New places

New places

I really love to date. I just love it! It’s such a treat to learn new people and explore their habits, preferences, and rhythms. Whole new realities unfold before you, and you get to learn where and whether you fit in.

Travel is the same for me. When I’m in a new place, I relish the barrage of new information, sights, and sensations. How do people here eat, structure their days, interact with their environment? What keeps them here? What repels them?

Here in the desert, I’m enjoying the rhythm of the weather—too severe for activity during certain hours, tolerable with caution during others—mountainous horizons, signage, and business names with bald simplicity or Mexican flair. Joe’s Cactus Grill in its playful block serif. Tacos El Patrón in vibrant glowing red. A still-functioning Sinclair station in a block of midcentury budget motels. Desert Dental in an unassuming strip mall, designed to attract as little heat as possible.

Each day, I understand slightly more about the place and how to function well within it, the same way you gain clarity about a person with each date or conversation.

I may not stay long enough to learn the warts or secret gems of a place, like that bar high above the harbor or the unreasonably heavy traffic on Thursday afternoons in San Diego, like his condescending family or spectacular rendition of Mr. Grinch, but I’ll get exposure to so many different ways to live, the same way dating exposes me to many different ways to be.

I’m excited to find my own rhythms on the road and learn how much time is right to spend in a place. It’ll be an interesting balance between novelty and intimacy, which is by no means a formula I’ve mastered in romance. It’s all a lot of trial and error—and striving for impossible combinations. If I’m being honest, I want everything. I thirst for the deep knowledge of intimacy and the broad experience of exploration in equal measure.

Maybe I want too much. But I’ll keep looking, keep hoping that someday I’ll find balance.

Belonging, leaving, and imagining rejection

Belonging, leaving, and imagining rejection

I never learned how to belong. That miiiiight have something to do with why I like to leave. Staying would mean doing the work required to fit in, and that’s just not something I’m equipped to do.

From my earliest days, I was an outsider. Our family was the one on the block whose parents didn’t drink, whose kids wore ill-fitting garage sale clothes, and whose cars were driven well past 200,000 miles. Sure, we owned a boat, but it didn’t have a Below Deck like the other families’ in our suburban paradise. We didn’t even take it to “sand bars” where adults could binge-drink while kids splashed around on floatie chairs with built-in cupholders. Instead, my dad did weird-ass things like take us tubing and skiing and drive us safely and soberly for entire afternoons as if he actually cared more about providing his kids a good experience than drinking away his problems with other alcoholics. Freak.

I kid, but you know how children are. That kind of thing really did make us freaks in that Not Like Us and Therefore Bad and Wrong kind of way.

Plus, I’m just a weird person. I’m slow at social cues and deeply invested in my inner world, but I also really like people and get excited and giddy and dorky when talking about anything that interests me, as well as withdrawn and spacey when bored. (Fortunately, I’m pretty interested in the inner lives of others, and it’s never too hard to get people talking about themselves. What if I were only excited about things like stamps or sea wolves that can swim 7.5 miles to an archipelago? I’d be toast.)

Relating to me as an adult who’s spent decades learning to bear a passing resemblance to normalcy is hard enough. As a child, I must have been incomprehensible.

Without throwing anyone under the bus (yet—just wait for my memoir JENNA), I was unceremoniously ousted from several friend groups in my youth. These rejections, combined with never quite fitting in in the first place, have left me with sort of a peculiar relationship to belonging. I simultaneously crave and fear it. I’ve spent years in therapy working hard to learn how to belong but still run away at the first signs of success because I believe—deep in that place where irrational childhood beliefs live—that I neither deserve nor am capable of it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when leaving San Diego presented irrefutable evidence I’d been accepted and loved and wanted around. People shed actual, wet tears and said the nicest things about how much they’d miss me and how much I mattered to them. It’s almost as if I wasn’t just tolerated but, like, enjoyed? What.

Still, I find myself focusing on the people who didn’t reach out, the friends I thought were close who let me leave without even trying to grab lunch or coffee or six shots of tequila and an ill-advised makeout. The pain of their rejection feels much more familiar than the outpouring of love from so many others. I know how to be rejected. I don’t know how to be loved.

Or maybe I don’t want to be.

Part of me wonders if a nomadic life is just a way to escape the responsibility of belonging, of being loved, of answering to the rules of relationships and communities that look you in the eye and say, “Your actions matter, and this is what’s expected of you.” On the road, everyone I meet will know I’m just passing through and likely won’t bother expecting anything of me at all. And if they get attached, it’s their own damn fault. I’m pre-absolved of any effect I might have on people who commit the unthinkable sin of actually liking me.

(I know that’s not how humans work and may have already had my first taste of erring on this front. It’s entirely possible you can’t just drop in on people and expect them not to feel any kind of way about it? Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are.)

Who knows if this will work, if I’ll be happier shirking belonging altogether than striving for it and fumbling once I have it. Maybe this lifestyle won’t fit or fulfill me. Maybe that craving for acceptance will eventually outweigh the fear of achieving it. Maybe I’ll end up wanting to settle and do the hard work of mattering. But it’s too soon to tell.

For now, I’m in the desert, holed up in a very hot, very isolated hideout, reveling in absolute silence, planning my next moves, and shrugging off a nagging fear I left behind the one thing I’ve spent my entire life chasing.

Trust the process, I tell myself. There’s no failure, only information. And, of course, you always have an exit.