I had visions of a fairytale-esque romance, a glorious wedding somewhere in my twenties, a couple of kids, and a solid career I loved. I was, of course, eleven, but still. I knew all the things I was expected to do in the natural flow of life to be successful, happy, and normal. Spoiler alert: life turned out wildly different.
Let’s be real, I’m sure that resonates with most, but I was a serious head-in-the-clouds-romance-is-alive-fantasy-type girl. Everything, including ultimate fulfillment, seemed to revolve around one thing- finding that soulmate, partner in crime, and getting married…because, that’s what you do. I never really questioned it. The idea of always having someone to go through life’s highs and lows with, someone to fall back on, seemed like the obvious base for adult life. Once that was established, everything else would fall into place. No matter what else happened in life, that would be the one thing that was concrete. Maybe I was sheltered growing up, maybe the books and movies I indulged in gave me false expectations, maybe I just sported rose tinted glasses on the regular. Whatever it was, I knew one thing: I was a bona fide “relationship” girl from my early days.
I’m a people pleaser by nature, and always took pride in being super loyal and loving. This carried over to my relationships, naturally. I tried my absolute best to be an amazing girlfriend, and more often than not, put my significant other’s needs and wants ahead of my own. I liked being in a relationship; the thought of singledom made me uncomfortable. Like choosing taco bell for lunch on a 12-hour road trip that’s also a first date kind of uncomfortable.
Yep, I was the quintessential “relationship” girl, alright. As I ended a six-year relationship, in mere months, I found myself starting another long term relationship that lasted eight years. I had a very regular life. I lived in a city I loved, had a job where I was using my degree, a serious relationship that was slated for marriage, and a group of friends who were all on the same route. It felt like I was doing what I was “supposed” to do, on the right path, and I was keeping up with everyone else to boot. It was comfortable, seemingly secure, and overall, I was…happy?
Sure, I believed that I was stronger as a duo; I mean more is always better, right? I wanted to be part of a team, and I was always willing to go above and beyond, even make sacrifices for that to happen. Besides obviously wanting those things, I felt pressure to have them; from every nook and cranny of life. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked “So, when do you think you’re getting engaged?” I’d be filthy rich. Filthy. Rich.
So many women; so many women I know, put such heavy stress on finding a man, settling down by a certain age, and measure themselves amongst other women’s progress in doing just that. As my friends advanced in their lives, completing life’s milestones, I watched each step grilled for them as well. A house, a baby, kid number two…it was never ending. When do the questions stop? You check one item off, and people are already asking about the next. Our culture is so obsessed with the subsequent steps and timelines that we don’t enjoy the ones we’re actually living in real time. And I was all kinds of caught up in it.
It took the proverbial rug being ripped out from under me to realize that I had had a false sense of contentment. After the shock from the end of my planned future subsided, I saw pretty clearly that I had mostly just been satisfied with the idea of checking life’s expected boxes off, not the actual life I was living. So, I refused to jump back into that world; dive into another relationship. Instead, I decided to test myself, open my mind, and uncover who I was and what I wanted for once, away from the pressure to advance my life the conventional way. I started traveling.
Travel broadened my horizons, literally, and as my mind opened up, enabled me to discover a magical revelation. What I thought I had wanted for so long, was actually not what I wanted; at least for now, and not like that. The societal idea of normal, and life’s “logical” steps had been so deeply ingrained in me that as I started to piece myself together, my priorities looked almost foreign to what they had previously been. I had put so much stock into relationships for so long and hadn’t even recognized it. Thing is, a lot of times you don’t know you’re unhappy until you experience another path that was, perhaps, more meant for you to take.
As I stopped being a “relationship” girl, I started hating routine. I began to realize that my routine-loving-planning-everything-to-a-T ways were not what made me most gratified. I was much happier, freer, and truer to my core self when I wasn’t in a habitual way of life. I’d obviously need to find a balance, but knowing that it was okay to stray from routine and plans was liberating. Travel encouraged me to expect and embrace the unexpected, because, sometimes the best things come from that. This can ring true in all aspects of life and was a somewhat a total revelation for me.
That whole point about enjoying what we have instead of constantly looking ahead to achieve life’s next big thing? Yeah, travel helped me learn to live in the moment too. That- that was a big deal for me, and something I still work on.
I used to hate being alone, never mind the obscene thought of traveling alone. I’m inherently a social person, but traveling, especially solo, made me crave solitude all of the sudden. Mind blown. I realized I didn’t need a man or a relationship to complete me. Was it scary at first? Sure, but the more I traveled, the more I felt like, “Hell, I’m actually doing this!” And I’m not going to lie, it felt freaking amazing.
Travel showed me to trust my gut, always. Something I had unfortunately ignored in the past. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to go with a gut feeling while traveling and I learned quickly that it’s pretty much always spot on. In hindsight, I wish I had been more in tune with my gut before, because I would’ve saved myself a lot of time and heartache. Sorry for not trusting you, gut.
Most of all, I’ve grasped that travel is about connection- with people, nature, your surroundings, and yourself. It’s made me appreciate the notion of a love connection even more now. Which, in turn, has made me not want to settle. Ever. I refuse to settle for something less than awe inspiring in life and love just to check off some boxes, fit in, and feel like I’m achieving life’s milestones.
I’ve seen people living in outrageously different conditions, I’ve observed things in the world that have altered my perspective. And guess what? Where you go to college, how much you spend on your wedding, what cut diamond your engagement ring is? It doesn’t really matter that much. Shocking, I know.
Do I want someone to share my travels, failures, triumphs, and witness a Thai sunrise with? Of course, but I don’t need it. I’m fulfilled knowing that I can do things myself. I can travel solo, hack it in life without a man to assist me. I may want that eventually again, but it’ll be on my own timeline, in my own way, and under my terms. I used to value myself based on a relationship, my status in where I was on the spectrum of moving forward in the norms. But, I’m writing my own unique story and actualizing other dreams. By pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, I’ve done things I never thought I’d do, accomplished so much more than I ever fantasized that I even could. I’ve stopped allowing myself to be consumed by the whole “clock is ticking” mentality. If it happens, it happens. In any case, I’m living a pretty badass life.
So, travel hasn’t changed me from ultimately wanting that be-all and end-all relationship. It’s changed me from thinking that it’s a necessity. It was a wake-up call. That perhaps other things should be figured out in life before that happens, and in turn will allow it to occur void of societal pressure. My inner eleven-year-old still may believe in true love, but I won’t settle for anything less than a love that sparks that feeling of genuine awe that I’ve experienced in my ventures. Those beautifully dumbfounding moments have made me set my standards higher. I know that I want something epic. So, when I look at someone the way I look at a world map? Well, I’ll know it’s real.
Either way, all I know is that I’ll never be living with 12 cats…I’ll be chillin’ with them in the wild.