At 35, I decided to move out.
Traditional Filipinos, or Asian families in general, unlike Western families, usually wouldn’t have children (still “children,” no matter what age) move out of their homes unless they are getting married or starting a family of their own. At least not as a major life decision. We can’t just be out there drifting afloat in the open world alone, as a choice. That’s utter nonsense.
Of course, times are changing now and we get more Westernized faster and faster by the internet hour; but I would say this is still one of the family customs that will be sticking around. Unless the children have to go to school far away, or maybe stay with relatives in the city to ease the burden on folks from the province, or move temporarily for work to avoid the daily horrors of traffic, family members stay together. Sometimes, children might even stay post-marriage, or come back with the plus one and more. It’s convenient, it’s comfortable, it’s our extended family culture. It’s family.
I am my mom’s only child. Although she remarried after separating from my father when I was ten, in my thirty-five years, I have become her world as she has always been mine. Late July last year, a few weeks after my birthday, she had a heart attack. A month later, my grandmother – her mother – passed away. In late November, a few days after her birthday, I moved out to live in my grandmother’s empty house to finally be on my own. Maybe, on the surface, it seems like the worst time to unstick myself from the stronghold, but I somehow felt the opposite deep inside: there is no better time than NOW.
I believe that if I reasoned and convinced myself that I should stay home because of all these big events that have come to pass, then all kinds of events and reasons, big and small, will always hold me still, because all kinds of things always come to pass. Things are always happening, outside myself and inside myself. I no longer wanted to make decisions based on what was outside of myself. I wanted to start making decisions for and from within. Or else, I knew that I will always be in a place where I would make my decisions as a reaction to others, and not to my inner calling and voice.
I am a homebody. I like staying home and can just be in a room reading, writing, and talking to myself and the dog at my feet. So it seems of most valuable importance that a home is my home. My space. At the same time, if I were to be social, I could be very tribe-oriented. I thrive knowing I am a part of something and I devote myself to that idea of a whole. I nurture, I do things for people I love, I overexert myself. The concept of “emotional boundaries” is something I am still learning to grasp. Too often, my joy in my aloneness go in conflict with my instinct to do what others want first if I am around them and care for them.
I am not placing myself in solitary confinement just so I could avoid the needs of others. I simply wish to create an immediate personal space that is mine from which I can begin with as ordinarily and as daily as the days unfold.
It is a bit amusing, actually, how big of a deal this move was made out to be because, oh hello, I am still in the same subdivision and still living in a house that belongs to family. My officially-moved-out photo was this:
After all my enthusiasm leading up to moving out day, the first days were a combination of remarkable peace and pangs of loneliness. Solitude is definitely the word. When I just arrived and put some clothes in the closet, my mom’s clothes were still there because of the three years she had spent there caring for my grandmother 24/7. It was a bit dramatic. I touched her clothes with such poignant sentimentality that it was as if she was no longer around anymore; when she is living just about five kilometres away from me.
I started to see my living alone as similar to solo traveling. I have always enjoyed traveling solo, and did quite a lot of it these last few years, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize just how much of living alone felt like the exact same thing. At the onset of solo travel, there is this preliminary anxiety for the first few hours right after breaking away from my group, or my flight, or my country. Who do I talk to now, where do I go, how do I come up with something fun all on my own, what do I want to eat and see for myself? There is this suddenness, this expanse: this giant world and this tiny me. So much of the experience becomes built on the novelty of making decisions based entirely upon yourself and your instincts and paths of choice alone.
As my days living alone proceeded, I came to realize why I had so much loved traveling solo. It was only there that I had been able to allow myself to make my own choices. I was addicted to doing it because I then got to do the kind of decision-making I couldn’t do in my daily life having an environment already built and ready-made for me. Especially if, as a Filipino, you have maids and parents that will dote on you for as long as they are able. Daily domestic life becomes so automatic. Being out in the world solo with a backpack was my way of seeking out lonely planet hours in which I can just totally be my own unique and individual self.
And now, living alone, I get to do this every single day. Surprise!!! Every day is a solo adventure. Every day is a plan-your-own-itinerary. Every day is an exciting venture into coming up with your own agenda and pursuits; from mealtimes to play time with the dogs, from social gatherings in the living room to nights writing alone.
I probably sound privileged, jumping for joy over independence from the too-comfortable and well-taken-care-of life. But this is something that I seem to have genuinely needed for myself, for my fears, for my doubts, for my anxieties, and for my ideas of how to make choices and how to make dreams come true. It was a way to go further into myself so that I could come out into the world as a better, more proactive participant. Because I get to define who I am more clearly by the life I make, and get to experience exactly where it is I am coming from, be first witness to the momentum I am creating, and be highly aware of and attuned to where I am directing myself towards.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s not for many Filipinos. And a lot already get married and have their own family and know what they want early on. But we all don’t really know what is for us if we do not try it on. I think ultimately, finding your authentic self is for everybody. And fear of taking the first steps is something that we all share, whether we see and admit it or not.
Making the Move
We all too often don’t give ourselves the chance to make decisions for ourselves and see the kind of environment we truly want to create. We get carried away by others’ voices, society, status quo, a bottomless arena of suggestions and reactions from loved ones and strangers on news feeds. What do we truly want? And if we decide to continue to listen to others, what if they are not so sure either? Then we are all in a vicious cycle of following roads that nobody wants to go to, reroutes that nobody made the actual decision to take.
The interesting thing is I had already been saying for years that I have come to understand why children need to move out at a certain age. It is because they are already turning into their own person and how they want to live cannot be completely embodied by how they are living with their families. So how then would one get to evolve more freely and naturally? We are not only raised by our parents, whether that is agreeable to them or not; we are raised by the sum total of the environments we have chosen (or not chosen) to partake in throughout our lives. As a result, we all eventually come to see (or want to see) the world in our own special way.
Despite having said this consistently for a very long time, it took me only now to finally “make the move.” A lot of us have vague ideas of what we want, what our opinions and views are, what resonates with our beliefs and desires, and yet we don’t act on them. It takes a while for us to follow our inner voices. Again, it is about getting used to allowing ourselves to make decisions and dreams for ourselves. To make our own itinerary.
Enjoying my Days
At this point, I have succeeded living on my own, with three dogs (adopted three within my first month!) and a cat, for two months now. I feel like I have attained a lifelong dream for myself. It is as if I had just landed a flexible dream job or won the lottery and I am now on my retirement years gardening and reading my days away. And all it took was to live my daily life exactly the way that I wanted it to be lived.
We all want to do good for the big, big world. I think one way to do it is to live our lives in the most genuine way possible for us. After all, a home unit, as is a family unit, is a unit that both contains and affects the energy and system of the bigger model in which it takes part.
And now I have a growing world bigger than my box of baking soda, bottle of red wine, and cups of chai.
Here are my upgraded officially-moved-in photos:
I don’t think I will get to travel as much now anymore. I also don’t know if a partner (a human one) would enter the picture anytime soon. But this is moving out, moving on, and most importantly, moving into me. And every day is a story that I alone get to tell.