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A late bloomer makes the case for rejecting life's typical timeline

"I am very conscious of the fact that these things that I've internalized are these kind of middle, upper middle-class white American milestones," says author Doree Shafrir about the societal pressures of the perfect job, marriage, and homeownership, "but that didn't make them any less real to me."
Diana Ragland
Courtesy of the author
"I am very conscious of the fact that these things that I've internalized are these kind of middle, upper middle-class white American milestones," says author Doree Shafrir about the societal pressures of the perfect job, marriage, and homeownership, "but that didn't make them any less real to me."

Updated July 2, 2021 at 1:06 PM ET

The phrase "late bloomer" can feel like an insult and an indictment for those who live up to their potential later than society's expectations. But in her new memoir, Thanks For Waiting: The Joy (& Weirdness) of Being a Late Bloomer, author Doree Shafrir challenges the notion that life's milestones need to follow a linear narrative.

For Shafrir, being perceived as a woman who wasn't meeting certain goals — the right job by 25, married by 30, having children and owning a home by 35 — and lagging behind her peers felt terrifying. She says popular media she consumed in her 20s — like Sex And The City, which centered on the capital of youth — fueled that anxiety and set an impossible standard for those without the same opportunities and privileges.

"That was what we all watched and what we all internalized," Shafrir says. "And what I internalized from that was you turn 35, and you disappear. And so to me, age 35 was always like this Rubicon that, once crossed, you're just gone."

NPR's Ailsa Chang spoke with Shafrir about reevaluating her own life goals, watching her younger sister get married before her and the power of pop culture to shape our own ideals. Listen in the audio player above, and read on for highlights of the interview.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On the moment where she first felt out of step with her peers

I think it was in my mid-30s. I had been in a long-term relationship until I was 33, someone who I thought I was going to get married to — I lived with them — and then it just didn't happen. We didn't have a big, dramatic breakup; it just kind of didn't happen. And then I was like, "OK, I'm 33." Getting married was something that I wanted to do, but I had to have these kind of hard conversations with myself of like, "Did I want to just get married? Did I want to get married to this person and it didn't work out? Like, what do I want in my life?

/ Ballantine Books
Ballantine Books

On comparing herself with her younger sister, who got married before her

I think she had a confidence that she was going to do things on time. You know, just because you have confidence doesn't mean that you're going to necessarily get married at 27, but I think that was part of how she saw herself, as someone who was going to get married at 27. So I envied just that calmness in accepting who she was and being OK with that, and that took me so much longer to do.

She's also seven years younger than me. So one of the things that I talk about in the book is going to her wedding — and she did get married at 27, and I was 34 and single. I did want to be happy for her, — and I was happy for her and I was excited to be there — but there was this little bit of me that was like, "Oh, it's never going to happen for me, and I'm just sad and lonely." And that kind of negative self-talk was hard for me to get out of that headspace of.

On making misguided dating choices because she came of age late

I think I was also a late bloomer when it came to dating and sex in the first place. I didn't have my first real boyfriend till I was almost 22. I didn't have that wild college life that I think a lot of people do. And so what ended up happening was I had that wild college life in my 30s. There were some things that I probably should have learned [earlier], like don't date someone who you work with who lives with his girlfriend who also works with you. But here I was, at 33, learning this lesson. I do think I needed to kind of go through a lot of the things that I went [through], even though they were really painful — and I look back at some of them, and I'm just like, "Oh, my God. Like, what were you thinking?"

On how she hopes more people's decisions to reject the norm will positively influence the next generation.

I hope that as more women make this choice, we will start to see more kinds of role models, more people out there. I know when I was in my 20s, I didn't know any women in their 40s who were childless and happy. I just didn't know them: I didn't see them portrayed in pop culture; they just were not around. If they were portrayed in pop culture, they were portrayed as like, very sad.

So I'm really hopeful that we can start to create those alternate stories and that Gen Z, they won't even think twice about it. It'll just be a decision that they can make, and that's totally fine.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Elena Burnett
Justine Kenin

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