Love or something like it

 |  June 26, 2013

A strange thing happened to me this spring, about a week before I turned 28. For the first time in my life, I started to worry about getting old.

Until this year, I always embraced my birthdays, grateful for my years and celebrating them with friends. This year was a particularly great birthday, with drinks at Bar Eve, a surprise party involving homemade cake, a tiara and fire dancing, and a wine and cheese picnic in the park. Hard to find much to complain about there.

But as great as the celebration was, 28 felt old somehow, as though it was meant to be taken as a warning: You’re almost 30. Better get your life together.

Growing up, there always seemed to be all of these supposed tos by 30: supposed to be married, supposed to have kids, supposed to own a home and a car and throw Superbowl parties and visit the in-laws on holidays.

My life looks somewhat different from such a scenario. Most of the time, I’m happy with that. I’ve spent the last three years moving from city to city, visiting places I had never heard of but came to love, and I’ve been moved profoundly by the experiences I’ve had.

Maybe it was the succession of wedding albums filling my Facebook feed over the past six months, or the barrage of baby photos posted by high school classmates, or the frequent “He asked and I said yes!” statuses that made me start to question my lifestyle and wonder if I, too, should be settling down.

At first, I pushed those thoughts away. What do I care what other people are doing? I’m living in Thailand, for Christ’s sake, what more could I want than that?

But the anxiety drummed up by those doubts persisted, and I was eventually forced to confront them. The longer I lived abroad and met travellers of all ages who have chosen a nomadic, transient lifestyle, the more I’ve realised that it is possible to travel while having a relationship, a family and a career. So it wasn’t exactly my lifestyle that was getting to me.

It was the prospect of finding a partner. Living in a transient city like Chiang Mai, you often accept that many of the people you meet only plan to be here a short while, which means there is plenty of opportunity for brief but meaningful flings or really hot and fun one-night stands.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, and I’ve enjoyed both of those scenarios myself. But the unease started to set in when I realised I wanted more than that. It can be disheartening when you’ve met a string of guys who assure you mid-make-out that they don’t want anything more than a one-off romp, or ones who seem great but are booked on the next train out of Chiang Mai. (This is not to say guys don’t experience the same dilemmas, I’m just speaking from my own experience as a woman.)

I’m fully aware that there are many couples who have met and found lasting love while travelling, and that’s great. But as someone who has not yet found a man with whom to build a committed relationship, I began to wonder. Would I have a better chance of meeting someone if I moved back to America? Is it indeed time for me to ‘get serious’ about meeting someone and stop gallivanting through Asia? Am I going to end up an old maid because I chose a non-traditional path over the security of a life in the States?

My attitude toward relationships has changed since I first arrived in Asia three years ago. I landed in Seoul eager for adventure, and was happy to date around and casually hook up with people. I wasn’t looking for anything long-term. That was a great period in my life, but things have changed. I don’t feel a need to tie the knot before the clock strikes midnight on my next birthday, but I am more open to investing myself in a romantic relationship and to the possibility of intertwining my life with someone else’s. I don’t want to wait forever to do that, and I started wondering if I’m running out of time to ‘find someone’ as I approach 30 and continue to travel rather than settling in one place.

The thing is, I want a life that includes travel and exploration, and a partner that values the same. And it seems to me that I’m far more likely to find that while living overseas than I am by moving home. And if I don’t, well, at least I’m living a life that makes me happy. To move back to America now, when my heart is still in Thailand, or China, or wherever I go next in the world, would be to give in to those fears of being alone, with no guarantee of pay-off for that sacrifice. So I’ll keep living this life I love and hope that somewhere along the way, I’ll meet someone with whom I can share it.

Until then, hey, there are always Saturday nights at Zoe.