on love and wanderlust

Spring on Wisconsin bike paths
Spring on Wisconsin bike paths

Wanderlust defined is “a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.” But if you have it, you know that simple definition doesn’t even begin to describe what you’re experiencing.

I recently started guest blogging for Appalachian Trials, a blog created by a fellow Badger (GO BADGERS!) and recent AT thru-hiker in efforts to build the hiker community and keep people connected to the trail long after they reach Katahdin. It’s been incredibly helpful in my mental preparation, and ridiculously inspiring to jump freely into other hiker dreams, goals and motivations, failures, heartbreaks and dilemmas. You begin to look at the other bloggers as friends, because even though you’ve never met, you’re all walking toward the same mountain, independently together, and you start to wish they didn’t have a 100-mile head start so you could meet them on the trail somewhere to share a beer or a hug, or both.

Which is how I met Kat. At least we’ll call her Kat today. Kat discovered my blog through one of my posts on Appalachian Trials, and reached out to me in her quest to find more like-minded women, and because she was “craving a human connection with somebody else who understands that life and time are finite, and that right now is the time to live the Rest of Your Life.”

Writing has always been a very, very private activity for me. The courage to share my thoughts with the internet world came from a need to understand myself. I felt different. I felt off. I felt weird, wrong, strange, for not wanting the same things everyone else seemed to want and appeared to have. Is it just me? Are there more people like me? Am I crazy? Why don’t I want my secure career, this steady income, any of those potential family makers? Seriously, what is wrong with me?

Turns out, I’m not weird, crazy, wrong, or strange…okay, at the very least, I am not wrong. And neither is Kat.

Spring on Wisconsin bike paths
Spring on Wisconsin bike paths

Kat’s urge to get out there and see the world is so overwhelmingly crippling, she can actually see herself drowning on dry land. Her hyperawareness and uncertainty of the longevity of life and health and has produced zero desire to live the “normal” life; she doesn’t fit that mold and she can’t pretend. She’s completely prepared to abandon everything and live out of a backpack for the rest of her life. She’s building spreadsheets and making plans, figuring out how to arrange all of her belongings in her car so she still has room to sleep in it.

But (of course there is a but), she has a husband. One whom she loves and who completely loves her. And he’s done nothing wrong, except worship the ground she walks on with a strong desire to share his life with her, just live a little more mainstream. He dreams of coming home to spend quality time with his wife, not an empty house, while said wife is off climbing mountains and crushing trails. So she spends her days dreaming about trips she won’t take and planning things she won’t do.

“Some would say this is the compromise and the sacrifice of marriage. I feel like it’s slightly torturous.”

Kat can’t help but feel absolutely insane because she has a loving husband who wants to be with her and all she can do is fantasize endlessly about ditching him for another epic hike, or to journey across the world, never to return.

What could I say? How could I help? I meeeeean, I am in absolutely no position to advise her to leave her husband, grab the world by the horns, and live out her dreams.

But…I can’t tell her not to, either.

*******

We had been dating for three years, since the summer of my freshman year. Long distance, different colleges, summers together, strangely worked extremely well for both of us. We were good. Our weird levels were equivalent. For a creative writing class, I once pieced together a series of our nonsensical email correspondence that still reminds me of how awesomely well we flowed. It was probably the most real, pure, honest relationship I have ever had, might ever have. We got each other. And we loved each other. So much so, that we knew it would never work in the end, even back then. He wanted a quiet life and a family. I wanted adventure and wings. We broke up. Not because we didn’t love each other, but because we did. He would hold me back, and I could never give him the life he wanted. It was sad. It was a heartbreaking reality. We just sat there all night holding each other and crying, knowing when we let go, it was the end of something beautiful and good.

I’m not trying to compare my college relationship to marriage, but at the same time, I’m totally comparing my college relationship to marriage. Marriage doesn’t define love. People define love.

Spring on Wisconsin bike paths
Spring on Wisconsin bike paths

*******

I should be flattered, but instead I feel like I have this huge burden on my shoulders. I know I’m ready for alone time, but how much? And is it horrible that I would be fine not having a long-term committed relationship and would be fine just being with whoever happened to be around at the time? There are so many people in this world, why not enjoy as many of them as you can?

Kat’s time on the Appalachian Trail helped her realize it’s very possible to find someone who not only wants to wander as much as she does, but understands that need to wander.

I tried to keep this all inside, and it keeps busting out, and the frequency is increasing. The core of me just wants to leave my husband and hit the trails, but I guess my heart doesn’t want to hurt him. It all sounds so stupid when I say it (or write it), like I’m choosing his happiness over mine. Right now I feel like all I’m doing with my life is trying to be a good wife, patiently waiting until her husband retires so she can actually live the life she wants. And that’s 14 YEARS AWAY. That means if I do wait until he retires, I’ll have spent almost a third of my life just waiting to have a life. That sounds so horrible.

*******

Two of my friends were together for almost fifteen years. Lived together, never married, no kids. Life happened, they eventually found themselves on different roads, headed to different places. Though they never married, that does not diminish the pain and loss involved in the breakup. It all hurts the same. Love is love.

