“So kid, when are you finally going to settle down?,” my nearly 92 year old grandmother asks me today at our family reunion in Wausau, Wisconsin.
She puts her thin, wrinkled but ever-elegant hand on my shoulder, staring intently into my eyes with her crystal blues.
“I want to meet your children before I die, you know.”
We sit for a few long seconds.
“Grandma, I know you do. I also want you to. It just….. well, it just hasn’t happened yet. And it’s going to take a heck of a lot to capture my attention, you know that. I’m really happy in my life and in what I’m creating right now.”
She doesn’t look amused.
“Listen,” I say playfully. “You’re going to live until you’re at least 100, so that means I’ve got 8 years …. deal?”
She scoffs under her breath, and with a slight one-sided grin, replies in her Wisconsin-turned-Texas accent, “yeah right.”
Perhaps the scoffing is a result of my sweet (and rather sassy) grandmother not thinking she’ll be around to make it on the Smuckers jar for the Today Show’s Centurion Club. Or, maybe she doubts that I’ll actually be ‘settled down’ in the coming 8 years.
Either way, our heart-to-heart inspired me to give some thought today about the phrase ‘settling down’ and to explore what it even means, especially for a traveler like myself who has sometimes been referred to as a vagabond or a nomad….terms defined as ‘one who has ‘no settled home’ or a ‘wanderer.’
There is fear around this phrase for many, and while typically the male species tends to have more of a knee-jerk reaction when asked about settling down—when, how, with whom, where, etc. etc. etc. … I know there are many females (myself clearly included) who are confronting this societal question on a regular basis, both in conversations with others and frequently in our own minds.
The true definition of settling down, versus the one based on societal norms, centers around meanings like, but not limited to:
– To put into order; arrange or fix definitely as desired (emphasis mine)
– To restore calmness or comfort to (I like the sound of this!)
– To come to rest
The Urban Dictionary, on the other hand, defines ‘settling down’ in a much less desirable light:
“It means to get married or commit to a monogamous relationship; probably the two most indicative words for the situation itself, born of a word that can mean “to move downward; sink, or descend,” “to subdue,” and “to conclude,” and a word that means the “opposite of up.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to sink, descend, be subdued or be going in a downward direction. No, thank you.
Traditionally, travelers like myself get a twitch in their right eye when asked this question because it oftentimes means (or is perceived to mean):
– When are you going to stop traveling, find someone to marry….. and, for females, start popping out babies?
– When will you start trading in trips to Morocco, Thailand and Bhutan for family vacations to Disneyworld?
– When will you get a real job? (Whatever that really means in this day and age)
– When will you swap your nomadic suitcase-trekking lifestyle or your downtown city apartment for a house in the ‘burbs on a cul-de-sac?
Of course, all of the above mentioned are totally fine! If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that most things cannot be defined by a measurement of good versus bad or right versus wrong. Things are as they are, and we each live our lives based upon the choices we make. I know many people who live in a house in the ‘burbs, who have popped out several babies before the age of 30, who have a 9-5 that they don’t love but don’t hate …. and, who are completely happy and content in their lives. And, I think that is wonderful for them.
On the flip side, I live in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. There is a gay strip club on the corner of my block called Rawhide with black leather curtains at the entrance. I carry my North Face backpack around instead of a child at this point in my life, and I’m away from my apartment more than I’m home. I don’t have a dream home decorated like a Pottery Barn show room. Instead, my home is filled with furniture from IKEA and Craigs List and furnished with a wall-sized map of the world (also from IKEA, naturally).
I am living out the life that I have designed, so in my mind, I am settled—I have, as the above definition describes, arranged my life as desired.
For me, this means seeing as much of this beautiful world that we live in while we have such a short time on this earth. It means investing into relationships and being the best friend, sister, daughter and aunt that I can be. It means taking every opportunity in life that I have to explore or try something new. My definition of living full-out means investing my time and my life into experiences instead of possessions and having an attitude of curiosity and wonder in how I approach each day.
So this leaves the ever-obvious, lingering question about settling down that my grandmother, and countless others, continually ask me…. “Will I settle down?”
That answer (without re-hashing what I just covered) is … we’ll see what life holds.
I am continually learning to open my hands and not clench so tightly to ideas of what my life will, or should, become. Instead of focusing on imaginary, social timelines, I am doing my best to just focus on living.
As I challenge myself to push back on certain societal norms and to live out my own personal journey, I urge you to do the same– with whatever that means, for you. This isn’t an issue of having – or not having — a white picket fence and 2.5 children. It’s about embracing your own life path and making choices that support a deep sense of purpose. When you do that, no matter what your life looks like externally, you will be living out your own personal calling, and nothing can be more fulfilling.