I always know when a relationship is doomed. Back in 2013, it was when my boyfriend, let’s call him Jake, violently cracked his back in the middle of a Harlem art gallery.
That might not seem like a big deal, so allow me to set the stage: The artist – a painter, sculptor and metal worker – was not only present, but in the middle of explaining his work when, from the corner of my eye, I watched in horror as Jake threw one leg in front of himself and then twisted his back in the opposite direction. It was a maneuver he repeated several times, each attempt more vigorous than the one before until he came so close to knocking a painting off an easel, that I turned to him and hissed, “What are you doing?!”
“I’m trying to crack my back,” he replied.
“I know that,” I said. “But I think maybe you should do it outside.” It was meant to be a suggestion, but it sounded more like a threat – the latest in a long list of gems like, “Usually paprika doesn’t go in chili,” and “Sneakers aren’t shoes.”
I was never totally sold on Jake, but it wasn’t until that episode at the art gallery that I made my decision: He needed to go.
And then, just as I was preparing for what would be, at the very least, an awkward conversation, the universe smiled upon me. Out of nowhere, Jake was offered a job in Australia. He was to leave New York in a matter of weeks.
As far as I was concerned, my problem had been solved by a mystery woman in Sydney who had $80K to burn and an inexplicable desire to hire someone without professional references.
The ink on the offer letter was barely dry before I explained to Jake that the only practical course of action that I could see would be for us to wind things down. But he had other plans. During his contract negotiations, he had requested that an additional visa be arranged for “his partner.”
“You said yourself that you would love to live in Australia,” he said.
And that was true enough. I had said that I would love to live abroad. But not with him. Not with just about anyone I’ve ever met, quite frankly.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.
“Well let’s just talk about it when it’s all signed,” he countered, waving his hand across my cocktail.
“I’d like to talk about it now,” I replied. “Because I’m not going to Australia with you.”
The conversation that followed went about as well as one might expect. When Jake realized I wasn’t going to budge, he finished his cocktail in a single swig, slammed the glass down and then threw the lime wedge resting on the rim across the table.
Later, in retelling the story, I’d claim that he threw the lime at me. But, in truth, he really just threw it towards me. Either way, it was a bold move. Even for a man who cracks his back around fine art.
It was all very concerning: the surprise visa; the lime; the storming off. But I knew he was going to be a problem long before any of that.
I knew at the art gallery.
In fairness to Jake, I can understand why he thought I would be interested in an international relocation plan: because I had been talking about doing something similar since the day we met. For months, I had been floating the idea of using my upcoming bonus payout to fund an extended trip through Europe.
In talking about this plan to Jake, I intended to send a signal that said, “Don’t get attached.” He interpreted it as, “Find a way.”
But even if I liked Jake more, I wouldn’t have followed him to Australia. Because if I were to uproot my life, it would have been on my terms – not his. It would be my decision. And my adventure. I might change my life for someone else eventually, but not for Jake.
I don’t know if he ever made his way out of New York, but for all my talk about taking time off that year, I never followed through. As fate would have it, a new job fell into my lap a few weeks later and I was again blinded by the money someone was willing to pay for my time and curious as to whether a new routine would be enough to refresh my life.
“Might as well try,” I told a friend as I signed the offer letter. “I can always run away later.”
Before starting my new job, I took a month off. I worked my way through Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru before returning to Midtown for a new hire orientation that just so happened to be located in the same building as my old job, which gave the whole situation a crushing sense of familiarity and boredom.
“I’m out in a year,” I promised myself as I stepped onto the elevators that morning.
But I wasn’t. I repeated the whole process one more time, right down to the pre-orientation vacation – this time to Turkey – before finally realizing that even if I continued to switch jobs every twelve months, I’d probably never find what I’m looking for. Because I’m in the wrong place. And I’m doing the wrong thing.
After three years and two false starts, I finally did what I had wanted to do all along: I quit the job; I gave up on New York; and I phased myself out of the comfortable life I spent more than a decade building.
This coming year, I’ll be traveling through parts of East Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I plan to freelance, volunteer and work on a book.
It’s exciting. And terrifying. But it’s what I want to do.
And it’s not nearly as overwhelming as the thought of staying here for another three years, stagnant and bored.
Having announced my decision some weeks ago, many people have since channeled their inner Jake and suggested ways that I could alter my existing plan to align more closely with theirs.
“Why don’t you move to another city in this country?”
“Why can’t you just take a new job doing something different?”
“Do you really need to go there?”
One person went so far as to suggest that if I asked my employer very nicely, she might be willing to give me my job back.
“Just tell her that you made a mistake,” he said.
“But I didn’t make a mistake,” I replied.
“I think you might have,” he said carefully – which sounds harsh, but is pretty understandable. After all, he’s only saying what everyone is thinking.
The bottom line is that I can’t follow anyone else’s life advice any more than I can tag along with Jake to Australia. At the end of the day, I’m the only one who gets to live my life. And I’m the only one who can choose the terms and plot the course. I made my choice and, for now, I’m happy with it.
No one else needs to understand that. No one else needs to like it.
But you have to stop trying to talk me out of it. Think about yours instead.