There's a serious double standard that exists for men and women when it comes to relationships, marriage, having children, and age. Despite the numerous options we as women have today, with many of us prioritizing our careers, working toward financial security, and being the cycle-breaking pioneers of our generation, men still don't experience the invasiveness women do when it comes to being single, unwed, and child-free in their 30s. This is twofold if you're a first-gen with immigrant parents and family that still very much abides by religiously rooted and patriarchal values that condition you to believe that no matter how successful, stable, well-traveled, or even happy you may be, as a woman, you're not enough unless you're married with kids by the time you're 35.
I was 28 years old when the societal pressures and expectations of marriage began to really hit me. Before then, I naively assumed I was going to check all the societal boxes by the time I reached 35. I had just ended an engagement and a nine-year relationship with a man I had increasingly grown apart from. Before that breakup, I didn't really worry about marriage or kids. My career, my life dreams, my desire to travel and experience the world, all came before that. Even when we actually got engaged, I wasn't really ready for the responsibilities that would come with marriage, but after so many years together and experiencing so much pressure from well-intended but boundary-stepping relatives to tie the knot (as if that was necessary to solidify my relationship), I caved into the pressure. After a year of being engaged, I realized that staying in a relationship just to check a box wasn't by any means worth it. It also wasn't the life I actually wanted to live.
My life drastically changed after the breakup — in the best ways possible. It was like I finally had the freedom to be who I was really meant to be. For the first time in nine years, my life was just about me. I could make decisions that mostly just affected me, and I wanted to enjoy that freedom and explore everything that came with it. I casually dated for years — out of choice. I wanted to make up for all the years I was bound to one relationship and explore dating and meeting different kinds of men. I've also experienced my fair share or more of steady and exclusive relationships, and it's taught me so much about myself, what I want and don't want in a partner, but also just what I want out of life. But looking back, I wish I would have relished in those dating experiences without allowing societal expectations to creep in and distract me. My fear of becoming my family's shameful "jamona" made me fixate on whether someone was "marriage material" instead of being present in the relationship.
If you grew up in a Latinx household, you're probably familiar with terms like jamona or solterona, which translates to a single, older, and unmarried woman. "These terms/phrases have negative connotations and assume that a woman has failed as a result of not being married," says licensed psychologist, coach, and speaker Dr. Lisette Sanchez. "It is a loaded word because it assumes that a woman's worth is only in her ability to maintain a successful heteronormative relationship."
This mindset isn't just problematic. It's also incredibly harmful and taxing on our mental health. When we experience these cultural pressures and expectations to meet these societal norms, we often find ourselves working toward checking boxes that are things we might not even necessarily want. While marriage and finding a life partner is something I'd like to experience one day, it was never a dream of mine — neither was motherhood. Being a mom was always something I was open to if I found the right partner. But because of my age and society constantly reminding me that my fertility clock is "ticking," when I do think about motherhood, it usually comes from a place of anxiety and fear of disappointing those around me — family especially — rather than fear of being unhappy.
I've been happily single (but dating) for years, and I struggle with the idea of having to give up all the free time I have for myself to lead another life. And yet, every time my abuela, another relative, a family friend, or even a stranger asks me "y el novio?" ("do you have a boyfriend?"), a part of me wonders why they can't just ask about me? Do they not think I'm enough alone? I travel, I'm at the peak of my career, I'm financially stable, I have no debt, I live by myself in a large two-bedroom apartment, I have wonderful friends, I do what I love for a living, I'm living out my purpose and my passion, I'm healthy, and I'm happy. Why is it assumed that I'm not enough if I'm not fulfilling my "expected role" as a wife and mother?
"When a woman has been raised with the belief that having children is the primary objective, it is also harder to celebrate their own accomplishments and success."
