MANOUSH ZOMORODI, HOST:
It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Manoush Zomorodi. And today on the show, Late Bloomers.
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ZOMORODI: For most of her life, writer Doree Shafrir felt like she was always late.
DOREE SHAFRIR: Oh, yes. Mmm hmm. This idea of, like, having to keep up with my peers was something that I felt very deeply.
ZOMORODI: Late to becoming a hip teenage girl.
SHAFRIR: It was like all the girls were shaving their legs. They were making out with boys. Like, they were doing all these things that, like, weren't even on my radar.
ZOMORODI: And late to hitting the milestones of young adulthood.
SHAFRIR: Yeah. So you know, I graduated college, kind of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and moved to New York and thought, OK, I'm going to have this, like, great career in media. But I was kind of flying blind. Like, I opened up The New York Times classifieds section, and I was like, I guess this is how I find a job. Like, I just didn't know anything. But at the same time, I was like, well, I guess I have all these things I need to do before I turn 30, like write a book, maybe get married, like, buy an apartment. I mean, it was just, like, this list of things with no understanding of, like, what it actually took to get those things or why I even really wanted them. When I was in my late 20s, I went back to school, and as part of that, I worked as an intern. And I was older than the assistants. I was older than a lot of the editors. And then I was like, oh, wait. What's happening here?
ZOMORODI: So, Doree, your memoir is called "Thanks For Waiting: The Joy (& Weirdness) Of Being A Late Bloomer."
ZOMORODI: Do you remember when it occurred to you to even refer to yourself as a late bloomer?
SHAFRIR: Yeah. I mean, it was kind of late...
SHAFRIR: ...Appropriately. So, you know, I felt like I had a limited amount of time to kind of, like, make my mark professionally. But then I was simultaneously also, in my head, supposed to be finding a partner. But I had trouble kind of separating the idea of wanting to be married and falling in love and finding someone that I was really excited about. Like, it was hard for me to separate the two. Like, did I just want to be married because that's what you do? That's what I thought should happen.
ZOMORODI: Yeah. Why do - you say that your book, your memoir, is a gentle corrective to living a linear life. Why do you think people do put so much pressure on themselves?
SHAFRIR: Well, I mean, I don't think we can, like, discount the influence of the patriarchy. I think that these ideas have been part of society for hundreds of years. And they're hard to overcome on our own, especially when it feels like the messaging all around us is do things in a certain way, in a certain order and be on a certain path.
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SHAFRIR: I had no clue how much of that I had just accepted as the norm, accepted as reality. For me, there was no role model of, like, the successful older single woman who had just said, you know what? I'm not interested in this. And I think that has changed also.
SHAFRIR: But in my early 20s, I had definitely internalized this idea of, like, the sad spinster, which I realize now I was just kind of buying into these, like, antiquated patriarchal ideas. But as a 23-year-old, I was not aware of that. And, you know, as I got into my mid-30s, I started feeling that even more.
ZOMORODI: I mean, one of the things, of course, that happens in your mid-30s - and this is, you know, beyond our control - is the biological clock starts. You're told, basically, like, well, you are a late bloomer if you haven't...
ZOMORODI: ...Gotten pregnant by 35.
SHAFRIR: Yeah. I mean, you know, anything over 35 is a geriatric pregnancy in the medical community. So, you know, in my mid- to late 30s, I started feeling again kind of like a late bloomer sort of, like, relationships-wise. I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend when I was - I think I was about 33 and then didn't really date anyone seriously for a few years but eventually met the man who is now my husband. And we got married when I was 38 and then started trying to have kids. And that was a whole long and arduous process that eventually resulted in my son, Henry, who I had when I was almost 42. And, you know, in the fertility world, that is ancient (laughter). So I was definitely feeling that at the time.
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SHAFRIR: My husband and I have had sort of ongoing conversations about having another kid. And then there's days where I'm also like, well, I'm 45. You know, by the time this theoretical baby graduates from high school, I'd be 64. And that feels kind of old from here.
ZOMORODI: I mean, that just feels so unfair because, like we're saying, like, women, you don't have to live by this linear order.
ZOMORODI: But actually, biologically, maybe we kind of still do.
SHAFRIR: Yeah. Yeah. It's so frustrating and so unfair. Like, yes, these limitations do still exist.
ZOMORODI: So despite all the struggles that you had, the title of your book does include the phrase "The Joy Of Being A Late Bloomer." So spell it out for us. What is that joy? What is the benefit?
SHAFRIR: So to me, that joy is learning who you are and being comfortable with who you are and being happy with who you are and content with who you are. And enjoying spending time with yourself is something that I, like, didn't really enjoy when I was, you know, 25. So therefore, having a kid in your 40s, I think there are some aspects of, like, mom culture and having a kid that would have, like, stressed me out more, certainly...
SHAFRIR: ...When I was younger and that now I'm just like, I'm just doing - I'm just going to do this my way.
ZOMORODI: That's kind of great, actually.
SHAFRIR: Yeah. And that is the sort of freedom that I definitely would not have had even 10 years ago.
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SHAFRIR: I do wish I could, like, go back and give my younger self just a big hug and be like, hey, maybe be a little kinder to yourself.
ZOMORODI: Doree finally came around to accepting, even celebrating, life as a late bloomer. But many of us still feel pressure to hit big life milestones on a particular timeline. Does it matter if we find success earlier or later in life? What's stopping us from thinking of aging as an opportunity rather than a liability? Today on the show, an examination of late bloomers - ideas about rejecting societal expectations, while also accepting some of life's realities, as we strive to be happy and healthy for as many years as possible.
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