By all rights, I should be in my late 50s now instead of my late 60s. That 10-year difference marks the approximate amount of time I have spent catching up to the “norms” of other people my age. The causes of this delay are numerous, but the primary forces collided in a perfect storm in my teenage years. Still, even though feelings of being “behind” haunted me for a long time, it turns out I was right where I needed to be all along.
My mother was anxious and depressed, and she frequently saw me as her steadying companion. My father was quiet and distant. As a longtime public school teacher, he was pretty done with anything related to helping nurture the growth of young people. The result was me—a kid who had lots of ideas in my head but not much guidance to sort through them and find myself. My mother’s neediness also tied me to her in a way that left little time for my own personal explorations. I suppose that if it hadn't been the 1950s and 60s, and if my parents been a little more focused on encouraging me to find my way, I might not have been as flummoxed by my love for other girls, either. As a teenager in a high school that seemed at the time to be filled with beautiful, promising heterosexual girls and boys, there was no path in my thinking that was going to lead to me being happy and fulfilled.
A million roads surround each of us, all leading outward from our little dot on the earth.
That's an old story, and one I’ve told many times in one form or another. The overarching theme in every recounting, though, is the same: I didn’t find all the pieces to start building a life for myself until I was in my mid- to late-30s. I began then earnestly experimenting with relationships and careers and life interests in the way that someone my age might have done a decade before. But honestly, it was the first time I felt whole enough to take myself seriously and to try my hand at a real life.
I ruined a large number of relationships in those days in the same way that young adults choose the wrong mates and then behave badly to prove it. If gay marriage had been legal back then, I’m relatively sure I would have at least a couple of divorces to my name. But I also learned a lot on my own growing-up timetable. I spent many years in therapy, and I was fortunate enough to land in a career that has let me grow gradually and find new directions for myself even now. The result is a life that I might have imagined in my youth if I had ever, ever had the wherewithal to dream anything glorious for myself. But it is a life I came to so late that I consider myself even luckier because I almost ran out of time.
I know that was part of my initial caution when I was 50 and met the person of those dreams, my life partner whose confidence, goodwill and presence in the world was so foreign to me I almost let her slip away. As accustomed as I was to the needy, unformed people of my youth, I figured someone like Jodi must be “crazy” if she could navigate the world with such grace. But, like someone in their 40s might finally get the Rubik’s Cube of their lives and the people who represent each square, I fortunately let it happen. And man, oh man, was that ever the right decision.
So who knows? Maybe my version of when things are supposed to happen is as made-up as what I imagined my bleak future would look like. A million roads surround each of us, all leading outward from our little dot on the earth. Like a slow game of Monopoly, we take our steps when we’re ready. The direction is circuitous at best and what lies ahead is anybody’s guess. If my luck holds, I have another 20 years or so to relish the wealth I’ve found at this late stage in life. Save me from wondering why it took me so long to get here, and let me just enjoy it with gratitude instead.