Dr. Sanchez says that these societal pressures not only impact women mentally but they can also affect our self-worth. "This speaks to the assumption that women are only valuable when they are of childbearing age. Men are viewed to be able to father children until later in life, but women have a 'ticking clock.' This is harmful because it causes additional psychological stress for women," she says. "There's a psychological term, cognitive dissonance, that explains why this is so challenging for women. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person's actions are inconsistent with their beliefs. When a woman has been raised with the belief that having children is the primary objective, it is also harder to celebrate their own accomplishments and success." Dr. Sanchez says that in order to fight cognitive dissonance, it requires a lot of inner work to recognize that you can challenge these beliefs to experience a better alignment of your actions and beliefs.
Marriage and motherhood have always been things I one day want to experience, but they've never been the end-all, be-all. In fact, I can admit that I would rather be single and have the things I have now than be married with a child without any of the things I have now. And yet, I have always felt so ashamed of feeling that. I grew up in a family where selfless, self-sacrificing women were constantly praised even if they were unhappy, and "selfish" women were often discussed as if they were the spawn of Satan. It's literally the worst kind of woman you could be in my family — that or a puta (slut) — and I always really resented that. Seeing the women in my family struggling to juggle careers and raise children, or in the case of my mom and others, giving up their careers entirely to raise their kids, I knew at a very young age that wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to be selfish. I wanted to be curious. I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to have different goals and constantly question everything that was told to me. I resented and still resent when people tell me I'm too buena moza (good-looking) to be single, but too smart, too talkative, and way too rebellious for my own good. I can't tell you how many times my family friends have given me backhanded compliments regarding my cooking. "It's a shame you don't have a man to enjoy your delicious cooking," they'd say. In reality, I never learned how to cook for a man. I learned how to cook specifically to bond with my abuela, and today, I joyfully cook for myself, for my family, and for my friends. Why is that not enough?
The saddest thing about all of this is despite the fact that I've done exactly what I've wanted to do and have crafted the life that I've wanted to live, I have also had moments in my 30s where I was conquered by anxiety because of these pressures. I have always had the courage to gracefully walk away and end relationships with men I didn't want to continue seeing — not because they were bad but because they just wound up not being the match I was looking for. So much so, that for a while, I was still friends with many of them. And even though I've never had regrets, almost every single time I've walked away from a relationship, whether it was short-term or steady, the little oppressive voice in my head that tells me I'm going to wind up old, and jamona takes over. This little voice has oftentimes robbed me of peace, happiness, and genuinely enjoying all the freedom and things I've been blessed to have and experience, as a result of being a single woman. It's even prevented me from looking forward to the holidays or family gatherings because there's nothing more triggering for me than y tu novio season.
"It really speaks to how ingrained this belief system is in Latinx communities. It has been passed down through countless generations and has made such an indelible impression on the culture that it's difficult to see/accept anything that challenges the 'jamona' ideology."
"It really speaks to how ingrained this belief system is in Latinx communities. It has been passed down through countless generations and had made such an indelible impression on the culture that it's difficult to see/accept anything that challenges the 'jamona' ideology," psychologist, founder of Lotus Theory, and my personal therapist Justine Astacio says. "I believe it stems from religions rooted in patriarchy. Religions rooted in patriarchy place a strong emphasis on binary gender roles and imply a hierarchy between the genders. For instance, Christianity preaches that Eve was made from man (Adam) to be his companion, in essence, stating that Eve would not have been created had it not been for Adam."
The "jamona" and "y el novio" mentality is also even more harmful for Latinx folks who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, in that it exclusively sets heteronormative expectations. "The most harm is felt in the LGBTQ+ community and in the Latinx community [because] the simple fact is that for some, marriage and kids just doesn't fit into our lives, " says licensed MFT and certified EMDR therapist Nancy Paloma-Collins. "Many people in the LGBTQ+ community make the sacrifice and mistake to get into marriage to appease the family, mother, grandmother, father and don't live their true lives. This causes many people to go through pervasive symptoms of depression and anxiety. It's important for parents to be supportive of their children and be part of the love that their children want in their life."
