We were honeymooning on Vancouver Island.
On the drive from Ucluelet to the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, the car fell silent. “What are you thinking about right this second?” I inquired of the beau. “That sign,” he said, gesturing to a black and yellow checkered road sign that warned of an approaching curve.1 “And driving.” A few moments passed. “What are you thinking about?” he asked me. “Narcolepsy,” I replied. “Like, can it happen at any time? Can you be running and all of a sudden, bam, you’re laid out on the pavement in a dead sleep?”2
Other things. Now that we don’t have a wedding to plan anymore, we think and talk about other things. Turns out that other things are like riding a bike: you may feel a bit rusty when you get back on, and those muscles may ache from disuse. But you never forget.
The beau and I spent a lot of time on our honeymoon talking about other things, and about The Future. The Future is something we’d talked about before, obviously, but during the whirlwind months of wedding planning we’d apparently lost sight of it. We were on a deadline, see. We were working towards something very specific. Then that thing was over, and we were suddenly like: okay, what now?
Indeed, The Future was a bigger question mark than usual. The very first day I went on vacation before the wedding, it was announced that the company I do contract work for was being bought by another company — and so I went into our marriage and our honeymoon with that uncertainty weighing on my mind. What will happen? How long will I have my job after I get back from vacation? Where can I start looking for other work? Where do I want to work? What’s the next step in my career? In my personal and professional growth? What do I want to be when I grow up?
Oh, god. That’s the million-dollar question. Just before my dad turned 50 this year, he went through his own employment rough patch. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” he told me on the phone last spring, his voice equal parts amusement and bewilderment. “I don’t know if I ever will.”
Many people my age — and beyond — are facing life uncertainty. This is inherently unsettling, especially for anxious type-A folks just who want to know! What! The! Plan! Is! But we don’t. We can’t. And we never really will. We were brought up being told that we’d go to college, we’d pick a career, we’d land a great job in that career, we’d get married, we’d buy a house, we’d get a promotion, we’d have kids. If we hit all of those marks, met all of those goals on the life achievement list, we would be successful in our collective Futures. Somehow this was supposed to happen for all of us; male and female, black and white and brown, poor and rich alike. At least that’s what they hammered into us in the public school systems I attended.
I found out otherwise.
I like to think of it as the Great Unlearning. It doesn’t even have to be Great unless you’re in the mood for pretension. It’s simply the Unlearning. An unlearning. One of many, perhaps, that I will go through in life. Unlearning doesn’t invalidate any of the goals on the typical life achievement list. It simply refocuses your energies on only the ones you actually want, or enables you to alter them for your own purposes. Or even throw them out and start over. Reinvention, as they call it.
The strange thing is, I feel like I wouldn’t be as prepared for my own unlearning, great or otherwise, if I hadn’t first made a foray into the world of nontraditional wedding planning. Turns out that the path to unlearning weddings dovetails nicely with unlearning life — finding a space that allowed, even encouraged, me to create the wedding I wanted by extension gave me permission to create the life I want, now and in The Future. It’s difficult for me to feel embarrassed about my “different” choices when I know that others have chosen them as well. That’s not necessarily a brave or unique or trail-blazing sentiment, but it’s true. I’m a social creature who seeks acceptance. Funnily enough, I feel like I don’t need that acceptance as much anymore.
I spent our engagement defending our wedding choices to others, only to find that not much changes after marriage. The only difference is that instead of desserts and centerpieces, you’re taken to task over jobs, careers, kids, and houses. Everybody wants to know about Your Future as it applies to the life achievement list.
My Future? I don’t know what it holds. I only know that it’s now Our Future, and that we’ll be writing it as we go. I’ve also grown to realize that the only thing that matters about it is that it’s authentic. Authenticity has become a big corporate and artistic buzzword lately, but it’s the best word to describe what I mean: that you make every decision only because it’s the right one for you. Even if no one else is doing it, and even though that can be disconcerting.
For our future selves, authenticity may mean having kids, or it may not. It probably means buying a house. It definitely means moving, and it definitely means a lot of traveling. It means being unconcerned with who’s driving what new car. It probably means that we’ll never have a matching set of furniture. It means dropping out and tuning in. It means going to hockey games, art galleries, and punk rock shows. It means keeping our distance from suburban chain store hell. It means good friends from all walks of life. It means taking risks. It means avoiding complacency. I hope that’s what it means, anyway. At least for right now.
As for my job? That’s even more hazy. The acquisition process at my company has been simmering since September, and it’s just now starting to reach a slow boil. Representatives from the other company are in the office today, and it looks likely that the final paperwork is almost ready to be signed. Coworkers have been steadily jumping ship since the announcement, and the ones who remain have been wandering the cubicles this week, hugging each other in preemptive goodbyes.
It’s kind of a sad thing, and it’s kind of a scary thing. But that’s what The Future is like, sometimes. Before the buyout, I was on course to being hired as a full employee after the new year. Now, my new year is a giant blank slate. I can plug in the variables at will.
I don’t know what’s coming next, but truthfully? I’m kind of excited to make it happen.
1 We were fascinated with this sign. We couldn’t get a picture of one on Vancouver Island because on the way to Ucluelet it was pitch dark, and on the way back it was pouring rain. And the city of Vancouver is apparently lacking in dangerously curvy roads that require vigorously checkered warning signs, so we never saw them again. An extensive Google images search did not yield one, either. What the hell, man? Are we the only people who care deeply about road signs in British Columbia? Whatever. So I took two different pictures I found while searching the internet and quickly photoshopped them into closest approximation I can muster:
YES, THANK YOU, NOW I AM HAPPY.
2 Yeah, okay, I could have just Googled it if I had internet access in my arm, but I don’t, so I was stuck with doing it the old-fashioned way where you sit around pondering the mysterious ways of the universe with NO WAY TO FIND THE ANSWERS.