Two more friends have been together for almost fifteen years. Live together, not married, two kids. Life happened, they’re still bushwhacking their way through the chaos together. Though they aren’t married, that does not diminish the love and commitment they have for each other or their children. Their happiness doesn’t mean less because they file their taxes separately. Love is love.

A few nights ago, a friend and I were discussing the outdatedness of marriage as an institution. Please know, I’m not challenging your decision to get married (or to not get married), I’m questioning mine. I totally understand there are religious and moral and financial and countless other reasons people legally bind themselves together, but if those things don’t matter to you (gasp! I know, not everyone values the same shit, shocking), aren’t we really just talking about feelings?

I’ve made many analogies, countless metaphors, painting a colorful picture of how I see marriage from the outside. And I’m not asking you to buy these paintings, they aren’t for sale anyway, I’m just saying they have a place somewhere in the Art Fair on the Square of Life.

I find something deeply romantic and meaningful about waking up every day next to the person you love by choice and not obligation (and yes, I am aware some marriages operate in this way as well). Knowing your partner is free to leave, free to walk out the door and not come back, knowing that today, they choose you, and not because it’s the easiest choice, but because it’s what they truly want, what makes them happy. They are exactly where they want to be.

happy to share the bike path with these two sandhill cranes
happy to share the bike path with these two sandhill cranes

And sometimes I feel like marriage is sort of like purchasing that extra warranty on a refrigerator. You bought the fridge. It’s yours. And you have the fridge for as long as it will work for you, but you’ve heard how fickle fridges can be; you want the extra guarantee that fridge sticks around longer. So in a few years, if it breaks down, or you realize it’s a lemon, you have the comfort of the warranty that will surely fix it right up.

Or maybe, just maybe, it had already given you all it could; maybe it ran its course and has no more refrigeration left to give. Maybe during that extended warranty, after patching it up, you start to notice a slight tick you hadn’t heard before. Or a sad low hum. You start to realize the fridge is not as good as new, despite the warranty, it’s not the same. And you wonder if maybe you should have just looked for a new fridge instead of sucking every last bit of life out of this one.

Because that doesn’t sound like a nice thing to do to anything.

*******

I eventually realized Kat wasn’t necessarily looking for advice, but more for validation. She wanted to know she wasn’t crazy. To know that she’s not a terrible person for having so many feelings pulling her so hard in so many different directions that she knows she will eventually lose a limb and be forced to carry on without it. The question is, which limb?

So what did I do? What I always do when I can’t find the words: I found a song written by someone else. Music is poetry and poetry comes from the roller coaster of emotions we’re all riding on every day. I believe at any given moment, there is a song out there that fits perfectly on the soundtrack of Your Life (and I WILL find it). This one happened to be a little ditty by Patty Smyth called Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough. Hey, I don’t pick the genre or the artist for your Life Moment, it picks you. I mean, seriously, listen to the words. She says it better than I ever could.

(Special thanks to my friend Rachel, who allowed me to first butcher the song verbally and then play it on my phone for her on repeat in a Costa Rican lobby without running away.)

*******

On the AT you’ll hear all the time, “The trail provides.” It truly does, all the time, even when I’m not on the trail. If I hadn’t seen your blog post on Appalachian Trials, I wouldn’t have found another amazing, independent, confused and adventurous woman to talk to about all this stuff. Seriously, you have no idea how much you’re helping me to not feel like I’m insane out of my mind.

Well Kat…ditto.

6 Comments on “on love and wanderlust

  1. Pingback: January Recap | Just A Primer

  2. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s “True Awakening”, one of the mantras he urges lovers to share is “Dear one, do you have the freedom you need?” Clearly, an important question.

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  3. This is so great. I’m glad I’m not the only one who hasn’t daydreamed about marriage her whole life. I wonder if there is some sort of correlation for the urge to travel and the interest in traditional marriage? I’m sure not for everyone, but it’s a thought.

    I’ve always been interested in going places and traveling someday. At the same time, I’ve never wanted to get married. It just didn’t interest me. I felt like I didn’t need to get married to be happy. I wanted to be happy first on my own, and if I happened to find a great guy, then that’s fabulous.

    For now, after a rough breakup, I still hold those beliefs. I believe that I’m comfortable on my own, and marriage would feel like I’m trying to please other people who think that marriage is “just what people do.”

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    • I randomly thought of you while I was writing this (been following you) actually. I think “traditional” is the key word. I know marriages exist where both are happy traveling out there, exploring new life. You always hear how hard marriages are and how much work you have to put into them. I think all relationships can be hard. But I want someone to work at it because they want to be with me…not just because we’re married.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad you thought of me. Thank you. 🙂 I agree that “traditional” is the key word when talking about marriage today. I think it’s awesome when people can have a marriage and still travel and do things some may not view as “traditional.” For me, I think I would also want the person I’m with to be with me because he loved me, not because he felt obligated to. I think that’s probably a part of why I never thought I needed to be married to have happiness in life.

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