A few months before I turned 35 this year, I decided to make a decision. As it got closer to my birthday, I remember being flooded with a whole bunch of fears, doubts, and toxic comments I've heard from people in my life, including one guy I dated on and off for years, who told me when I turned 34 to "hurry up" and find someone before I turn 35 and become "too high risk" to date. I started asking myself if I should be looking into freezing my eggs or getting back on dating apps despite how much I hate them. The pressure was hitting me hard — harder than it did in my earlier 30s — and a thought suddenly hit me. How would my life be if I didn't give into how other people think I should be living my life? How would my life be if it didn't matter if I never got married or ever had a kid? And I realized, it would be just fine. It would be great, actually, and freeing, and adventurous like it has my entire singlehood. It was in that moment that I decided I am not only breaking the toxic jamona mentality in my own family but I'm going to enjoy and give thanks everyday for the privileges I experience as a single, child-free woman. And I'm going to change the dialogues I am having with my single women friends, so that they're more uplifting and less disempowering. I'm also going to start celebrating my milestones and accomplishments in a big way, the same way my traditional family celebrates domestic milestones — even if the only ones that show up to the party are my fellow single girlfriends. Because I am more than enough.
Astacio says that the cycle ends with vulnerability and with asking ourselves: am I living for me or am I living for someone else? She says to ask yourself questions like in an ideal world, what would living for myself look like? What emotions are coming up when dreaming about your ideal world? Does being happy, complete, or satisfied come up? And if so, the next step is to be vulnerable with your family and explain to them what your ideal world looks like, how it makes you feel when being labeled "jamona," and how you would like them to support you going forward and what that looks like. I'm incredibly fortunate to have Latinx parents who since I broke off my engagement when I was 28, have been 100 percent supportive of the life I want to live without pressuring me to marry or have kids, while also celebrating my accomplishments. My mom tells me she's proud of me constantly, and my dad always reminds me not to settle when it comes to romantic relationships. One of my cousins even recommended me having a big housewarming party to celebrate my new apartment. So there has been some support. But a part of me still feels like if I threw a full on party and signed up for a registry that my family would find it to be a joke.
"Normalize celebrating milestones like a graduation, starting a business, or buying property is a great start," Astacio adds. "Being single and child-free is one of the most liberating experiences a woman can have once they embrace it. Women have the space to learn and own who they are. It can be so empowering, between dating yourself, going on vacation by yourself, moving with no obligations, and most importantly to have the space to heal."
Paloma-Collins wants women to take advantage of singlehood and treat it as a celebration of its own. "There's no other empowerment like the feeling of having your own place, a career you love, and freedom to enjoy all of it," she says. "Many women spend their lives focused on the need to find a partner, a husband, a baby daddy, that we don't enjoy the time we have to relish in our success and not being able to check off those societal boxes."
But she understands that for some women, it's a process. If you're struggling with the anxiety that comes with those societal pressures, she recommends a few coping mechanism skills, like surrounding yourself with friends that share your values and goals, maintaining a growth mindset, practicing self-care with deep breathing, visualization, and soothing music, and creating a support group of friends and loved ones that you can reach out to when you feel down or have high anxiety.
"Many times in the Latinx community, we learn to serve, but we don't learn to ask or receive."
"Many times in the Latinx community, we learn to serve, but we don't learn to ask or receive. Know that if you are not well, you can always reach out to a professional that can help you through depression and anxiety," she adds. "Most important, understanding that we all experience moments of anxiety and depression, but it's important to have a mindset of solution and relaxation to help you through these moments by practicing the skills mentioned."
While being married and having children feeds into a lot of traditional Latinx folks's views about what the natural progression of life should look like, that's on them. I don't have to live a life full of anxiety just because they don't believe a single woman is enough. I'm making peace with where I'm at and enjoying the gems that come with being a single, child-free woman, because the jamona cycle ends with me.