Sarah Thebarge would rather live for experiences than events.
In the past year I’ve had several relationships with a few men that showed potential and then…we broke up.
One of my friends asked me how I felt after the most recent break-up and I thought about it for a minute. “I guess I feel disappointed, but not devastated.”
“Well, then, he wasn’t the right man for you,” she said. “Because if you’re in love with someone and they break up with you, you should feel devastated.”
Maybe, I thought.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe he wasn’t the person I was supposed to marry, and that’s why I haven’t fallen to pieces, unable to eat or get out of bed. However, this man and I have been able to remain really good friends, and we still have a lot of fun spending time together.
When the hope of marrying this man was off the table, I realized that the relationship still mattered to me. It mattered a lot, actually. Because we care about each other and we have so. much. fun. together.
And even though he will never pop the question or ask my dad for my hand or dance with me at our reception, the relationship is still so…well….beautiful. It doesn’t matter that we’ll never experience the expected relationship events — engagement, bridal showers, bachelorette and bachelor parties, and marriage. The other little experiences we have together are still so amazing. They are still so special.
“Not every successful relationship ends in marriage,” my mentor in grad school told me. And she was right.
I know a lot of couples who have gotten engaged because it was the logical next step in their relationship. They didn’t know how to go deeper together without something to show for it. So they got engaged. And then they got married. And even though they had misgivings about the wedding, they kept going. Because it was the next event that they, and others around them, expected to occur.
I realized as I was talking to my friend that most people live for life events. But instead of living for these events, I’d rather live for the experiences in between.
So what if I never get engaged? So what if I never register at Macy’s or walk down the aisle. So what if I don’t have my own kids, don’t have a baby shower thrown in my honor, don’t celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, don’t have a default plus-one for all the parties I’ll attend in the future?
I used to think about my life as a series of events — which, by the way, I expected to unfold in regular increments.
I was looking forward to the rhythm of graduating from high school, then from college, then from grad school. Getting engaged. Getting married. Buying my first house. Having a baby. Getting my dream job. Celebrating a 10th wedding anniversary. Watching my kids graduate from high school and then from college.
But then my life actually happened. I graduated from grad school ten years ago. I thought I was going to get engaged, and then get married, but I never met the right guy. Which means, for the foreseeable future, I won’t be throwing an engagement party or walking down an aisle wearing white.
It’s tempting to think that because the events I was expecting to happen didn’t happen, that I’m missing out. Or that my life is on pause while I’m waiting for the right to reach a milestone.
But living life as a series of events is like taking a train ride and only living to see the train depots.
What about the scenery in between?
What about the people riding with me on this train? What about the velvet upholstery and the dining car and the conductor’s whistle? What about that?
I’d rather enjoy the journey on the train than hold my breath until we arrive at the depot. I’d rather come to know the people around me than isolate myself and wait for a man who may or may not be standing at the next station with cap in hand.
To be sure, there are events in life, and they are amazing. Baby showers. Confirmations. Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs. Quinceañeras. Graduations. Engagements. Marriages. Housewarming parties. Job promotions.
And yet, in between those milestones, there’s an incredible, unpredictable, unbelievable journey. If I hold my breath waiting for the next event, I’ll miss the magic that lies in between.
Okay, so the memories I have are not of romantic or domestic bliss. But they are precious to me. My accomplishments might not earn me any ribbons or medals, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
I remember the night in Portland when I met friends at one of their parents’ homes for a Fourth of July celebration. When it got dark, we set a ladder against the side of the house, climbed up to the roof with blankets and mugs of hot chocolate, and layed on our backs watching the fireworks of ten surrounding little towns.
I smile when I think about the afternoon when I taught a 6-year-old Somali girl to read her first book.
I remember cruising the Pacific Coast Highway in a friend’s convertible on a chilly February day. We put the top down anyway (and cranked up the heat) because we wanted to feel the wind in our hair.
I remember an amazing lunch I had with my parents in downtown Chicago before they dropped me off at O’Hare and I flew to my next speaking engagement.
I remember sitting at the Coronado Hotel on Labor Day weekend, watching the sun go down.
I remember the book signing where an awkward teenage boy stood in front of me looking at the ground and then asked quietly, “Would it be okay if you hugged me?” And feeling his body shake with sobs as I wrapped my arms around him and told him how much he was loved.
In life, there are a million little moments like that. And if we wait for the big events that we’re expecting (and others might be expecting of us), we’ll miss the real gifts that life has to offer.
I think we should enjoy the events in life, but not live for them. Instead, we should live for the experiences. Live for the million little moments that warm our hearts, blow our hair back, and bring tears to our eyes.
I want to live for the people around me right now, not for the people who may or may not be there in the future.
Live for fulfillment instead of for fame.
Live for the subtle, not just the spectacular.
Live for what is, not what might eventually be.
Life is not just the milestones we’ve come to expect. It’s also the surprising spaces, and all the beautiful experiences, that unfold in between.