Making New Milestones

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Why aren’t we way past weddings as major markers of adult life? Sian Gardiner ran the London Marathon last year – the hottest on record at that – and reckons there’s more to life than putting a ring on it. Here, she explores why we still can’t seem to celebrate more meaningful milestones.

At a podcast recording with the journalist and author Dolly Alderton last year, Dolly spoke about how one of the best parts of writing her book, the Sunday Times best-selling Everything I Know About Love, was the incredible support she received from her friends. From the book party they came out in force for to the flowers they sent to her door on publication day, it was, she explained, completely novel to be so celebrated for something completely unrelated to her romantic achievements.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a fair bit lately. I ran the London Marathon last year, and I found myself similarly overwhelmed by just how supportive people were. I raised about three times as much money than I ever expected, I was run bubble baths, purchased cakes and celebratory booze, offered tea and sympathy, sent encouraging texts, emails and Instagram messages, and cheered on from the sidelines – all the way from Greenwich to the Mall.

I was even, as I ran through Deptford during what if you’ll recall was the hottest London marathon on record (ah come on, I had to get that in somewhere), treated to a big lick of my friend Maisy’s ice cream – prompting what in my mind’s eye are film-worthy chuckles from her neighbouring spectators. The loveliness of all kinds of people was incredible, and as someone who’s yet to announce either an engagement or a pregnancy, it was also something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced on quite the same scale.

Thinking about it, the biggest public displays of excitement and pride I’ve ever seen were at the announcements of prospective weddings and babies. Now don’t get me wrong: I LOVE weddings. I’ll be first on the dance floor for an enthusiastic rendition of Come on Eileen, and I’m also the first in line when new mothers bring their babies into the office for a squeeze – however tenuous my connection to said mother might be.

But with fewer women choosing to become mothers, and the traditional life milestones of marriage and home ownership becoming less appealing and far less achievable for many, I think the parameters for what we celebrate our friends for need to widen. Now at this point, it would be remiss of me not to bring up a Sex and the City episode that summed up this sentiment long before today: back in 2003, in the episode ‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes,’ Carrie’s silver Manolo Blahnik oval d’Orsay pumps were stolen during a baby shower and the hostess, after halfheartedly trying to find them and sending Carrie off in some castoff tennis shoes, refused to replace them — arguing, her tone loaded with condescension, that they were “just shoes.”

“Why should we be expected to pay for your extravagant lifestyle?” she added, rubbing salt into the already gaping wound. At this, Carrie started totting it up: the engagement gifts, the wedding presents, the multiple baby showers. ‘How is celebrating yourself, and treating yourself to some designer shoes, any more ridiculous than presenting your friends with a wedding list worth thousands?’, it made you wonder. Ultimately, the episode ended with the kind of moment that gave Sex and the City the feminist reputation the films would later go on to trample all over: Carrie calling up the “shoe shamer” and informing her that she was getting married – to herself. Oh and by the way, she was registered at Manolo Blahnik.

Don’t worry – you won’t be getting my invitation in the post. And mainstream milestones do of course deserve to be celebrated: successfully incubating a human being or finding someone you’re willing to tie yourself to for eternity are no mean feats, after all. But how about throwing your friends a ‘You escaped that selfish awful longterm boyfriend!’ party, or a, ‘You finally gave in your notice and left your misery-inducing job!’ celebration? Unlike Meghan Markle, we won’t all get the fairytale wedding, and not everyone even wants to – but everyone deserves to feel special, and recognised for their achievements, now and then. Believe me though – while I felt all of those things and more last year, you won’t find me running a marathon again anytime soon.

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