One thing I love dearly about my boyfriend is how his values are the antithesis of everything I thought were my own values. Given that happiness was somehow absent from my youth in exchange for too many shopping trips to the mall and my father shoving my mother across the room declaring her worthless, I grew up not knowing what to want out of life. The only experience that I could identify with that came close to happiness was something between accumulating money and chaos. Love, outside of anxiety-ridden over-worrying and over-parenting, also didn’t exist.
So I went away to college with no concept of what I want. Now, many 17 year olds have no idea what they want, but they seem to have some sort of greater purpose. They want to be a doctor. Or they want to be an engineer. Or they want to just make a lot of money. They want to get married. They want a life like the one they grew up in…
What did I want? I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to live a life void of love. But I didn’t know what love was. I wanted to escape worry and anxiety but growing up in an environment like that makes it very challenging to avoid that without many costly years of therapy (…and even then.) I often wondered what it would be like to have a clear vision of some sort of grand goal for life. I just knew I had to figure out how to pay the rent so I wouldn’t have to move back to my home state. I just knew I had to keep running.
My instincts, growing up in a chaotic environment, were to chase after fame. I had, and still do, some vague fantasy about being loved by everyone simply for being me. Not just the me that sits at home and stares at the wall, but somehow adding value as an entertainer. A comedian. An actress. Something big, bright lights worthy.
Maybe that’s what I was “meant” to be, but a mix of a lack of talent, reality, and being too afraid to fail kept me from chasing after that deluded dream. Still, I went to school for theater, not acting, and sat silently jealous of the actors who didn’t know I existed, who exhibited talent of varying degrees, who were so free in their bodies and not afraid to do crazy and sometimes potentially harmful things like sleeping around or snorting coke. Yes, I was jealous of that lifestyle. My excitement was limited to a few drunken nights where I end up crying in a bathtub alone – the most exciting being the night my then-boyfriend walked out on me crying in said tub with my glasses in his pocket, and I spent an hour the next morning crawling around my room blind as a bat wondering where they went.
This isn’t a sob story, it’s just the story of my life. I knew I needed to make money. But I had no ambition. Or, more so, I had no direction. I just couldn’t look back. I was a decent writer, not by academic means, but somehow prose came naturally do me after spending my adolescence blogging away my angst. And that got me a job as an editorial assistant, which turned into a reporting position, which turned into various marketing roles and so on. Somehow, that turned into 30. Unmarried. Living with roommates. Making over $100k. But feeling like I don’t deserve it. And knowing it isn’t enough to afford the life I think I want. 30.
So the dream of fame has virtually dissipated. I still fantasize, now, about one day writing a novel or memoir that makes my name known for something before I die. That said, I’m mostly over fame. I’m trying to find my motivation. Is it money? Is it love? Is it silence?
My boyfriend grew up in a vary different environment than mine. While my parents were married and probably never should be, his parents never tied the knot. There was still some chaos in his life, in different ways, but he was never held down on a bed and beaten with a belt by a man who seemed more outrageously angry than would be justified for refusal to clean up a room.
Meanwhile, my bf’s chaos fell more to the side of neglect. Where I had nearly everything I wanted from a material point of view, he had nothing. He had clothes from thrift shops and the living room couch as his bedroom. It’s not that his parents couldn’t afford to give him a better life. They just didn’t think it mattered. My parents, on the other hand, thought that buying a nice house in the suburbs and paying for summer camp was the definition of good parenting. Neither of us experiencing a caring, loving childhood. That’s probably why we get along so well.
Ultimately, what we both want is pretty simple. We just want love. We want to escape the chaos that has defined our lives and experience a life of stability and kindness. I’m terribly messed up from my childhood and occasionally dive off the deep end, starting a fight because the calm is unsettling, craving the madness where I’m most at home. But I know that isn’t what I want. And I’m so grateful that he understands that isn’t who I am, it’s just who I sometimes become, when I’m afraid, when I can’t handle the silence.
If I can have the calm at home, and nurture that, then that leaves room to nurture some sort of productive chaos in my professional life. It’s why I’m drawn to startups. I’m motivated by having to fight amidst the impossible. I spent my childhood feeling never good enough as my father, intelligent as he was, would tell me I wasn’t trying hard enough when I struggled with math or failed to focus and do well on my tests. I like not feeling good enough because it gives me motivation to prove everyone wrong. That’s when I do my best work. That’s when I make my magic.
But that isn’t healthy either. And as I look into the future of my 30s, the 3650 minus some-odd days until my 40th birthday, I am terrified by the hypothetical timeline that lies before me. Marriage? Kid? House? Kid..s? Is that all what I want? There are days I fantasize about running away somewhere… getting in my car, driving to New Mexico… Santa Fe… becoming a waitress with another name, never heard from again, staring at rich sunsets quickly changing from purples to pinks, leaving town once people start to know my name. Being an anonymous nomad. Living off little. Not having to worry about falling into a depression and not having enough money to pay the bills for my kids, or the mortgage on a house, or a roof over my head (worst case, I’ll sleep in my car, on my own, if I’m on my own…)
But that’s a silly fantasy of disappearing. That isn’t reality and it’s not what I want either. Maybe what I want is a somewhat nice house. A somewhat nice — will cost me $1.4 million in Silicon Valley — house with a little backyard and change to travel the world at my leisure in two or three star hotels. Kids? Maybe. A husband who doesn’t care if I’m CEO making $500k per year or assistant making $30. Love. That’s what love is. It is about helping each other, others, get through life. Get through it and stop to smell the roses. It’s cuddling when the weather is cold and making dinner for each other and surprises which deliver unexpected smiles. That’s all priceless. That is, it seems, what I want. Not fame, no, that’s what society made me think I want, that’s what 18 years of only being appreciated for doing something “special” made me want. I don’t want to be special anymore. I just want to be me. And more than anything else, I want to love.