Change.

imagesI am afraid of a lot of things. Birds. Moths. All things that flap at me, actually. (Butterflies flutter and so don’t count). Perfect men. Eyebrow hair. Death. You know, the usual. But the thing that probably tops the list of things I fear is change. For reasons I know and reasons I don’t, change terrifies me.

So when I began asking the Universe to turn my world upside down and help me move to another city, I knew it was a big ask. To put this in perspective, I grew up in South African city X, where I lived in the same house from birth until I left home (and city X) 18 years later to move to another city (let’s call it city P: I, too, can walk on the wilder side) to start university. Eighteen years later, I am still living and working in this same city, at the very same university.

Yes. Change is hard.

Over time, this dear little city P has become smaller. Friends have moved away; others have settled into marriage and family life. Life is Consistent here; things trickle along in the same predictable ways and I have derived great comfort from this. But in recent years an unfamiliar restlessness began to creep up on me and I started daring to look at the world beyond the familiar city boundaries. City Y beckoned. And so I set my heart on moving there.

First, the Universe decided to screw with me a bit. I got offered a job, not in city Y, but in Geneva. My friends (a.k.a normal people) reacted to the news like this*. Being aversive to change and to travel outside a 10km radius of my house, I reacted to the offer like this.*  Oh, the crisis. Happily, being South African occasionally comes in handy. With the controversial recent history of my generation (read: White South Africans) leaving the country in droves, I played the proudly South African card. I couldn’t possibly leave my country, I said. I shall stay and fight the good fight, I said. At home. From my bed. And so, crisis averted, I pleaded with the Universe once again to get me to city Y.

To be fair, the Universe put in a good effort. It sent me little messages. It overwhelmed me with the beauty of this city Y. It threw amazing friends from city Y into my life. It even pointed me in the direction of a few men living there. (And let’s face it, if anything is going to get me to leave my couch, house, city, it’s probably going to be the prospect of interesting men, so few and far between in city P. Clever, this Universe). But we should never underestimate fear of change (or birds, or eyebrow hairs), or the remarkable capacity of one human being to rationalise, in quite brilliant and convincing ways, why, at this opportunity or that, it just wasn’t the Right Time.

Then, the Universe decided if it couldn’t make the destination attractive enough, it would make the departure lounge pretty unpleasant. Less of a pull and more of a push strategy, if you will. It worked. So motivated was I to alleviate my discomfort, I made a deal with the Universe. Change: bring. it. on. But, please make it the kind of change that will keep the inevitable panic attacks to a mild two to three a day. In other words: change my life, Universe. But also, don’t. Apparently, the Universe takes such requests quite literally.

Yesterday, I said goodbye to my colleagues and, having deleted all incriminating emails about the boss, closed my inbox for the last time. I changed my profile on Twitter, to make it really official. Next week, I will begin my new job. Now, in an evenly balanced world, that would mark the end of this post. You could all go away thinking, “Oh good! She embraced the change. She is now a regular human being. The Universe is indeed a magnanimous being.”

Well, apparently not. My new job is indeed in a different city, about an hour down the road from where I live now. One might say, then, that the Universe decided to go with the Baby Steps approach. But it neglected to work on disarming my motivation to avoid change at all costs. My previous job was a virtual one: my colleagues were all online, scattered around the world. My office was, mostly, my bed and, occasionally, an office at the aforementioned local university. And so, naturally, I negotiated with my lovely new employer to let me work virtually, in the same office(s). Not only do I not have to move to this new city, I have bargained down how often I will need to commute to this new work place (not very often) and, therefore, how much I might actually be exposed to a wonderfully new city (not very much), with potentially interesting people and experiences. So, yesterday I waved goodbye to my old colleagues online, pretended to pack my stapler and pot plant into a box, and laid out a fresh pair of pyjamas for my first day at work next week.

My life is changing. But it is also staying exactly the same. Universe: 1, Universallysingle: 0

(* Artwork from the hyperbole and a half blog of the brilliant Allie Brosh)

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So.

Image

So a few years ago, following the example of a friend, I wrote a letter to the universe. It was sort of a letter and sort of a shopping list. For a man person. Yes, I know. It was back when I believed I could put in an order for one. Kind of like you believe in the tooth fairy when you’re small. (Except that the tooth fairy left money for you and stuff).

I still have a copy of it somewhere. It’s a simultaneously sweet and demanding sort of letter. Since this is a first post and we don’t know each other very well yet, I’ll spare you the details. But the points that stand out are less that he should be kind and gentle and more that he should be left handed, play guitar, have a PhD and own two labradors. With great heart wrenching sincerity and hope I wrote this letter, put it in an envelope (even) and tucked it away somewhere safe.

A couple of years later, the Universe sent this man to me.

It didn’t occur to me right away, that this was him. I’m not even sure what reminded me of the letter I had forgotten about. But when I pulled it out, my letter described this lovely man almost exactly. I say almost, because the Universe decided to be selective about my list. You might be surprised to hear that he was not left handed, he did not own any pets, could barely hum a tune, let alone play an instrument and was not in possession of a PhD.

But he was intelligent. And kind and gentle and all the other things that I’d asked for, things that counted. He got me. He found me hilarious. He accepted my off-centredness. And so, a few months later, I dumped him. (This, readers, is a story for an entirely different post on an entirely different day. Suffice to say, I tend to dump men who are absolutely perfect for me).

Skip ahead a year or two and enter Universe delivery number two. This one had a PhD and two labradors. He had more of those bits and less of the bits that counted. In other words, beneath his intelligent charm, he was a little bit of a narcissist. (Ok, he was a raging narcissist, but I’m trying to be nicer about the things I say about people, for reasons I’ll explain later). So, we ended up breaking up, too. Eventually.

I learned two things from these two experiences:

1. Future such letters should include requests to help me be open to and accepting of whatever is sent my way. It doesn’t really help to get the perfect-for-you guy if you bolt in terror from them.

and

2.  It doesn’t really matter whether he has a PhD or not. It matters if he is kind and gentle and finds me hilarious. And, most importantly, it matters that he gets me.

So. Here I am. Older and wiser (if by wiser we all understand me to mean more cynical). And my fabulous friend Danny suggested (in jest, I think) I write a blog about the requests I send out to the Universe and the ways the Universe decides to screw with me by delivering something not quite like what I requested.

Since I’m also mid-30s and still single and writing my PhD and trying to make sense of my life in general, I thought it might be a handy exercise to force myself to look for what the Universe might be sending me, every day.

Come along for the ride. It should be fun.