As someone in my mid-20s, I constant see the people I friended back in high school and freshman year of college (back when you needed a .edu email address! #dang) — people I haven't seen in about 10 years — populating my newsfeed. I start my mornings browsing through to learn that the girl I shared a required art history course got into law school, the guy who grew up down the block went to Thailand, and everyone else is getting hitched or pregnant.
I am not someone who rails against this idea. Getting dressed up to dance and celebrate love is usually something I'm down with, and I would genuinely love to hold your baby and make goofy faces at her and ply her with adorable children's books. Sometimes it just feels so far from where I sit, posting status updates about a cute lamb I saw in a dream (yup, I'm that casual online acquaintance). No kids, no house deeds, no shimmying to the "The Electric Slide" in a white dress on the horizon. I don't feel left out, but occasionally find myself wondering if I missed the memo that says I should have already started working towards these somehow.
The books listed below are a solid reminder, though, that — I'm going to say something really controversial here — people's lives are varied. You can celebrate others' happiness while holding a different definition for your own. These books are a little wordy whisper in your hear that your choices are valid and worth celebrating even if they don't come with a built-in party and dress code. Shut your screen off, curl up with one, and feel bolstered by these women's stories the next time you're in the throes of a big ol' lifestyle FOMO.
Shut Up, You're Welcome by Annie Choi
You could send a message to the too-vocal parts of Facebook simply by pasting this book cover on their timeline — but honestly, its a lot more fun to just keep it to yourself. Comedian Choi's hilarious rants are just the right mix of humor and honesty to read and rage right along with her. Her essays, which tackle parental frustrations, the decision not to marry, and musical theater, are the longform version of the shrug emoticon (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Choi gets exactly what drives us crazy about so many everyday things, and offers up enough wit that we can laugh at it all.
Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney
If you've ever spent idle time wondering if you'll ever get to change your Facebook relationship status before humankind's eventual demise, (like, COME ON) then Heaney's book is for you. It's a love letter to the lonely heart who's watched her friends hook up, break up, and couple up from her seat on the sidelines of feelings and emotions. We've all been there, which is why Heaney's book is so appealing — it reads like your best pal's diary, full of awkward interactions with the opposite sex, secrets, and confirmation that if you've have friends to help you through it, the journey totally surpasses any destination you'd had in mind.
Save the Date by Jen Doll
It's natural that wedding narratives focus on the celebrating couple at hand — without them, after all, there'd be no cake, no dancing, no love to get teary-eyed over, and no fodder for Doll's fascinating rundown of her many times as a wedding guest. It's refreshing to view The Big Day from an off-kilter POV as Doll discusses how various nuptials have made her reexamine her thoughts on friendships and love. It's a good reminder that even if you're not the one throwing the bouquet, there's plenty of emotional growth to be had at weddings.
Single State of the Union edited by Diane Mapes
The title of this book just tickles me, because I like to imagine a somber-faced assembly of single women discussing how their past year of clueless family member interactions have gone — but I digress. What makes this book such a valuable player is the diversity of perspectives discussed therein, from single motherhood, single house ownership, sex while unattached, and the pleasures of simply living by yourself. Anyone who has felt othered by their many coupled friends or family can find affirmation among these pages.
I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman
Who's going to take care of you when you're old? Won't you have regrets? After getting asked too many times about her childfree-by-choice lifestyle, comedian and actress Kirkman penned this funny memoir, a sharp takedown of how she just doesn't envision kids fitting into her lifestyle. Within these pages is a woman who's happy with her choice not to procreate — and a heartfelt, humorous look into the workings of her own mind.
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum
Here's another essay collection, this time focusing on the conscious choice many individuals make to not have children. For all the posts your mom has made subtly wondering when she's going to be a grandmother are just as many voices explaining why they choose to remain childless. Even if you choose to have kids or already do, it's a compelling read that reminds us there's no one right path for adulthood.
Nine Months by Paula Bomer
My one fiction recommendation on this list is a testament that even the so-called traditional way — marriage, kids, the whole thing — can veer off-course. Author Bomer tells the story of a young Brooklyn mother who hits the road, shaken with the news of her third pregnancy. The classic road-trip narrative of debauchery (think drugs and sex) comes to terms with society's confining views of motherhood. Watching our heroine's journey to find an identity separate from her family is gratifying and entertaining.
Spinster by Kate Bolick
It's hard not to dig this wave of new writing that's debunking the long-held myths of the sad, spinster singleton holed up with her army of cats. Here, Bolick expands on the ideas in her 2011 Atlantic article about being single: that, thanks to changing attitudes towards family, work, and success, there aren't many options for women seeking the traditional, "secure" marriage once seen as the ideal... and that's OK. Cuddle your domestic shorthair and raise your craft beer high in your studio apartment — ladies, we've got this.
It's Not You by Sara Eckel
Conversely, if you're the cat-owning, beer-wielding type (or, y'know, any type. I know you contain multitudes!) who is pining for a cutie to share said studio with, Eckel's book might be a comforting one to keep on the nightstand. She differs from other dating-guide gurus in breaking down the phrases single people hear so often: that they're single because they're too picky, too ambitious, trying too hard... the list goes on. Eckel's examination of these cliches is set to build up your confidence, not tear it down, resulting in a clearer mind and heart for your next foray into dating.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Maybe the reason you're not jibing with your online pals isn't so defined as a difference in family plans and relationships — maybe it's feeling a little listless and lost while watching random contacts from high school and college go on to grad schools, cool jobs, and distant lands. Here's a bit of valuable news: It's completely fine to fall into a spell of wandering. Your best tour guide is Solnit, whose essays on getting lost and the unknown will make you feel like you've found a kindred spirit. Solnit's words are poetic and the connections she draws from her life experiences are unexpected and lovely.
Create Dangerously Edwidge Danticat
Acclaimed writer Danticat weaves her experience as a Haitian-born artist living in America into this memoir-essay hybrid on the power of creating. The result is a thrilling and evocative case for telling your own story and committing to a creative life — even if it doesn't line up with people's expectations for you. If you're an artist questioning whether you should just give up for a more stable lifestyle, Danticat's story will awaken parts within that will remind you why you started on this breathless, winding path in the first place.