Being in Indonesia can be fun and strange. Being in Indonesia at 26 can also be fun and strange. Being 26 anywhere can be fun and strange. Before I get much further let me try and preempt some of your inevitable groans. I know 26 is not old. I am completely aware that I have a long, full life ahead of me that is just beginning to get really good.
That said, Facebook has a nasty habit of showing me exactly where all of my friends are in their lives. And, golly, am I at a different place than some. I grew up with these people, I went to classes with them, I got into a lot of trouble with some of them. Now I see them having babies, getting married or, heaven forbid, BOTH!This was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose I was just hoping for later. There are points in our lives when we are faced with these invisible walls built of the expectations of others that remind us of our own mortality. It all gathers together and makes a girl, who is already in a vulnerable place, feel very far behind the curve. I always used to joke that I wouldn’t feel old until my friends started having babies on purpose. Well, the time of ultrasound photos, engagement shots, and happy wedding portraits is here. Congratulatory messages aplenty and, though mine will never be the voice of dissent, inside I feel a little like the ugly duckling wandering lost, in search of a place where I belong.
In the darkness of night, in those awful moments before I manage to fall asleep, I sit there and wonder if I’ve done something wrong with my life. If maybe I took a left when I should’ve taken a right and now I’m irreparably lost in the woods with no hope of finding even the Beast’s castle. The pictures of happy families and newly weds and honeymoons dance in front of my face like a scene from some bad 50’s horror flick. Being in Indonesia can exacerbate the problem; this is a land of marriage and babies and cooking. It’s hard to say I have peers because almost all of the women my age are married with children. We can talk about school or teaching or food or the weather but then they have to return to their role as mother and wife while I go home to watch Doctor Who. There is a constant bombardment of inquiries as to why I don’t have a boyfriend, why I’m not married, and discussions of how to make me a good wife. Ultimately, what do you say when someone asks you why you don’t have a partner? Because in America I was too busy to meet people? Because I met people and didn’t like them? Because I have a nasty habit of wanting the unattainable? (Like Ryan Gosling. Or Batman. Or John Krasinski. Or my Classics professor from University.) Because I find human relationships exceedingly complicated and I don’t understand how emotions work? Yeah, have fun with any of those.But then there’s this little voice. A tiny Jiminy Cricket sitting quietly in the dark recesses of my mind struggling to be heard over the rushing ambush of hormones and fear. He whispers urgently that I did take a different path. I gad along my own road, pausing for wonderful, ridiculous dance solos in the spotlight of the few people I invite along for the ride. No, I’m not engaged or even dating, I don’t have a baby on the way, or a mortgage, or a stable career with a real salary. What I do have is a story. I have a beautiful mess of a life. I have wonderful friends all over the world and a family that loves me more than I can measure. I have support and affection and strength. I have experiences few know of and fewer can imagine and each of them make me the strong, resilient, wonderful woman I am today. Every new chapter adds a depth of character that has boundless potential. I am not the woman that I will be when I die and I am not the girl of yesterday. I have so much more to learn and see and understand. I am grateful for every bump in the road because it has led me here. To Indonesia. To the Peace Corps. And for every day I’m here I make a myriad of new discoveries about myself. As my left foot says (as well as the Temple of Delphi… and Socrates…), “Know Thyself.” And as the story goes, know that you know nothing so that you can strive to learn ever more. Almost all of my of cousins my age have babies and families. People I went to high school and college with are now popping out kids like it’s a hobby. The amount of weddings I’ll miss while in Indonesia is starting to make me nauseated. And then I have the friends that inspire me. This isn’t to say that babies and marriage isn’t something to aspire to or to be inspired by, but it’s something I can’t control. It’s something that will happen or it won’t. I will find a partner or I won’t, but in the meantime I like to think making myself even more awesome is a pretty good pastime. So I see my friends my age or older starting businesses, running theatre companies, traveling the world, making a difference and I think to myself, “If I end up like that or if that’s what I look like from the outside right now, I’m doing alright. Hell, better than alright.”
So, to all of my peers on the family track I say to you a genuine and warm congratulations. May your years be plentiful and filled with laughter. May your smiles grow deeper and your worries grow lighter. I really mean it, from the very bottom of my cold, dark heart. One day I hope to have a family and ultrasound pictures and cheesy engagement photo shoots just like you all.
To my peers who are sexy and single and living it up I say, Rock On! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone on this path. Thank you for being my date to the weddings and the baby showers. Thank you for shining so brightly as you blaze the trail so that I don’t lose footing on my own.