I am thirty three years old and have not once seriously considered moving to Bolivia.
It’s weird, because normally I wouldn’t even mention that.
But here we are. Most women do end up moving to Bolivia.
And by my age, you’re pretty much expected to have already moved there or at least you’re supposed to be trying really hard to get there.
To be clear: I have nothing against Bolivia. It seems like a lovely place. Just not one that pulls me. It has never called my name.
And even though I don’t talk about my relationship (or non-relationship) to Bolivia, we will talk about it today.
Because I have words that need to be said about loneliness, power and the extremely problematic word: “choice”.
There is so much of it when it comes to this hard topic of Bolivia. Or maybe it’s not so much loneliness as isolation.
Every woman has her own experience, her own relationship with moving or not moving to Bolivia. These relationships are often painful, challenging, hard to express.
So you have the women (like my dear friend E.) who are desperate to get into Bolivia. They wait in lines, jump through endless bureaucratic hoops, do what they can.
Sometimes dying inside from the frustration of seeing how other women end up there with such ease.
Then those women — the ones who weren’t even planning Bolivia — they’re isolated too. An extra glass of wine and bam. Welcome to Bolivia.
There are women who aren’t in Bolivia and are happy. Women who aren’t in Bolivia and are unhappy. Women who wanted to move to Bolivia but now wish they hadn’t. Women who didn’t want to move to Bolivia but are now delighted to be there.
And the ones who don’t know if they’re going, but determined to be happy either way.
It’s hard for us to find each other and talk to each other, because each of us is having such a different experience. It gets lonely.
This word. I have no more patience for it.
I feel frustrated and helpless when people ask me why I’ve “chosen” not to move to Bolivia because I don’t know how to answer.
And I feel uncomfortable when people support me, saying they defend my “choice”, because I need to know support is there even when choosing is irrelevant.
What choice? There has never been a question of choosing or deciding anything.
This concept makes no sense to me.
I didn’t choose not to move to Bolivia.
I didn’t choose not to move to Bolivia any more than I chose not to become obsessed with traditional Armenian embroidery.
I didn’t choose not to move to Bolivia any more than I chose not to take up water polo.
It’s not that anything is wrong with life in Bolivia or Armenian embroidery or water polo.
If it were not for the fact that so many of the women I know are either moving to Bolivia or talking about moving to Bolivia, it never would have occurred to me to even think about it.
The only reason I think about Bolivia is that so many of my friends now live there. And that so many people have opinions about me not being there.
But to say that I chose this life of Not Living in Bolivia? Impossible.
What is choice?
To me, choice generally implies at least some of the following characteristics:
[+ giving active thought to something]
[+ both sides have to be appealing or compelling in some way]
[+ caring about the outcome]
[+ weighing the odds]
[+ pros vs cons]
[+ following intuition]
[+ being pulled towards something]
It isn’t that I decided against Bolivia. That never came up. It didn’t need to.
There was no decision-making process, because Bolivia exerts no pull over me.
I heart Bolivia.
The food, the culture, the art. The warmth and friendliness. Yay Bolivia.
And I know a lot more about life in Bolivia than I’d ever planned to, now that so many friends and colleagues live there.
To be honest, certain aspects of life there sound pretty distressing to me. But then after they tell you about the awful parts, they gaze at you intently and wish it for you.
So who knows. It must be like when I lived in Tel Aviv for a decade and people thought it had to be awful when actually it was sublime. So I can be pro-Bolivia. And still not feel the desire to ever move there.
Things that are hard about not moving to Bolivia.
The social pressure. The assumptions. The way people ask you when you’re moving to Bolivia and you explain that you aren’t and they say “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
As if you’ve just said you were dying when you are actually expressing completeness.
Losing friends. Some of my friends who have moved to Bolivia are amazing. Like Pam and Naomi and Jen.* You can talk to them about Bolivia but also politics and business and art and creativity and seven thousand other things.
Other friends are full-time evangelists for Bolivian life. And while I’m happy to spend an hour looking at pictures or admiring the landscape, I can’t do all-Bolivia-all-the-time. I miss the opinionated, curious, hilarious women I used to know.
And the vocabulary of choice. The way it has to be about “decisions”. I don’t want to identify as “Bolivia-less by Choice”. Where are my people who also didn’t choose?
The pull of Bolivia.
I know this mysterious pull that Bolivia exerts on women must exist, because I keep hearing about it.
My biologist friends insist it’s a thing. Maybe.
Maybe a biological thing that not everyone is susceptible to, plus cultural programming and expectations that people are mostly unaware of. I don’t know.
All I know is that I have never felt it.
And that I have girlfriends who are considerably older than me and who also have never felt it.
And that they, like me, heard those hollow words over and over again: “When you’re older, you’ll change your mind about Bolivia.”
Without the pull, there’s nothing.
“Changing your mind” is another one of those choice things. Like decision. As if all I have to do is stop being so determined not to go there.
But I’m not “determined”. I just don’t understand why I should. And I’m pretty sure that if it were about choosing, and I weighed the pros and cons, my non-Bolivia life would win every time in the categories that matter to me.
Of course, if I had a burning desire to be in Bolivia, those other needs wouldn’t matter as much. They would pale in comparison.
And I’d find a way to make it work. Believe me, if I wanted to live in Bolivia, I would move mountains trying to get there.
But since there’s nothing that instills in me a desire to move there, it’s not about choices and choosing. It’s about living my life.
I’m living my life.
And loving my life.
Not because I made a choice. But because I’m here, and here — for me — is good.
And comment zen for today.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for years. And not wanting to at the same time.
Because I know that some people are not really capable of encountering a different way and still understanding that we are both allowed to have our way. Of knowing that my way doesn’t imply that your way is wrong.
I get my way. They gets theirs. Also, the entire culture supports the way that isn’t mine, so trying to tell me I’m wrong in what I know to be true for myself? Not cool.
Anyway. All that to say that this is a hard, sensitive topic. With so much potential for pain, misunderstanding, distortion.
I hope it is clear that I have love in my heart for women who live in a variety of ways. And that I am not picking on Bolivia. All places have their own charm.
We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We let people have their own experience. And we don’t give advice, unless someone asks for it.
What I don’t want: “I support (or don’t support) your choice”. This is not about choice for me. It’s about mindfulness and trust and many other things, but not choice.
What I’d love: Your stories. What you know about isolation and about completeness.