I’ve learned a lot this year about stereotypes.
The moment I mention that my wife and I are separated, the conversation is effectively over.
As soon as I mention an ex, every word out of my mouth is viewed from the lens of some chick flick version of a breakup. I’m in my mid-30s! I don’t have any kids! I must be broke and living out some crisis over my wrinkling face and waning fertility. I must be lost and confused and hoping to find myself (or a new love) on the beach somewhere.
Reality is totally irrelevant, because their preconceptions are too strong to actually absorb anything I’m actually saying or doing.
Breakup > plane ticket
It wasn’t the breakup that pushed me to travel full-time: it was the death of my cat.
I’d tried a house sitting website a few years ago and it was a total failure. Instead, my ex and I became addicted to home swapping. We were already living a life where we were on the road as often as we were at home.
Once I found myself without any pets of my own, I no longer needed a home base.
So many people talk about wishing they had the opportunity to travel. I did, so I took it.
As far as I can tell, I’m living the kind of life people say they want when they retire. I spend a ton of time with family and friends. I run a nonprofit. I write books. I have interesting side projects. I volunteer. Oh, and I get to travel.
The stereotypes I’ve developed
It’s been really interesting to see what people project onto me. There are clear themes.
I’m starting to come up with my own stereotypes. Each time a conversation takes a weird turn, I pay attention to the situation and have noticed some patterns:
People who can’t believe I’m not devastated by a breakup think staying trapped in an unhappy marriage is preferable to being single. They don’t enjoy spending time alone and need someone else to make them feel worthy.
People who think I’m being totally irresponsible and will one day regret my choices didn’t realize that getting married, having kids, getting a corporate job, and putting off anything fun until retirement are all choices they made.
People who assume that “working remotely” means unemployed come from blue collar families and can’t conceive of jobs that allow you to work from home that aren’t pyramid schemes.
People who make comments about how my lifestyle is unsustainable have massive mortgage debt, student loans, or are living paycheque to paycheque and don’t realize you can live a nice life without going into the red.
People who can’t understand why I would couchsurf or pet sit either:
- View the word as a very dangerous place, or
- Think traveling is about bragging on Instagram and not about the people you meet (but are still talking to me?!)
People who assume I’m trying to make it rich online hate their jobs (and their boss) and can’t appreciate their life without luxury.
It shouldn’t be a huge shock that people who question the life choices of strangers aren’t living their best life.
It’s not who you’d think
The biggest surprise is that these things don’t come up with the people you might expect. Plenty of people living “normal” lives totally get it without question. Plenty of aspiring travel bloggers don’t.
No demographic owns being so insecure in their life choices that they feel the need to school a complete stranger.
The first few times I heard these things my reaction was ‘this person is a jerk.’ Then it shifted to ‘what is this interesting phenomena?’
Now I see someone who’s going through a crisis and who could really use someone to listen to them without judgment. I’m working on being better at ignoring the words and hearing what people are really saying.