I’m a Runner – That’s What I Do

I will not be trapped. I will not be kept in a cage because someone thinks it’s best for me. I need wide-open spaces for the chance to make my own mistakes and for the freedom to find myself.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I don’t let commitment back me in a corner. I’m the type of girl who can’t fathom breaking ties with the freedom she has been granted and I plot my escape route whenever I see commitment looming on the horizon. When it comes in for the attack, I swerve to avoid all contact and then run like hell in the opposite direction.

That’s what happens when you spend all of your post-pubescent life as a unit of one. You become accustomed to fearing anything that ties you down. You fear for your freedom because you live for your independence.

I haven’t always been a lone ranger. Back in my youth, I spent all of my time surrounded by the same group of girls: my closest friends, my fellow gymnasts. When we weren’t practicing 20-25 hours a week, we were always at someone’s house being normal kids. They called us inseparable.

And then we aged.

Our commitments to each other and to our sport faded. One by one we quit. As we left the chalk-dusted world that created us, our interests began to change thus widening the gap further. The ones that stayed didn’t stay in touch and the ones that moved, moved on with their lives.

That’s life. It happens. People change, people leave, and you’re supposed to just carry on as if you haven’t lost everything you’ve ever known. To this day, I fall hard when people move away or exit my life. In fact, I work tirelessly to protect my heart. I keep a safe distance between others and myself until I am certain I can’t live without them. But therein lies the problem: I can’t live without them. My friendships are the closest things I have ever had to a relationship. When my friends leave my life, it crushes my soul. And though unintentional, they almost always leave.

Whether or not my friends realize it, their romantic relationships change our dynamic as friends. At first they’re just two people taking the time to get to know each other. Once they’re good and ready, they become serious. It’s in this serious phase that they forget about anyone else in their lives. It becomes just the two of them. And then it becomes the four of them because couples always need couple friends, and I have never been part of a couple.

Eventually, they get married and buy a house. Usually, this house is farther away making it more difficult to spend as much time together as in the past. Once the house feels like a home, the pitter-patter of little feet quickly enters the picture. Children. Change. Everything. They become the priority (as they should), and weekends become filled with birthday parties and play dates and ballgames all with other parents who have children of the same age. Family people don’t often leave much room in their lives for childless spinsters. And by the same token, I don’t leave much room in my life for children.

While my friends grow up and add to their lives, I seem to grow smaller and smaller in their rearview mirrors. Their whole worlds shift while mine stays seemingly predictable. When I notice everyone around me changing, the world finds a way to suck the air out of my lungs. I begin to panic and fight the urge to run. Running means starting fresh. Running means finding myself again. Running means leaving people before they can leave me damaged.

Running means I control the breaking of my heart.

I often fantasize about dropping everything to drive solo across the country with my laptop and camera, to see this nation as a happy wanderer. To leave behind a life that has left me behind. To leave people before they can leave me. As often as I’ve dreamed of hopping in my car and escaping to a new life, I stay put. As it always goes with me, I struggle between two ideals: the sensible and the impractical. The sensible almost always wins. I stay grounded in a life that keeps picking up momentum without me.

People aren’t the only commitments I avoid.

I remember walking into gymnastics the final time to tell my coaches I wouldn’t make practice that day, or any other day thereafter. Very few reacted how I expected them to, how I needed them to. They seemed numb to losing another gymnast; however, I needed them to understand what a difficult decision it was to move on from the only life I’d ever known. One coach even told me “to be burnt out means you have to be here and give 100% everyday.” I felt crushed. As if being a state, regional, and national champion meant I hadn’t done that for ten years of my young life. I realized that once I surpassed my potential, I became nothing more than headcount on the awards podium. As a fourteen-year-old girl who poured every ounce of sweat she had and gave every possible spare moment into that sport with those people, I pushed open the glass doors one last time with a broken heart and defeated spirit. Though my life still held many possibilities, it felt as if it had just ended.

Why would anyone want to give herself so wholly to anything or anyone if it would eventually go down in flames? I didn’t realize it then, but at fourteen I vowed to own my heart entirely and avoid commitments for as long as possible.

To this day, I don’t limit myself to only one opportunity. I sway back and forth between interests as if I can’t decide what hobbies I like most. I pick something up for a few months and then drop it for the next activity once my attention wanders. I’ve painted, taken photographs, designed t-shirts and greeting cards, and written countless abandoned stories. I gather all sorts of information about volunteering but when I see there’s a weekly requirement, I back out. What happens if something comes up on a Wednesday night and I can’t go because that happens to be my night to volunteer? I simply cannot limit myself as I did with gymnastics, and a steady commitment feels like just that: a limitation.

I’ve given myself heart and soul to people and things with mixed results, and now the only commitments I intend to make are to myself and to what I want. It seems selfish but I have to do what’s best for me. When I set goals, they’re mine; they’re personal and solo. Take running for example. Most mornings I awake at 4:30 to workout because dedicating time to my health has been the one constant in my life; however, running also means more than that. It frees my mind. It allows me to focus on escaping. I run faster, harder, and longer when something traps me. If you haven’t noticed yet, my life is like one big, revolving door centered on freedom.

Everything I do ties back to the notion of being unattached to anything or anybody. Which is why last April I spent a week in utter agony trying to decide whether or not to build a house. Owning a home means putting down roots and not being able to transplant them on a whim. Owning a home seems to go against everything I believe. The night before I was to meet my realtor with the down payment, I backed out. Fear crippled me with “what-ifs” and “I can’t.” I spent a week of sleepless nights crying over the fact I really did want a place of my own to call home, yet feeling terrified I wouldn’t be able to handle the commitment it required. I already dedicated nine years to this town. Was I ready to hand over another nine or more to one place?

In the end, I chose to dive in and build the house. I committed.

Do not for one second think this single commitment changed me. Let me take it one step at a time. I have to live somewhere, right? During my brief 2014 “Rumschpringe” in Massachusetts, I realized that Florida would always be home. As often as I fantasize about planting roots in some other part of the country, the here and now comforts me. Sometimes comfort wins.

My fear of commitment still has a grasp over me even though I took a firm step towards settling down. I’m still a free bird wanting nothing more than to give in to her nomadic soul. But I’m also a realist. I was never actually going to leave everything behind and go out on the road…by myself. I couldn’t. It’s impractical and insensible.

As far as my relationships are concerned, expect me still to be guarded. If you feel me slowly pulling away, let me go. My heart may not be able to handle much more.

I cannot say for certain whether or not I will ever outgrow the need for freedom. At this point, I depend on it like oxygen. I have no reason to reel in my runaway heart. For now, my wandering soul will continue to dominate until the right commitments come along.  Until then, I intend to live a limitless, noncommittal life.