My older brother just left on a trip to Europe. When I say Europe, I don’t mean one or two European countries. I mean he bought a one-way ticket to London with a bus ticket the next day to Belgium and he doesn’t plan to stop traveling until he runs out of money or fun. Following in his little sister’s footsteps, he’ll be keeping a blog during his travels, which is how I and the rest of his family plans on keeping track of him as he wanders the continent.
Of course, as a Jewish mother-in-training, I spent a good part of the past couple of months leading up to his trip worrying over him and imagining him becoming one of those kids with a backpack on the sidewalk and a sign “Need Money for Plane Ticket.” The rest of the time, though, in those brief moments when I remembered that he’s an adult, I thought about how much his trip sounds like something I would love doing.
Jeremy and I plan on traveling to Greece this summer, but a perfectly planned trip to one country with every night in a comfy hotel bed is not exactly the same type of Euro-trip my brother is taking. Getting married is, to a certain extent, like signing a waiver: “I will no longer cast off all responsibilities and go on adventures to discover the world and find myself.” It’s that very obligation to another human being that keeps so many from marrying, or at least marrying young. It’s the philosophy that settling down seems most sensible once you’ve seen the world and found out everything about yourself that you can. According to some very reliable website I found, I have seen five percent of the world and am only beginning to understand myself, so I clearly didn’t choose that sensible route.
After Jeremy and I dropped my brother off at the airport — living in Jersey, near Newark, apparently does have some advantages after all — we both mentioned how we’d theoretically love to have a similar Euro-trip, even if the thought of my brother doing it turns me into a fretful bubbe. But the option to strike out on our own and discover ourselves through backpacking self-reliance is gone to us forever. Even though we could, theoretically, each quit our responsibilities, ditch our material goods at our parents’, and strike off across Europe together; even if the very idea of throwing our lives off their current course didn’t strike me as preposterous, there would still be the inevitable fact of our marriage. We wouldn’t be able to leave each other for our own journeys. The time for our separate self-discovery is over.
But we got married because we were ready to be bound to another person. Because neither of us felt truly fulfilled without someone else to care for. And because, we believe, we are ready for the next step of self-discovery, the kind that we can do with the help of and in the presence of another person. Being married does not preclude growth or an inner journey; it just changes how the growing is done. Instead of in a hostel in Nice, it might take place on a reflective night in our apartment. It’s a lot less glamorous, but equally rewarding. And in the meantime, I can always live vicariously through my brother’s blog, if he ever stops moving long enough to write another post.
Simi Lichtman is a contributor to the Forward.
The End of Travel as Self-Discovery?