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Travel and the (single?) girl

When my plan to leave the country was first hatched, ten years ago, I was staying in a long term relationship ‘for the sake of the kids.’ He humored me, pretending to be working toward the same crazy goal. I let him pretend. I knew I was probably going solo on this voyage, but I was happy to have something to look forward to in my “empty nest” years. It all seemed very far away.

When that relationship had run its course, I was single for several years. Dating for fun, not for a future. By this time my plan had evolved from “move to Italy” to “travel the world aimlessly,” and I was still planning to go it alone.

But then I met a man and fell madly in love. It’s a powerful thing to find your first passionate, tender, healthy romance in your mid-forties.  I thought I had found my soul mate.

I shared my plan with him. He was intrigued. We dated for several years; we traveled together and found it glorious, but he had a hard time imagining a full-time life on the road. When his father retired and he took over the helm of his family’s company, what had been difficult began to seem impossible. Over the next year our relationship slowly unraveled as differing visions of the future collided (among other reasons). We were both brokenhearted when we finally parted ways.

At that time, there were seven months left before my target date to leave the country.

I pined for my lost love, and especially for the vision of traveling hand in hand with a life partner. Traveling the world alone for years at a time suddenly seemed empty, lonely, and difficult. What fun would it be to see the world without someone to share the adventure? Could I really manage it without someone to share expenses with? What would happen if I got lost or in trouble, alone in strange cities? Worst of all, would I go years without having someone to talk to, eat with, tell about my day? It seemed possible, and it felt sad.

I was lost and uncertain. Should I give up my dream? I had already scheduled the closing of my dance studio and planned to sell my house. If I didn’t go, what would I do for a living? I had arranged enough writing income to get by in a third world country without a car —  I wasn’t making enough to live on in the U.S.

I was surprised how quickly I met someone else on the dating trail, and — although my heart still ached for my lost love — I was able to laugh with this new man. He was smart, funny, warm and full of life, and I found love in my heart for him as well. 

I was drifting. I was unhappy. But I had gotten cold feet about going on my own, so I tried to think warmly about making a future with this man in my hometown. It’s surprising how deeply we’re socialized, as women, to prioritize romance above all else. 

I began to think about how to make a life here, where I would live, how I would support myself. I was afraid to pursue my dream alone, so I started chasing security instead.

During a trip we made to Bogota over Valentine’s Day, though, something inside me shifted. I knew I didn’t want to come home and spend ten months for the nest short trip out into the world  I’d been living like that for ten years already. I decided I had to face my fear of being alone. That decision felt scary, exhilarating, exciting, and right.

A friend had told me about a book called Tales of a Female Nomad. I read it while lying in a hammock in a Bogota hostel, feeling more excited each moment about the possibilities of life on the road. The author wrote about making friends in hostels, in coffeeshops. She had chatted up people at the airport, talked to women who sold rugs on the street. I could do that. And I had Facebook, and Skype, and friends who would come visit me. I was getting over my fear, and beginning to feel excitement again. I was ready!

But it meant walking away from this tender, sweet new relationship. And, at the same time, my former love sent me an e-mail and wanted to get back together! 

For the first time in my life, I had not one but two magnificent men in my heart — but I knew I needed to leave them both behind to follow my dream. 

I was going to have to trust that if one of them was truly meant to be with me, it would happen somehow. And it needed to happen without me sacrificing my dream. I needed to go and become my fullest self.

I will spare you the gory details of the breakup. 

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who “needed” to be in a relationship before, but I realize now that I’ve always prioritized romance above everything in my life (besides my children). Until now.

I hope to discover myself on the road, and I’m looking forward to having no one’s needs to consider but my own, for the first time in my life. I remember, after my divorce, when my daughter was gone to college and my teenage son no longer ate at home much, standing in the grocery store aisle and wondering what on earth *I* liked to eat. I didn’t know.  I had never, in my adult life, considered only what *I* wanted before.

The world is a great place to find out what I want.