"So don't you want to settle down somewhere?" my father looks at me expectantly. I do note that his emphasis is on 'somewhere' not 'with someone' but still, I can feel irritation rise and also disbelief. Why are we having this conversation now? "No, don't. I like not living somewhere!," my voice is rising and I almost want to stomp my foot. What makes matters worse is that I don't know if I am lying.
Sooner or later every full-time traveler, every digital nomad gets to hear this question. It is definitely on the con-list of the 'pros and cons of the digital nomad lifestyle'-list. And as per usual it seems one of those remarks mostly women get to hear. Some eventually
cave under the pressure happily settle down and then they can rub it in anyone's face who was asking that silly question - See I can have it all, all in good time! Or they join the club of those who ask only to be worse because they can add a smug anecdote on how they loved the digital nomad lifestyle but eventually realized that something was missing and how they miraculously found it when they settled down. Usually, there is either a guy involved or a pet. Sometimes having a bar where everybody knows your name seems to do the trick.
No, I am being unfair. I actually don't know anyone like that or at least they are not smug about it. Situations change, people change. For good or bad, that's something I truly believe in. And sometimes there is no other good explanation for it than the shrug of a shoulder or a little voice inside your head. Usually, there isn't a great epiphany as movies like to make us believe, it is just a gut feeling and once you follow it things unravel and if you pay attention they lead to change.
But I digress. When I left home for the first time when I was 20 and my parents weren't happy about me choosing New York City of all places for my first solo trip. What is the culmination of years of traveling for so many was going to be my starting point? Yes, indeed. It's not even on purpose that I don't like doing things by the book. I just put my head (or gut in this case) to something and like to get my way, sometimes to a fault. And of course, it wasn't just a little New York holiday and the itch would be scratched, oh no - I had to go and study there before starting my career in the place of careers. It even turned out that my time in New York was just the beginning when it came to unusual decisions and to full time travel.
With that said, I thought my parents would be used to it by now. I don't get questions about:
- Children because I have made it abundantly clear that I don't want any.
- Retirement funds because - let's just not talk about that one!
- Whether I am still dreaming of a Prince Charming named Lee. In case you really want to know - I don't. I used to name my Ken after Lee's character from Scarecrow and Mrs. King but I kinda grew out of the name and the concept of Prince Charming. I'd do with a nice guy though who will make me laugh and watch Masterchef with me.
It took them a few years but they are cool and let me go my merry digital nomad way that they cannot necessarily comprehend but still accept. So it baffled me that I got this question about settling down now and not 20 years ago.
And then it made me think. Not the timing but the question itself and I got scared by the answers I could come up with. What if my very loud NO (including the foot stomping) was actually a timid 'maybe' or a 'no, but'? Let's just say I'd be in trouble.
I don't think that settling down is exclusively about meeting a significant other and as much about meeting a significant other place. Sometimes one of the two is enough, sometimes they align. But either way, it needs to be love of some sort (or at least a really great infatuation if you are that spur of a moment kind of person and have a deposit to blow on a relationship you don't know is going to work).
At least with a place, I have tried this settling down business before, not once, not twice but a few times.
I was so very head over heels in love, I was a walking cliche both when I moved to New York and when I moved to Cape Town. It didn't end very well.
You could rightfully say that it was a long time ago and quote me with my 'situations and people change', but the memories still feel vivid and sad. Leaving New York and eventually leaving Cape Town was incredibly hard and while I knew it was the right thing to do it felt like a bad break up each time. And we all know how well I deal with these...
Right now I am scared, well, maybe not quite but I am weary. I need to protect my heart, take it easy and take cautious baby steps, regardless of my age (thanks for the reminder, dad!) or maybe because of. Not only when it comes to men.
Because once I became a traveler I learned that places can break your heart just as surely as another person. Sometimes the heartbreak seems to linger even longer.
That makes settling down not just an issue of picking a nice city with rent-controlled apartments and a good choice of organic supermarkets, it makes it a case of Russian relationship roulette.
I don't dare to play right now, I take my comfort and my strength from the unattachment of traveling, from flirting with the globe so to speak. Right now my answer has to be NO. The little voice, the gut will tell me when 'maybe' becomes an option, when a place once again gives me butterflies and has a really good organic supermarket. Until then I wonder - should I print some non-breakable 'The Girl Who Travels' mugs?