Settled — but exploring
I’ve always been at odds with my family and my community on the concept and very definition of ‘settling’. My mother was an army brat, moving around from one city to another until her family settled down in Lahore. Since then, my mom always wanted nothing more than to build her own house, a place where she’d have enough storage for generations of family heirlooms, crockery, and furniture. My father grew up in the same house in the same city and was very attached to it. The house was his home. Despite their different upbringings, they both shared the same belief that the natural progression in life was to “settle down”. This meant putting down roots in one single place.
My views differ significantly from my parents, and I truly wonder if there is something wrong with me. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be an explorer in some sense, and though I never traveled much as a kid, I knew this was going to change as soon as I’d become independent. True enough, as soon as I turned eighteen and went abroad for college, my choices were defined by my itch to move around. The selection of my major and later, the selection of my career was influenced by my relentless desire to explore and live in different countries.
Of course, many of my elders thought this would eventually change once I’d get married and “settle down”, but nope, nothing changed even then. Instead, I found a partner who validated my definition of settling down and much like myself, he preferred nothing better than to live an interesting life, one that included exploring the world. Now, both of us are subject to some sage old advice:
…you’ve accomplished what you wanted, and seen the world. Time to settle down somewhere, make it home and build roots, because you don’t want to be moving around with kids now….
To this, I’d say, rather scream, that I am already settled. But this answer is quickly brushed away because it’s not the answer they want. And perhaps it is because my definition of what it is to be “settled” differs from other peoples’. For me, settling down means finding a home and a home doesn’t have to be a single constant. Home is a place, any place, where I have my own space, my own friends, my own activities — and my own life.
So although I’m originally from Lahore, and it remains a place where I’m ultimately quite comfortable by virtue of family and friends, it’s not the only place that qualifies as a home. I’ve lived in the US for eight years, scattered among Boston, Davis, Vicksburg and Washington DC. Then, I’ve lived in Seoul for around two years. Here and there, I’ve been a regular visitor of a bunch of other cities which are almost secondary homes. Perhaps soon, I’ll be moving to another country.
All these places are and will be my homes where I have settled in.
And when I say I’m settled in these places, I’m not saying I’ve merely lived there. I’m no nomad, mind you. Not even a fancy digital nomad. I’m either an expat or an immigrant worker for lack of a sexier term. But in all these places, I have engaged in the community, worked there, invested, volunteered, and cultivated relationships — in all sense of the word, I have settled there. And I have done it with a different kind of permanence. I have made friends with the full commitment to remain friends with them. I have grown professional networks with the aim of connecting with them in the future. The only thing I didn’t do is plan to retire there, that’s all. I had a time limit for how long I would stay in a place. So, can I qualify as a respectable adult who has“settled down” and yet still prefer to move around?
I suppose not in some people’s dictionary. Maybe, it’s just not in my nature to settle down the normal way. Sure, I don’t think its bad to have a house in the suburbs to raise kids, but I wouldn’t want only one house to be tied down to. I’d want the freedom to move around in the world and find a new home whenever I want, wherever I want. That means, instead of building a mansion for myself or collecting assets in one single place, I would prefer spending my money on experiences that will become memories to cherish later on. Of course, observers may still nod, thinking that at some point, I will see the light and settle down. It’s natural, right? Maybe...
But maybe, not. Maybe, I’m more like my ancient ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers and explorers. See, for much of our human history, humans have been hunter-gatherers, moving around, tethered only to their flocks, the availability of food and climatic shifts. They traveled, ate and lived with few items. It was only around 12,000 years ago when the agricultural revolution happened (which I have become more critical of, in recent years) that humans settled down. It was then that they started producing excess food and homes.
Given that we, humans spent 90% of their history wandering about— and only a mere 10% staying put — it’s not irrational to think that some people might have a default setting of an explorer. This disposition might explain my own itch to never settle down in one single place. After all, with a repository of memorable experiences in my life, how can I choose only a single place to settle in?
So, after all these years being taught that “settling down” means selecting a single place to call home, I’m happily challenging this shitty definition. Yes, being settled might be a marker of success, but if we can accept the idea that we can settle in a home that can change in location over time and life, then please know — I’m settled AND successful.
After all, when you can end up with some delightful — and bizarre — memories, from growing up in a historical part of Lahore, called Fane Road, or Shark’s Lane, to meeting a colorful Confederate Louisianan on an alligator tour on the Atchafalaya river to visiting the temple in rural Korea where Buddhism first arrived from Gandhara, then, why oh why should I ever choose a single home to settle in?