“You want a home,” she said, and she nailed it.
I always wondered if this would happen to me.
I don’t think I would ever have been voted most likely to “settle down in your thirties.” I’ve moved a lot, travelled a lot, and made some unconventional life choices. So far, as an adult, I’ve lived in instituional halls at university, rented with friends, moved back in with family and experienced various versions of “living in community.” We currently live with my parents. For one conventional year, Aaron and I rented a flat in London together, just the two of us, and relished the glory that afforded us – like dragging bedding into a candlelit living room for a classic sleepover.
In some circles, unconventionality is praised. I’ve heard plenty of talk about not “settling,” or, more awkwardly, “choosing to be radical.” In these conversations, “settling” has a range of nuanced meanings including “adopting conventional lifestyle choices,” “settling for second best” and “choosing comfort and stability over discomfort and mobility.” This sentiment suggests that counter-cultural life choices in terms of money, time and the pursuit of comfort are somehow superior to more conventional ones. “Have 2 kids, buy a house in the nice part of town and drive around in your fancy car” is sometimes symbolised as the epitome of “settling.”
It’s an interesting idea, and although it’s really simplistic and actually pretty offensive, I understand the feeling behind it. I had a lot of conversations with friends about this in my early twenties and what we were hankering after back then is, I think, some authenticity, some hope that everyone’s life doesn’t just turn out the same, some pathway to ensure that our desire to make a difference and to be different – however simplistic, however universal – wasn’t just a phase. I think we were a little nervous that we would stop caring about the injustice that was shocking us, that we would end up prioritising our own personal comfort and convenience above our values, that our desires to work for what we believed in were more about being young than being brave. Since many of us met through church, I think we also just wanted to know that this whole faith thing we were in would actually make a meaningful and lasting difference to everyday reality.
Even leaving all that to the side for a moment, the thing I’ve been musing on lately is this: not settling down in your early twenties really isn’t that hard, or at least it wasn’t for me. It was natural, in fact. Life and faith have taken me on an epic journey already, but let’s be honest – mortgages, kids’ schooling, a spacious house, a garden, even job security, or (crucially) a place to call home for the longer-term – haven’t really been part of my story yet. They just haven’t been much on my radar for the last decade. They’ve crossed the screen every now and then, like a shooting star crosses the night sky, but you don’t navigate by a shooting star. These “settle down” factors have never yet been large enough lights in my night sky for me to be tempted to divert course. Comfort and sojourning weren’t mutually exclusive. Sojourning was comfortable, easy (or easy enough), a default…
That hasn’t completely changed yet, but what is interesting is that I’m starting to feel the tug. Things are coming into focus – the actual sacrifices that would be involved if I were to live somewhere where my (as yet non-existent) kids couldn’t get decent schooling. What it might feel like to be un-salaried long-term. Reaching retirement without significant savings. These are thoughts that I have sometimes.
But the real desire, the real change for me, is that I want to move somewhere long-term, as a base at least. This hasn’t been a huge factor for me until recently, but suddenly it is. I want to put down roots in an actual physical city, or town, or village, and entwine myself with the people there. If we move over the seas again, I want to have a base for us to come back to. I want to invest in a stable, settled place, friends within walking distance. There is a pretty decent chance that the next place we move is for 2-3 years, and my desires are bucking against the suggestion. To move, and then move again? No! I want to find the place we’ll be based for the next ten years at least. I want to be called to a place I fall in love with, to a community that is in it for the long haul, to have a neighbourhood to call my own. I want, as my dear friend said, “a home.”
And maybe we will – maybe we will find a place to call home. I actually think there are a lot of awesome reasons to do so, even though it’s never really been my default. I think that long-term relationships and community can only really be fostered in, well, the long-term. It takes character and involves pain to really commit to people through thick and thin and I believe that huge, mutually life-changing things can come out of that kind of commitment to community. I am so on board with that.
If we end up believing it’s right to move on after a short time again, I won’t say no. There’s more to a decision that just what I feel like right now. But for the record, I really feel like a long-term home (and I didn’t know that I ever would).
Image from my personal collection.