We all face pressure. High pressure jobs. Pressure from our families. Societal and cultural pressure—to live a certain way, to look a certain way. Physiological pressure even. (Hey there disintegrating eggs and 33-year-old ovaries!) But often the real pressure we face is from within. And the pressures we place on ourselves can be the most taxing. We can’t ignore their calls. Grit our teeth through the holiday meal and breathe sweet relief once we’re at a safe distance, alone in our cars. The pressure from within follows you around. Slips itself between your sheets, spreads out, makes it tough to fall asleep. It creeps up when you’re making decisions—about big things and the small things too. Sometimes it wears masks, disguises itself as other peoples’ needs and wants, obligations you must fulfil. Or maybe as a lifestyle, a frame of mind, who you’ve decided to be.
I like to play it cool. Not take on the pressures that swirl around me daily. To find a life partner. To have kids. To get a “real job”. To settle down. To look like a model. (I’m still cute with an extra 5-7, amirite?) But sometimes things happen, and I’m struck and surprised to realize that while I might be face-palming those external pressures, I’m still carrying my own self-induced burdens.
One of these things happened recently, when New Guy asked if he could come to Mexico City.
Who’s New Guy, you ask?
Well, brace yourself for this, but I’m actually dating someone at the moment. We’re not super serious—not enough to give him a name more personalized than New Guy, anyway—but we’ve been seeing each other for a few months and things are “going well,” as they say. One of the reasons I like New Guy is because he’s spontaneous and adventurous and has found a way, much like myself, to tread the line between conventional life and doing it your own way. With flexible scheduling, travel, and generally making the most out of life. One of the other reasons is that he’s providing for me, in this relationship, things that Last Guy never did and never would. But I’m not about to get into all that here.
We’ve talked about adventures. About our flexible schedules and their compatibility. We’ve taken spontaneous weekend trips and discussed our future travel plans, volleying open invitations. I’d mentioned more than once that New Guy should “visit me while I’m down there.” And he’d mentioned more than once that he’d be happy to, that he could probably come down and work remotely. And all was well.
But when he suggested coming to visit when I first arrive, for a week, my departure date only a few weeks away, it felt so much more real than it had when we’d talked about it in our wine-damp roof conversations or over pumpkin coffees on our leaf-peeping rides through New England. A wave of if-not-panic then certainly doubt washed over me. Did I really want him to come?
Of course I want visitors—any and all. But right away? For a week? And what does this mean for our *gulp* relationship?
What did it mean if I allowed him to come?
On the one hand this flexibility of scheduling, the interest in my endeavors, and the willingness and ability to travel are some of the highlight advantages of dating this person. Those check-box items that make me think there might be some possible long-term compatibility. And also: HOW FUN!? To have someone to kick it around with for my first week in Mexico City. Sight seeing, and adventuring. A dinner companion and a hiking buddy, someone to grab drinks with at night. And someone there to talk about all the exciting new things we’re doing and seeing for the first time, together.
But mostly what I felt about the prospect of his coming to MEX was anxiety over breaking my own rules. I was cheating. I am supposed to be going on this adventure alone. Taking classes, settling in. Feeling the empowerment of navigating the city on my own, and seeing improvement in my language skills with each coffee ordered or train ticket bought or polite conversation on a train.
What did it mean if I allowed him to come? If instead of going it alone, a female solo traveler, I showed up with my boyfriend? Less risky. Less uncomfortable. Easier. And this made me feel weird and uneasy and dishonest.
I grappled with the decision for over a week, unsure of what to do. When he broached the subject I told him only half-jokingly that I hadn’t yet decided if I’d let him come to Mexico. Finally, when the trip loomed just two short weeks away and no lightbulb from within had materialized to illuminate the obvious choice, I decided it was time to bring in the big guns. I consulted my mom.
I told her the situation and how it made me feel. That it was thrilling that this person in my life had the time and the ability to travel like I do. The interest in what I’m doing, in seeing the world, in exploring with me. That I was very clearly and unmistakably a priority in this person’s life. And…that I was a big fat cheating fraud if I allowed him to join me on this first portion of my trip.
And she said the most Mom thing:
“You don’t have to choose.”
The words so simple that I somehow hadn’t thought of on my own.
“You can have it all,” she said (rather romantically for my personal taste.)
“You don’t have to choose between having someone in your life and living your adventures. If you can find a way to do that with someone, why not?”
And I realized that the pressure I’d been putting on myself for independence and free-wielding, uncompromising freedom had left me…well… unwilling to compromise.
It startled me, and not in a good way, to find that the wall I’d built with bricks of independence and fear of settling and pure, simple selfishness, rather than protecting me from outsiders looking to ‘change me’, had simply boxed me in.
As introspective and open-minded as I am, I couldn’t see the nuance in these situations. I’ve felt at times that thinking about someone else’s feelings or consulting with them about schedules meant I was not living my own truth. Like having someone with whom to explore a new region would negate the entirety of the three subsequent months I’d be spending there alone. Like if I didn’t start off scared and uncomfortable the experience would be meaningless.
We all hold a certain image of ourselves. The person we feel we are on the inside, or the person we want to be. We hold tightly to those images, those parameters, not wanting to veer too far off for fear of being a hypocrite, inauthentic, wrong. And that framework of values is helpful. Indeed it makes us who we are. But the flexibility, and open-mindedness, and giving yourself a fucking break once in a while is what allows us to bend and sway and keep on keeping on when the pressure kicks in. To not crack under rigidity and unfavorable conditions. To be our truest selves even when that doesn’t look exactly as you’d imagined it.
Breaking more than my own rules.
So I’m breaking my own rules. I’m letting New Guy come to Mexico with me. We’ll travel a bit and do touristy things and celebrate Dia de Muertos and eat our faces off. I’ll be starting this new experience not as a woman alone in a (huge) foreign city, but instead with a vacation. And realistically if that’s selling myself short it’s not the worst way to do it.
I don’t know where we will be three months from now, or even three weeks. But I don’t have to. I also don’t have to say no to something I want because it’s not in the plan. And I certainly don’t have to let self-imposed pressures keep me from exploring. (It’s the whole point when you get right down to it.)
So, here’s to nuance. To breaking your own rules. To exploration and vulnerability. To throwing the pieces in the air and hoping you are who you think you are when they land on the floor. To giving it a whirl. And of course, to moms and their sage advice.
Check back for stories from Mexico City and more personal dilemmas. And as always, thanks for reading!