I have now been back in Vermont for a year. I am the poster woman for “you never know where life may take you”. I began a couple of new pursuits recently that have sparked nostalgia, bravery and silliness. Who knew that I might enjoy being the next house/pet sitting maven? This is the next stage of my empty nest adventure and now I am taking care of other’s loves – their pets. There are stories to be told – which brings me to my other next new adventure – I story-told at a story-telling event and I remembered what I was going to say and people clapped at the end. I think it was a little brave.

The picture above is of my current doggy roommate and we are just getting to know one another. She is tolerating me as I learn how things work in her world. I am finding that there are great differences in one doggie world from another. My last doggie sit was another story… it was a 3-month long stint and, therefore, allowed plenty of time for bonds to be formed. We breakfasted together, romped through the woods, snuggled on the couch for our Netflix fix. It was truly wonderful, until the family came home. Well, yes, of course they came home, but it happened so fast. And the thing that I had been desperately avoiding happened – me and my doggie-boyfriend had to break up. The family wrote me a nice note and invited me to visit and take the dog for a walk, but as the movie played in my head, we would re-bond with stick-chasing and general Lab happiness and then what? I would have to take him home? Or would I be the dog napper, oh how sad. And they would say, “Julie’s poor mother”. So, as the movie played out, I thought it better not to go to see my ex- and chance another heartbreak of one sort or another.

Life’s journey…we hear it everywhere… my journey, your journey, journey, journey. I think it is a good concept as journeys have been celebrated through history. Pilgrimages, traveling to foreign countries (think Eat, Pray, Love) which have had great value for exploration of ourselves, ultimately, over time. But I also like to think that the path is a less linear – I agree with the Greek philosopher Plotinus that “the soul moves in circles”. James Hillmans, a writer/psychologist agrees that “hence our lives are not moving straight ahead; instead, hovering, waivering, returning, renewing, repeating”. 
So, what does that mean for planning? I now come up against the plan it out/ let it come naturally dichotomy that has knawed at me for years now. How do you keep focused, not lose your way and be open to allow for good things to come? Well, the circular view of seeing how I move through life helps this…I may plan and follow through with it, but the difference is that my expectation of what I thought would be the outcome may be different and it may actually bring me back to retry something that I needed for a “do-over”. 
For me this is especially poignant right now for matters of the heart. When we plan our lives we focus on financial success; what job to take, how much we pay in rent, we plan to take care of our health; no gluten, workouts 3x a week, yoga and we plan how to take care of our minds; study hard, good college, continuing ed. But, we don’t plan how to take care of our hearts…I never have. My heart has been taken to where there has been a spark, an infatuation, even into my 5th decade, because I never planned for my heart. I think it is time to do the due diligence….ask the questions, explore red flags, use the same discipline for planning other decisions. I don’t eat dessert every day – if you know what I mean. I am not going to indulge my heart right now… I am going to hover and renew and possibly give myself a chance for a “do-over” in this part of my life.
That question was central to filling the empty nest. How did I decide to create new alliances and seek new relationships after the boys went off to university? My husband and I (now ex) made the decision to go on an adventure to a place that we knew a little about – Panama. But, this was just the first of many decisions made in very subtle ways that influenced the series of events that followed. There were many conversations to be had that didn’t happen, not out of ignorance, just wanting to “see how it works”, “we can always do something else”. But, the attachment to place and having a home base that I have talked about in my last post drove me to make the next nest. This is what I do.

