The C Word


Photo:  Laura Hughes

Commitment. Even writing down the word makes my throat feel tight and my hands clammy. I am a commitment-phobe. I guess I could say I have always known this. My actions demonstrate it quite well. This is part of why I live in a van, why I have a job that allows me to be remote, probably why I don’t have a partner, and is most certainly a contributor to my loneliness.

I’ve been trying to find the root-cause to this phobia, performing some grade-school psychology on myself. It could be because I’ve seen many marriages fail, because I’ve seen what it means to really be stuck in a job, place, or relationship you hate. I remember making a promise to myself as a little girl to never fall into that. I didn’t spend time fantasizing about owning a home, marriage, or having kids. My sights were always set on far-off destinations and the unconventional lifestyle. I had purchased a one-way ticket to freedom with no plans on looking back.

But I am realizing that with commitment comes freedom. Living in the van for the past four years has been freeing in its own right. I’ve been able to go wherever the flow takes me and not worry about who is going to water the plants or feed the dog. I don’t have a mortgage, kids, wife or husband. But that sort of freedom feels like a stepping stone or a portal to a more meaningful, different kind of freedom. It’s as though that type of freedom was more of a tool to help me find that which I think we all seek. And that’s a space that feels like ours. Somewhere we can be ourselves, alone, and with others. Where we can adopt a routine and life that allows for personal growth and alignment.

Of course, I was able to make the inside of my van into a space that felt like mine. But every time I stepped outside, I was no longer home. And, in this case, what is outside matters almost as much as what is inside. Imagine feeling like a guest or a visitor for four years of your life. On one hand, you get very good at belonging to yourself and realizing that nothing or no one else is responsible for your own happiness. But on the other you can miss out on connections that only come with the familiar. Maya Angelou said it very well,
”You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…More and more… I belong to myself. I’m very proud of that. I am very concerned about how I look at Maya. I like Maya very much.”

And this is a very important part of the personal growth process, and again, that freedom was a tool in helping me learn how to belong to me. And I think it took me having the freedom of living in the van to learn (lets be real, still learning) to belong to myself. But, I don’t think I need that tool anymore. I think now, I am ready to invest in a new one; and that is commitment to a place. I committed four years of my life to nowhere, to the wilderness. Now, I believe it’s time to make my way out of the woods.

So I’m selling my van and trading it in for something more economical and simple. I’m not sure what is in store for me when I get back to the states. I’m not sure who I will be after having settled into a life here in Costa Rica for seven months. My values might change. Maybe I commit to a place in Costa and continue to live nomadically in the states for the paddling months? I don’t know and I don’t need to. But I can say, that surrendering the freedom that accompanies Vanlife feels more freeing than I could have ever imagined.