I recently returned from a trip to Mexico City. I went by myself. This is something I never thought I would do. Travel alone. But after talking with a friend who travels alone regularly and loves it, I decided to give it a shot.
It was a good trip, but it was strange. I am independent and always have been, but this felt next-level. I didn’t really recognize myself. Who was this person staying in a hotel alone, eating alone, adventuring alone? Do I like this? Is this me?
I went back and forth between loving time alone to explore and wishing I could just share my sandwich with somebody. Or point out an interesting building or laugh with someone about my terrible Spanish.
In the morning I’d be floating along the streets, coffee in hand, in awe of the beautiful moss-covered trees and sidewalks. By afternoon, I would start looking around for strangers to talk to, like the girl in the shoe store or the guy trying to sell me “candy” or the doorman at my hotel, who did not understand my Spanish, nor I his.
During a food tour I booked for the second day, a girl in my group asked me if I traveled alone often. “Never,” I said. “This is kind of an experiment.”
When I moved to Austin a year and a half ago, I was 30. The last time I moved to a new city I was 23. Moving at 30 and moving at 23 are very different experiences.
When I moved to Nashville in 2009, I found dozens of other girls just like me: young, single professionals, finding their newborn way through the real world. By the end of that first year I had a tight-nit group of girlfriends. We traveled together, went to happy hour together, cried over our first jobs together. With only ourselves to care for, we were available to each other most of the time. This group remained my closest friends in Nashville until the day I moved.
I realized recently that with one or two exceptions, I don’t have any single friends in Austin. I hang out with married people, engaged people, or people who are in serious relationships. Whereas in Nashville my age and life stage was consistent with the similar-aged people around me, in Austin in my thirties, this isn’t the case.
And I’ve had to adjust.
I remember talking to a friend right after she lost her dad. I asked her how she and her family were doing. “It’s a new normal,” she said.
This happens every once in a while doesn’t it? We reach an unexpected place in our lives and have to learn a new way of living around it, a new normal.
My new normal is not nearly as difficult as a new normal after you’ve lost someone you love, but it is a new way of living. I used to watch The Bachelor with a big group of my Nashville girlfriends. Now, I watch it with a good friend and her husband. I used to go to happy hour with a handful of other girls and complain about dating. Now, I third-wheel with my roommate and her fiancé (and I still complain about dating). Parties were once full of other singles. Now, they are full of young families, or couples who are headed that way.
It isn’t bad. It’s just different, and that has made the social adjustment in Austin a bit clunky. There was no category for me really. No door for me to walk through with a sign above that read, New-to-Austin, single, female, thirties. I sort of had to make my own way, carve out a door where there wasn’t one. I think I have, but it has taken time.
Here is something I am learning about life: It does not adjust to us. We must adjust to it. We must accept our realities, change our expectations and be OK with life looking different than it used to or different than we thought it would.
Before we adjust to the new normal, we try our darndest not to. We twist, fold and squeeze life into our own expectations of what we thought it would look like. We kick, scream and fight the new normal, as if that will make it go away. This is the messy part, the pre-surrender period when things feel off but we don’t know why.
I was in that season my first year here. It is only in recent months that I’ve begun to accept life will not look like it did in Nashville in 2009, and it can’t. It wouldn’t no matter where I had moved to. This change was always going to come, and an adjustment was always going to be necessary.
So while I do think my trip to Mexico City was an experiment to see if I like traveling alone, I wonder if more than that I made this trip to help me embrace this change. Like taking a long, surrendered step into my new normal.
New normals suck. They just do. I like my life to either go the direction I want it to go or stay the exact, comfortable same. But life has told me it does not adjust to me, and I am starting to believe it because the only thing that sucks more than a new normal is denying the new normal. This makes life really difficult, strange and nearly impossible to navigate.
I’m not sure where you are. Perhaps there is a long, surrendered step awaiting you, but you are hesitant to take it. It may not require a solo trip to Mexico City, but it may require something equally as challenging or scary. As someone who is actively yet cautiously beginning to step over to the other side, I don’t have much wisdom to give, but I have noticed that in transitions like this I tend to think the good is only behind or only over there, but if I’ve learned anything from long, surrendered steps I’ve taken in the past, it’s that the good is always ahead. We just have to have the courage–and humility–to walk that way.