Shoulds Only Cause Worry

A few months ago (so, basically, when my breakup happened), someone said something to me that was sort of an “A-ha” moment. Given the timing, I can only assume I was listing off a bunch of things I “SHOULD” be doing or have done by now and that’s when I was hit with it:

“Shoulds only cause worry.”

And I sat there for a second (probably a few seconds) and was like… “Wait. You right.”

It’s getting better, but for a while there, social media was all about the highlight reel. Ya know — only showing the best moments and skipping over the countless not-so-great moments that happen, oh I don’t know, EVERY DAY? This behavior perpetuated a comparison culture that has always existed, but was quiet about its existence for the most part. It wasn’t slapping you in the face every day, making you question if you were doing anything right or with the right person or had the right friends or were thin enough or healthy enough or funny enough or NOT enough or TOO much. You were still riddled with those anxieties because, come on — we’re all human. But it wasn’t being brought to you by your phone via every social media app ever at all moments of the day.

I say it’s getting better now only because the #real and #authentic movement is finally rampant on Instagram (and other channels, but like what else matters?). Don’t get me wrong — the majority of social media is still a highlight reel (and angry folk who get off on arguing about politics on Facebook “walls.” Ugh, those precious walls. They used to be for inside jokes and simplistic status updates only “Emma is at the library,” but now it seems their first purpose is to house dumb ass debates between Joe Schmo and Tweedle Dick every day). But people are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of sharing the not-so-pretty stuff. Bad hair days, unfiltered selfies with pimples, tear-filled stories about having a bad day, leaning into having nothing to do on weekends and eating tacos and rice and beans in bed on a Saturday night while watching “Primal Fear” (✋). We’re cozying up more and more to the idea of showcasing the boring, everyday, mundane, whatever stuff because we all know that’s what life is 95% of the time.

But leaning into this real and relatable movement isn’t really slowing down the epidemic of “Should” culture. I don’t care who you are, what time of day it is, how old you are, where you live, what you ate for dinner — any moment you log onto social media someone is dating someone new and hot and so excited about it, engaged, married, having their first, having their second, buying a house, renovating that house, decorating that renovation, losing a bunch of weight, looking amazing in a bikini, getting tons of likes and followers, writing a book, getting promoted, eating pizza — IT NEVER ENDS. And seeing all this day after day, week after week, starts making you “Should.”

I should be married by now.

I should have a kid by now.

Hell, I should have TWO kids by now.

I should own a house.

I should eat healthier.

I should run harder.

I should be nicer.

I should be making more money.

I should have this title by now.

I should be better at that.

I should get more sleep.

I should lose weight.

I should take more showers (but actually…)

I should go on more trips.

My child should be more developed by now.

My child should be crawling/walking/talking/eating more solid food.

And worst yet? The SHOULD’VEs.

I should have never dated that guy.

I should’ve paid more attention in school.

I should’ve said yes.

I should’ve said no.

I should’ve said…

I should’ve gone to this college.

I should’ve been calmer.

I should’ve waited.

I should’ve taken the chance.

I should’ve taken the risk.

I should’ve gotten the usual (honestly, this is actually the worst when you try and branch out at a restaurant and are stuck there, wishing you would’ve just gotten the burger and are cursing yourself for wasting a meal on this smut).

Shoulds and should’ves can consume you if you let them, and I’m no stranger to it. Hell, I’m about to be 32 in a few months and, in my darkest moods, I sit and obsess over my shoulds. “I should be married. I should be pregnant. I should own a home. I should have found my person by now. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME? WHY IS EVERYTHING SO TERRIBLE? SHOULD I HAVE DONE EVERYTHING DIFFERENTLY? SETTLED? MARRIED THAT ONE DUDE?” But all that does is cause me to panic. My chest gets tight. My breathing gets shorter. And I start spiraling at a speed I cannot keep up with. Suddenly, I’m on a loop about all the things I SHOULD be that I’m viscously beating myself about what I actually have, who I actually am, and all the things I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER.

Besides, who said? Who said I should be/do/have by now?

With Shoulds comes immense pressure, and nobody needs that shit. Shoulda/woulda/coulda, but what about what you WANT? What about what you have, right now, in this moment? What you’re working toward? What you’re hoping for? That’s the stuff you SHOULD be focused on. Yes, the majority of society seems to follow the proverbial rule book on what the right time and age is for everything, and it can be extremely hard to ignore and not compare yourself against. Everyone’s in a rush to check boxes that they feel they should’ve checked by now, but the ugly truth is that you don’t get to decide when, where or how things happen. You can try to control it, but it’ll make you fucking miserable. All you can do is live your life, stay focused, go after what you want, and keep the faith that whatever you should have or whoever you should meet is on the way. They should be, anyway.