When one movie sparked an existential crisis

Have any of you seen the movie “She’s Having a Baby?” It’s a random John Hughes movie that in typical JH style, speaks eloquent words of wisdom on coming of age. Except this coming of age movie is more about the coming of age into full-fledged, real adulthood, with marriage, mortgages, careers and babies, as opposed to his typical teenage passage ร  l’รขge adulte films like “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The reviews I took a gander at speak of this film as being an “essay” by John Hughes and his most “serious” film ever.”

Yeah it’s serious but very typical John Hughes and as usual, there were certain parts of the movie that again spoke to me and reminded me just how relatable the main character’s sentiments are to my own. It’s a crossfire between emotion and finding (or maintaining) your true self. Last night as I was watching it, G sleeping next to me, two particular ideas from the following quote resonated with me:

“Why couldn’t I accept who I was, what I was and where I was? Why couldn’t I be like everyone else who rode the train? Were they mindless, anonymous drones, following the scent of money to a senseless, forgotten end or were they the bearers of some great secret that allowed them to rejoice in this life that I was so unwilling to embrace?”

It’s been quite difficult for me to adjust to living here in Chile and accept what my life now looks like compared to what it looked like when I was back home. What’s been most difficult has been the uncertainty about my future, especially my career. I have this familiar paranoia that continues to walk around with me in that I can’t decide if my inability to adjust is something about ME or if the circumstances I willingly chose to be a part of are making it difficult to progress.

Only two ideas from the lines above are ones that make me think:

1) are the women I know who have also made the leap to this strange land actually bearers of some kind of wisdom and secret that makes life here better and positive, a revelation I’ve yet to stumble across?

2) why am I so unwilling to embrace this life, what it looks like now and who I am as I live it?

What is it that I see in other women here that makes me think my reality is so grossly different from theirs? In fact, I’ve spoken to many of them who have told me that they too had a difficult time adjusting to living in Chile at first, and when they hear me complain or see me wanting to bang my head against the wall over the idiosyncrasy of the Chilean culture, I know I’m generally preaching to the choir. There’s nothing I’m currently going through, or have gone through in the last 14 months, that they have not also experienced and ultimately accepted or overcome. In fact, even this past Friday as we were all out celebrating a Gringa friend’s birthday, I was sitting there talking to the birthday girl and she said to me, “Do you ever look around and think ‘wait, what am I doing here? How and when did I end up living in Chile?'” Um, yes, that notions sounds vaguely familiar to me. But it got me thinking: she, like other gringa friends, have been here much longer than I have, yet for the most part, if not completely, they live happy lives here. But even so, just as my friend made me realize with her rhetorical question, they too must stop every once and a while and think, “how did I get here?”

The devil’s advocate in me (or the pessimistic, masochistic side of me – your choice) then remembers that most of the women I’m friends with here aren’t really, truly here for the long-term. Eventually, as their plans unfold, they’ll make their way back home, husbands in tow. They’ll carry with them the adventure they had of living in another country, surviving and excelling in said country (in this case, Chile of course) and all the bad memories and experiences of adapting will become examples, anecdotes or memories of how living abroad shaped their current and/or future plans and selves. I compare that to my reality and realize, I don’t have that luxury. I made the decision to leave everything I’ve ever known, everything that ever meant anything to me, every last memory and experience I was ever a part of, and start my life literally ALL OVER AGAIN, in a foreign country. And the thing is, there is no going back. At least, not in a way that I would willingly choose.

And in my head I wonder, over and over again, would Chile seem so difficult if I knew that at some point down the line, I’d be back home again, better than ever because I’d be with my husband, the person I adore most in this world? I don’t have the answer, nor can I pretend to know what it’s like for others…but from this perspective I think that would be an important secret to embracing life in a different country. I don’t know what it’s like for my friends here, what it’s been like or what other people experience here and I’m not saying that what I write here is the truth. Really, it’s just a thought.

