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Zen: Go Big and Go Home

Well guys, it’s here. It’s the second week of December. I’m not sure when that happened, or how it happened so quickly, but it feels like the year flew by (I know, everyone says that every year, but 2012 went like it had rocket boosters attached to its back). Next week is going to be a shortened week at APW as the staff takes some time off to spend the holidays with family (cross your fingers for me. Michael and I will be on a redeye when Armageddon happens) so this week we’re going to take some time to explore endings and beginnings (and we promise not to use the word “resolution” if you don’t).

To kick things off we have the second of our year-end intern Reclaiming Wife posts, this time from Zen (who, by the way, also writes a personal blog over here if you’d like to continue following her writing). What Zen has to say about life after a wedding is so much of how I felt after Michael and I got married, but couldn’t articulate at the time. We’ve spent a decent amount of time on APW talking about how nothing changes or lots of things change after you get married, but what Zen articulates so well is that often it’s a little of both. Sometimes thing are exactly as they were, but still a shift is felt.

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

Zen: Go Big and Go Home | A Practical Wedding

I’d kind of thought things would calm down after the wedding. No more last-minute guest list upheavals. No need to worry about hauling things, and people, around. (You might think a wedding is all lace and flowers and smooches and cupcakes, but actually it’s mostly hauling. I would say at least 85%.) No more planning!

I hadn’t pictured what married life was going to be like in too much detail, but I figured it would be pretty much the same as life had been before I got engaged. Quieter. I figured I’d have more time to focus on my stories and try new recipes and meet up with my friends.

Except now I have a to-do list as long as my arm, at least as long as the list I had before the weddings: give notice of marriage at the Malaysian High Commission, consider impact of marriage on visa status, amend workplace benefits so Cephas can benefit from them, figure out what to do about finances…

And what I hadn’t quite clocked was that marriage is a start, not just in the sense that it is the “beginning of the rest of your life” (a phrase that has always puzzled me: surely every day is the beginning of the rest of your life), but in that it’s a jolt to the system. Things are different now—outside me, but also inside me.

The first week I was back at work after the wedding, an email went round my office seeking to gauge interest in an opportunity to work abroad for an undefined period of time.

Me! I wanted to go! It was the kind of work I was interested in, in a geographical region I passionately want to return to, and I was at about the level of seniority (well, juniority) they were looking for. Pre-wedding me would’ve drafted the email and only held off on hitting “send” to check that Cephas didn’t mind too much. (Probably by text: “Hey, gonna sign up for international secondment, k? See you on Sat!”)

Post-wedding, I told myself I had to talk to my husband before making any decisions. People do marriage in different ways, of course, but I was pretty sure we both understood ours to include an understanding that we each had veto power over where the other chose to live.

We didn’t get the chance to discuss the email until a few days later (see: life being more busy after the wedding), and I found a funny thing happening in the course of those few days. I started changing my mind.

Did I really want to go after all? I asked myself. There would be opportunities in the future, but I’d never have the first six months of my married life back. Cephas and I had plans. We’d so looked forward to having quiet time together after the hurly-burly of the wedding. Did I really want to be picking up a few months after the wedding to move off to a different continent?

These were all sensible questions to be asking myself, but they felt very new. I spent a lot of my childhood moving around—by the time I was twenty I’d lived in three different countries, and I never spent more than three years at one school. I like picking up and going somewhere new. It’s nothing really to do with how I feel about where I am at the moment. I’m just always convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere—and even if it isn’t, it will be interesting to find out what shade it is over there!

It’s only recently that I’ve begun to recognise the value of commitment, of routine, of stability. You have to have a stable place to jump from if you want to leap far. The thing that matters to me most is writing, and while new experiences may provide material, I find it’s boredom that really fuels my creative endeavours. It’s in the small mundane moments in the shower or walking to the office that I work out plot points and find out something new about my characters.

And it’s in the quiet routines performed in each other’s company—making breakfast, getting ready for bed, preparing for the next day’s work—that Cephas and I are beginning to figure out what our marriage means to us, and what we want it to be.

I did reply to that email, primarily because I thought it was the sensible thing to do considering my eventual professional goals. But when I was called in for a chat about the opportunity I explained that I’d be keen to go—just not now. It was a wrench to do it, and in a way it made it worse that it was the sensible choice given our situation. Just refusing this chance went against my image of myself as a constant traveller, someone who’s always ready to throw the known to the winds and hare off into the unknown.

But the known is pretty darn good right now. Working on my novel, learning vegetarian recipes, seeing Cephas every day, exploring parts of London new to me—it’s a life composed of the ordinary, but all the lovelier for it. I’ll get to check out the grass on the other side someday—hopefully when Cephas can come along. Right now, the grass here is awesome.

Photo from Zen’s personal collection

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  • Amanda

    Zen you are brilliant.

    ” I’m just always convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere—and even if it isn’t, it will be interesting to find out what shade it is over there!”

    I feel so much like this, specially because finding a job in the country where we are (where the boy had a stable job when I was just starting up) has proven to be super complicated. So I start looking around and I find exciting internships or job opportunities in India, or Leeuwarden, or Sausalito California, or France. And then I remember… I love being here, and we are building something together here, even if it is quite ordinary, like you put it.

    • Zen

      That must be hard, though, seeing all those glamorous other choices! I do need to take a moment to remind myself that I can either floating on indefinitely — or I can dig in my feet and try to build something. You can probably do both, but that would take much more strength of will than I possess …

      • Amanda

        It is hard…. and of course, it is not even sure if I would get those positions (or be interviewed at that).
        But we´ve looked around and after 3 hard years, I feel that I can see the light, I have a clearer idea of what I should do to get where I want to and I am full of ideas of projects that I never imagined embarking on.

