When people ask me what’s new, I sometimes struggle. Because as I’ve probably written before, in the big, small-talkable ways, my life is remarkably consistent: I’m over eight years into my relationship, ten at the same address, eleven at the same company. I’ve had no children, and even my cat is well into his middle age. I don’t buy many new clothes, and pretty much never redecorate. If you visited me after a decade, we might sit on the same couch, and I might even be wearing the same dress.
In this same past decade, the lives of my friends have changed a lot. I’ve attended a couple dozen marriages and welcomed quite a few little ones (who seem to keep their parents’ lives in a constant state of change). My friends have switched jobs, bought homes, a few have even moved to new cities. Meanwhile, I’m unmarried, child-free, and still a renter in the house where once it wasn’t all that surprising for someone to wake up after a late-night bender and find a pizza slice abandoned by the toilet.
While there are many things I’m grateful for in all this, sometimes this sameness bothers me. There is certainly no shortage of external pressure to get these stamps on your passport to adulthood, and comparing myself to my friends sometimes makes me feel like a child in a sea of legs at an adult party. There can also be a certain internal restlessness that bubbles up now and again. Many of these milestones come with a full slate of responsibilities and things to learn, whether it’s sleep strategies for infants, mortgage rules, car models, wedding florists, or types of kitchen cabinetry. Some of these things are important, and others relatively trivial, but all keep you occupied, distract you at the very least. Since I’ve given up most consumer delights, I can’t even buy myself the illusion of change with something shiny and new.
I felt a little bout of this restlessness lately—maybe because September can make a person crave a fresh start. But then today I realized that all of these constants are in fact a very useful kind of constraint. That not being occupied with planning major events or moving house or raising a human has left me with a tremendous amount of time and mental freedom, and perhaps I’ve even used some of it well. Because while my life may not have changed, I can tell you that I have. I’ve spent the last few years learning a lot about environmental issues and racial justice, practising giving more and using less, honing my skills and expanding my interests. I’ve had time to read, and write again, and expand my self-sufficiency with time-consuming pioneer nonsense like making my own soap and growing and canning my own beets. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to live a good, meaningful life while colouring outside the lines, how find true north on my moral compass. And this is not the stuff of a Facebook update, or that prompts a party, but I know that it is not stasis, despite how it may look to a casual observer. I feel more like a river, its course the same but its composition always changing. And while “I’m like a river,” is more a stoner wisdom than cocktail party chit-chat, it’s been comforting to realize that my consistency hasn’t hampered my growth, but likely allowed it, that a same-same life can be a secret path to change.