A New Normal
I recently returned from a trip to Mexico City. I went by myself. This is something I never thought I would do. Travel alone. But after talking with a friend who travels alone regularly and loves it, I decided to give it a shot.
It was a good trip, but it was strange. I am independent and always have been, but this felt next-level. I didn’t really recognize myself. Who was this person staying in a hotel alone, eating alone, adventuring alone? Do I like this? Is this me?
I went back and forth between loving time alone to explore and wishing I could just share my sandwich with somebody. Or point out an interesting building or laugh with someone about my terrible Spanish.
In the morning I’d be floating along the streets, coffee in hand, in awe of the beautiful moss-covered trees and sidewalks. By afternoon, I would start looking around for strangers to talk to, like the girl in the shoe store or the guy trying to sell me “candy” or the doorman at my hotel, who did not understand my Spanish, nor I his.
During a food tour I booked for the second day, a girl in my group asked me if I traveled alone often. “Never,” I said. “This is kind of an experiment.”
When I moved to Austin a year and a half ago, I was 30. The last time I moved to a new city I was 23. Moving at 30 and moving at 23 are very different experiences.
When I moved to Nashville in 2009, I found dozens of other girls just like me: young, single professionals, finding their newborn way through the real world. By the end of that first year I had a tight-nit group of girlfriends. We traveled together, went to happy hour together, cried over our first jobs together. With only ourselves to care for, we were available to each other most of the time. This group remained my closest friends in Nashville until the day I moved.
I realized recently that with one or two exceptions, I don’t have any single friends in Austin. I hang out with married people, engaged people, or people who are in serious relationships. Whereas in Nashville my age and life stage was consistent with the similar-aged people around me, in Austin in my thirties, this isn’t the case.
And I’ve had to adjust.
I remember talking to a friend right after she lost her dad. I asked her how she and her family were doing. “It’s a new normal,” she said.
This happens every once in a while doesn’t it? We reach an unexpected place in our lives and have to learn a new way of living around it, a new normal.
My new normal is not nearly as difficult as a new normal after you’ve lost someone you love, but it is a new way of living. I used to watch The Bachelor with a big group of my Nashville girlfriends. Now, I watch it with a good friend and her husband. I used to go to happy hour with a handful of other girls and complain about dating. Now, I third-wheel with my roommate and her fiancé (and I still complain about dating). Parties were once full of other singles. Now, they are full of young families, or couples who are headed that way.
It isn’t bad. It’s just different, and that has made the social adjustment in Austin a bit clunky. There was no category for me really. No door for me to walk through with a sign above that read, New-to-Austin, single, female, thirties. I sort of had to make my own way, carve out a door where there wasn’t one. I think I have, but it has taken time.
Here is something I am learning about life: It does not adjust to us. We must adjust to it. We must accept our realities, change our expectations and be OK with life looking different than it used to or different than we thought it would.
Before we adjust to the new normal, we try our darndest not to. We twist, fold and squeeze life into our own expectations of what we thought it would look like. We kick, scream and fight the new normal, as if that will make it go away. This is the messy part, the pre-surrender period when things feel off but we don’t know why.
I was in that season my first year here. It is only in recent months that I’ve begun to accept life will not look like it did in Nashville in 2009, and it can’t. It wouldn’t no matter where I had moved to. This change was always going to come, and an adjustment was always going to be necessary.
So while I do think my trip to Mexico City was an experiment to see if I like traveling alone, I wonder if more than that I made this trip to help me embrace this change. Like taking a long, surrendered step into my new normal.
New normals suck. They just do. I like my life to either go the direction I want it to go or stay the exact, comfortable same. But life has told me it does not adjust to me, and I am starting to believe it because the only thing that sucks more than a new normal is denying the new normal. This makes life really difficult, strange and nearly impossible to navigate.
I’m not sure where you are. Perhaps there is a long, surrendered step awaiting you, but you are hesitant to take it. It may not require a solo trip to Mexico City, but it may require something equally as challenging or scary. As someone who is actively yet cautiously beginning to step over to the other side, I don’t have much wisdom to give, but I have noticed that in transitions like this I tend to think the good is only behind or only over there, but if I’ve learned anything from long, surrendered steps I’ve taken in the past, it’s that the good is always ahead. We just have to have the courage–and humility–to walk that way.
Nice work, Andrea. Interestingly, as a childless couple in our 40s, Merryn and I have a slightly similar experience of not fitting the categoroes for people our age. So we tend to have more friendships with people who are either ten years younger or ten years older than us. It’s not what we envisaged of course, and something of a new normal in itself. But it can be good too.
Thank you, Sheridan. Yes, you and Merryn would know this feeling well. I so appreciate people like you who are sharing your story and making us all feel more connected and understood.
Love this. Moved back home to SA after being at Baylor for college. It’s familiar territory but definitely a new normal. Thanks for your thoughts; reminds me that I’m not alone I’m not always wanting a new normal!