  • Laura

    I know exactly how you feel about having to surrender this idea of yourself as a constant traveller! I moved to my current city in my home country for grad school and fully expected that I’d be moving abroad again when the degree is over. Then I met my fiancé, who is a rooted, stable kind of guy. I am really happy in our relationship but it is a continual shock to me to realize that nope, I will not be moving anywhere come the end of the spring semester. I’m glad that you are so enjoying living in London, and it’s great that you will still have travel opportunities in your future.

    • Zen

      Yeah, Cephas has a restlessness to him but he’s also a dude for routine. Restlessness within a routine! Whereas every once in a while I kinda want to flip the table and run away somewhere else.

      Which is to say — your “continual shock” sounds very familiar!

  • Siobhan

    I really, really relate to this post.

    Normally if I am in a situation I don’t like I leave it. This moslty applies to jobs. I am very happy to just find a new job and go for it. Two grades senior to my current post? Why not? Taking massive career risks to avoid feeling stuck or sad or whatever is something I have always done and valued and got a lot out of.

    Right now though as a newly married person who has a husband who craves stability the same way I crave change? Well I need to step back and think about “us” a bit more than thinking about me. I need to value some stability and commitment after a year of big changes (not just the wedding, but also a hosue move, some deaths in the family and some pretty big illnesses) even though every fibre wants to say “Time for a clean slate” I need to stop and think.

    I know I am learning a lot from being in this uncomfortable place right now and that it is probably strengthening me and us and all of that, but it feels different and for someone who embraces change that difference is difficult to deal with.

    As such I am SO grateful for this post existing and so articulately explaining a difference I had not prepared myself for.

    Thank you.

    • Zen

      Good luck! I so recognise that hunger for a clean slate you speak of.

  • Lauren

    “You have to have a stable place to jump from if you want to leap far.”

    I love this! Thank you.

  • Sara

    Marriage is so interesting, in that it teaches you things that you never thought you would learn, much less wanted to learn. Thanks for sharing.

  • Diana

    The grass is not always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it…. great post, loving your ability to recognize the beauty of the here and now and live fully in the moment. That’s what is so beautiful about life, we get to realize these profound things when we are presented with a decision. Great post!

    • Zen

      “The grass is not always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it…. ”

      That’s an excellent way of putting it.

  • Cali

    As a fellow writer, I just wanted to second this sentiment:

    ‘The thing that matters to me most is writing, and while new experiences may provide material, I find it’s boredom that really fuels my creative endeavours. It’s in the small mundane moments in the shower or walking to the office that I work out plot points and find out something new about my characters.”

    Experiences help bank up ideas for the future… but I don’t actually get any writing done unless I clear my schedule and just stay at home (or at a coffee shop) to actually do some writing. Having a packed schedule is not conducive to writing. Hanging out alone with my computer totally is. Getting in my creative time without becoming a total hermit is a weird balance I’m still trying to achieve.

    • Zen

      Yeah, turning my writing into an unglamorous part of every single day has been the best thing I’ve ever done for it (or myself).

      Why *are* coffee shops so conducive to writing? I wrote my undergrad dissertation in one. Must be something about the background noise using up all the bits of your brain you don’t need when writing, so they can’t distract you.

  • Rachel Wilkerson

    “It’s only recently that I’ve begun to recognise the value of commitment, of routine, of stability. You have to have a stable place to jump from if you want to leap far.”

    This perfectly sums up something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I resisted buying a house with my fiance because I felt a lot of the things you list here (must be something about being a creative!) but once I finally took the leap, I realized how much it solved a problem I didn’t even know I had. The stability that terrified me is now a huge source of comfort and I have come to very similar conclusions, though I haven’t been able to articulate them quite as well as you have here!

  • Sheryl

    I also found what seemed like a very quiet shift in myself as well after the wedding, and it’s also been in the simple routines of the day. Just a slightly different way of looking at things that comes out in weird ways when I least expect it.

    The post wedding to do list somehow seems even more mammoth than any of the lists I had pre-wedding. So much paperwork to do after a marriage!

  • Rachel

    I’m really grateful for this post!!! I’m definitely pinning this one, so that I can refer back to it – I’m getting married in 7 months! :-)

  • Katy

    Zen – I like “people do marriage in different ways.” When I was in middle school, my dad came home one day and announced that he would be moving 3 hours away for the next two years because he had been offered a rotation in his dream job. My mom burst into tears because he hadn’t consulted her. It was one of the more confusing moments of my adolescence.

  • Bets

    I can also identify with the dilemmas from this post, being another constant traveller, and to Siobhan’s comments below, especially the part about being in a relationship with someone “who craves stability the same way I crave change.” I guess my question is – when we think about “us” rather than just ourselves, what’s our partner’s role in supporting what we want too (and who we are – for me being a lifelong traveller is such a huge part of my identity)? Maybe I’m not reading this correctly, but it sounds like Zen (and many others in the comments), you realized that you had to make sacrifices to put your marriage first, and happily you realized that this is something you want as much – or more – than the pre-marriage liberty to pick up and go.

    But what I struggle with is that it’s a popular cultural narrative for women to “finally settle down, now that you’ve met someone you love.” I’m so afraid that if I gave in to stability, my partner and I would get so entrenched in our comfortable lifestyle that we’d never leave… and I would lose that part of myself that gets such joy and delight out of moving and seeking new experiences. Have any of you thought about inducting your husbands into your own adventurous lifestyles? If this story were the other way, do you think it’s just as likely for the husband to give up a fabulous career opportunity to stay in town because his wife has a settled job, or would it be more likely that he’d move, set things up in a new place, and ask his wife to follow? (I feel like I’ve read stories like that on APW, too, about women who find peace with having to follow their husbands to a new place – but rarely the other way around.)

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