Why are we still judging people for being ‘late bloomers’?

The stigma surrounding what age a person (read: women) should reach certain relationship milestones is almost endless. When a dating show cast a 29-year-old who has never had a boyfriend, the discourse on social media proved we still need to be reminded that everyone takes life at their own pace. 

There’s been a fair bit of chatter on social media last night and today about how a woman can get to age 29 having never had a boyfriend; she might also be a virgin.

“You really need help,” she’s told by an acquaintance. But does she? Sex and relationships expert Dr. Lurve says emphatically no.

“Absolutely not! In fact, it should be considered admirable that she hasn’t rushed into anything,” she tells Body+Soul.

“Oftentimes people will settle due to perceived expectations and I think it could be considered worse if someone chooses to be in a relationship just because it ‘was time’.”

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She adds: “Staying single until 29 means a person has had time to truly understand who they are, to define their ideals and know exactly what they want.”

Yet, there is still a lot of stigma attached to those of us who don’t follow society’s expectations of hitting those relationship milestones; like a first kiss, or sexual intercourse, or marriage, by a certain age.

What does Carrie Bradshaw’s Vogue editor Enid say when she proposes the idea of photographing Carrie in bridal couture for the magazine in the Sex and the City Movie?

“40 is the last age a woman can be photographed in a wedding gown without the unintended Diane Arbus subtext,” she says, referring to photographer Diane Arbus whose preferred subject matter was societal outcasts and in Enid’s eyes, that includes older women getting married.

“It’s almost human nature to compare trajectories around milestones or placing an emphasis on achieving a milestone by a certain age,” says Dr. Lurve.

“It’s very closely related to the idea of Herd Behaviour, which is the phenomenon where large numbers of people act in the same way at the same time.”

Representations in movies and social media amplify this stigma, but we also put pressure on ourselves due to the timelines modelled by our parents and peers.

For women, this societal burden is particularly harsh when we look at it through the lens of a woman who loses her virginity.

“A woman who chooses to lose her virginity at a young age is often labelled a slut or perceived as ‘easy’,” says Dr. Lurve.

“Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, a woman who waits until later in life is often labelled as uptight or prude. It shows you can’t win.”

It’s important to remember that everyone develops social and emotional skills differently; there’s absolutely no need, nor does it benefit anyone, to cast judgement on someone we might consider a late bloomer. Quite to the contrary, we should applaud them for not rushing into something they’re not ready for.

“We simply need to remind ourselves that your timeline isn’t the same as someone else’s,” says Dr. Lurve.

“There should never be any pressure on life’s big milestones because these are the things that should be well thought out and planned. Rushing a milestone can lead to unfavourable outcomes or regrets – it is better to stick to the natural timing of your own life and expect everyone else to do the same.”

Dr Lurve is one of Australia’s leading love and relationship experts. She specialises in helping people navigate the ups and downs of relationships, both romantic and platonic. Follow her on Instagram @dr.lurve.