Thank you for this post. Your encouragement for us to “be OK with life looking different than it used to or different than we thought it would” really ministered to me.
My new normal was learning to live as a single person after my husband of 36 years passed away when I was 62. I’ve learned I can do things alone that we used to do together -go to an Avengers movie and go out to eat, but I still don’t like going to neighborhood parties alone. Maybe I will conquer that, too, one day. Good for you, Andrea, for taking the risk. Before I married, waitstaff would occasionally marvel that I was willing to eat out alone. My response was, “I wouldn’t get to eat out often if I only went with others!”
I am 86 years old and my husband of 66 years has just passed away. I have been visiting him in a nursing home for the past 4 years – my days taken up with these daily visits. Now I, at this old age, have to adjust to a new normal. I found your article very helpful. New normals are difficult at any age.
SO True! I’ve been going through that where we live in Virginia and have finally realized that this isn’t changing for us any time soon and I can choose to embrace and see all the good and learn and grow where God has me even though I don’t have the same depth of friendships I have had other places … yet (can I say yet after 3 and a half years?). I am much happier now though and I have realized so many reasons why God probably has us here now- so though I came here kicking and screaming I see the good work he has been doing in me and in our family and I can finally say it is good. Thank you for sharing so openly about friendships. That has been my biggest struggle in our latest move too!
This was so perfectly written, and I’m sure will speak to so many different people. I immediately identified. Similar to Sheridan, my husband and I found ourselves moving to San Antonio from OH, at the age of 42. This was our very first out of state move! I’d always joke, that I wouldn’t recommend doing it at that age. In OH, we had fallen in love with so many couples that were newly married, and watched each family grow with the addition of every child. Although we weren’t able to have children of our own, we were completely embraced by these families, lessening the pain of our infertility. I’d envisioned ball games, school plays, proms, and weddings alongside these precious families. After moving here, it seemed virtually impossible to make friends that were peers. I had never experienced, what I perceived, as the rejection that came with not having children. The minute someone would ask how many children I had, and I answered that it was just my husband and I, it “seemed” to be a deal breaker for them. The first 2 years were terribly painful and lonely. I’d always been so outgoing, and couldn’t remember a time in my life when I’d struggled to make friends. My friends consisted of a couple of young new moms, and a few women that were 70 yrs+. I was, and continue to be thankful, for their friendship and support during that time. I have a close friend from OH, that lost her husband when he was at the young age of 40. This happened right before we moved here, 5 years ago. Our situations were so completely different…yet we completely understood the loneliness of not fitting in any more. Here I was, a childless women in a “child” centered world, and she was a widow and young mom, in a “couples” world. I’m so overjoyed that God was so faithful during that time, and I now actually have a couple of friends my OWN age! Not as deep as before…but my new normal. Along with a career change, and fulfilling , life giving volunteer work, the Lord has filled that void once again. I’ve come to accept that every new season will bring pruning and joy….and I’m constantly on the lookout for those that need a friend!
So interesting to read of the “NewNormal” for alot of us women. Mine has been through studying in different countries where one needs to be alone to concentrate n where there’s alot of fellow scholars to share, then working n caring for dependant family members to finding oneself alone after retirement. Apart from gardening n church participation am learning to find common ground with widows, singles of same
/close in age and single moms to keep from being bored n making a difference in someone’s life.
I had a similar experience when I finished graduate school at 28 and moved to a small, nearby town to teach college. Suddenly I went from being a student to being a “single,” and I struggled for a while with who I was supposed to be when I didn’t have a cohort of peers my age who shared by interests and life situation. I got comfortable with eating out, going to movies, and even going to Disney World by myself, even though I go with friends too. Sometimes I worry that I’ve gotten too comfortable with singleness. I do hope you’ve been married for a long time by the time to get to be my age, Andrea.
Thank you. I’m really glad that I found this writing of yours. I’m a 25-year-old South Korean. After being born and raised in South Korea until the age of 13, I moved and lived in America for 11 years. It’s been two years since I’ve been back in Korea. It was hard when I first moved to America, but it’s been harder to adjust when I moved back to Korea. For the past two years, I’ve been feeling like I really don’t know who I am anymore. I think things are getting better, but it’s definitely not easy. I feel that I have a strong feeling against surrendering…maybe surrendering isn’t losing and I believe that it is. Thank you for your insightful writing.
You have a special gift of telling your story that calms my heart and wants to read more of how you see and live life. I accepted Jesus into my heart alone at 16 while gazing into the hill country night sky in amazement of His universe at Camp Capers. Reading your words bring a contentment that reminds me of that special moment. Thank you Andrea.
The New Normal is always Gods way of developing us for the next chapter in our life. We know that His plans are for the Good of us who love Him. I understand your point of view on the single life and hanging out with couples. One thing that I am thankful for, is the fact that I have craved for the love of Jesus due to walking through so many challenges alone. I am thankful for your story because it is encouraging to know there are other Saints living with the same questions and experiences.