The Peer Pressure of What’s Best For You

It’s been a long time since the days when peer pressure involved smoking a cigarette behind the back of the school or ganging up on the school nerd. As kids, peer pressure was there to push us to try things that were “wrong” or “bad” – things that we might not have actually chosen to do if left to our own devices.

But then, we grew up. Peer pressure changed.

Instead of drugs and alcohol, peer pressure became about wedding rings and babies. Pressure to skip school turned into pressure to attend (post-secondary) school. Unlike the peer pressure of yesteryear, today, peer pressure has become about pushing you to do what is considered “best for you.” 

It makes me wonder: “best for you” according to whom? We’re all very familiar with the pressures from our friends, our families (settle down and have grandchildren!) and even from our own indoctrinated brains. That’s right, I said it. We are indoctrinated, brainwashed, molded into being the people that society tells us to be. But before you write me off as another paranoid weirdo, let’s look at some examples.

Women first. Imagine this scenario: You’re 30 years old. You’ve been with your boyfriend for two years, one of which you lived together. It’s going well. All your friends are getting married, and some are even starting to pop out kids. In your heart of hearts, are you appreciating the fact that you’re in a good, stable relationship or are you stressing about why he isn’t proposing and that you’re falling behind? At least some of the time, it’s most likely the latter. 

Men: Let’s pretend you’re the boyfriend in the previous situation. You’re 34, your career is stable, you have good friends and a great girlfriend. You love your life as is and don’t want it to change. But as time goes by, all of your guy friends get married and have babies, so eventually, you feel the need to “keep up with the Joneses” and you get down on one knee.

As far back as 1901 (published in 1923), Mark Twain wrote about the impact of societal customs on our actions: “We are creatures of outside influences; as a rule we do not think, we only imitate.”

He continued… 

“The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict.”

So where does that leave us, the poor souls being pressured into the life that society thinks is best for us? 

My opinion is that these societal norms are only perpetuated because we believe in them (or at least because we act upon them). If every single person woke up one day and decided to stop trying to fit into the same cookie-cutter life, then the (peer) pressure to conform wouldn’t exist. It’s the same as it was in junior high; when you no longer care about getting the approval of others, the pressure is no longer effective at changing your behaviour.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. From now on, I am going to try to live my life according to my own beliefs and according to what makes me happy.

In certain ways, I already have made decisions that go against the norm (and which have made me happier as a result). I got married, I got divorced. I made the decision to never have kids (and no, I won’t grow out of it). I will travel, and write, and experience life my way. There will be no white picket fences or houses in the suburbs (probably no houses at all actually – I’m a condo girl all the way!). There may be relationships and re-marriage in my future, but there may not be. Either way, I’ll be living my life – not society’s. And I’m good with that. 

So now it’s your time to decide: will you push back against peer pressure and live life according to your own rules?