I first asked myself this question somewhere at the end of summer 2005. I was still enrolled as a student at university, but I’d given up on Egyptology. I knew I wouldn’t work in the field and I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete my degree without the minor subjects, which I had lost complete interest in.
So I needed to figure out what to do with my life. Eventually I arrived at the idea of travelling around the world. Whilst the life I had was quite alright, it wasn’t the life I wanted. Instead I chose another path and I’ve never regretted the choice.
That’s actually quite true.
Now, nearly 11 years after I actually did leave, stayed away for 10 years and returned almost a year ago, I find myself asking once again: Is this all there is?
And once again the answer is… no.
The reason behind my question now is completely different than it was then. Twelve years ago I wanted to know what life could be like. What else is out there? What adventures are possible? Who can I become? And might I find more meaning in life?
All those questions and many more were answered. Though almost in every case the answer continues to change. That’s okay. I am a work in progress. Definitive answers are not required.
For the majority of those ten years away I enjoyed unparalleled freedom. I could go wherever I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted. When I decided to stay, it was because I wanted to. When I wanted to leave, I did. I chose the people in my life. I chose the challenges. I made commitments. I chose every path I walked. Even though I usually had no idea where it might lead. I just always trusted that I would be okay. That I would arrive somewhere. And I walked every path until it could take me no further and it was time to find a new direction.
Ultimately I arrived where I now am. I became the person I currently am. I couldn’t have imagined either. Or planned for it. And that’s quite alright. I don’t believe in planning the future. I don’t know what my future self might want, except to be happy and lead a good life. But beyond that? My past self didn’t know that I would end up where I am and that I would feel the way I do right now.
On that note, read this. It is quite illuminating: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/18/daniel-gilbert-happiness-future-self/
In the last three months my life has turned upside down. Not so much my outer life. But my inner life. I’m going to have to digress here and take a detour into the matters of the heart.
First of all, I do things in my own time. Always have, and likely always will. I’ve experienced quite a few things ten years behind what might be considered the average. First kiss, first relationship… that sort of thing. It simply happened that way. And it’s not as if there’s a schedule one must adhere to. Plus, I don’t measure my life against that of others. So, who cares about the average?
Mind you, the first time I had a crush on anyone I was ten years old. But when I was 17 I was more concerned with my sexual orientation than dating. And dating has never been my cup of tea anyway. The first time I truly fell for someone, head over heels and all that, I was 22. My heart leapt into an abyss of feelings, which the rest of me was unprepared for. I may have gone a little crazy for a little while. And, of course, it was a disaster.
My heart climbed out of the abyss two years later and said to me: Let’s not do that again.
The next time I fell for someone I had already decided to leave my life behind and travel. A relationship was not an option. Being in love was surprisingly easy and uncomplicated, though, and it was even reciprocated, which I only learned after I had left. I held onto those feelings for some time whilst travelling. And eventually they faded. Absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder.
Then I met my ex. We were friends. I didn’t want a relationship. She was in love with me. Eventually I gave her my heart and hoped she’d look after it. She didn’t. She couldn’t. When my heart was returned to me three years later I didn’t recognize it anymore. I didn’t recognize myself. I left the life I had built once again. Mostly so I could heal and become a new self.
Three years ago I could’ve given my heart into good care. Perhaps the best care yet. I could have been sure that I would have been loved in a way that I believe most people deserve to be loved in. But I didn’t return those feelings and couldn’t have taken the same care of the heart that I would have been entrusted with. I couldn’t be so utterly selfish and it would have ended in horrible heartbreak.
And so I continued to be free of anyone and anything. Living the life I wanted, travelling around the world once more, stopping when and where I wanted. Not settling down. Eventually I realized that nothing kept me where I was and I decided to return to Germany once again. Perhaps it was time to close a circle.
For the first time in forever I wanted to establish some sort of home base. I’m not done discovering life and all it has to offer. There are so many places to travel to still. So many things to see and experience. But I no longer just want to do that by myself. I’ve done all that. The travelling by myself. The experiencing by myself. The going on adventures by myself.
There’s something I’ve never done before: share all these things with someone else. And not just anyone, of course, but someone I love and who loves me.
Since I’m not dating and haven’t been actively looking to meet someone in any way, I simply arranged my new life here in Hamburg and decided the only way for me to get out of the house is to find a job on the side. I happened to find the perfect job to meet people. And because of that job, against all odds and expectations or hopes, I also met someone who turned out to be pretty fucking special.
Someone, it also turned out, who is already in a relationship. Because, of course. Why should it be easy? How absurd that I could meet someone, we fall for each other and we could actually build something that may have a chance to last.
Let me be perfectly honest: there have been times when I have wondered, if I would ever find someone I might be compatible with. Or whether I wanted a relationship, or if it was even in the cards for me. Some people stay single and like it that way. Would I be one of those people?
I’ve been asked plenty of times, why I am still single. Usually when I’m being told that I’m such a wonderful person and how come nobody has snatched me up.
Apparently it doesn’t matter how wonderful you are, when the feelings are either not mutual or circumstances are simply not in your favour.
And it is still better than never having met them at all.
Anyway, three months ago, after meeting that special someone, I realized that holding onto my heart is pointless. I had to set it free. It’s stronger than it has ever been and it can look after itself. Whether I will ever have the relationship I want or not is somewhat irrelevant right now. What I do have is love. I have always had love. My heart is full of it. Even at its most crippled and hurt. And since I’m being honest, I do want love. It may be the only thing in this world that truly matters… in all its forms. The only thing that makes life worthwhile. Anything we do with love, we do well. Anything that gives us joy tends to be something worth loving.
What else can I do?
I always have. I always will.
Every once in a while I am in love.
And perhaps, one day, I will get the chance to grow that magical feeling into a relationship with someone.
Easier said than done.
Perhaps the answer to the question, if this is all there is, will always be no. Because there’s always the potential for more. But not every ‘what if’ needs to come to fruition. Not every potential needs to be pursued. We have to make choices, decide on a path we wish to take and accept that we will leave unlived lives behind. That’s okay as long as the life that we do choose feels as right as it can. As long as it makes us happy and fulfills most of our desires, though never all of them. Nobody can have it all, but we can decide what to settle for. Remember, we’re only as much as we settle for.
Another article I very much recommend: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/17/missing-out-adam-phillips/
Right now I know with absolute certainty that my heart wants more than what it has. That it is not okay to settle for so much less. That I can’t settle for less, because I know more is possible and that I deserve more than that. In fact, I need more.
So, what do I do? I stand by what I said in my previous post. I will keep loving, because I have no other option. I will keep hoping without expectations. I do not know that there’s anything to look forward to, but I know I won’t be waiting for it. The future has never been more of a blank canvas than it is right now. I’ve never lived so much in the moment as I have recently. I appreciate that beyond measure.
Interestingly I still live a life of utter freedom. I’m not tethered down by anything. That means when the moment comes for me to surrender a part of that freedom – for that is what you do when you begin to share your life with another – I won’t have a problem to do just that. I can do anything. I can go anywhere. And for the right person, I’d be willing to go very far indeed.
As it turns out, I’d also be willing to let the right person go. Because holding on to them may not mean that I get to keep them.
In the meantime I will keep pursuing my dreams. Well, one dream anyway. The only one within reach. Remember, Meryl Streep said that Carrie Fisher told her this:
Take your broken heart
Make it into art
My heart isn’t broken. Far from it. But it is bleeding and feeling so much. I can make that into art as well. So I will write.
And this will be my soundtrack until I find another song to dance to – then no longer by myself, but with someone: