Ah, restlessness. That itchy, unsettled, skin-feels-one-size-too-small feeling. And when one partner has it, and one doesn’t, I call that the restlessness gap.

I knew it well, once. That feeling that my true self was off living a life somewhere else, and I was just going through the motions. I remember my bills came addressed to my name, I slept on a pillow that smelled like me and I had my name registered in that university, bu none of it felt like me, or mine. My graduation was the least personal thing ever. I finished my degree hunched over an iPad overseas, didn’t attend my ceremony, and my bachelor certificate got sent straight to my mums house, where it now lives framed but in a drawer. It didn’t really feel like I’d realized anything fundamental in myself. I felt relief and a bit of ‘thank god that’s over.’

The getting dressed up for drinks, again, gym workouts that I never really liked and conversations that hit a brick wall. None of it felt like ‘me.’ I drank a lot back then. It was normal, the pre-drinks, then the club or the bar. It was a sport in itself.

I had amazing friends, but they knew I was restless too.

I’m not someone who intentionally tries to make people feel off balance or challenged when I talk to them. I’ve sat with intentionally oppositional people many times and seen how their motivations come from trying to make people doubt themselves, or feel unsure. Not necessarily from trying to find a deeper thread of conversation, to go somewhere not many people tend to go. But I do try invite people to be as honest as they possibly can with me. Not just follow the pre-approved scripts, the small talk that keeps the wheels turning. That makes me restless.

You can tell me motherhood has you by the throat today and you don’t know how you’re going to last another minute. I’ll love you more if you’re the mother who shows up to kindy drop-off late in your pyjamas. Or if you’ve had to be pulled aside by the teacher a few times on account of your child’s behaviour. I’ll love you if you tell me in an excited rush you think you’ve met your soulmate. And wait nope, he’s not, never mind, don’t ask me about it again. I’ll love you if you tell me you want to to live in Tokyo, or Mexico for a few months to get over the breakup of your decade long relationship.

I’ll love you if you’ve all but barricaded your bedroom door against your children and husband. Just to get half a freaking hour to paint. I’ll love you if I can message you and say ‘why does the lore state then when a mother hits her rare, all encompassing creative flow, a small child must appear with fever, a runny nose, sore tonsils. As if to yank the leash, the universe reminding you that you are a mother first, before everything.’

There’s something I want to tell you but I’m scared it’ll make you see me differently, a friend said to me once.

I can’t think of many things that would make me see you differently or not want you in my life, I said.

And when she told me it was like ‘oh. That’s it?’ It’s funny what we build up in our minds, aspects of ourselves that we think are unloveable, only to realized they make people love us more when they share it.

I’m not saying you have to tell me everything. You don’t need to tell me anything at all. But if you feel like telling me, please just make it real, or as real as you can bear right now.

That makes me restless these days. Inauthenticity.

It just feels like such a waste of time. I mean we’re all inauthentic to some degree. Maybe that’s what civil society relies on to make the world as we know it go round. And sometimes yes my kid needs to sit the hell down at the restaurant. Even if his ‘authentic self’ wants to roll around under the table or take his pants off on the sidewalk.

But in terms of my life, generally, I don’t feel suffocatingly restless as I once did. I like how motherhood feels. And maybe that’s more spacious because I just have one child, and now he’s a little older. For all our cultural differences and our two fiery personalities, I truly feel like my partner is my soulmate. I like the work I do. Though now I’m feeling a slight restlessness to go deeper, get a bit smarter and take the conversation of my writing and my podcast to other places. I like the experiences I’ve had and over a long time I’ve even come to like my mistakes. The intricate empathy it’s given me on so many things.

I moved overseas. I sold all my shit (and by that I mean an old Hyundai Sonata, a surfboard with a big crack on the nose and a half collapsed IKEA box bed.) Of course I partied and endured a million hangovers where not an ounce of serotonin is left. And I questioned my whole existence under a squeaky ceiling fan with mosquitos biting my ankles. And then, I learnt a language and fell flat on my face for 7 years making it stand up straight, and I still do. Also, learnt to surf, to skate, falling just as much. I learnt my resilience.

I learnt when to shut up and when to roar.

Also, I learnt how to voice something I disagreed with and make a joke at the end of the conversation. To be mid-conflict and still say ‘I can see why you’d see it that way.’ Rather than keeping my mouth shut and resenting until I explode. I’ve learnt to soothe gently on 5 nights of broken sleep. To apologize and repair when I felt like I was about to lose it and I crack.

I feel like I put myself right in the eye of the storm or my life and let it shape me and embolden me. I’ve been changed on a cellular level a few times: and maybe that’s why I am not restless. Why I’m looking at ‘good schools’ for my kid when he turns 5 and my partner is focused on the road trip we want to do before that, before the school system locks us in.

Woman submerged under the water.

I forgot what it is like to feel that restless and in doing so completely forgot that people I love in my life might feel differently.

Some of it can boil down to economic disparity. I have friends who say when they used to party in Antigua (a tourist hotspot) they were amazed at how young the Australians were who came through, ages 18,19,23,27. How they could work in Australia for 6 months full time and now had the funds to travel Central and South for a whole year.

Traveling was more disposable to myself and a lot of my friends. I did Europe at 18 with money I earnt working 6 months at a, I kid you not, sausage factory. Of course I did Bali a handful of times like a lot of Perth kids, I did Vietnam with my dad because a sale came up and why not. I almost ran away with India with a hot guy from work because even though I was down for the adventure a voice in my told me even then I didn’t want to be in a whole ass different country feeling connected to a guy I wasn’t even fully sure I was into (spoiler: I wasn’t. He just had long hair and played a guitar)

I’ve built a business that doesn’t make us millions but chugs faithfully along thanks to our amazing members and community. Also, I’ve written through everything. I’ve podcasted and people have heard all about my post birth haemorrhoids and postpartum struggles.

I feel seen, I feel like I’ve dug my heels in the earth in some capacity and in some way I feel like I’ve lived. Not that the story is over, by any means, but that I’ve done enough to keep that itchy restlessness at bay.

So when we had that whoopsie and it’s he two lines appeared on that pregnancy test I thought; ‘why the hell not.’

But how I forget, many people didn’t get to live that. Not that everyone wants to. I’m sure not everyone wanted to have to catch a rickety tuk tuk over a Guatemala / Mexico border bridge on a hot sweaty day to renew a 90 day visa. Im sure not everyone wants to be almost run off the road by insane bus drivers in brightly colored flashing buses. Busses that, by the way, are sent down from the US due to no longer being deemed ‘road safe.’ Some people don’t want to live so close to the wire and truly that’s what a lot of living in Central America is as an expat. It’s very immediate and intense, and often times extremely tough. But it refreshes me somehow. It keeps me close to ‘this is your life and you’re living directly in the center of it.’

Maybe some people would have liked to have tested themselves against the elements before they made lifelong commitments such as marriage, or motherhood.

For some people it’s flat out regret. I was too young when I got married. I bought a house and locked myself into a mortgage. If I’d have known then what I know now, I would have waited. Or chosen a different partner. I would have done things differently.

For many, it’s something in between.

It’s not like hating one’s life. But it is knowing you are simply trying to make the best out of something that feels incomplete or not realized.

At this I resist the urge to push back and say ‘open the door again. That’s how doors work.’

Because I’ve always had at least enough freedom to kick the door back open. Some peoples doors are self limiting but some are facts, at least for a while. Like raising young kids on minimum wage in a world that keeps getting more expensive.

For my partner it was working for the government for 13 years on what’s considered a good wage in Guatemala. But in Australia would be considered below the poverty line. Doesn’t leave a whole lot of disposable income for year long trips at the end.

And then believe me, there are people who are content. Maybe I didn’t get to have my big trip. Maybe I did start a family and now have that responsibility. And that’s life, you evolve and change and your priorities shift.

Everyone feels differently, but there in many relationships exist this ‘restlessness gap.’

And how does this affect the relationship?

I am restless, you are not.

You are restless, I am not.

The restlessness gap.

If you’ve ever been on Instagram ever you’ve had some self appointed coach tell you; ‘it’s all about the balance between the masculine and the feminine.’ Is this the same thing? Does every relationship need the anchor and the bird? Is it a ‘you keep me safe, I keep you wild’ sorta thing?

I think it depends. On how different the disparity is. Does one encourage the other to be more grounded, more at peace with what they already have. And does the other tends to the wildfire of the thirst for adventure? Does the restless one require a more adventurous life for the partnership? Or do they just want to gtfo?

I remember Esther Perel saying something along the lines of; it’s okay if you have different priorities in the relationship. Thank the other for keeping an eye on the aspects you don’t prioritze. Maybe you can thank your partner for keeping an eye on adventure. thank your partner for keeping an eye on creating a safe base of a home. Perhaps thank the partner who looks to keep the relationship exciting, thank the partner who looks to keep the relationship safe. Together, it can work if all facets are welcome.

But one must be brave enough to face the restlessness and ask it the necessary questions.

Sometimes a couple can’t bridge the restlessness gap and they’re best breaking up.

Will the restlessness secretly create resentment? With the partner have to live with that resentment forever? Will that always be the third silent person in the relationship – what could’ve been? How can the restless partner feed the restlessness in other ways. Can a partner come along for the ride or is it a path one must walk alone.

“People who want to travel or move overseas just want to escape from life,” my university boyfriend said to me once, and that was the second I knew in my bones it was over.

I remember thinking ‘don’t we all want to escape?’

I thought that’s what we were all doing. Counting down the days for university to end so we could shoot off to the other side of the planet like a bat straight out of hell.

No; as it turns out. We don’t, that’s what I’ve learnt. Some do. Some don’t. And not all at the same time. And this theme runs deep under many relationships. We need to bring them to light and speak about them.

Let me share some of the messages people sent me in Instagram about their restlessness gap when I asked about this topic.

“I am the restless one. I travelled a lot in my 20s & 30s and now with kids young kids and a husband I have lived in the same house for 7 years and my feet are itchy! I’m desperate to throw it all in and jump on a plane.”

“I can relate to this feeling a lot but in what I would consider a less adventurous way. I just started dating a guy who went to college only a couple hours from his home town in the Midwest US. Then got married right out of college, had babies, and moved a state away, then got divorced. I’m he talks about college a lot! He tells stories back to that time because I feel like that’s when he got to do his things not kid things or deal with an unhealthy relationship.

But now he seems eager to do everything- meaning for the coming summer weekend adventures all the time with lots ideas floating around of how to get away for a few days, and how to have social time with friends. I also want these things but maybe not so much of it or so often. I went to college across the country, traveled a lot from my teenage years into my early 30s and had lots of experiences with lots of friends who live across the country. Now, I’m very settled living in a small town, going to the same bar every Friday.”

“Ohhh hi yes this is me. I am the restless one. Although mostly I feel surrendered… sometimes I still don’t!”

“I’ve been with someone for around 5 months and visited sri lanka in January for work. Ever since I’ve got back all I’ve been able to think about is going there for the season (6-8 months). I have work and opportunities over there and I just know it would be an amazing experience but he’s in the process of buying his first home in the UK and is making big career moves here. I don’t think he would be open to long distance, especially because we haven’t been seeing each other that long and I keep avoiding bringing up the conversation because I have a feeling it will bring things to an end. All my family and friends think I should go for it and I do too! I don’t want to regret not doing it because of a guy. Any advice appreciated! So tricky!”

“Oh yeah, I used to be in that kind of dynamic with my ex. I was restless. I would travel alone while he would stay home. We actually never had a great adventure together and I always knew deep inside he was not “the one” because of his lack of hunger. I think at that moment, I needed to be with someone calmed and satisfied with his routine because my life was going so fast. But staying in that relationship also killed my creativity and a big part of my energy. I became very lazy, something I feel I’m still fighting even years later and even if I’m now with a partner that is very restless!

Thinking about it, I can’t say my ex was not desiring a big adventure: he wanted to have kids, something I’m terrified of! I guess we had different definitions of adventure.”

I share you these to let you know you’re not alone, there’s nothing wrong with you, and it’s okay to ask yourself the hard questions.

How the restlessness manifests, where you compromise, if you even want to compromise at all. Some are happy having a partner that stays home while they travel, others want a partner who is all-in on the adventures, who want to write stories together.

If there are kids, some think the best solid base for kids is a home and good school in the suburbs. Others think, let’s drag the kids around the planet and life with refine and teach them as we go.

For some people, they have to let themselves grieve a bit. Maybe you’ll never do a work away as a single, childless woman and bump your way bartending across Europe. But maybe there’s a way to introduce adventure and the unknown to your life or your kids life.

Also, kids don’t stay little and needy forever and maybe  pull have a better time traveling as a forty year old woman with more life experience more money and a better relationship with your intuition and instincts.

This is what I am saying here. It is so nuanced that there cannot possibly be a one-size-fits-all. The restlessness is unique as a fingerprint but if it is there, the last thing you should do is push it down and try ignore it. Start getting curious about it, ask it questions, and see where you can go from there.

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