As for point #2 above, I began to really, truly analyze: what makes my life so uncomfortable here that I am so far removed from accepting who I am and where I am now that I live here? I still can’t put a name on it but I can describe it as this: I feel like I’m redoing the period of my life post-college graduation, when I had no idea where I was going, what would become of me or why it seemed that my peers had their sh*t together and I didn’t. In short, I feel like I’m experiencing my quarter-life crisis all over again, meanwhile I’m actually heading into my mid-30s! Wikipedia lists a variety of characteristics of this social and cultural phenomenon we know as the quarter-life crisis and you can see them all here. However in my case, I can call out the following as relevant:

* confronting their own mortality [i.e. realizing that I’m not getting any younger and I have a list of accomplishments that seem to just be sitting there, not transforming themselves into reality.]
* insecurity regarding the fact that their actions are meaningless [This might have more to do with a certain quest I’m on that so far, has proved fruitless. Also, school.]
* insecurity regarding present accomplishments
* disappointment with one’s job
* nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life [except in my case it’s the life I left back in California]
* tendency to hold stronger opinions [fighting the power here really makes me quite obnoxious. And it’s not like I’m happy with being that way.]
* loss of closeness to high school and college friends [missing one of my good friend’s wedding this past weekend and not even KNOWING my best friend’s boyfriend = sucks.]
* financially-rooted stress [as I’ve gotten older, I have more financial responsibilities and I’m still not at the point of being able to save for, say, a home? Plus school and the final wedding payments have killed me in the last few months.]
* desire to have children [or the simple to desire to be at a place in my life where it’s a viable and intelligent option to start a family. Guess who’s not getting any younger?]
* a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than oneself
* frustration with social skills [it’s not that I’m awkward – I don’t think – but I do tend to have my weirdo moments in everyday Chilean encounters.]

I remember feeling many of these things and more, immediately after college. Then my career and life began to take shape and one by one, these sentiments became irrelevant. Of course, 10 points were replaced by ONE HUGE point, that being: “Waaaaaaaaaa! I want someone to love!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I’ll never find THE ONE!” And the like. Now I have the latter fantastically filled but upon moving to Chile, all of the points above made their way back into my life (como Pedro por su casa) at a time when I had completely forgotten ever feeling that way at all! Of course I wouldn’t trade what I have in my personal life right now – the fulfillment I have with the person I’ve chosen to live my life with and the relationship we have together – for more time in California, not in a million years. I accept Round 2 of the quarter-life crisis because I figure, I survived it once before (and alone at that). After all, now, I should be better equipped to give all the points above a good kick in the b*lls anyway. At some point soon, I’ll have hurdled it all and I’ll look back, wave goodbye and say “thanks for playing.”

…Geez. Had I known that my seemingly innocent choice over which DVD to watch prior to falling asleep last night would spark such an existential crisis (and consequently, a ridiculously long blog post) I would have opted for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” instead …

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6 thoughts on “When one movie sparked an existential crisis

  1. I have been in Chile 6 years and counting and I'm there permanently and I am happy. It took me a LONG time to get to that point. 3-4 years if you want to be exact. I'm not trying to depress you but uprooting your life to live in a culture that's not your own (and doesn't necessarily want to accept you even if you try to live it as your own) is a huge change. Do not despair. You are a person who's moving forward in your life, in your career. For people who move forward, or at least try to move forward things really do get better.

    And yes, some of our friends say that they'll eventually move back, but that still doesn't make them so different from you — this is still their reality, they still have to make a go of it culturally and professionally while they're here. To me, the biggest difference between you and the rest of us is choice. You made a choice that basically locks you in here. I don't think that really has anything to do with Chile. It's human nature to want choices, and when choice is taken off the table you want to rebel against that.

    Anyway, that's the way I see it. I think lack of choice is what's getting you down, not living in Chile per say ๐Ÿ™‚ It'll get better for you, I know it will. Keep your chin up!!!

  2. when I had no idea where I was going, what would become of me or why it seemed that my peers had their sh*t together and I didn't

    Man, this is certainly me right now (and a great many of my friends).

