Why does it upset some people to see an unmarried, childless woman in her late 30s? And why can't women without children openly admit it's easier hanging out with friends who also have no kids, asks entertainer and entrepreneur Jessie Gurunathan.
What started as some spontaneous late-night ramblings on my Instagram stories has brought me here, writing this piece all about my unconventionally happy life choices. So here goes.
My name is Jessie Gurunathan and I'm a proud 38-year old mixed-race woman of colour. I'm not married and I don't have children.
This is a big deal in my father's south Indian culture where arranged marriages still exist and the patriarchy is still very much alive and well.
For many traditional parents, being a good wife and mother is kind of what defines an Indian woman's identity and value.
Luckily for me, my father is a very liberal free thinker and even he bucked tradition when he met and fell in love with my Pākehā feminist mother when he was doing his overseas university degree. Their mixed-race love story and union was unconventional for many reasons in the '70s, so I guess I wasn't raised in a home that echoed society's traditional gender roles and expectations.
My partner Adam and I celebrated our 10-year anniversary last October. We've lived in four different countries and nine different cities and towns together. I've travelled extensively all over the world for work, with an ex, friends, family and in more recent years with Adam. I have to say though, some of my best overseas travel adventures have actually been when I've been flying solo, which also happens to be something I was often told I shouldn't be doing as a woman.
My career has been just as unconventional. A high school dropout due to a chronic illness and poor attendance, I've had to work twice as hard to prove myself. I've been a caregiver at a rest home, a bartender, a flight attendant, worked in TV (in front of and behind the camera), presented, acted, won a reality TV show, lent my voice to numerous TV and radio commercials, produced music videos, worked as a journalist for TVNZ, had a band, made a hit song, and I now work as a content creator and founder of a small business start-up.
My romantic life has definitely been full of a lot of fun, trial and error! I've had my heart broken (twice very publicly) and then at a time when I really liked being single and on my own, I met the person I'm still very much enjoying sharing my life with now.
I'm the eldest daughter, a big sister, an aunty, life partner, and friend. I think I happen to be pretty good at all these roles. As a woman though, society constantly reminds me that none of these seem to be as revered or as celebrated as the role of mother and wife.
I met Adam at 28 and after only a year together we moved overseas to Japan, where he continued his career as a professional rugby player.
I was surrounded by other rugby players and their wives/partners who basically all had kids. I felt very out of place and alone a lot of the time. Everyone was so lovely and I was always made to feel welcome and included. However, the conversations would definitely revolve around their common threads and shared experiences. Breastfeeding, sleep routines, teething, the infamous terrible twos... then there was me, a musician covered in tats with pastel purple hair, doing my best to participate and fit in.
I have a good friend in the online influencer space, Danni Duncan, who talks a lot about being "happily childfree". She's quite a bit younger than me but already feels like the odd one out in her friendship circles for her choice to not have kids. I get what she means when she says she's craving friendships with other women like her. I get it because I was just like that at her age. I craved connection where I didn't have to explain myself and my reasons for not having kids yet, to be able to make spontaneous plans with a girlfriend last minute and have limitless time to explore and hang out. Don't get me wrong, I cherish my friendships with women who have babies and still manage to make time for me. I adore spending time with my friends' children, and often on a particularly melancholy day nothing lifts my spirits like quality time with a friend and their little ones. But when you hang out with someone who, like you, also doesn't have kids, things are different, dare I say it, they're easier.
I cannot tell you the number of times I've had my mum friends cancel on me last minute for plans we've made or have to bail mid hang because their child's hit a wall and needs to go home for nap time, or when you're talking to your mum friends and they're only half-listening because they have to multi-task and try to watch their kid like a hawk and make sure they don't get into mischief or hurt themselves.
I can't imagine how overwhelming and challenging it is for mums to juggle all of life's demands on top of still trying to maintain healthy friendships. I know my friends with kids gravitate towards other women who are mothers and I can't take that personally, it's not about me. It's about them needing a sense of connection and community. It's easier because there's a mutual unspoken level of understanding and empathy that only comes from fellow mums.
