There is a window in most women’s lives where it feels like every weekend is dominated by either a bridal or baby shower. For those who aren’t hearing wedding bells themselves — whether they’re hoping for a partnered future or not — it can feel like the only “achievements” that society recognizes are those that involve a white dress or an expanding family. The resulting pressure can be demoralizing ― even for those who feel great about their choices. Given the growing population of women in the U.S. delaying marriage, (Pew Center data shows that in 2012 more than 23 percent of Americans 25 and older had never been married, up from 9 percent in 1960), the issue is only becoming more prevalent.
In the new docuseries, “Timelines,” SK-II teamed up with award-winning journalist Katie Couric to investigate the marital pressure that women face globally. In conversations with young women and their mothers, Couric reveals the conflict that many women feel when society, family and even inner monologues send the message that marriage is the ultimate goal and one of the few things worthy of ample congratulations and gifts.
That’s why experts say it’s important to identify personal milestones and other occasions to celebrate outside of weddings. Bella DePaulo, a single living expert and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored and Still Live Happily Ever After, says, “Be there for the people who are celebrating non-marriage milestones! If you are married with children, your single friends and relatives have probably been there for you, gifts in hand, for your wedding (or maybe multiple weddings!) and babies. Now you should be there for them.”
Couric herself understands the importance of connecting with friends outside of the adult onslaught of wedding and baby-related events to celebrate the longevity of their relationships with one another.
“I have a group of friends that I grew up with. We try and have reunions every two years to celebrate that we’re still alive and still friends after all these years,” she says. “I’ve known some of them since I was three, I’ve known some of them since junior high.” The group gets together in different locations around the women’s hometowns because “we felt like we weren’t seeing each other anymore,” Couric says. “It’s celebrating female friendship.”
Other women shared their own personal celebrations and ways that friends appreciated them for their passions and achievements, and not just for reaching a certain life stage.
“I have a yearly tropical fruit party to say I appreciate my friends, which I call the Fruit and Mutual Appreciation Society,” says Anna, who lives near Boston. She also found a way to celebrate her late father’s memory and the fullness of her own life in the process. “ I do it on my dad’s birthday as a way of marking the occasion that’s not just about what I’ve lost but also about what I still have.”
Others say that they like to make a big deal out of commemorating their friends’ new homes or academic and professional achievements with a special “wedding-level” gift or making the effort to have a conspicuous celebration. Mel from Washington, D.C. says she’s promised her best friend a “tweed jacket with elbow patches” when she finishes her Ph.D. Kate, who lives in Boston, says that she likes to throw “silver lining parties” for friends after something bad has happened in an effort to make a good memory in the wake. For example, “We had a party for my friend who got fired with cupcakes decorated with flames.”
Elle, who grew up in the Northeastern U.S. but who recently moved to China, makes a point to celebrate the strength it took to move her life to a new continent by continuing a personal tradition with her new friends.
“Every year I host a Pi Day party around 3.14 (March 14),” she says. “What makes it special now is that I am living abroad and 3.14 isn’t really relevant: the day is given 14.3 and they don’t really do pie in China. But with some massive efforts to find pie tins (questionable, might be a large dog dish) and making do with spices like Chinese 5 Spice (includes pepper, surprisingly good in apple pie), I was able to host a very small version of Pi Day with my new colleagues and students this year. It was something from home that I got to bring here and everyone understood that it was a pretty special day for me mostly because of the years of memories of parties past.”
Esme, from Oakland, says, “I think the idea of doing a little something (even a small thing) to celebrate when I’ve achieved something is a habit I got from my mother. She is very good at celebrating her own and others’ achievements, and would make a conscious effort to do so when I was younger.” In this spirit, Esme took herself on a vacation to celebrate getting her first full-time position, and bought herself a necklace to celebrate completing a coding boot camp, which for her represented “a career change and risk.”
“Whenever I wear it and people compliment it I find myself saying, ‘Oh thanks, that was my present for myself for completing a program,’” she says.
And if you’re feeling at a loss for reasons to celebrate your friends, loved ones, or even yourself, there’s an easy way to find out what they’re passionate about: just ask. It can be tempting to fall into old conversational patterns of asking people if there’s “anyone special” on the horizon or what their big life plans are, psychologist Terry Klee says, but letting people talk about what they’re passionate about is rewarding and will bring you closer together.
“Listen for and encourage the [person] to speak more about who she is,” Klee says. “When she talks about something, stay with that topic, don’t switch that to who she isn’t, like who she’s dating. If the [person] didn’t bring up the topic, I’m not sure where we are. You stay with what they are developing as their strength. Don’t change the topic. A lot of people do it accidentally, they switch it to what they’re comfortable with or what they want to talk about, but you’re actually instilling worry into her.”
Also, it’s important to note that it doesn’t need to cost money to make someone feel recognized for their progress and their passions. For Lisa, who lives in Brooklyn, all her husband needed to make her feel amazing was a pizza box and a marker: “[My partner] brought a sign that said ‘#1 MUSCLE QUEEN’ to my first weightlifting meet! And a surprising number of friends came to cheer …. I felt very supported.”
On the heels of its thought-provoking “Marriage Market Takeover,” “The Expiry Date” and “Meet Me Halfway,” SK-II continues its #ChangeDestiny campaign with Katie Couric and “Timelines.” For more than 38 years, the prestige skincare brand has invited people to take the destiny of their skin into their own hands, and is committed to helping women live their best lives. Watch the film now and visit SK-II Timelines for more information.
This article was paid for by SK-II and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.