Will I Ever ‘Settle Down’? Thoughts From a Traveler on This Curious Topic.

“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.”

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Me and my grandmother, Flo- short for Florence. She’s 60 years my senior and one of the coolest women I know.

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.’ 

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My recent trip to Firenze, Italy on the Ponte Vecchio at sunset.

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.

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Luckily, settling down doesn’t mean not traveling.  If it did, I wouldn’t ever do it!

 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.

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Flying over the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, December 2012.

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).

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I used to be much more socially ‘settled’- my former home in Dallas, Texas, back in 2005.

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My current home in NYC–  simple and cozy.

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.

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Riding a sidecar through Lisbon, Portugal’s narrow cobble-stoned streets.

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.

Carpe Diem.

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30 Responses to Will I Ever ‘Settle Down’? Thoughts From a Traveler on This Curious Topic.

  1. libs012 says:

    Adore this girl. Silly Grandmas 😉 Just kidding. But I agree, settling down and living life is all about what you want it to be. I know that you and I have a very similar perspective on how we want OUR lives to look, but I’m glad we can share a similar open mind when it comes to how others are looking at living their lives too. Life is what you want it to be. Happiness is a choice. Our choice. Your choice. My choice. His choice. Her choice. ❤ P.s. your 1 bedroom is not THAT tiny for Manhattan standards. ❤

    • Thanks, Libs. I appreciate you reading this and your support– and, I so admire the choices that you have made and how you are living your life full-out as well. Happiness is definitely a choice, you’re absolutely right!! And PS– you’re right, I’ve got a pretty nice pad. 😉 Tiny for Texas standards (no deck or rock/waterfall pool– what the heck?!) but just PERFECT for me and where I am and what I want in life. When I’m back in NYC let’s have a reunion! A

  2. Erin Williams says:

    This is beautiful Ashley – I feel like everyone’s parents, and grandparents, should read it :).

    • Thanks so much, Erin! I am glad that it hopefully shed some light on a curious topic. I appreciate you reading and certainly appreciate you taking the time to comment. Much love!

  3. Ellen Adams says:

    Ashley, what a wonderful article. You are living your life by design — YOUR DESIGN — and, God Bless Grandma, but times are different. It’s just that your sweet grandmother has a different perception of what constitutes success in life.

    • Of course, Ellen! And I love her so much for her words– the fact that she wants to get to know my (possible future) children means the world to me. I was happy to have the conversation with her and grateful that I have a 92 year old grandmother to share these conversations with. Thanks for your words! I am open to life and grateful for each day! xo

  4. Justin says:

    “My definition of living full-out means investing my time and my life into experiences.” The idea of settling down is a life experience and I think one can settle down and still live full-out. I don’t think settling down has to do with possessions, but with a different set of experiences. Those experiences aren’t for everyone. With all the amazing experiences possible in this world and the short amount of time we have in this world, we better choose carefully what experiences we want to have. I think a come what may approach is contrary to Carpe Diem and come what may runs the risk of missing out on the experiences we truely want to experience. The great thing about doing all the traveling and seeing the world and it’s cultures is that it helps us determine what it is that we want our life experiences to be. A family is not an experience everyone wants to have. I don’t have 92 Grandmother, but if I did, I’d ask her what were her most rewarding and gratifying experiences in her life. These are just thoughts after reading your post and are typed out on my phone. They’re not meant to in any negative way, just wanted to add to the conversation of thought.
    Gig’em,
    Justin

    • Justin, I really love your thoughts and feedback here. This especially resonated with me: “With all the amazing experiences possible in this world and the short amount of time we have in this world, we better choose carefully what experiences we want to have.” You are so right– it does all come down to our choices about the lives that we each want to lead– and to make sure that we’re thoughtful in those choices to create a life that really counts and has purpose for each of us.

      And, I think you’re totally right about travel, and how it can enrich our lives simply by opening us up to new and different experiences and ways of living. The more I’ve traveled, the better I’ve gotten to know myself and the more clearly I see what I want out of life.

      I think that’s awesome advice about speaking with my grandmother– and I’m pretty sure her answer will revolve around family. Relationships are experiences– to love is one of the greatest aspects… and in my opinion, probably our greatest purpose– in life.

      Thanks for sharing!
      A

  5. Well said! I’m one of your [ahem] older followers and many times see and hear a “younger me” in what you write, so stay the course and follow your heart right alongside your dreams. It’s okay if/when they are one and the same!

    • Thanks so much for this comment! I truly appreciate you sharing– as well as following my blog. Thanks for the wisdom/advice. Anytime I’ve truly followed my heart, it hasn’t led me astray! Carpe Diem.

  6. Kirsten says:

    A FREAKIN MEN!!!!!!

    I used to get questions about settling down with such frequency I thought I was developing an allergic reaction to them. I had a more decided answer, which was ‘never.’ And then I met Danté. And he was all the things I had been looking for IF I ever “settled down” again. Now, my version of living my best life means balancing a life with my love WITH my dream job in travel. Am I settling? Not at all, not if I achieve my dream of having both the things I want. I’m not settling for anything at all but I’m gaining more than I ever imagined I could.