    I know it's a quarter-life thing to feel this way, but I positively am going nuts trying to figure out why I feel so BEHIND and AIMLESS. I've never felt this way before, and I just don't want to get stuck meandering here and there…through life, but with no purpose. I see my friends getting married, having great jobs and living the life, and I'd really hate to be left behind.

    I'm 25, and everyone keeps telling me that it's normal, and while I do understand what they mean, it doesn't stop the urgency or force of my feelings.

    Basically, while you're going through your 2nd Quarter-life crisis, I'm going through my 1st…and it's kicking my butt!

    Essentially speaking…I feel your pain, girl!

  3. obviously you read my email but beyond that i just think you ought to keep in perspective – and your blog readers should keep in mind – that your situation IS different from a lot of the gringas that i knew in chile (which i assume are a lot of the gringas you still hang out with) in that you left San Fran after living there independently for multiple years…It just so happens that many of the other ladies who you may be comparing yourself to moved to She Lay right out of undergrad. Sure they left college buds and highschool friends behind but that happens to MOST people when they graduate from college and friends go all over (though clearly they're not usually SO far away). In your case you left a very deeply-rooted life in San Fran – long-standing friendships, your first apartment, your first job, all of your adult firsts, really. Many of the gringas i know in Chile have had all or most of their adult firsts IN Chile (which isn't better or worse, just different). Many of their best friends live IN Chile. In fact, net net you've probably lived in the US for more years than many of the gringas you know! That is a huge difference that I see for you. That said, I know there are others who went to She Lay later in life – Blogger Annje is moving there now after multiple years and graduate school in the US. The head of Chilespouses moved much later as well. After raising 2 girls in Seattle with her Chilean hubby. So there are others that have more similar experiences and may better understand some of your feelings. It's ok muffin. you'll be more than fine – you'll (continue to) be great.

  4. I think because I am pretty young and do have plans to leave Chile, I am a little more accepting of my present situation here. But I just went to the neurologist who told me my headaches and other symptoms are from the stress of being in a new culture/life. Obviously you are super in touch with your feelings about being here, but have you had physical or mental symptoms from it?

  5. Sheesh… it is hard to read because I am just about to move down there again (after living down there for almost 4 years a decade ago, meeting my husband, moving back, grad studies, kids, etc–as KM mentioned ๐Ÿ˜‰ There are things that are exciting about living in a new country, but I remember a lot of things driving me crazy. I have a lot of aprehensions about living there with kids, many worries. I am sad, devastated even, at leaving certain parts of our life here in the US. I know I will suffer for the first year or two trying to get adjusted, I am not looking forward to that part, but I know that for a lot of reasons the move is worth the sacrifice… (right??? teehee)

    There is something I have wondered about you from several posts since starting to read your blog (because I am an amateur psycho-analyst… it can be annoying, sorry), and I don't want to make any assumptions because I don't know you personally… but I wonder if part of the struggle you describe has to do with this dual sense of identity you might have… Chilean by birth, but raised gringa in many ways, living back in Chile after many years. I imagine that many people think of you as Chilean or treat you as chilean, when you probably identify more with your gringa side… I wondered this because I have had students (in the US) of Mexican descent talk about some of their experiences going back to Mexico and feeling quite out of place–they seem to experience a kind of rejection of or rebellion against their "mother culture" that may even be stronger than the "culture shock" that a foreigner might feel. Just some musings…

    I hope Kyle is right, that after a few years you will really feel more adjusted and content.

  6. Hi Annje,
    Well, I can say that when I lived in California, I was hardcore ALL ABOUT being Chilean. I made sure to tell people that I didn't merely call myself Chilean because I had Chilean parents, but that I had been BORN here and spoke fluent Spanish. I was quite proud.
    It wasn't until I moved back that I realized that all I really have that makes me Chilean is family and … family. I realized upon moving here that not only do I not agree with much of the Chilean culture, I don't identify with much of it and I basically realized that where I thought I was Chilean, upon arriving, I took note that I'm as washed out as they come! And so, I embraced my Gringa-ness. Quite happily but as you can tell, it's an adjustment.

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