In my experience, building yourself a cage doesn’t happen all at once. It happens slowly. Piece by piece.
6 years ago I met someone. He had brown eyes, brown hair, a sweet smile and a great laugh. We fell in love, we learned to climb together, we built a life around each other. We were children. As we grew up we decided to move into a van. We sweat and bled and cried and covered our life in saw dust and duct tape. In the end, we had a tiny house on four wheels that we hoped would become our home.
It’s a great story. It was an amazing journey.
And of course it is not that simple.
We were just kids playing house. The walls and the floors and the electrical were all put in almost by accident. We watched YouTube videos and asked friends for help and made every mistake. As we began to build a house, we began to grow apart.
His sweet smile didn’t fall on me as often and I heard that laugh less and less. I felt myself turning bitter towards the sound of it and searching for sweetness in others instead.
When our house was complete he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘I never want to do something like this with you again.’
I cried and swept saw dust out of the cracks while he drove his motorcycle to a friends house.
We tried to make it work. Or at least I tried to make it work. I made myself small, I put more energy into that laugh of his, and did my best to coax out that smile. I complained less and said less. We drove around the country and saw amazing things. We met new people, we drank new beer, we swam naked in new rivers.
When it was time to come home he told me, ‘I don’t want to travel anymore.’ We wanted different things. We weren’t children anymore.
When the time finally came, it felt like murder. To end a relationship is to kill a love. I cried for 3 days. I fevered and shook and sobbed for the life we had lost.
And on the third day I sat up, drank some water, and decided to live for myself.
What happened in the next 22 months was akin to a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.
I’ve long believed in the benefits to solo female travel, but today I’m adding the following to that belief.
Break up with your boyfriend, move into your van.
I see this all the time on the road. A couple has moved into their van. It’s his van, he did most of the work on it and he paid for it. He wants to travel the world, rock climb, ski, mountain bike, etc. She’s trying to become a writer, or go to school, or paint. The specifics aren’t important, what’s important is that she feels like she can’t have this life with out him.
He built the van, she could never do that. He bought the van, she’s trying to pay off her student loans. He does all the driving, she couldn’t imagine all that alone time. He makes friends so easily, she’s too shy to give it a try.
I don’t mean to make sweeping generalizations, (of course there are exceptions to every rule) but I was this girl. And I see this girl on the road,
All. The. Time.
I’ve also seen what happens when she realizes she’s fed up. It’s hard living in a van with someone! It sucks to sleep in a cramped space with the same person night after night. It’s hard to pee in a jar next to the same guy who thinks it’s gross you didn’t shave this week. It’s really difficult to fight every day over what music to drive to, or where and when to stop for gas.
What happens when she finally wants to get out and have her own adventure is amazing.
I can’t overestimate the importance of women having control over the little things in their lives. It sounds so small, like ‘I want to listen to this song on repeat for the next 3 hours.’ Or, ‘I will be stopping to pee right now at this gas station.’
But these tiny little pieces of control, are what make a life what it is. In society we tell women to put others needs first. We tell them to check in and slow down and just make sure it’s ok with everyone. But what we don’t tell them is to be selfish. To think about themselves first. To literally take the wheel of their lives and drive where ever they want.
I remember nights of driving around in circles, too scared to stop anywhere in case a stranger (a cop, a murderer, a thief, a rapist…) came knocking on my door in the middle of the night. I remember hitting a rabbit at 70mph, screaming, and then speeding on in a terrible silence all by myself. I remember driving up to a campfire of people I barely knew all on my own and mustering up the courage to walk over and say “Hey…Remember me?”
These small, terrifying moments of being alone were so so important to me.
It is vital to know that I will find a place to park. I will make roadkill, and I can grieve it, but it will still happen. And I am worthy of friendship.
In my experience, dismantling a cage doesn’t happen all at once. It happens slowly. Piece by piece.
What happens when women realize their own power and take back control of their lives is incredible. They say ‘no’ faster. They say ‘yes’ with more confidence. They change their hair, and their clothes. They play the harmonica instead of texting back. They paint with water colors instead of shopping for two. They drink more, or they drink less. They spend the evening in someone else’s van and then sleep deeply through the night in their own.
Confidence in yourself and in your life is the height of empowerment. I don’t believe that you have to ‘be a badass and do everything all on your own’ but you should know that you can if you need to. Proving to yourself that you can and you will, is life changing.
So, if you are this girl, reading this right now, please, please hear me.
You can do this on your own.
You can build your life without him.
You can literally and metaphorically climb that mountain.