It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog (hi, by the way). It’s been another amazing year and life continues to be good to me – but lately I’ve been wondering what on earth you do if you feel like you’re somewhere inbetween in life, and I decided to write about it. It feels like the logical next part to the story of my blog.
It’s just that I feel a bit caught in the middle. A bit lost. I think it’s actually symptomatic of many of my other friends in their 30s – single and not – to have these moments of WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE, so I know I am not alone.
Last year, I set off on a four month solo travelling trip. I anticipated that this would be the whimsical journey of self discovery I had daydreamed about while I was unhappy in my 20s. I thought everything I still longed to find out about myself and what I wanted from life would make itself magically apparent when I had some time away from the mundanity of the daily grind. I thought I would come home fulfilled and ready to settle down and be a proper 30-something. It was all decided – I’d give myself this year to root back into London and during that time I would properly dedicate myself to dating so I could meet a nice, non-fuckwit man to drink coffee and read the Sunday papers with – and eventually settle and have babies with – and then I wouldn’t feel so left behind every time someone else got engaged or announced a pregnancy. I would work out exactly what my five year career plan was and I would do all of the things necessary to succeed in climbing the ladder. I would save enough money for a flat deposit and do the done thing of getting on the property ladder (why are there so many ladders?). It all seemed so clear and obvious to me when I set off that this is how the next 18 months of my life probably would pan out.
Ok, so part of this grand plan ended up happening – my trip was indeed a journey of self discovery.
And that’s about all of the above that has happened as I’d hoped. You see, the main thing I learned about myself on that trip was that I’m not sure I want any of the things I thought I wanted. More to the point, I don’t know what I want at all – or I rather I want everything and probably can’t have it all.
I had always admired my Grandma and Auntie Pauline’s sense of intrepid adventure and fierce independence. Little did I know this trip had awakened my own. I came back feeling overwhelmed with the possibilities of different ways to live my life and slightly resentful of my past for not enabling me to start this discovery sooner.
Those emotions have intensified significantly over the past 8 months and the time has come to admit – I really don’t know what to do with myself. I feel excited but totally baffled by the choice I have in front of me. Being a white middle class woman with a decent income and no trouble getting into employment, as well as having parents who have taught me to always follow my heart and live life according to its possibilities, I am acutely aware that I write from a place of extreme privilege and that not many are afforded this. Some parts of society have, for the most part, woken up to the fact that women are no longer expected to simply produce offspring but that we can have fulfilling careers, travel, have children AND do what the hell we bloody well want and I feel lucky to be able to take advantage of that.
While I was away the way I viewed my own life changed drastically the more I met people who just lived life differently. Men, women, of all ages and walks of life. Some like me were on career breaks or holidays and returning to their ‘normal’ lives. But for many, this was their normal life. Some of you might recall mine and Jenn’s meeting with Pedro from Mexico at a pizza restaurant in Ubud who had quite literally spent his 65 years on the planet finding creative ways to live in different places. He had seen so much of the world. He had loved and lost and parented and travelled. He had some questionable views about tomatoes originating from Mexico but other than that, he remains my hero and my conversation with him lit a bulb In my head that refuses to go out. It had never occurred to me until that point that I did not need to follow society’s deemed path for my life. It might not be that throwing on a backpack for four months at a time is a sustainable way of life but I have become so aware of the world that is available to me and when I think about the things I could do/I want to do I am thrown into a blind panic about running out of time to do it all.
Here’s an insight into my mind any given week:
- I love living in London so much that I cannot foreseeably see myself ever becoming rooted anywhere else – it feels like home more than any place ever has. These people are mine, this city is mine, and I’m not quite sure I could live without it for very long. I live in the most amazing flat with a wonderful flatmate in the BEST part of London (Tooting) and I am so content. It just feels right to be here and if someone told me I had to leave I would crumble. If you would like to read more about my love affair with London and why I ran back from my trip towards it with open arms, click here.
- There is nothing like the freedom of setting off out into the world on your own with a backpack on. There is no feeling like the emotions I experienced when motorbiking around Vietnamese mountains with my heart feeling like it could explode out of my chest with adrenaline and gratitude and joy. There is nothing that humbles and grounds you more than venturing off the beaten path and getting to know real locals and their life stories and realising that as humans we are all fundamentally the same in spirit. I couldn’t bear it if those four months were a one off. I am going to need that time again…. and again, and again.
- But backpacking all the time doesn’t feel sustainable and I know I craved routine and familiar ground after a while when I was gone. So – what if I went and lived and worked somewhere else? Other than London, the other place in the world that has my heart is New York City. I once said that my dream come true would be to go and live there and work for the UN, but it was only this year that I stopped dismissing it as a dream and realised it was obtainable. I’ve worked really hard over the last decade to build a career I love and it’s conceivable that I can continue to do this in a different country rather than hold myself back by taking intermittent mini gap years. I feel passionately about humanitarian issues and want to do my bit and use my skills to make a difference. But if I want to go and work in New York (and indeed at the UN) I need to be making big career leaps now and not putting that off. I have become comfortable in a job I truly love – but that doesn’t mean it’s the right job or organisation forever.
- Or what if I didn’t work in PR anymore? I recently read Kristin Newman’s book ‘What I was doing while you were breeding’ and it turned my whole life outlook entirely on it’s head. What if I went and rented an apartment in Buenos Aires and got a job in a backpacker bar and just dedicated three months to learning Spanish and the Tango? What is so inconceivable about that? Maybe I could do remote copywriting to tide me over. Maybe I could even keep my career ticking over and start contracting/consultancy and in my contract breaks that is exactly the kind of thing I could spend my time doing. Why not?
