In Norway, the supermarkets tend to be really small. That’s because if you want yogurt, you have two brands to choose from. There’s about an eighth of an aisle devoted to cereal, and the ice cream section is approximately the size of my freezer at home. But that’s okay with Norwegians, or so they tell me. They know what they like, and they don’t want to have to fend off a steady stream of new and improved products. (So I found it quite ironic when I discovered that a party in Norway never has less than a dozen different cakes to choose from.)*
After spending nine months in that simple and beautiful country, I came home and spent hours wandering through Trader Joes, overwhelmed by the sheer number of options with which I could fill my basket. But it didn’t take me long to get back into it, making a beeline for the exact brand of high protein, high fiber, low sugar cereal among the wall-to-wall shelves full of other brands. It was easy to settle back in because I’m American, and I was raised to believe that having options is an integral part of the pursuit of happiness.
Trouble is, that sense of entitlement has affected me far beyond breakfast foods. In the two relationships I had in college, I was haunted by a fear that I was setting myself up for a boring life with the same one person while there were still so many other fascinating men out there to date, not to mention a world full of places I wanted to travel to. I managed to graduate single from bible college, and I did travel—I made it to 17 countries in less than four years, even living for a while in Australia, Mexico, Germany, and Norway.
But my loneliness grew a little each year, and as I matured through my solo adventures, I also found myself more open to the idea of “settling down” with just one person. When I returned to the States to start grad school, I thought the time was ripe to meet someone and start that life I had shunned back in college—husband, kids, domestic bliss or something like it.
Although I was more open to the idea, I still found myself disturbed by the same fear of eliminating my options. It’s only now, after being at Fuller for over a year, that I am starting to feel that it might be worth it—this whole just-choosing-someone-and-sticking-with-it thing. It’s not as exciting to be alone when you’re 26. People are pairing up left and right, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ll end up as the cheese standing alone. The other day I had a vivid image in my mind that depicted my feelings perfectly: I was standing on a shore with many of my friends, but two by two they broke off from the group, hopped into little boats and rowed away. Eventually, there were only a few of us (an odd number, of course), and it was clear that I would soon be left behind.
I’ve also been moved lately by small things: an eight-year-old boy leaning forward in the car, eagerly listening to his mother talk. Both of them are smiling. A woman meeting her husband on the sidewalk outside their apartment. He appears to be coming back from a long day at the library. When she reaches him, she turns and they walk in the same direction without saying anything. She casually slings her arm around him in a comforting gesture.
It’s this doing life together that I want. I’ve said for a long time now that I want kids, not because I’m a “kid person” but because I love the idea of creating a family that’s a little team, a micro-community, with our own lexicon and jokes and habits. A few years ago, I listened to our culture and I listened to my dreams and I went out and traveled the world. I saw so many amazing places and met so many amazing people that sometimes I feel like the luckiest girl alive. To be honest, I hope that’s not over for me.
Maybe that means I’m hoping that I can have my cake and eat it too. It might limit my options, but hopefully adventures and family life are not mutually exclusive. But I think I’ve come to the point where—even if it means my slice has to be a bit smaller—I’d like to find someone I’d be crazy not to choose, and have a little family and see what that cake tastes like. It would be so rich that you can only take small, slow bites lest you be overwhelmed by its sweetness.
*Bonus: Here’s a picture of me trying to get as many pieces of cake as I could at our Christmas party in Norway, 2008.