Why can't those of us without children freely and openly express that same sentiment and admit it's easier hanging out with mates who don't have kids without being made to feel mean or bad for it? Anyone who denies that this double standard exists is living on another planet.
Relationship dynamics definitely change when one friend becomes a parent and the other remains child-free. It can be hard for both parties involved to navigate this unchartered territory and find a new way forward. Sometimes friendships will drift apart, others become closer in this new chapter. It's incredibly nuanced and requires a level of sensitivity and compassion from both sides.
I think many times as women we're made to feel inadequate if we don't live up to the traditional concept of a "woman's role" within society. There are all these life boxes we are conditioned to grow up and check off by the time we reach a certain age.
Meet a man, fall in love, start a family. When you don't do these things in that order, I can tell you from personal experience that suddenly people (often complete strangers) feel entitled to offer their unsolicited opinions.
"When are you guys getting married?"
"Why haven't you had kids yet?"
"Better hurry up before it's too late!"
"Your life will feel complete when you've become a mother."
My god if I had a dollar for every time I have to listen to crap like this I'd be able to buy a Tesla! The part that irks me most is the fact that Adam is NEVER in the firing line facing intrusive questions like this. Why is that? Adam can live his life however he wants to, pursue dreams, have adventures, take his damn time and nobody questions him.
Is it fair? Heck no! But unfortunately, it's ingrained into the very fabric of our patriarchal society.
I've had strangers message me on Instagram to say "don't you feel a bit selfish for not giving Adam children yet?" Yup, let that sink in. In what universe is it okay to speak to another woman this way?
I was finally diagnosed with stage four endometriosis when I was 18. I've spent my entire teenage and adult life riddled with chronic pain. I've had four extensive laparoscopic surgeries and severe scar tissue damage.
My fertility has never not been an issue. As a result my relationship with my body; physically, spiritually and emotionally has been an incredibly painful and complicated one. Full of shame, self-loathing and feeling like a failure as a woman. I'm forever a work in progress and always unlearning, healing and forgiving myself for all the unkind things I've said and done to my body.
I'm in a new chapter of life now where my partner and I are on an intentional fertility journey. I haven't shared much of this aspect of my life with my online community, mostly out of respect for Adam who is the total opposite of me and an extremely private person. But also I feel extremely vulnerable.
I know that my complicated history means that the odds are stacked against us.
For many years I said I didn't want children and even though that was mostly true I think subconsciously it was my way of protecting myself from potential heartache and disappointment.
I don't know how this will end for us and for me but I do know I will be a mother, maybe not in the conventional biological sense but I will be a mum.
Do I believe my life isn't "complete" until I become a mother? Absolutely not!
My life is so full already. I've packed so much into my 38 laps around the sun and I have zero regrets. All the things I've been fortunate enough to have experienced, the love, the losses, the setbacks and the successes have been wonderful. I know my life choices and the unconventional path I've chosen to travel down isn't everyone's idea of success and happiness and that's perfectly alright.
What isn't alright though is that some people seem so bothered by the fact that my life choices don't match theirs they need to let me know how much they disapprove.
Why does it upset some of you so much to see an unmarried, childless woman in her late 30s minding her own business and thriving?
It is not my fault if you feel angry or upset that I've still managed to live a very full and rewarding life.
If you've read this far and you have loved ones who aren't married and don't have kids, do you celebrate them and their milestones the way they've celebrated your traditional milestones like weddings and babies?
It's absolutely not my intention to make anyone feel judged or inadequate. I just think that as someone who doesn't have kids, my perspective and lived experiences are just as valid even if society has tried to condition me to believe otherwise.
There doesn't need to be so much shame and awkwardness when it comes to talking about this sort of stuff. The stigma around women not being mothers is very real and the only way we can shift this is by having conversations that might feel a little uncomfortable at first.
But as a society, I think the more we are willing to listen to each other, I mean really listen and accept that there truly is no one right or wrong way to do life, the easier it's going to be for the next generation of women to feel empowered to make life choices that aren't about fulfilling anyone's expectations but their own.