Just over a year ago I was in Nepal, exploring a speck of a town perched somewhere between Pokhara and Kathmandu. High up in a tiny mountain saddle named Bandipur I arrived, wandering contemplatively along silvery slate streets in the dying heat of late afternoon. In a last-minute push to create a showy welcome for me, the sun flung a golden net over children shooting marbles on the walkways and chickens scratching in the drying corn. The Himalayas added their flourish to the ceremony, looming mystical and fog-shrouded in the distance, like a chain of half-remembered dreams.
Bandipur was the second stop on a two-week Nepalese jaunt I had tagged onto the end of a hectic work contract in Kathmandu. I had accessed the remote hilltop settlement by way of a precarious bus ride up a steep switchback road that served as the only way in and the only way out. From the moment I arrived the village imbued me with its relaxed, slow-moving attitude, as though in apology for the stressful journey it knew I had endured to get there. I moved and breathed slowly, the pace of the latter catching momentarily at unexpected glimpses of impervious mountain range, and at the intimate details of typical Newari life that lay modestly tucked away behind centuries-old wood-shuttered doorways.
Travel always makes me feel fed and fortunate and full of awe, but Bandipur was a particularly soul-stirring experience. Though the village’s main artery measured but 200 metres end to end, the placid enchantment of this little place touched something inside me that seemed bottomless.
And while Bandipur was remarkable to me, the experience doesn’t stand alone. I’ve had heaps of other unforgettable moments in scores of locations around the globe in recent years. When they arrive I breathe deep of the grace of my surroundings, feeling it weave its way into my DNA; I exhale appreciation. In these instants I want for nothing. I am a part of everything, and I know that I am whole. It’s almost like being in love.
Being single in one’s forties can encourage an elaborate perspective on life. It’s a challenge just to stay happy and not get derailed by everyone around you who seems to have found and followed a more traditional path. On a good day, you focus on the plus side: you can do what you want when you want where you want; there’s no one to compromise with and for. Alone time is easy to find. The seat is always down. On a darker day you see the down side, which I’m pretty sure I don’t need to spell out for you. Through the years you ping-pong between the two. Friends and family members meet special someones, fall in love, get married, have children (Ping! Missed the boat); face health challenges, disagree about how to raise their kids, fight about money and careers, get bored with one another, grow apart, have affairs, get divorced (Pong! Dodged a bullet.)
You bear witness to everyone else’s story, dutifully bringing gifts to the weddings and baby showers and bottles of wine and episodes of Sex and the City to the breakups. Often times it feels as though life has left you hovering somewhere in between, stuck in the net.
But maybe there’s another way to look at it.
My setting out with a backpack to begin discovering the world at the age of 39 seemed insane and irresponsible to some. “Isn’t that something you’re supposed to do in your twenties?” one friend (and one blind date!) commented. Sure…and I guess one could say the same about falling in love. In both cases we’re lucky if we get to experience these precious things at all, at any age. If there’s one lesson life has taught me it’s that when we think things should happen and when they actually happen—if at all—don’t always coincide. We don’t control luck and timing, only perspective and attitude.
Being single on the backside of forty offers loads (and loads) of time and opportunity for self-exploration. The most important relationship we can nurture is the one we have with ourselves, and few things test that relationship as much as solo travel. It’s you and the world in its vast array of spectacular, scary, confounding, one-of-a-kind splendors. It’s as fantastic as it is frustrating; at moments as disheartening as it is uplifting at others.
I’m no expert, but isn’t love kind of the same?
What forms the DNA of a solid, lasting relationship? Trust. Mutual respect. Communication. A commitment to making things work, no matter how rough the road gets. Never taking one another for granted. A good laugh now and then.
And while it can’t rub my feet or call me in the middle of the day to say it misses me, the world and I have the rest of it down in spades.
Sure, we have major disconnects. Drag-’em-out fights. Complete communication breakdowns. Moments when we border on disrespecting one another. Times when it feels like the other is against us, rather than on our side.
But like in any relationship based on love, we duke it out. We let that love fuel our commitment to soldiering through the muck. We take our lumps and carry on, in sickness and in health. We (usually) admit when we’re wrong. And in the end, we always find our way back to each other.
Since Mr. Rub-My-Feet continues to elude me and I don’t/won’t have kids of my own, I’ve made my life about racking up as many soul-stirring experiences as possible. What I didn’t foresee is that in doing so, I’ve also fostered my own special version of true love.
Though my love affair with the world will never end, I haven’t given up on finding a real-life, flesh-and-blood version to bring along with me on the adventure. My heart still yearns and hopes for the real thing; I don’t mind sharing that secret with you.
Just please, don’t tell my boyfriend.