The end of a year or a significant milestone in time can be a great time for self reflection and a reset. But how do we know we’re truly assessing from an objective point of view and not just following a narrative that has already been constructed and we’re obliviously following?
The end of September was a difficult time for me. It marked five years since I’d moved to Vancouver and while I was, and am, incredibly proud of the life I’ve built for myself here, there was also a sense that it wasn’t quite entirely what I’d imagined or hoped.
If someone had told me when I arrived here that in five years time I’d still be single and no closer to having really had a meaningful romantic relationship in that time, I would have been pretty god damn upset. As it turned out, that was exactly what I was facing. My naivety about dating, which quickly was dashed as I started my dating journey that I’ve been documenting here, had led me to believe I’d be in a relationship in no time, if I so desired which I thought I did.
While yes, many people will and have said to me, “you could be in a relationship if you settled for less than you want” – that’s not their suggestion, it’s just a statement that I’m looking for the right thing – my expectation was that I’d have been able to find a partner that provided what I wanted. And that hasn’t happened.
Add to that the fact that the core group of friends I made when I first moved here have almost all had significant life changes – marriages, babies, engagements, and for one friend a breakup followed by a reunion and moving in together two years later. I couldn’t be happier for all of them, but it has been significantly difficult for me not to compare.
Admittedly, there is envy there – the devil of all emotions – but it’s mostly sadness and disappointment. And maybe a hint of fear. Granted, I’ve only been dating again for two and a half years but if it’s not happened yet, will it? That thought creeps in more and more frequently.
As I was dealing with the five year review, resetting my expectations and reconfirming what I know deep down – that I have achieved a lot in those five years, and I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone else – I came to realise that as a result of my unspoken expectation that I’d be in a relationship by now, I’d in fact put part of my life on hold unconsciously.
When I moved to Vancouver I chose to live downtown, it was something I’d always wanted to do – live downtown in a North American city (don’t ask me which movie I got that notion from as a kid) – so, great, check that off the bucket list! But moving into my latest apartment and kitting out the 500 square feet fully in Ikea furniture, I had written myself a narrative I didn’t even know at the time. “This place is perfect for me until I get into a relationship. Once that happens we (whoever we is) will eventually build a home together and I’ll get to have space for a dining table and we’ll host dinner parties.”
Fast forward all these years later and I realised the relationship is no closer, and so neither is that space that feels like home, the dining table or those dinner parties, which I so desperately want. And while the relationship isn’t something I can fabricate myself, trust me I’ve tried, the home, dining table and those dinner parties are.
Living downtown had also made complete sense for a number of years – my proximity to some of the best happy hours in the city was fully utilised three, sometimes four, nights a week and my friends made jokes about me not going over bridges (i.e. never leaving downtown). To begin with they probably weren’t too wrong.
However in recent years, as my interest in being outdoors more often and seeing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible (something which brings me untold peace) has grown, the match made in heaven between me and downtown living had started to wane. Yet if you asked any of my friends, or even me until recently, you’d have been told I embodied a downtown girl. Such was the narrative that I had adhered to and had been fully bought into by everyone that knew me. And then never questioned again. I’d even uttered the words “I don’t think I can ever see myself moving out of downtown.”
What I hadn’t questioned was why that was. Why couldn’t I see myself moving? Was my life downtown everything I wanted? Was I truly living the life I wanted? No. I was living the life I felt I should be living at that time. As a single female. As if somehow I should be living in a shoebox sized apartment and enjoying nights out in Yaletown bars drinking wine. That was my narrative. And no one had forced it on me, it had just happened.
So when one random Saturday morning, while wandering around Kitsilano (a residential neighbourhood just across the water from downtown) with a couple of friends who lived there, sipping coffee and enjoying the beach views, I suggested maybe I should look at what apartments were available there. That day I didn’t truly believe it would lead to me moving. And I definitely didn’t expect it would see me view 21 apartments in the next seven days and sign a lease on a new home a week later.
It was a transformative week. I realised not only that apartments weren’t all as expensive (or old and crumbly) in Kits as I had imagined, it also wasn’t as far from downtown as I’d maybe previously thought, but also that I had been holding out on myself. I’d been holding out on giving myself the life I wanted, waiting for someone to join me before the next stage of my life could begin, the stage that included a home and a dining table. “Could” according to who?!?
I was more than horrified when I realised I had subconsciously told myself that having more space, a dining table, a home, were things I couldn’t have by myself. Partly that came from a financial perspective, but even that wasn’t correct. A quick look at Craigslist and a cancellation of a gym membership later and I could make the numbers work.
And maybe, just maybe, my often severe and numerous disappointments from failed dates wasn’t just down to the fact that I was no closer to a relationship, but also that with the relationship dream, so too went the home dream. Those two were intrinsically linked in the depths of my brain it seemed. How had I let that happen? And without even noticing? It honestly shocked me.
Signing the lease on my new place so quickly was partly down to logistics, it was such a good find and I needed to do it before it got snapped up, and partly down to me not wanting to give myself time to start talking myself out of it. So strong was that narrative of me being a “downtown girl”. Only enforced further when every friend I told about me possibly moving reacted with shock that I would consider leaving downtown.
In reply to every comment like that, when I put it to them that I didn’t know the last time I’d been out for happy hour in Yaletown, and proposed to them to think about just how often I was leaving my apartment to chase a sunrise or sunset (both of which would be much more accessible from Kits), it didn’t take long for them to come to the same conclusion as me. Downtown didn’t fit my life anymore. Somewhere like Kits made much more sense. And it literally took all of two seconds for friends to agree, yet until that point we’d all just been following the same old story, I’m downtown, I don’t cross bridges, I live at happy hours…
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of that. Those things were all true for a time and I loved it. While it made sense. But it didn’t anymore.
The speed with which the realisation and subsequent move happened, was probably the only thing that surprised people more than the move itself, including myself. And I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and realise I’d made a terrible mistake… but it never did. It still hasn’t and now, fully settled in my new place with an extra 200 square feet and a beautiful marble dining table that was the very first piece I moved in, I don’t think there is another shoe to drop. Both shoes are firmly removed and my feet are fully ensconced in the sand of Kits beach.
It was a stark lesson in re-assessing where we are, where we want to be and if we’re being true to ourselves. Whether it’s about your living situation, your job, your relationships, whatever, we all too often get in a comfort zone, a rut, a habit, call it what you will, and breaking out of that can feel uncomfortable and, at times, unnecessary. But being brutally honest with yourself, coming to the realisation and doing something about it is truly liberating.
What may seem like a small change to some – I mean, I only moved a 10 minute drive away! – has been genuinely life changing for me. I gave myself the life I wanted, the life I’d been unconsciously wanting for a while. And how fucking great is that?! I got to do that for myself, by myself. Granted with a lot of help from friends, and their cars, and moving muscles. But the point is, I didn’t need a relationship for any of it, which I’d somehow put on as a condition. What the hell was that? 1950’s me?!
For a year which I wasn’t sure I could sum up with any real “successes” come New Years and it’s unavoidable time of reflection, other than still being here to tell the tales, I can now say “Happy Birthday to me, Merry Christmas to me and Happy 2018 to me. You’re goddamn welcome.”