But, what does that mean in an international context? What are some of the mini decisions to be made? One that I discovered is what I call the “to expat or not to expat”. This plays out in very subtle ways and are influenced by many factors. On the Caribbean island where we first lived, Bocas del Toro, there certainly was an array of expat living. American characters abounded -  everything from “salty-dog” types (big drinkers) to do-gooders (some druggers, some with credentials) to serial killers. I kid you not. There were other foreigners as well, but the decision to become part of this expat living American style is what I refer to because that is where I came from. I am fortunate that I had a professional connection and speak Spanish, so I did not rely on this community for social and financial connections. It works for many people, but I guess I felt that I had more freedom because I didn’t have to rely on English speakers. Plus, many of the expat group ran businesses, etc. (one person for fourteen years!) and still didn’t learn Spanish. I did not want to judge, but I had to make some context for myself… my rule of thumb became more like…if I wouldn’t be friends with them in the US, why would I be friends with them here? This may have saved me from some destruction…like hanging out with someone that might have killed me…. look up the “Wild Bill” story. He was a serial killer of other expats for their land. Yep.
Where is home? This is a question about how we define where home is. I am very attached to place and often get a little moment of panic when I realize that I do not have my house where I can go and feel a complete comfort level of having my stuff all how I want it…. I don’t have a shelf of all of my books to refer to nor my nana’s antique buffet to find some old photos that I want to look at. This is what I have given up and I am still grappling about home. Two of my recent “homes” were taken away from me – it is one thing to make decisions to move on, sell the house, go on an adventure. It is another to have my father’s house, that he built and thought-to-be my refuge in my home town, be appropriated by my wicked (who knew?) step-mother and not available to me. The other was my home in Panama with my former partner (see Narcissist post) who decided it was time for me to move on. So, now my definition of home is to be reinvented once again. Will it be finding a little house to build or buy? Will it be some shared living with some of the special people that I have known and want the same things? I think home is about to become something new for me in concept and in reality.
I wasn’t going to make the subject of my blog solely about relationships but it just keeps coming up right now. Maybe I still have a few things to work out. Also, I read an insightful article about 9 signs You’re in Love with a Narcissist (Huffpost) and this would have been such valuable information for me a few years ago. I don’t think that I have ever been involved with such a complete Narcissist before so I made excuses for his behavior – which was further complicated by the fact that it was an intercultural relationship. This has caused me problems in the past as well – I am a compassionate and curious person and trained in cultural anthropology, so many times I try to do some analysis about the cultural context that I am living in (abroad), about adjusting to what that is part of the culture, what I can accept and whether it is a chance for me to expand my understanding of how others may work in the world. But, some things are not to accept and, by the time I realized it, I had already fallen under his spell. Loved him.
So, let’s call him Wolfgang.
Indicator #1: In the beginning they love bomb you – oh my bejesus did he love bomb me, I never felt so attended to and cared for. He was a master… pulling me close and interested in everything about me – expensive dinners, botanical garden trips to buy me my favorite plants. It was intoxicating. CHARMER.
Indicator #2: Grand, sweeping gestures are their strong suit – picking up the tab for dinners with others – always in situations to elevate status. There was always an ulterior motive and he would usually pick situations where he could get information, gain some control or leave the others feeling like they owed him something. I saw this build over time, but thought it didn’t apply to me. He made me feel like we were in it together. Sucker I was.
Indicator #3: They never admit they are wrong – NEVER. He would make an obviously poor decision, but was never wrong – and, more likely, it was my fault. I couldn’t even begin to defend myself, forget it – I was just the stupid, incompetent one in the end according to the world of Wolfgang.
Indicator #4: They’re envious of your relationship with others – Shit and shit again. I was such a fool as I allowed my friendships to be cast aside to spend all my time and devote all of my attention to him. Even my dog. I am not joking – she was left with a caretaker and when she disappeared, she was gone from my life. She was such a good companion and I basically abandoned her because he didn’t want the complication of a dog. This has been a difficult one for me to live with.
What was I thinking? More indicators and revelations in the next round. I have made myself remember enough pain for now. I hope that some of my insights might resonate with others….
Relationships are on my mind. I am thinking about all the kinds – family, work, romantic and everything in-between that we encounter every day. Even the casual couple we meet at the bar talking about tacos. They all mean something and what bind us to the social and emotional part of our world. We talk about what they mean... “I love my family”, “I don’t like the smelly guy in yoga class”, but these relationships or connections seem to have different meanings for different people; such as, how much contact/connection we need with outside social situations, do we like new and/or varied experiences or do we like the comfort of routine ones? I think this says a lot about US.
And when there is great differentiation within a couple, problems can arise. I have seen that couples that have the same sense of external social stimulation and intrapersonal (between them only) combination – or close to – have more trust and understand each other better. This is one of the most difficult differences to work out. Maybe jealousy – or wanting to know why your partner needs that “rush” of meeting people or being entertaining – is really hard. It has been for me and I think there is a fine line. I think that there is a limit of what we ask our partner to expect before it becomes disrespectful… is a partner supposed to accept three drunken nights out with friends a week? Or six-week business trips 3x a year without you? What do you think?