Georges Clemenceau once said, ‘Everything I know, I learned after I was thirty’. I’m already beginning to see George’s point…after barely six weeks of being thirty…
Since turning thirty, I have been on a constant emotional roller-coaster…observing and experiencing highs and lows I’ve not encountered previously. Thirty has started with a many lessons…both good and bad…and the subject I’m currently majoring in? Love, of course.
A former employer once told me (in a meeting to warn me about my ‘attitude’) that if I’d had a bad trip into work, the whole office would know about it within five minutes of my arrival. Those words have stayed with me, for as much as I wanted to refute his argument, I really couldn’t.
Every emotion I ever have is aired for the whole world to see…it is a fact, I do wear my heart on my sleeve. I ‘tell it how it is’, I’m an ‘open book’, I ‘don’t beat around the bush’…some find this trait endearing, others find it abrasive (refer to previous note about attitude). I find it both hazardous and rewarding in equal measure, but it is something I have come to accept about myself over the years.
One symptom of this trait is that I fall in love quickly and I fall hard. I’ll be picking my bruised heart off the ground, brushing it off and swearing I will never go down that road again when somehow I find myself in the middle of it …all over again. I’ve often wondered if this means I am a helpless romantic…or worse, just blindly stupid when it comes to love.
What I have learned is that for all this falling in love, I only ever make it about 95% of the way there at best. There is always that last 5% (the clogged artery) that calculates all the different ways it will end, all the possible ways my heart will be injured and adds up all the reasons why it won’t work out. When I hit that 95% mark, the walls come up and my defenses are engaged. What I’ve regretfully discovered is I’m also capable of shameful and hurtful acts, all in the name of protecting my heart.
So what caused this clogged artery and will a change in diet and exercise regime see me return to full health?
There is a ‘rule’ amongst women that goes something like, ‘it takes half the time you were with someone to get over them once you break up’. My logical mind only wishes there was a mathematical equation to deal with these things and the toll it takes on us. If the rule were true, then I would have been a fully recovered and functional human being back in 2008, having done the three years of ‘time’ after my longest and most involved relationship to date.
The truth is I’m still dealing with the repercussions of that relationship…and the proceeding ones. Baggage is a nasty term we give to the reality that faces everyone…as we get older, we have more life experiences, many of which are gained through relationships. Good or bad, they make us who we are and shape the way we look at life and future relationships.
My baggage saw me flee my home land and I have since spent the better part of six years travelling the world, enjoying a freedom I’d longed for since I was a teenager. I have lately admitted to myself that the likely cause of my clogged artery is residual scarring from that first long term relationship. I gave myself over fully back then…100% and six years of my life. I was young, naive and at the time I thought I was going to get my happy ending.
It wasn’t a horrible relationship, there was no abuse, no infidelity, no major event to warrant the need for me to become a man hater (which I’m not, by the way), but none the less it has left me with baggage, complete with my own personal monograms. But what if all this baggage is weighing me down so much I can’t move forward?
A few weeks ago, someone (having only met me once before) made a comment that I seem ‘as tough as nails’. A younger version of myself would have found that a wonderful complement, but I must admit that my heart sank a little when I heard those words on this occasion. Sadly, it’s not the first time words of this sort have been used to describe me. Even those that have had 95% of my heart have sensed my inner ice maiden and said my heart needs ‘melting’ or that I need ‘softening up’.
I know I have become hard. I am aware that this is because I have allowed my baggage to accumulate over the years…to a point where it has become a fortress, stacked high around me on all sides. I am tough, I am cold, I don’t let people into that last 5% of my heart so I can stay safe and secure from the hurt.
It’s only in the last few weeks I’ve noticed just how lonely it is high up here in my castle of personally monogrammed baggage. Question now is, how do I start to tear down the fortress and allow people in?
This is by far the hardest lesson I have learned of late. One I am still processing and probably will be for quite some time. I personally don’t believe in finding ‘the one’ or a person that ‘completes me’, but I do believe others happen on it. People do find unconditional, all consuming, selfless love and lately I witnessed each end of the spectrum when they do.
I was home recently to see my sister’s union to my now brother-in-law and the marriage of some very special friends. Little did I know when I boarded the plane that just ten short days would change me so fundamentally. There are two instances from this time at home which have taught me more about love than I have acquired over the past thirty years. Two occasions which are now etched firmly into my memory and will reside with me until the end of my days.
