Approximately 4 years ago, I was sitting at a dinner table with mostly strangers- people from all over the world bonded by the marriage of a son and daughter. I struck up a conversation with an older man who, for some reason, just seemed to get me. It was as if he understood me more deeply in those ten minutes of conversation than the man who I’d came with did after almost a year of dating. And in those moments, I recall looking across the table at said man and thinking, “this isn’t where I belong.” But it wasn’t just about my man of the moment. It was about the life he wanted to have: kids, house, 9-5 job. Traditionally Midwestern. And all it took was, after a conversation about career and travel, this older man leaning over to me and saying five words: “You can have it all.”
Don’t settle, you can have it all. Those words replayed and replayed in my head, and I realized, that yes, I did want more, I want it all. For a time, those words were helpful. And then, they started to become damaging.
I do want it all. I want it all so badly that sometimes I can feel the longing in the pit of my stomach, it tightens my chest, makes it hard to breathe. I’ve never wanted something so much that it actually hurts not to have it (I take that back- I was about 12 and Justin Timberlake was the love of my life, he just needed to meet me, damn it!). Anyway, it just so happens that my “all” is a little complicated. My all isn’t about working full time while being a Mom and wife and neighbor and volunteer. My all involves having a stable career, relationship, and getting up and moving to a random place in the world whenever I want.
For most of my life, I thought that what I wanted more than anything was to spend my life as a wanderer. Nothing incites my passion and gives me a thrill like that of getting lost in an unfamiliar country. I have fallen in love with more places than men. I have even fallen in love with the idea of travel. And so, I did things that fed that desire. I’ve studied abroad, took solo trips, pushed myself past my comfort level and traveled. But it’s never enough. People who love to travel probably understand this feeling all too well. You go to the next new place believing that it will satisfy your wanderlust, but it just ends up making your hunger even stronger and you need even more.
So when I dated or looked for a job, one nagging thought held me back from committing: If you choose this, you let go of that. If you choose him, you can’t move to Europe. If you work there, you can’t work in New Zealand. But, if you choose New Zealand, you can’t be with him. Or if you move to Europe, you can’t see your close friends, you can’t spend Christmases with your family. Whenever you choose one thing, you also make the choice to let go of something else. And so in an effort to have it all, I ended up not really choosing anything at all. It felt safer to be non-committal all around- if I didn’t choose, I wouldn’t miss out on the other thing I didn’t choose. But of course, when you don’t choose anything, you miss out on everything.
I’m still negotiating/compromising all my desires for life. Sometimes I still get caught up in the temper tantrum of a two year old, internally screaming- “but I want it!” But I’ve also realized that perhaps there is a different way of “having it all.” That it doesn’t have to mean all the external things I thought it meant. When I go to that deeper place I realize that what I really want is to be loved, belong and feel understood, while also wanting new experiences, to feel alive, and be free. When I turn my attention to what all those external wants are asking for, I realize that they can be fed in all sorts of ways and that there is a way to “have it all” without sacrificing one for the other. There is no reason I can’t feel stable and secure and free and alive at the same time.
That isn’t to say that my wanderlust will ever fade. Nor will my desire for a relationship. It took me 29 years to realize that perhaps those two things can go together and it’s perfectly acceptable to seek out a man who shares the same dreams. So now, whenever I think about moving to Europe, and then start to get really sad about not being there, I look over at the man who shares my dreams, realize that it would mean leaving this stable, loving relationship, and remind myself that he has no desire to trap me. In fact, he’d be thrilled if I suggest that we start looking at plane tickets to France. And maybe one day, he’ll get down on one knee and ask the question I’ve always wanted to hear: “Do you want to move overseas with me?”
…Or maybe we’ll make the choice together because we’re in a loving, mutually respectful relationship. But damn, that’d be romantic.