The absolute worst thing about Facebook (besides all of those ridiculous zombie-vampire-pirate-ninja-baked-goods-lil’-green-patch applications) is that it feeds my monster impulse to compare myself to others. Every status update and photo album is a potential morsel for it to gobble down. This is not something I love about myself; it’s definitely something that I’m working on, but dude, how many engagement pictures, changed relationship statuses, and ultrasound photos can I look at before I articulate the obvious gap between my lifestyle and that of half of my peers?
I’ll tell you something a little embarrassing: I thought I would be married before I turned 22. I know, right? Reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye, making a conservative youth group my life in high school, and attending a Bible college where people joked about the female students earning their “MRS” degrees were all ingredients in my little cocktail of future wishes. I don’t remember if I ever voiced my plan to anyone (dear Lord, I hope not) but when I was graduating high school I had it all mapped out in my mind. First and second year of college I would be a social butterfly, just having fun, right? Third year I would settle on one boy to date, our senior year we would get engaged and plan our wedding, and I would toss my graduation cap and my bouquet in the same month.
You may have guessed – this didn’t happen. As it turned out, I had two failed relationships and then I was too busy trying to deal with all my emotional ish during my senior year to find another boyfriend, get engaged and plan a wedding.
Instead, I planned a trip to Europe with a friend, scheduled for three days after graduation. Then I worked at a camp all summer in Maryland. In the past 3 years I have lived in California, Maryland, Australia, Mexico, Norway, and Germany. I have visited 12 countries I have never been to before. I have bobbed in the Dead Sea in Israel, danced around a Christmas tree in Norway, fed a kangaroo in Australia, attended Carnaval in Mazatlan, picnicked in France, and touched the remains of the Berlin Wall. I spent a summer Down Under and a winter as close to the Arctic Circle as I ever want to get. I have eaten a thousand new foods and smelled a million new scents. I’ve met 19,762 people. All between May 2006 and February 2009.
That’s pretty freaking amazing. Then why, when I stumble upon an old friend’s Facebook account and discover she now has 2 kids and a baby on the way, do I feel like I’m lagging behind in the race of life? Something (perhaps leftover from the 40s a la Mona Lisa Smile) tugs on my sleeve and tells me I better polish my heels and get a ring on my finger so I can pop out some babies before…I don’t even know what. What?! How crazy is that line of thinking?
These are just fleeting thoughts. But sometimes I do feel like I’m a few cars back in the train of life than others my age. I told my friend Allison about this in an email the other day (she’s the one who traveled to Europe with me) and she had this to say: “Once we do settle down and have kids we will have thousands of experiences, memories and encounters that will get us through whenever it feels monotonous. I think that if I settled down and had kids right away I would have a pretty serious mid-life crisis.” Aha! Not only do I agree with her, but I think this fear of the monotonous, the fear of the mid-life crisis, that my sister Rachel always depicts in an image of her, middle-aged and standing at a kitchen sink doing dishes and gazing wistfully out the window, wondering what her life could have been like if only she hadn’t settled is part of what fueled my desire to travel in the first place.
Disclaimer: I do not believe that everyone who marries young is settling. No way! If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that there isn’t a formula for when and how couples should get together and get married. But for me, settling down before I had all these adventures really would be settling. I think that one day I would have been washing dishes or changing a diaper or sewing a Halloween costume (ha!) and wondering what kind of adventures I could have had.
I’m so glad that in 20 years, when I’m folding the laundry or getting my car washed or doing some other mundane task, I can smile to myself and think about that time I paraglided off of a mountain in Austria or tossed coins into the Trevi fountain in Rome…I can revisit the conversations I’ve had with hundreds of beautiful, fascinating people. But dude, it’s not like after this I’m going to stop traveling. It’s just good to know that I’ve lowered my odds of freaking out when I turn 40. Also, it’s pretty sweet to put all those pictures on Facebook.