The first was a great shock to me as I saw my aunt for the first time since the passing of her husband (and my uncle) nine months ago. I had been told by various family members that she had not been coping well with the loss and that she was grieving badly, but nothing prepared me for what I saw. My aunt and uncle were soul mates before he passed…married for almost thirty years and spending every single day of that time together. Despite a significant age difference between them, everyone who met them could tell in an instant they were meant for each other.
Since my aunt has lost her soul mate, she has lost a large part of herself. I was reduced to tears on seeing the shell of a woman she has become without the man she tied her life and heart to. I don’t know who that woman is now, she is a stranger…so physically, mentally and emotionally altered that she is unrecognisable. The woman who I shared my deepest thoughts with, grew up aspiring to be and adored for all her warmth and compassion no longer exists. She is unable to smile, sleep, carry on a normal conversation or concentrate on a task for more than a few minutes…she is dying of a broken heart. Her loss is so great it is consuming her existence…all because she found love and she had her happy ending…
On the flip side of the coin, I observed the most joyful and heart warming sight a big sister can ever hope to see. I watched on as my younger sister, and best friend committed herself to a life with the man she admires, respects and adores most in this world. That in itself was moving enough…but the moment that I now treasure most about that day was seeing my brother-in-law’s face at the moment he set eyes on my sister. While everyone watched her, I saw the uninhibited happiness and love he has for her physically overwhelm him. His tears and the pure joy he showed in that moment filled me with certainty that my sister has someone who will walk beside her the rest of her life.
Seeing both these extremes in one day leaves me with both hope and despair about love. Even if I can manage to somehow give over that last 5% of my heart to someone…if there is someone out there I can love like that…is it worth it? Would it simply be easier for me to stay in my castle of baggage where I am alone, but safely ignorant to the elation and grief that kind of love can cause?
Lesson No.5: ‘Single is a dollar, but do I need change?’
In the seven months since my last visit home, one thing has become abundantly clear…as a thirty year old single woman, I am very much in the minority among my Australian friends now. I can count my fellow single’s club members on one hand and those that aren’t married and/or have children are for the most part planning nuptials and offspring in the coming year or so.
Here in Japan I am surrounded by other foreigners who are travellers like me…mostly single, without children and generally a good few years younger than me. The bubble I live in here allows me to forget my age and the social expectations that come with the number…it was only when I left the bubble I was made aware of just how different my lifestyle choices are to my friends back home. The gap is widening as I get older and it’s getting harder to ignore.
Nothing says ‘you’re thirty now’ like being checked out by a cute guy at the shops…then watching in shock as a toddler runs up to him screaming ‘Daddy, Daddy!’. Outside of this bubble I live in, ‘potentials’ have baggage of a whole other kind now…luggage tags stating ‘divorced’, ‘separated’, ‘kids’ and the like. How and when did this happen?!
Over the last few years as I have inched closer to turning thirty, I have heard all the warnings that I would tire of the life I have made for myself. I was told ‘my biological clock would start ticking’ and that I would ‘want to settle down and get married’. I think someone left out that part when I was made because I haven’t ever really felt the urge to get married and I can tell you that right now, kids are not even a blip on my radar. I wouldn’t trade the last six years of my life for anything…I chose this life of travel and I have loved every minute of it. But truth be told, it has come at a cost.
The price of this path is that love for me has had an expiry date. Even as I’m falling in love, that clogged artery of mine has a purpose…it’s my reality check, the safety device, the earthing wire that serves as a reminder that love can’t last for me. I move amongst people who are transient. They will be in my life for a day, a month, maybe a year if I am lucky. I have been without a fixed home for six years. I am transient.
With this in mind, I’ve predominantly been on my own for the last six years. I’ve been spinning on this merry go round, constantly moving it’s finally starting to take it’s toll. I’m exhausted…maybe I need change?
Lesson No.6: ‘Home truths…I might be ready to click my heels three times’
Each of the last three times I have been home, it has become increasingly harder to leave. I may not have aspirations in the near future to get married or have children, but I am ready for some stability in my life. This is the most significant lesson I have learned since turning thirty. This transient life and carrying around all this baggage has worn me down.
I’ve been lost since the earthquake here in March…floating without a purpose and not really knowing what I wanted in life beyond Japan. This last trip home afforded me some clarity and I now know that I will be going home to Australia when my adventure here is over. I have returned to Japan from this trip with a purpose, a focus and very specific goals in mind. When I have achieved what I want here in Japan, I will be ready to click my heels three times and say those magic words…
I want off of this merry go round, I want to feel stability, I want to ditch this baggage and I want to work on clearing that clogged artery once and for all…I want The ‘L’ Word in my life.