I had my high school reunion this year.
I joked with my friends that I had the urge to yell as I walked in, “everyone that isn’t married, with a partner, that has children or a job to go to tomorrow, and basically has failed at the checklist we’re all about to talk about, please join me in the corner bar where we can avoid talking to anyone and just sit and knock back tequila shots without abandon or consequence until 3am.”
Ok so I didn’t do that, although I may have wanted to.
Instead I mingled.
I caught up with old friends I hadn’t seen in years. And (don’t tell the part of myself that wanted to knock back tequila shots by myself in the corner) I may have had an enjoyable time, choosing instead to have a drink or two and catching up with my old classmates.
But that being said, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit self conscious around a collection of friends and their approaching ten year wedding anniversaries, coming off a shitty breakup, and a foray into the world of app dating. Or situations when a good friend without any awareness, when I detailed another hilarious but depressing date said at one point to me, “I can’t imagginneee having to try and date in my thirties.” She said this as she snuggled her husband and baby, unaware at the further widening the gap that I’ve felt at times, in a world that wants to divide everything with have and have not.
On top of that, I was coming into the reunion fresh off a business blowing into smithereens, losing friends that I thought I could be vulnerable with, but who I instead felt slathered by their judgement, the experience of knowing what I would do if I had only $20 left to my name (buy a gourmet burrito), and no million dollar Vancouver home to speak of.
And for the record, when I saw most of these people at the last reunion a decade prior I had seemed to be on some kind of a track to somewhere (we’ll just ignore the fact that I was desperately unhappy back then).
Basically if the “success script” we all have shoved down our throats in Western society had given me a number, I would have been solidly at around a minus 3. Essentially I felt like I was 17 again, and in front of everyone I stood naked, holding up my bombed final exam.
Around the same time, a good friend of mine that I had met in Norway years ago that was from New Zealand and I had played pro soccer with, and now was living her dream as a surfer in Australia, came through town.
I verbalized to her what I was feeling for a few months at that time before Christmas, which I think I encapsulated well in one sentence:
“Hannah, I can’t help but look around me and think what the fuck have I done with my life.”
To which she responded eloquently after listening to me stumble over my words for a few minutes:
“I don’t know who the fuck this person is, but please tell Ciara McCormack that I miss her and would like her to come back.”
To which I responded,
“Hannah, I think I am drowning in suburbia.”.
And don’t get me wrong, suburbia is a lovely place filled with many of my good friends and favourite people, but when you’re not on the scripted path, it’s a place that makes you painfully aware of the sometimes lonely, unconventional path you are on.
Which brings me to my next story paddleboarding in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a good friend yesterday as we caught up about all things life.
She had broken off her engagement while I was away.
And as we caught up on the details she told me that after a fairy tale ten days that led up to the engagement and the beautiful ring and all the things that as women we are told that we are supposed to wait our whole lives for and celebrate when it happens, as it happened and the plans were unfolding, she realized it just wasn’t what she wanted.
We likened it to our mutual sporting careers (she had played pro in another sport), of this idea of lets say making a national team or playing pro and being told your entire life that it was what you should be shooting for, and thinking in your head that getting there would be a magical destination and then the confusion and disappointment realizing that it actually wasn’t anything like you thought it would be or what you wanted, which had happened to both of us.
She spoke about the confusion of reaching what was supposed to be the peak of the script but it actually didn’t resonate with what made her happy and how scary it was to walk away from that.
I’ve spent the last few years sometimes waking up panicked in the middle of the night freaking out about not being on the script. It will be 3am, I will be wide awake in a silent, dark house and I will sit and do a tally of my life and compare it to the checklist of where someone my age should be or mentally scroll down all the perfect family pictures on my Facebook Newsfeed. And I just have this feeling that I am just floating into a sea of nothingness that is going to lead me to be a lonely old person.
I had a split second of that this morning, but I thought about this book Untethered Soul that I just finished reading a couple of weeks ago. The main premise of it is that essentially who we are, resides quietly in each of us. Outside of it is the ego that manifests in the voices in our head, it’s the intense feelings that we feel when something happens to us, it’s the judgment, all the things that makes us process and struggle through life in a negative capacity.
I loved this book because it untangled the feelings from what actually is. The idea that it is our ego that we attach meaning or feeling that adds color to something that just is.
