people think it matters. It matters if you buy a house, get engaged, get married and have a baby in that order. But it matters more if you don't. They are the reason my colleague's face drops when she sees pictures of her friends with houses and husbands on Facebook, while she raises her son in a rented flat with her boyfriend.
We are trying to take heed of the new rules. We are trying. Trying to break free from conformity, trying to win. Babies born 'out of wedlock', couples cohabiting without a sniff of a proposal. But is it still winning if you feel like you have to justify it? If you have to shout about it, because it's not the norm? If you prepare a New Age lecture to shield yourself from the inevitable incoming judgement?
I, like many of us, have an unsteady foot in both camps. I don't care for last names and engraved initials on shabby chic plaques in the hallway. They're all just things. I say I don't care for the old rules. But does not owning my own home affect my desire to get engaged? Do I see myself wanting to have a baby before I'm married? The answers feel bleak.
The timeline brings a pressure that we feel forced into strapping onto our shoulders. Even when a woman looks down at her baby, the father simply content from a lab, her feelings of love and empowerment and joy will be, if only for a second, undercut by society's norms and judgement. At the point of her decision, at the point of birth, and now, as she looks after her baby on her own. All of this comes from the rules.
In early 2014, Lucy gave birth to a baby girl with temmoku hair and mahogany eyes. Her proud photos soon joined that of her married mother friends on Facebook's feed of judgement. Even after establishing a solid unity with the father of her child, she came to accept that the order could never be a part of her life now. She would have to find a new order.
We have decided that the order is no longer what it says it is. It doesn't chronologically rank things according to their suitability, their logic. It ranks them simply by the way we used to be. Perhaps it's time we live by the now.