In my early twenties, I made plans of things I must do before reaching 25. The list contained things typical of a 20-something Indonesian girl, including continuing my graduate studies abroad or getting married, or, if I am lucky, both.
Several weeks into being a 25-year-old woman, my anxiety worsened. Apparently most of my friends had done whatever I planned earlier. Many of them received scholarships that enabled them to continue their graduate studies either back in Indonesia or overseas. Several found their significant others and got married, and a few got pregnant. One or two had become mothers.
I know these are other people’s lives, but they affected me significantly. I live and work overseas and out of nowhere, people I know including my friends, told me not to stay abroad alone too long. They told me to fly back to Indonesia and to find a partner back home. This made me feel guilty for something that didn’t even harm anyone.
Growing up in a country where marriage is a cultural default, I could not stop worrying about my failure in realizing my plans. I kept looking at the “normal” lives of Indonesian women that seemed a cut above me and I compared their lives with mine. I could not even start my Master’s program, let alone getting married. I felt like I was left behind, a total failure whose expiration date was fast approaching. And I ended up harming myself psychologically.
At some point in that emotionally unstable period, I looked back to my university years. When I was still pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree, I would kill to be financially independent. It all started when I felt like a burden to my parents and found it hard to ask them for money every month. This is my life and why do I ask others to fund it?
Some of my friends told me that it’s parents’ duty to fulfill our needs and that I didn’t need to feel bad about it. But I never thought like that. I felt like a 20 year-old brat, a pain in the ass, a parasite. I didn’t want to be a parasite whose life depends on others. In addition, I have a lovely, smart and talented little sister who deserves a much better quality of education and life than me. I couldn’t be that selfish, so I thought my parents should spare their time and money for her.
Many people think that I decided to stay abroad to work because it’s posh, fun and free here, but what do they know? Once I received my Bachelor’s degree, my dad told me to apply for graduate school. But I refused his idea since it didn’t go with my #1 plan. I decided to work abroad, far away from home. Thankfully, my parents supported my decision.
In my situation, getting married or pursuing a Master’s degree immediately after graduation wouldn’t help me become financially independent. This opened my eyes and made me realize that there is always a reason behind someone’s decisions, and that what others perceive about their decisions doesn’t even matter. Everyone has different responsibilities in life, and it’s only normal that we venture into different paths.
Today, as a 25-year-old Indonesian woman who will turn 26 in a few months, I feel blessed to be independent. Not every Indonesian woman, or even man, has the privilege to taste the freedom of life I have lived.
To those Indonesian women out there who feel left behind, please stop thinking that you’re approaching your expiration date. I am not telling you to stay chill and settle for a mediocre life, but, it is totally okay to feel not okay once in a while, as long as we are not drowned in bitterness way too long.
We are lucky enough to have this much time so that we can understand ourselves better. It is crucial to cherish whatever life throws at our face and taste it right away with our own tongue. Believe in ourselves! Not in a way of giving a fudge-you-all attitude, but in a way that enables to support ourselves, with integrity and courageously and responsibly in charge of our own lives.
What other people do isn’t always the “right” thing to do for us. If we find our other half and are psychologically, physically and financially ready to get married, then why not? If we have the money to continue our studies, or if we are awarded a scholarship, then, by all means, chase our dreams. If we have all the time and money to spend, we could travel the world or do anything we love. And if we want to stay focus on our career, that’s not a problem at all.
It is our life, our goals, our own portion and version of success.
Abrina Nurmayanti is a Tarantino enthusiast, lover of food, good music, kindness, and weird stuff. People who can't accept differences perplexes her.