The "And?" Factor

I went to see someone the other week. For the purposes of this blog, I'll refer to this person as Susy. Over the past eight years, Susy has been equal parts mentor, employer, friend, and antagonist. Our relationship is a little complicated and sometimes messy, but she's given me good advice in the past and been right in a few situations where I was oh-so-terribly-wrong. Suffice it to say, when she talks, I listen. At least 50% of the time.

I am now in a position where I see Susy every other week or so. Our initial conversations always start the same: good to see you, how have you been, good, good. They used to end the same as well, until she started using 'and'. 

I never thought of 'and' as a word that had much power before. It's a conjunction, used to to connect grammatically coordinate words (pens and pencils, horses and ponies, ice cream and cake) as well as phrases and clauses. I use it without thinking, both in my speaking and my writing (see, I just used it again!). It's never been a word that has held any significance for me. Until it started to pop up with alarming regularity.

"Jillian, good to see you! How have you been?" 

"Great! Busy writing. How about you?" 

"Pretty good." 

"How's your grandfather doing?" 

"He's okay. Starting to get a little bit better. How's your mother?" 

"She's doing well. Resting and relaxing." 

"That's nice. So... how is the writing going?" 

"Pretty good! I'm working on a new novel. A contemporary one." 

"Interesting. How's the house?" 

"Good. We're waiting until Spring to do any major renovations." 

"That's smart. Things with the boyfriend?" 

"He's great." [insert goofy smile here] "A little busy with work, but really great."   



"Any news you'd like to share?"

I didn't understand what Susy was getting at until I ran into an old friend from college five days later. We went through the whole routine. I asked about her life. She asked about mine. We checked all the boxes (job, living situation, significant other or lack thereof) but when we were finished, instead of the usual "that's great!" I've become a little accustomed to hearing (and giving), my friend looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and said, "And?" 

There were a lot of unspoken questions piled into that little three letter word. Questions I didn't feel like answering, so I changed the subject and we went on our way and I started to think the "and factor" was something I'd made up in my head until I went out for drinks with my BFF. 

As best friends do, we cut through the introductory bull shit in record time. Job, check. Living situation, check. Significant other, check. Then she looked at me, smiled a little bit, and said what Susy and my college friend (among others) had implied with a single "and?". 

So when are you getting engaged?

Since she's my BFF and is also in a wonderful relationship and girls do what girls do, we went on to discuss (at embarrassing length) all of the possibilities, complete with pictures. I didn't think that much of it... Until I went to see Susy again, and got hit with not only the "and?" but also the new (and equally unsettling) "are you pregnant/when do you think you're going to be?"

Not the best question to ask someone who's already feeling a little chunky because of the holiday season (who are we kidding, the holiday season ended three weeks ago, I just love food), but it got me thinking. 

About expectations. 

About goals. 

About life. 

I'm happy to say, that with a few down days here and there, I'm a happy person. I have a job that I love. I have a house that I love. I have a boyfriend that I love. I've checked three of the boxes. And yet... and yet I'm still running into that pesky little "and?" at the end of every conversation. 

I asked the BF about it the other night.

"Do people ever and you?" I said. 

Because he's used to my random questions, he didn't bat an eyelash or ask what the hell I was talking about. "Nope. Not that I can think of." 

"Huh. Because lately lots of people have been anding me." 

"Maybe it's a girl thing." 


And I think it is. To some degree. And I'm not saying the women in my life who are doing the "and?" are out of bounds or wrong or being rude (with the exception of the pregnancy comment; that was just plain obnoxious). I think they're doing what society has programmed us, as women (and some men) to ask because the idea that we could be happy with some boxes left unchecked is a completely foreign concept. 

There was a movie I saw not too long ago. Boy met girl. Girl met boy. They fell in love. Bought a house. Lived happily-ever-after. 

Oh wait. That's not right. 

In fact, I'm pretty sure that movie doesn't exist or if it does, I've certainly never heard about it. 

With a few exceptions, I think it's fair to say the following boxes have been laid out for every young woman at some point in her life...  

- Graduate College
- Get a good job
- Find a good boyfriend (or girlfriend)
- Get engaged
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Have children

...and we're told, either through books or movies or television or family or friends, that we're not done, we can't be truly happy, until all those boxes have been checked. Well, I'm here to say, with some experience in the matter, that's not entirely true. 

I went the box check route once. I had four of the seven boxes checked. No one was asking me "and?" but I wasn't happy. Not really. Certainly not as happy as I am now. On the other hand, I know other women who checked off every box by the time they turned twenty-four and they're ecstatically happy.

Because if there's one thing I've learned, and if there's one point I'm trying to make, it's that there's no tried and true formula for happiness. Find a boyfriend, don't find a boyfriend. You can still be happy. Get engaged, don't get engaged. You can still be happy. Get married, don't get married, you can still be happy. Have children, don't have children. You can still be happy.  

Buy a house with your boyfriend after dating for a year... you can still be happy. 

I want to check all the boxes someday. I even want to add some of my own. But not today, and certainly not in order, and that's okay. It's okay because I've decided the "and?" factor doesn't apply to me. I can have a job I love and a house I love and a boyfriend I love...



  1. I am SO with you on this! You are happy, you are successful, you are living a life you love. What more is there?! Plus, people who ask about your relationship/babies like that are just RUDE.