Image from Unsplash.com
When I first moved to California, I didn’t do it with any real plan in mind. All I knew was that I needed a change, a big one, to shake my life out of the rut that it was in.
I was born in Orange County and had always wanted to come back, so a year after finally breaking the chains of addiction and stepping out of the useless fog my life had become, I figured there was never going to be a better time to do it. At 28, it was better late than never.
I had a vague outline of what I hoped might happen when I moved, though I had no concrete goals or specific route for how I wanted my life to turn out once I left. For years, a friend and I always had the idea of writing a comedy sitcom together, and I knew that moving out here could really be a first step in working towards that idea. I had no idea of the ins and out of the business, and was barely getting myself to write much of anything worth a damn at the time, but still, I threw caution to the wind and just took off.
Without getting into too many details about the trip as that’s not the point of this story, I’ll sum it up quickly.
I drove across the country with my brother accompanying me for company. We took our time, made our way across the endless and near-desolate flyover states, stopped at the Grand Canyon, spent a night in Vegas, drove up to stay at a cousins in Sacramento, then made our way all along the coast, stopping at random beaches and scenic spots before finally landing at my uncle’s in Laguna Nigel. He had a room I could use for a bit while I figured out what to do with myself. Fast forward a month or so and a friend in San Diego got me a job working in the kitchen at the sushi place he worked. At the same time I had my interview, I found a lady on Craigslist willing to let me rent our her attic space for $500 a month (lucky as hell, I know), and it was also literally right down the street from the new job (even luckier, trust me, I know, It also didn’t last more than 2 months). Everything about the move seemed surprisingly easy and before I knew it I was working and living in San Diego, doing my best to get by while trying to make time to work on what little writing I was capable of doing.
Like I said, I didn’t really have any kind of plans for myself. I didn’t know anyone in the writing industry, I had maybe one or two crappy scripts for sketches I wrote along with a notebook full of nonsensical rambling, and other than the few coworkers I got to know, I had no close friends. My main focus when I first moved here was to focus on money and setting myself up financially until I felt I was comfortable enough to not be so stressed out.
Two weeks into living there, enter OkCupid.
A string of messages after that, enter the girl who I would proceed to spend nearly every single day with for the next 3 years.
She was out here alone as well, and we bonded over our solo travel out of our home states. We didn’t start dating right away, but we still saw each other almost every single day.
At that time, I didn’t have any kind of routine. I hadn’t put myself on any kind of writing schedule and would go weeks or even months without touching my notebook or keyboard. I was still very much using “boredom” as an excuse to go out to distract myself from the ever-present void of self-reflection that comes with sitting inside staring at a white screen by yourself. I used this girl in the same way a person uses chores to procrastinate from their real work. I just chalked it up to making a friend and wanting to get out and experience the city. It didn’t feel like I was using her at the time, and we were both having a great time with each other as the months turned into years.
Now, fast forward again. Three years later.
We’re well into dating each other, have had a good handful of mini adventures around Southern California, and I’m still working the same job but living at a new place with a few coworkers.
As the years had passed, I began to see how much of my time had been dedicated to this relationship than to any kind of personal progress in my life.
You see, I may not have had a plan of action when I moved here, but still, in my head, I was going to be out here alone, experiencing a new city, making new friends, writing all the time, meeting other writers, and integrating myself into a new community while making strides on my creative path. (Being single when I moved here, I assumed I’d even maybe get to “play the field” for awhile while I got settled into my new life)
None of this stuff really happened, though. And although I may not have had a plan for how things would go, I still assumed that would have been the inevitable course to some degree.
Instead, what I found was that I had essentially recreated the life I had in Ohio in a different place with different people. All of my actions and routines were the exact same.
I had a job I didn’t like, friends that had no direction, and a girlfriend I started dating almost out of sheer proximity and the fact that I had nothing else going on. It was almost an exact replica of my old life.
This weighed on my mind for some time. I became frustrated and annoyed easily. I started questioning everything I was doing and everyone I was around, including my girlfriend.
The thing is, just before these realizations, I had really started to think that I had never had so much fun in a relationship before. I felt so comfortable and at ease with this person, and yet I still wouldn’t let myself fall into them completely and just commit myself because of how I assumed my new life was “supposed” to go.
A voice in my head kept telling me that I wasn’t even supposed to be with them, that I never even gave myself a chance to live my life out here on my own without yet another relationship “holding me back” from working on things I should be working on. This idea pervaded and eventually came to a head.
