Like a lot of people, I was raised to think about life in a particular way. You go to college, land a steady 9-to-5 job, meet “The One,” and then swap a promise and a piece of paper before getting down to raising a family.
Somewhere in there, you may adopt a pet, or take the next big step and buy a house. This typically happens between a man and woman, who once coupled, remain linked in almighty monogamous bliss until “death do us part.” I never bought into this fairy tale, although the storyline was pushed throughout my childhood and 20s.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine, though, that I’d have the life I have now at 45. I steered clear of societal norms or pressures, and my life continues to grow more abundant and fulfilling every single day.
Here are 8 ways my life looks entirely different than I ever imagined:
I’m an art school dropout who somehow landed a successful freelance writing career. After dropping out of college and returning to the restaurant industry, I answered a job post asking: “Would you like to play Cupid?”
Despite being completely unqualified, I landed a job co-managing a 10-page section of the Philadelphia Weekly and the writings of more than 500 dating hopefuls.
Every week, I received dozens of letters asking relationships questions, so I started writing a dating advice column in the Personals section (in a pre-Carrie Bradshaw era), and other local publications took notice.
I began freelancing for Philadelphia-area newspapers and magazines and had a few serendipitous breaks on the New York City media scene. I quit my full-time gig, and more than two decades later, I’ve never looked back.
I’m in no way long-term relationship averse. In fact, I love being loved and being in love. I just never saw the need to legally seal the deal with formalities or a big event.
I’ve been proposed to on several occasions, but the answer has always been “no.” Still, I never 100% ruled out marriage. I guess I always thought if it was super important to a partner, I’d maybe consider it.
Although marriage was never a priority for me, it’s somewhat surprising that I’ve managed to make it to 45 and have some really great relationships without this ever becoming a big issue.
Read more:4 reasons why I’m never getting married
I feel way more maternal toward four-legged friends than human babies. Although I’ve been told nonstop since my early 20s that not having children would be the biggest regret of my life, I’m pleased to report that at 45, I feel absolutely no remorse.
Most of my family has passed away. I also live cross country from my few remaining family members. As a result, I’ve carved out an intentional, close-knit community of friends and partners who fill my familial needs.
Growing up, my mother never failed to remind me that at her all-time heaviest, she weighed 119 pounds. She was 5-foot-10 and pregnant with me at the time. I, on the other hand, am a zaftig woman.
Despite a childhood of body-shaming and obsessive calorie counting, I’ve learned that life isn’t about hitting a certain number on the scale. Also, people won’t like you more “If you just lose 10 pounds” (famous words from my mother.) I don’t believe in dieting. Every single body is beautiful and I embrace my curves whenever possible – whether I’m home alone, or at a clothing-optional resort.
I’ve learned that making peace with my body is far more productive than self-loathing. Being active and strong is far more important to me than having a few extra pounds or feeling starved. At 45-years-old, I feel the sexiest, most confident I’ve ever felt in my life and I love my body – exactly as it is — a thought I never fathomed possible in my formative years.
The background soundtrack of my childhood was, “If you do XYZ, so-and-so (usually boys) will like you.” Believe me, I tried to fill a lot of voids in my life with the approval of others. It didn’t make a difference.
As soon as I stopped caring about being so darn likable, my confidence skyrocketed. To this day, not caring about what (most) other people think is one of the most powerful tools in my life skills toolbox.
I grew up in a standard-issue heteronormative household. There was never any discussion about coloring outside the heterosexual, cis-female lines, although I’ve been attracted to both male-identifying and female-identifying humans for most of my life.
At 45, I’m grateful I feel comfortable to love whomever I want, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. I’m also glad I’ve freed myself of the sexual guilt and shame I grew up with and can now explore and embrace sexual pleasure on my own terms.
Over the years, I’ve dated monogamously and non-monogamously. I’ve found that having an open dynamic to explore whatever love and intimacy presents itself works best for me.
I have a huge capacity to love and care for others, and non-monogamy and polyamory allow me to deep dive into all of these scenarios with transparency. I never expected I’d have such an abundance of love in my life.
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Originally published on Business Insider.