About ten years ago everyone was getting married and I was so jealous. I was going to like five weddings a summer and everyone was all loved up and full of their plans: to have dinner parties, to buy a house, to have children, to do all those things that I thought meant you were really a grown-up…or, let’s not mince words, really a person.
It’s funny to think about it now but I really did feel that way, for what felt like a long long time. It’s hard to imagine that I was ever a person who looked at women’s diamond engagement rings with envy, even though I couldn’t really see myself wearing one, even back then. It’s hard to believe I was someone who fantasized about her imaginary wedding, even though I couldn’t really see myself having a wedding, even back then. I felt cheated, I remember that very well. I felt like everyone was getting something that I deserved, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have it, even though I had never really expected I could have it. An old friend of mine one time told me that it was easy to get married, like you could just sort of find someone and marry him and that would be that, and I remember staring at that email not even understanding what she was talking about–even though the thing I was jealous of was actually that it seemed so easy for so many people.
Yeah, well. Ten years passed, and something I’ve learned several times over is that there’s no such thing as easy, for most people, for most things, for most of the time. Everyone got married, true. And then some people got divorced, and then when all the babies came that got pretty stressful for some people. I gave up, a little, on jealousy when I realized that I could actually change my life; I have had the right kind of privileges and the right kind of luck to be able to do so to the extent that I cry at weddings now because I’m happy for the people getting married, not because I’m sad that I am not the one doing so.
I’m just thinking of this because every now and again I will have a conversation from an old friend in the States about how I am living the dream here in New Zealand. This happened a lot when I was on my way over here, almost five years ago—random people, when I said something like “I would like to cancel my Netflix account because I am moving to New Zealand,” would go “Wow that’s so amazing! I wish I could do that!” and I would go, “Well…you CAN! But you will probably have to give some things up to go there.” Now that we have Facebook, my people in the U.S. know that I don’t spend my time bungee jumping off Mt. Doom every weekend but instead mostly just go to work up in the Hutt (on the 7 am bus, thanks very much) and to yoga and circus and to New World and out with friends and to bed, you know? It’s just my life.
And I still say the same thing, of course: you can do it too, if you are willing to give up some comfort and familiarity for much longer than you’d originally anticipated. If you are willing to go through the immigration stuff, if you’re willing to have your American-ness be the first thing people know about you, and to make cultural mistakes you never dreamed would be possible in an English-speaking First World country. If you are willing to be very far away from your family, as in so far that if there is an emergency you almost certainly will not be able to physically get there in time, then yep. You can move to New Zealand too, or to anywhere else you fancy.
Of course this isn’t even taking things like partners and houses and children and jobs and money into consideration, because I don’t have to think about most of those things. When I was having this conversation today (over Skype, to an old friend from college I haven’t seen in aaaaaages) he brought this up: that it wasn’t just about him at this stage in his life. “We’re a family of five,” he said. “It’s different for me.” I did have to be reminded.
How odd is it to feel and think, after all that anger and jealousy when it seemed like everyone else could have who and what they wanted, in the way they wanted, that now I am the one who can do what she wants, pretty much? My life is all about me and I am just beginning to be old enough to appreciate that, to distinguish selfishness from freedom. I would have never, never guessed that that would be the case, ten years ago. I’d have never thought I could find myself glad, now, for my friends and families who have the responsibilities that come along with the choices they’ve made—for the people who love their gorgeous partners even if they feel they can’t go out in the same way they used to; for the people who are super into their awesome children even if it means they don’t get much adult conversation at the moment; for the people who are located very firmly in their houses and their communities even if it means they don’t travel as much as they’d like.
As far as I go: I’m sitting on the couch writing as the light fades, thinking about what to wear to my four parties tonight, thinking about whether to have another cup of tea before I go out, thinking about this new (to me) Gary Shteyngart book I just got from the library. I’m thinking about all my people, all over the world, and about how we’ve all turned out. It turns out it’s good to be me, in this time and in this place. Things aren’t perfect but I’m not jealous anymore. I’m glad for me too, for what I’ve chosen and what I continue to choose.
No one could tell me that, ten years ago. No one had any idea.