When we are on vacation – or even at home – restaurant conversations have a way of starting. Someone recognizes us as fellow Americans, and we chat:
“Where are you from?”
“Originally, Colorado. But we live in Budapest…. Hungary.”
“Really? You’re kidding. Why on earth did you move there?”
At this point, dinner arrives, we become aware of other diners glancing our way, and the conversation winds down. Most people just don’t care (why should they?), or they are caught a bit off guard.
Recently, we dined near a couple who are entering their own “in between”. The conversation lagged, then restarted- over and over as they digested what we said. They asked a series of thoughtful, intelligent questions and follow-up questions which I mentally jotted down as, of course, I planned to blog about it.
Their scenario is different than ours – as you might expect. They both work and have family – but no children. I would guess they are in their 60s. The husband would like to relocate to the beach, the wife is tightly integrated into their current home town. I imagined, from their questions, this is something they are actively working through and maybe struggling to find consensus.
The question which caught me off guard was, “How do you break the attachment to your things?” By things, they went on to describe both material possessions, but more importantly, their community ties – to church, doctors, all those relationships which sustain a day-to-day life.
I tend to be a bit of a leap before you look person, not inclined to write down a pros/cons analysis, dwell on ramifications or sleep on any major decision. Honestly, I never considered this question. But obviously, we worked through quite a few challenges, and it hasn’t always been pretty.
Life is a series of inflection points; graduation, marriage, children, relocation, the empty nest, retirement. Each of these inflection points opens up the door for a couple to drift in materially different directions. Our friends divorced in droves once perched on an empty nest. Perhaps individual goals had always been different, but the new found freedom to execute forced the conflict. Dreams became pending realities. And of course, we all start to hear the continuous ticking of the clock more clearly with each passing year. Suddenly everything still undone becomes now or never events. By selecting to do certain actions, you are by default selecting those dreams which may never be realized.
Shedding our possessions was the easiest part – at least emotionally – of our journey. I spent two years cleaning out, selling, donating and cajoling our kids (and Pat) to parse through their yearbooks, trophies, sporting gear and clothes. At times, I carted truck loads of trash to the dump. Other times, I researched the best way to sell a single first edition of The Great Gatsby, a book I never realized I owned until I cleaned through a box of books which had been my father’s. (answer, a rare book auction in San Francisco). As I dealt with each closet or a room or book, I felt emboldened to do more, dig deeper. Possessions are a bit like gaining weight. Slowly, gradually it all creeps up on you. Only once you get rid of everything do you realize how onerous all those pounds had become. We both agree that downsizing has been fantastic, liberating.
Forming new professional relationships will wait. Until we pick our ultimate final home, we have elected to keep these relationships in tact in Colorado. Eventually, we may find new doctors and dentists. We have moved several times over the course of our lives; this is a manageable hassle.
Breaking our community ties is the sticking point for Pat and me. Pat loves to be integrated in the community; me, not so much. This has always been a debate, but moving brought it to a head. For the moment, we have declared a truce. Pat needs to lay down roots – someday, and I acknowledge that. I need to live this adventure, a fact he accepts. For the first time, during this dinner, Pat admitted he has worked through his angst. “I never have embraced moving around like Julie has, but now, I am excited. I am on board with what we are doing.” This is a huge breakthrough for both of us.
The rest of our story will play out in this blog. This dinner conversation underscored why I started writing it more than two years ago. I believe there are millions of “tweeners” out there, trying to figure out what’s next, hoping to get the courage to start, wondering how to survive financially or emotionally, working to combine two different people with different goals into one workable lifestyle, struggling with all the related emotions. Collectively,we have lessons to share. If you have a world in between story, I’d love to hear it.
For now, the only advice I can give anyone is: if you are not happy with your current circumstances, change them. If you need to sell your things to create this freedom, do it. That ticking clock is both friend and foe. Pat needed time to accept our life. But time will move on, with or without our participation.