    Keep at this blazing your own trail thing. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the best thing to do even if other people are disappointed. After all, you’re the one who has to sleep with your choices at night. Not them! XOXO

    • I am so happy for you, Kirsten. You are truly living the life that you have designed! I really love what I found about the definition of settling– that its meaning can be a good thing… especially the meaning of arranging life, or things, as desired. We can have any and all of what we have in life– and as you said, gain more than we ever thought was possible in love, experience, joy and purpose.

      I am proud of who you are and am grateful you’ve been brought into my life. Cheers to living full out, sister!

  7. Jessica B says:

    This was a phenomenal blog post. In this day and age, where it’s difficult to hang on to the expected societal normals of having a job, getting married without debt, the suburban home, raising the best kids, keeping up with the Jones … etc. etc., people really need to sit down and think about what is it that they really want out of life. Time doesn’t move backwards.

    Living for the experiences is a wonderful way to live and interact. Kudos to you!

    • Jessica, I love what you said here: “Time doesn’t move backwards.” You’re absolutely right. I think one of the biggest influences in the choices that I make is just the realization that we only have one life– and that it’s really, really short. I commend you for also taking the time to think about what you want out of life- thanks for sharing!

  8. Kirsten says:

    Also, THIS: “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. ~ Gilda Radner”

    Just make your life a GOOD story. Not one that has a “perfect ending.”

    • A-freaking-men to this! Yes, ma’am– I would say we’ve both created some pretty wonderful stories. And the beautiful thing is, there are so many more to create! Thanks for sharing this quote, Kirsten!

  9. You rock. That is all. Keep doing what you are doing — I have added you to the long roster of inspiring people I’ve met along the way who are living inspiring lives entirely of their own design.

  10. Eric Schwing says:

    Live the life you love, and love the life you live. Well written Ashely!

  11. theskysailor says:

    Reblogged this on IAMskysailing and commented:
    I can totally relate to this.

  12. Dear Ashley,

    Thank you for articulating what so many 21st century young people struggle to explain to their families and friends who still live by 20th century norms of “settling.” Those norms are not bad, but some in the older generations refuse to acknowledge that the unreliable economy coupled with increasing globalization begins to preclude traditional expectations of having two children and a house in the suburbs. Thankfully there are insightful writers like you who represent the spirit of our new generation– a generation that is astute (and courageous enough!) to forge paths down heretofore untrodden roads towards alternative means of self-fulfillment.

    Thanks for speaking on behalf of all of us so adroitly!

    Marisa

    • Hi Marisa,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful, meaningful comment. I appreciate you taking the time to read and also for sharing your sentiments! I feel honored to be one of the many voices of our generation who is hopefully creating some new perspectives and inspiring our generation and those to come to live life in the richest way possible. Like I am sure you also feel, I am extremely grateful to have been born into this “Millennial Gen Y” group– while some describe us as narcissistic and broke, we are bringing a fresh new approach to things in the way we view life, in what we want our contribution to be while on this planet and in how we see the world as a bigger whole. We have been referred to as “The Next Greatest Generation” and I believe it! Let’s lock arms and create some beautiful, positive change. nation.time.com/2013/05/09/millennials-the-next-greatest-generation/

  13. Great thoughts Ashley, it reminds me very much of my own conversations with my grandpa… he’s promised to stay alive for three more years, he tells me, so that I can “Find a damn girl to Marry already.” (:

  14. Sarah (VanSickle) McCoy says:

    Hey Ashley! Love this post! We get those questions often too! However, we have the 2 children and white picket fence (literally) in Canada. While our lives looked differently in China and Norway we are still on our own adventure!!

    • I love it, Sarah! We all are, that’s the beauty of it! I think it’s so awesome how you guys have had a less ‘conventional’ route and in the process, have had some truly incredible experiences! Thanks for sharing!

  15. haha, we get asked this all the time! Or we used to, now they’ve mostly given up! Mr Vagabond Baker turns 40 next year {jeez!} and we’ll be larking around South East Asia, for the second time. With nothing but a camper van to come home to, but we love our life. We may be poor but life is very rich. I shudder at the thought of properly settling down somewhere forever, arggh run for the hills!
    I’m very lucky that I have found someone to vagabond with, you really don’t have to follow the same life-route as the majority, there are other options. We are blessed that we come from a country that allows this freedom too.
    Great post!

    • Thanks so much for your comment and for checking out my blog! It definitely sounds like we can relate. Congrats on building the life of love and experience that you’ve chosen- it does sound like a rich life, and as long as you’re following your passions and pursuing your soul’s calling, that’s all that matters. I agree- we are abundantly grateful to live in this country that gives us the choices that we have to live the way we choose. Much love to a fellow traveler! x

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