- I want to meet someone but there are reasons I haven’t. Firstly, when you have been badly hurt and spent a fair bit of time working out who you are again, it’s terrifying to imagine settling down properly and entrusting someone to be responsible for matters of your heart again. What if I put all my energy into making a home with someone again with the same hurtful consequences of having to pack a life into two and say goodbye to the other half? Secondly, I’ve become quite accustomed to being selfish and having fun on my terms. I like my life and have done well not to allow any room for a significant other in it. But of COURSE I actually want to meet someone. There’s a reason I often drunkenly cry at my friends “why doesn’t anyone love me”. I write this perched at a wooden tapas bar in Tooting Market drinking white rioja in a nice dress – happily alone but very noticeably surrounded by couples. It’d be nice to come here with a boyfriend. Some have suggested my stipulations might be getting in the way – age is irrelevant to me and so is wealth and status, but world view, interests and morals are non negotiable. I want it to be someone who looks at life the way I do. I want them to be ok with the fact I might need to go off and do my own thing every now and then – maybe for months at a time. I want them to love travel, to feel alive from seeing the world like I do, to love literature and politics and music festivals and really good food and dancing to Beyoncé – and to be passionate about equality, rights and humanitarian causes. I want them to tolerate that I am a person of contradiction (they’d only have to read this blog to know that) and not be embarrassed by my feminist rants, tendency to salsa dance in public, inclination to always having one too many tequila and refusal to go home at a reasonable time, ever. But also to be totally accepting of my moments of introversion and need for total silence and solitude. I want that person to really love life and want to seize it with me, because I spent 7 years with someone who did not love life and made me feel terribly guilty for doing so. I want to enjoy living in London alongside or with that person and then I want to travel the world in some capacity with that person. I don’t give a shit about marriage (though if someone really wanted to, I might) and no, I don’t bloody know if I want children but the thought of discovering I do want them and then not being able to terrifies me. So it would be nice if that person is willing to at least indulge the idea of maybe having children with me one day – but not be alarmed when I say I don’t want them until I’m in my late 30s or even early 40s (and no, I’m not naive enough to think this won’t be without its challenges – see point below). I should be dedicating more time to finding that person rather than just blundering through each year doing things that satisfy my soul selfishly, spending all my time and money with my friends, choosing to sit in the pub with colleagues on Wine Wednesday rather than go on another unfulfilling Tinder date and in all honesty not paying much attention to who else is around me. And every month I resolve that NEXT MONTH I will join Guardian Soulmates and dedicate my time to the pursuit of love. But somehow, it just doesn’t happen.
- When I hold my friends’ babies and smell their lovely soft powdery heads I feel a swelling in my heart and I get tears in my eyes like no other feeling. I think this is broodiness. I have been known to have extremely vivid dreams about being a Mum to a tiny little baby and then wake up the next day and ACTUALLY feel tearful at work all day because even though it was just a dream it felt real, it feels like I’ve had something natural and wonderful ripped away from me and I genuinely don’t know if I’ll ever have it. This tells me that perhaps I do want children, but I haven’t met the right person. But if I was to fall pregnant tomorrow, I can’t honestly tell you whether I’d go ahead with it because, as per above comments, I am not ready or willing for my life to change. Children are not on my immediate radar. I recently looked into egg freezing and this is something I am genuinely considering. I know it only gives you a slightly heightened chance of conceiving later in life and it’s expensive, but it feels like a small price to pay for having slightly less weight on my shoulders or around my heart when it comes to the unanswered black hole question of whether I will have children. Adoption is also not out of the question for me. I will report back on how I progress with this in a future blog.
- And sometimes, I remember how important it is to my wellbeing to have a place to call home. I have two lovely homes – my own in Tooting and my parents’ in Worcester. I do also look at my friends and families’ beautiful homes and lovely lives with their partners with admiration and envy and love, and imagine what it would be like to own my own place one day (I mean, this is largely unheard of for a single person in London but one can dream). I look at Scandi design boards on Pinterest and think about how I would decorate and think ‘maybe if I just grew up a bit I could afford real art to put on my walls’. I remember when I lived in my old house in Worcester I would spend an entire Sunday, every Sunday, cooking and cleaning and feel entirely content. And I would get so excited about buying new rugs and curtains and appliances – and somehow that life still appeals. I sometimes think if I just stopped going on holidays, if I hadn’t done an £8k trip last year, I could actually save up enough money to put a deposit on a home somewhere that isn’t London and I could make some of these things happen and enjoy a quieter, more grounded life.
So, what do you do if you feel like you want it all and at the same time have no idea what you really want?
Life coaching/therapy is the practical answer but with 33 looming in January, I feel acutely aware of the need to stop letting these ideas swim around my head and take ownership of them. I spend a lot of time worrying about which of the above I want to put my energy into and little time actually getting the wheels in motion. After my divorce I felt like I had become quite decisive and I made all sorts of wonderful things happen for myself. Now I don’t feel like I’m in that place at all. I told myself I’d let myself just ‘be’ this year but it turns out that doesn’t suit me – I have itchy feet and I feel like my life needs to change but I don’t know how. Most of my blogs have a conclusion but this one doesn’t – other than to reinforce the fact I don’t know what to do next. I meditate and I chant and I talk to certain people about my options until they make more sense – and I also accept that a lot of this is normal, and it’s okay not to feel like you’re on a steady path. I’ve got a two week solo trip to India booked in November during which I’m not expecting to have a radical moment of clarity but which may help me make some decisions. In the meantime, answers on a postcard?