I will say this, there was also quite a catalyst that occurred that caused the relationship to end.
Without getting into detail out of respect for her, I’ll just say that at that time she was becoming mentally unstable and went through what was essentially a week-long psychotic episode full of extreme paranoia, delusions, and complete shifts in personality. That week ended in involuntary hospitalization, and her flying back home for a month to be with family.
These extreme circumstances, along with the doubts I had been having for a while, caused me to make the decision that it would be better for us to not talk while she was on her trip so we could finally get some space from each other and she could work on her mental health while spending time with family.
She did not see it the same way. She felt I was abandoning her in her time of need. That I was being selfish and self-centered during a time in which she needed me most. After enough time alone, I see how right she was. She returned from her trip and we spent the next few weeks separated to an extent. I was trying to ease myself out of the relationship while she figured out what she was going to do.
Eventually, she told me she was moving back to Florida because she couldn’t afford to live here. In my mind, I thought Well, I guess that’s that. I didn’t try to salvage the relationship or offer to help. I didn’t open myself up to be the person she could lean on. I was so focused on getting back to my “solo life” that I convinced myself that she needed to go out on her own, do work on herself to get her life together, and be with her family. It sounds like a good plan for someone in her position, but I could have been so much better about the entire situation.
I was so attached to my expectations of how this new life of mine was supposed to go, I failed to see what it actually was. I failed to let go of my romanticizing and just see the person in front of me who cared for me and needed help.
If I hadn’t been so caught up in what I thought I had wanted, or how I thought this “California adventure” was supposed to turn out, I would have seen that I had more fun and adventure with this person than I ever had by myself or with anyone else. The mental health thing wasn’t some insurmountable obstacle. It still isn’t. People deal with those kinds of things all the time and although they may be difficult to get through, when you love someone you make the fucking effort. I could have made that effort to understand and be compassionate instead of using her episode as an excuse to push my inclination to break up over the edge.
My attachment to these expectations has left me sitting here, almost two years now from our split, typing into the same void I was running away from when I first moved here.
Things have been going relatively well. I’ve gotten to soak up all the solitude I was craving so badly back then, have been able to save more money than ever, and my writing has gotten much better and much more frequent. Still, it’s obvious now that I could have made these changes while still being a reliable partner.
Then again, it’s the time alone that’s allowed me to see these things so clearly in the first place, so who’s to say.
She and I still talk on occasion. She met someone else, has been taking care of herself, and is doing exponentially better than she was out here. She just needed support, encouragement, and love. I was too busy looking at myself to see it at the time.
Now, I find myself looking back on our time together as the most enjoyable years out of my entire time in California. A part of me can’t help but hope this new guy messes up so bad that they break up and I can reconnect with her. A part of me thinks that if she said she was open to trying again, I would pack up and move for her. A part of me also thinks that this is what I deserve for being so self-centered and careless with other people’s emotions. A part of me also thinks that I’m just lonely and looking at our time together through rose-colored glasses, as we’re all prone to do in times of touch-starved longing. Can’t help it, I guess.
I know the reality of our situation and I know how I get when I start inflating ideas and getting nostalgic. I guess it’s just that now, since I’ve started coming to terms with how my mind operates and am beginning to grasp the mechanisms that have held me back for so long, I’m starting to see that it’s these kinds of attachments that have always been the root of my problems. The fault has never been on anyone else. I project expectation onto the future, and when things don’t line up properly, I try to back track to make things fit instead of rolling with the flow of life and simply letting things go.
Who knows what would have happened if I would have made the effort to make things work. For all I know, we would have still broken up. It’s not like we didn’t have problems like any couple. But at least I would know that I had stepped up and been there for someone who needed me.
Maybe it would have worked. Maybe if we had stuck it out, things would have eventually turned out to be better than I had first expected when I moved here. It’s of no real use to ruminate too much on it. This cold alphabet soup will do for now.
If you’re in a situation like me, just know this: Give up your expectations. Stop being so attached to how you think things are supposed to go. Let life come at you and deal with it head-on. Don’t side-step your struggles because they weren’t “part of the plan.”
I’m telling you, regardless of how things still turn out, good or bad, you’ll be better off for it. As well as the people you overlook that are affected by your actions.
Your attachment to control will only leave you grasping at stability when you could have been learning how to ride with the current instead of against it.
It’s better late than never, I suppose. But still, it’s late all the same.