Building an off-ramp
the sweetness of transition
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I am trying this thing lately where I allow the truth to just… be true.
“No amount of arguing with the truth will change it,” my friend Laura McKowen once wrote. I think about that all the time.
And so, in the spirit of honoring the truth as it is, when I first decided that I would leave Instagram for the final three months of 2022 I didn’t have to waste energy pretending that my fears about being off the app weren’t valid. My fears were my fears. I did not try to talk myself out of my feelings.
Instead I made a detailed list of all of my concerns, every specific thing I was worried might happen were I to delete Instagram and not return again for three straight months. This list-making helped me to realize that even if all of the fears I wrote down came true, if those “bad” outcomes would up being the price of admission for getting my creative attention back, I would be willing to pay it.
But what if I didn’t have to pay those costs? What if I could build myself an off-ramp instead?
This question lead me to sit with my list of concerns and look at each item in a new and more curious way. I filtered each fear through a problem-solving lens, challenging myself to be creative in thinking up ways that I could mitigate the worst of the consequences I feared I might experience by leaving Instagram.
I’m afraid I’ll lose touch with people I really like but who I only talk to via DM. That was one of the top worries on the list. But it was solvable, right?
So I made another list, of the people I would miss most by leaving Instagram. And then I reached out to these people one-by-one and asked if they wanted to be off-app friends. Maybe we could have a tea date on zoom this autumn? Maybe we could text or send voice notes instead of messaging on Instagram?
It felt quite vulnerable to do this—more vulnerable than I anticipated—as if I were a little kid passing a crayon-scribbled note to another kid at recess that said: will you be my friend? circle yes or no.
But all the people I reached out to circled yes! Which means that leaving Instagram might actually wind up strengthening my relationships, the exact opposite of what I had initially feared.
I took this same approach to all the other items on my List of Concerns, doing what I could to build myself an off-ramp of sorts, a thoughtful way to leave the app that didn’t feel so abrupt, so reactive, so dramatic.
It’s much the same way I left my marriage—first moving into the guest room, then living together for six more months while transitioning into a friendship. There were many things that happened for my former spouse and I during those six months of living together while we uncoupled; it was transition after transition (not just during those six months but for a long time afterward, too), and it felt to me that each small act of transition was a brick we laid to help us build ourselves an off-ramp, an off-ramp that could eventually prove sturdy enough to carry us through to where we are right now: to the fact that I’ll be flying out to Oregon in a few days to joyfully attend his wedding.
Which isn’t to say that transition (of any kind) is easy. Transition is grief. Transition is our insides exploded in all directions, much like the “before” scenes on a decluttering TV show. Transition is: What the fuck have I gotten myself into? and Where the hell do I go from here? Transition is curiosity, and terror, and longing, often all at the exact same time.
And so it makes sense to me that when I look back through the years of my life, I see all of the times I threw myself into frantic and urgent transitions. Just get me out of here, get this over with. I could not exist in the liminal space.
The chaos of quick transitions is sometimes exactly right, of course. There are times when what we need is to go, right now, no matter what.
But I have found that those times are the exception for me, and not the rule. Slowing down is almost always more supportive. Surrendering that panic of urgency. Taking the time to build myself a long and gentle off-ramp instead of just flinging my body out the first open window and crossing my fingers for a safe enough landing on the way down.
Building these gentle off-ramps is not sexy, though. It is the opposite of “just leap and the net will appear!”
And I don’t know, maybe it’s a result of nearing 40, but I find that I don’t want to leap anymore—at least not in the chaotic and unhinged way that I used to, a way of being that made me feel like a caged tiger constantly on the brink of escape. I do not want this.
What I want is to give myself the gift of slowness and support instead. I want to make my little lists and tend to my fears and soothe my sweet nervous system when it gets activated. I want to feel my feelings. I want to let what’s true be true. And I want to walk softly down the off-ramps of my own making, embodying transition as its own worthy place, instead of something I should rush through as quickly as possible on my way from point A to point B.