My 26th year of life has been filled with reflection. Just ask my 23-year-old friends who’ve had to listen to my word vomit during my quarter-life crises (no, I’m not misspelling crisis, there have been multiple).
This past year has been all about accepting that I’m not where I thought I would be. And with that has come the pleasant discovery that I’m exactly where I want to be.
I really thought by 27 I would have my shit together. I thought I would feel like an adult. I thought I would have stuff. Grown-up stuff, I mean. Like a television and a cable subscription. Or maybe lawn furniture. A garage with tools and hoses and boxes of decorations to put in my house for each season of the year. A house, for that matter. I thought I would have a job with an office, and I would wear blazers, or a lab coat maybe, or something professional-looking. On my desk would be a framed picture of my husband, which I thought I’d have.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in my apartment alone, and I burst into laughter. The thing that set me off was the realization that I was a 26-going-on-27-year-old grown ass woman, and here I was on a Friday night laying on a mattress which was laying on the middle of the floor (no bed frame or box springs in sight), in my underwear (I have a swamp cooler, and for those of you who don’t know what that means because you’ve never lived in the desert, it means my apartment doesn’t have A/C and can get pretty toasty), watching Friends on my mom’s Netflix account, and drinking a glass of red wine from a bottle that my mom bought me. It struck me as hilarious.
If you had sent 17-year-old me a snapshot of that scene and said “This is you at 26,” I would have been horrified.
But that’s all it is. A snapshot. Maybe not the most flattering one, but there’s a million other snapshots of my life that would have made 17-year-old me shit her pants with excitement.
Me at 18, walking out of the subway station to find myself standing in front of Cologne Cathedral during my first few weeks of a year-long stay in Germany.
Me at 21, spending my 21st birthday not drinking, but instead hanging out with friends in Costa Rica, eating lasagna with black beans and rice on the side that my host family prepared for the occasion.
Me at 22, getting peed on by a tarantula in the Peruvian Amazon.
Me at 23, catching a marshrutka to Kazbegi in the Republic of Georgia to spend the weekend soaking in some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen and drinking homemade wine out of a 2-liter Fanta bottle with friends.
Me at 24, standing in the rubble of the Moore Oklahoma tornadoes, staring at a car wrapped around a tree trunk, thinking of how people had worked hard for years to build a life for themselves, and it was all flattened in minutes.
Me at 25, having the most intense, and possibly only, religious experience of my life, at a Nick Cave concert in Minneapolis.
Me at 25 again, riding in a bus between the cities of Armenia and Medellin, staring out the window, and realizing that no place had ever made me as happy as this magical place called Colombia.
Me at 26, making a Walmart run with a Roma woman so that I could buy 30 pairs of underwear for the shelter, and she could buy cigarettes, and listening to her tell me stories in Italian that involved loud peals of laughter and multiple signs of the cross.
So maybe I don’t own lawn furniture. But I have a passport that’s almost full. I have a suitcase that’s a bit banged up, but still has some life in it. And I have a fridge covered with pictures of friends I’ve met all over the world. The fridge isn’t actually mine, but the friends and the memories are.
Maybe I don’t have a house. But I’ve made homes everywhere from Bottrop, Germany to Lima, Peru to a tent city inside an out-of-business Sam’s Club in Louisville, Colorado.
And maybe I wear yoga pants to work sometimes and do my reports in a coffee shop not an office. But my work is more meaningful than anything I’d ever be doing in a cubicle.
And maybe I don’t have a husband. But maybe that’s because I don’t want one. Hard to believe, right? As a woman, I’ve been fed this line that I shouldn’t enjoy my independence, but rather just put up with it until I can reach the ultimate objective: marriage. I am not trying to bash marriage. Clearly, it’s a popular concept for a reason, and it makes a lot of people very happy. I just don’t think it would make me happy, and I’m glad I’m able to recognize that now, because divorce is very expensive. It sounds really glamorous to say that I’m just too much of an independent woman to be tied down to a man. Less glamorous, but more accurate, is that I’m too selfish. I don’t like being responsible to another person. I love the fact that if I were to hear of an opportunity to pack up and move to Russia for a bit, the decision to do it is completely up to me. I would be uprooting my own life and no one else’s. And let’s be honest, I can barely stay in the same place for more than a year, so how am I going to be with the same person for the rest of my life? But more important than all of that is the fact that I don’t need a “better half” to make me happy. A lifelong commitment of monogamy and cohabitation is not a prerequisite for me to feel complete. I’ve always been complete, despite society and nosy grandparents trying to tell me otherwise. I move. I explore. I have adventures. And I love it.
When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never said a nomad. But that’s just because no one ever told me how fucking cool it would be to be one.