I was lying in bed this morning thinking about this in regards to “the checklist” or “the script”. In reality, a house is just a place to have shelter from the elements, a job is just a means of an income to allow you to pay for things you want, a car a manner to get from A to B, a relationship is just a person to share your life with.
But to this, our society adds all of this meaning to it. A job as a garbage man is not held to the same esteem as a job of a doctor, both in pay and in status. A straw hut and a mansion are given different meaning and worth in our society. A 14 year old hand me down van and a 2018 lamborgini given a set of parameters and worth measurements by those who drive them, that can result in an elevated sense of worth or intense shame.
But in reality they all just are.
Our society gives these things worth and status and measurements, but in reality they really are just facts, they are just things that really mean nothing. Yet we put so much energy into having them, into shameful feelings if we have different versions of them, and these feelings are magnified by industries that make millions off of our negative shameful messages about what they symbolize or mean about us.
I think that is what I valued the most about my time in Thailand and why I feel drawn to go back there to check in regularly that Western city life is all just constructed but isn’t real.
I loved seeing Bitcoin millionaires hanging out with backpackers, 55 year olds having a chat at the bar with a 20 somethings. People that had been in a life of crime, hanging out with people that never would have even littered. Everyone driving a shitty scooter to get from point A to point B, and retiring in the evening to a simple room. Single people hanging with couples with children. Commonalities in a desire to exercise to become a better version of themselves being the driving common denominator, and finding a sense of community that can feel so foreign in a big city.
It was there that it was so clear of how fabricated the silos of our society are.
Finally as a woman going through your 30’s, through talking to your friends you become an expert in all things fertility.
And you see the pain and the struggle that so many go through to have children.
You also see the messages that society gives women that really makes it a no-win situation.
These messages include, if you are a mother, you need to be all things to all people, have a successful career, while puree-ing organic food, doing regular HIIT workouts, breastfeed until the child is 2, and strive for perfection in all areas otherwise you have failed.
If you aren’t a mother, you are selfish, or you have missed out if you have chosen not to have children or it hasn’t happened to you, or if you are trying and can’t, there is something wrong with you and you haven’t done something right. There’s shame, there’s divisiveness, and its a subject that is so painfully sensitive and where so much vulnerability for all women lie as society as tied so much of our worth into our fertility and child bearing and rearing.
I had a good friend that struggled with his wife for years to have a baby and told me how painful it was for him and his wife, not just because they wanted it so badly and couldn’t but how they felt that they were getting isolated from their friends who were. The very next day, ironically, I ran into one of the said group of friends who had 3 kids and confirmed my friend’s feelings that they had stopped inviting the first friend and his wife to events because they didn’t have kids and they knew they were struggling with it, and didn’t want to make it worse by “having so many kids in their face.”
I’ve watched friends marry guys and have babies with men that they said they didn’t love prior to the wedding, but were on a timeline that they felt they had to hit, and others that have so much energy and fear towards not having children that it consumes every aspect of their lives. I have walked a fine line myself on my own journey that at one point I had to sit and unravel the feelings of anxiousness and fear around the subject to realize that it had to do with the idea that if it didn’t happen for me I would be alone and lonely and regretful. I slowly talked myself off the bridge I was creating for myself by realizing that there will always be children in the world to love and if its not supposed to happen, I will be ok, just as I have always been.
I read a really awesome blog about a friend of a friend that has hit the success points in every aspect of life, but has struggled with fertility and the pain she has experienced around that, especially on Mother’s Day. It’s worth a read.
Check it out here
At the end of all of it, there are a few take aways that I have that have given me peace as I navigate through a life that at times feels so far off script:
- Focus on the gratitude for what you do have.
- Remember that no matter what happens to us in this world we all came in the same way, alone with nothing, and we are all departing the same way.
- Be kind to everyone around you, we are all struggling in some way shape or form with something.
- Get out of your bubble every now and then to remind yourself that we are all living in our self-created bubbles. Everything just is. Its us as humans that put the meaning behind everything.
- It is so important to check in daily, meditate and ask the universe, God, whoever your higher power is to guide you towards your most authentic life. To what you are meant to be doing. To be open and allow yourself to be perhaps guided to an area that maybe isn’t what you had thought your life would look like, but be open to put yourself out there and try.
And if your life has gone completely sideways, you can always be forgiven if you choose to go to a bar and down tequila until 3am. Give me a shout, I would likely be more than happy to join you.