Getting Older

Throughout my teens and twenties I was terrified of “growing old”. Most of the “adults” in my life seemed to live boring lives that didn’t appeal to me at all. I love my parents, but I never saw them explore hobbies, go on vacations alone, have passion for anything, or really have close friendships. Their lives revolved around work and raising kids, and that is about it. Outside of my parents the adults were very similar (this is likely because my entire life was a middle-ish class, white, protestant Christian suburb). Adulthood meant the end of freedom and the end of fun… at least until retirement, but by then your body and mind would be failing you.

I’m sure a decent therapist could link many of my decisions back to this fear of adulthood, this fear of growing up, this fear of becoming my parents.

Things have changed though (as they often do).

Now that I’ve seen “adults” who don’t let their kids and family dominate their identity I see getting older as an amazing adventure. I’m stronger and healthier now than I was in most of my 20’s. I have passion for more things and the opportunity to explore them at my leisure. I have a partner who is catalyst for new experiences (travel, sexual, friendships, intellectual, etc) instead of restricting my opportunities for variety.

In some ways I know I lucked out. If I had stayed in Oregon or decided to marry my first fiance then my life would have been very, very different. I guess that isn’t really “luck”, but you know what I mean.

I also think my younger fear of growing old could have been avoided if I had more adults in my life who lived lives different than my parents. I don’t think my folks were intentionally shielding me from variety, I just think they started a family young and naturally gravitated towards like-minded people. When you are still in college when your first child is born it is difficult to make friends with people who don’t have the same backgrounds. My parents turned to the church for support and community, but the church was very much like them.

If I had seen adults who were in their 40’s and happily single, or who had passion for art and creativity, or who made fitness and health a priority in their lives it would have shown me the options for adulthood and given me a little guidance when I realized I didn’t want to be like my parents. I think there is a lot of value in having friendships and bonds with people who are different than you, especially if you have children.

Now that I’m in my mid-30’s (and the internet exists) I have lots of models for how my 40’s-120’s can end up. There are centenarians who run marathons, there are authors who started in their 40’s, there are PhD students in their 50’s. I can look upon all these people and be inspired, and pick-and-choice the traits and paths that appeal to me most. I only wish I would have had all that when I was younger.

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I Wasn’t Alone

By all accounts I am a late bloomer when it comes to relationships. My first kiss was at 18, my first time having sex was at 23, and I didn’t meet my wife until I was over 30. I spent all of my 20’s watching my friends get married, have kids, and even get divorced. During this time I felt like there was something wrong with me, something about me that either made me unlovable to others or unable to love others. At times I felt very alone and I thought I was destined to spend my life alone. I would die a bitter old man in a one bedroom apartment with my dogs and boxes of porn.

At some point I realized I wasn’t alone. In fact, it was the best mixture of circumstance and effort that lead me to where I am today. I am thankful and happy that I didn’t marry or meet my wife until later in life because those years turned out to be incredible years of growth and maturity. That time is when I explored the world, dated to find out what I am really looking for in a partner. I broke hearts and had my heart broken, I cried myself to sleep at night out of loneliness and went on adventures and saw sights whose beauty took my breath away (gonging to Burning Man single is a different experience than going with a partner, I highly recommend it). Looking back, I think it would have been incredibly foolish for me to commit 50+ years to one person when I had only been a legal adult for less than 5. I am a pretty risk tolerant person but I just wasn’t ready for that yet, I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was.

I guess it all kind of started when my early engagement broke up when I was 23. I was fresh out of the army and had just started college. The woman I thought I would spend my life with cheated on me and tore my heart up. I was broken. My heart became dark, cold, incapable of love. As unhappy as I was during that time I realize that I needed that coldness to heal. After the breakup (and one rebound relationship that should have never happened) I made a conscious decision not to look for a life partner until after college.

By taking the pressure to marry off the table I was able to have more fun and explore other types of relationships. My friendships grew as I focused on seeing my friends and doing things with them. I also found women who weren’t looking for long-term stuff and started “dating” (read: banging and ordering pizza) several of them at the same time. I was open that I was seeing other people and they were open that they were seeing others. We knew our relationships had an expiration date when college ended, and that just added to the intimacy and pleasure. To this day some of those women are close friends of mine. Our relationships weren’t failures because we didn’t end up together until one of us died, they were incredibly successful because we grew with each other and had incredible experiences together. Success in relationships should not be solely judged by longevity.

After college I moved to DC and found the atmosphere similar to the one in college. There were many women who were focused on their careers, and I wasn’t really ready to look for “the one”. Besides, I quickly realized that I wasn’t interested in staying in DC long term, and most people in DC are career politicos who need to be in Mordor for their professional success. So, instead of worrying about partnership I kept building my friendships (both sexual and otherwise).

One friendship in particular stands out. My friend Megan started out as a volunteer for the  organization I worked for but we became close friends. Eventually she started working as an employee for the organization and our friendship grew even tighter. Despite the rumors her and I never slept together (though I was always down for it), but we hung out, vented to each other about our lives, and shared secrets. When I decided to leave DC she came to my going away party with her friend, Anna, who would eventually become my life partner.

I didn’t know at the party that Anna would be someone I spent my life with. It wasn’t a “love at first sight” or anything. I wasn’t looking for that. I was about to start a solo cross-country bike ride to move to LA and the only thing I wanted out of Anna at that time was a friend for the weekend. We had a great weekend and, it turned out, Anna was moving to LA as well for a job. We promised to keep in touch but I didn’t have any expectations.

Well, I peddled the 3,500 miles and arrived in LA two months later, and Anna met me Santa Monica. She even let me kiss her despite my incredible stink and terrible homeless look. Over the next few months we became bang-buddies, eventually started dating, and then became “exclusive”. It is a classic love story of an drunken party hook-up turning into so much more.

My 20’s were a time of exploration and self reflection. It had my darkest days in it, but they forged me into the person I am now. I was never really alone, even though I wasn’t married. I don’t think there is some sort of deity or fate that brought me to where I am now. No, it was a mixture of chance and intention, but things did work out well. I have a wonderful partner who is excited to spend three years with me cycling the US, wants to travel the world with me, doesn’t want kids, not jealous, wants to have a minimalist life, and has similar political and religious views. By refusing to settle for someone who wasn’t lined up with me on important things like lifestyle and kids I was able to find the perfect partner for me now.

As great as our relationship is, neither one of us want it to last longer than it should. If either of us gets to the point where our views change drastically or we no longer are thriving in the relationship then we go our separate ways. Even this relationship, which we desire to last until death or immortality, will be a success if it is filled with love and support, even if it ends. We are both different than we were a decade ago, and it is likely that we will be different a decade from now. We hope to grow and change together, but if we don’t we can still look back on this relationship with happiness because we know it was successful.