I met a friend for dinner tonight, and it was a little bittersweet. The last time I saw her was 18 months ago. She was living in her mom’s basement, and her husband was unable to join her for another three months. All she wanted was to get her own house and have a baby.
Now, 18 months later? She has the husband. And the house. And the baby.
Me? Still doing school. My big life update is that I got terribly sick for three months, and now I’m getting better.
And while I was happy for my friend and her appearance of relative calm and contentment, it also left me feeling a little hollow. She knew what she wanted, and she got it. I don’t really know what I want, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it. That part was a little hollow; I guess in some ways, we paint in our minds what it looks like to be “grown up” and when that painting never materializes, it’s hard to feel like we’re making any progress or hitting any milestones.
But it also makes me think of, well, for lack of a better word, what it takes to satisfy people. I have multiple people in my “social circle” who are hitting those milestones of getting married, getting houses, having kids. In fact, this friend and I were recounting how many people in our class were hitting those milestones. Do I want to get married, have kids, get a house? Sure. Lots. But at the same time, I can’t say I really feel jealous of someone else’s life, because each one is doing it differently than I would.
Sometimes I feel frustrated and how simply contented other people appear to be. Don’t get me wrong; they still have health problems; car problems; money problems; broken or damaged relationships; bad days. It’s not like I think their lives are all sunshine and butterflies. But seeing their quintessential little families makes me realize how much that’s not enough for me. Not for lack of wanting that, but also for wanting more.
I thought I didn’t need a college degree. I thought I would lead a simple life, with simple needs, and a simple income and a simple lifestyle, and that I didn’t need to embrace what the world said was important. Tried that for a while. Found it deeply unsatisfying and frustrating. Got a two-year college degree, because I was going to lead a simple life, with simple needs, and a simple income, because I didn’t need to embrace what the world said was important.
Well, then I got a 4-year degree, because guess what? The job I got with the two-year degree wasn’t cutting it. (It was more than that — much more than that — but stick with the thematic story telling, here.) So much for simple. I went whole-hog for for the million-year degree I’m still grinding away at, with dread resolution that, unfortunately, I’m not a simple person with simple needs. I’m a complex person, with nearly insatiable curiosity that gets me in over my head all the time and a burning passion that tends to leave me burnt out and a resilient idealism that withstands the onslaughts of my cynicism.
I would say I “just” want a husband and children and home. But then you just watch. I would be like: Let’s get a dog!. . . Let’s train it to be a therapy dog! . . . Let’s go visit nursing homes! . . .Let’s go visit prisons!. . .wait, prisons? Can you even do that? How do you do that? I know nothing of prison culture. Crud, I’m in way over my head, AGAIN.
I don’t do halfsies. I do all in. I do multiple fires on multiple fronts. Sometimes, I feel like this isn’t true, because I’m an introvert, and when everyone else is off “doing things” I go take long walks by myself. This need for quiet and stillness fools me into thinking I’m the simple (not easy, just not complicated) person I want to be. But the truth is, I’m always antsy with the status quo. Always. I can barely sit still for 24 hours without thinking about what I’d like to change or do differently or improve.
I used to think everyone was like me, despite my family’s insistence I was crazy. Gradually, I’m starting to relent that I might be crazy and maybe most people aren’t like me. I still shirk at people applying grandiose words to me, like “charismatic” or “visionary” or “brilliant.” Don’t be dumb. At the very least, don’t flatter me under false pretenses. But I have a sneaking suspicion that maybe they aren’t false pretenses. Maybe they mean it. I consider it with the same kind of dread that I had when I realized maybe I had to go to graduate school.
I want it to stop being so complicated, darn it. I want things to be simple and to settle down, and for that to be Enough.
I was looking through house and home magazines and blogs the other day, and thinking incredulously, “who has time for this stuff? It’s like their full time job is just homemaking! Oh, wait. . .” It’s not that I have any problems with staying at home and making a home. I just realized in that moment that while doing full time “linen freshening” would amuse me terribly for about a week or two, I would rapidly get impatient. All fine and well, I’m sure, but probably I don’t have to dust or vacuum today or next week or possibly for a good deal longer, and I can go dabble and splash around in other things. Did you know that they make whole books devoted to crafts you can make for charitable causes? Isn’t that cool? Also, I need to get back into photography. If you road a train and camped, how much money would it cost to tour the US of A in a summer? You know, national park to national park? Or not national park. Also, I think my grandmother could really use some help, if only someone would volunteer.
Before you know it, my housemaking would be languishing, and you would just have to take to naming the dust bunnies and signing your name on the furniture tops, because frankly, that’s just too darn boring.
I don’t have anything at all against housemaking. I suspect at times I would pursue it with a terrible fury. I also don’t have anything against raising kids. On the contrary, it would be an honor and a pleasure. It’s just I think it would wind up looking like dirty placemats and a sink full of dishes while I took my kids off to to see something more interesting and exciting, like, oh, I don’t know, a rail-way being laid down. Or running a homemade ice-cream stand. Which is ludicrous. And I want to.
To be the crazy ones, the weird ones, the eccentric ones that everyone wishes a little to emulate but are unwilling to be that straight-up crazy. I will never really be the quintessential, photogenic, neat, little family that pretty knew what they wanted and go it.
The thing is, the fact that I can’t say I want a neat little package and that I’ll always be exploring for more, also makes me wonder if I’ll ever have anything resembling contentment. Maybe what I want is too lofty. Maybe there’s no one crazy enough to want to join me in my being crazy. Maybe I’m too demanding. Maybe it’s a sign of mental illness to be concurrently terrified of my desires to be eccentric and crazy going unfulfilled and simultaneously lamenting the fact that I’ll never be satisfied with a boring (tipping my bias) life.
I just wish I could have some kind of plan. At the very least, so it smarts less when I talk to friends and relatives who seem to have plans and who seem to be making jolly good progress on them. I’m sure they don’t think they’re looking down on me, but it makes one feel inferior, anyhow.