Apropos of nothing, I recently got to thinking about when I moved out of home, shortly after my 18th birthday, and moved in with a bunch of friends.
There was absolutely no need for me to move out, and my parents were sad that I was, but I was technically an adult and they understood it was my decision. As for me, I was ready to go and experience some real freedom for once in my life! Up until that point, I had chafed against the rules I kept constantly coming up against, particularly in my later teen years. My parents had rules, my school had rules, my city had rules, my country had rules…half the time I wasn’t even allowed to go where I wanted to go, just because of someone else’s rules around age and other irrelevant factors. I had a group of slightly older friends, and when I was with them I distinctly remember experiencing moments of feeling like an absolute social pariah, due to rules keeping me from doing what those around me could do. .
So I moved out! My friends and I moved into a large, rundown house in the same North Shore suburb where most of us had grown up, because we wanted freedom but with a large dose of what we knew, I guess. In keeping with the ‘landlords really don’t give a f#$%’ vibe of the whole place, the outside was painted a few different shades of light blue in a seemingly totally random fashion. It gave off a slightly cloud-like appearance. “It’s heaven!” joked one friend who was moving in. And it was.
For the first time ever, we didn’t have rules. We could eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted! We could play music at the volume we wanted it at! We could do what we desired, instead of what our parents were nagging us to do! Sure, we still couldn’t go to certain places – many of the bars and clubs in Auckland were choosing to maintain a minimum age of 20 for entry, despite the government having lowered the minimum drinking age to 18 several years earlier – but hey, now we could just have the party at our house! Nobody there cared how we dressed, or what we put in or didn’t put in our bodies. We had so much freedom and it was glorious.
And then the neighbours asked us to keep it down at night, because they had small children. And we complained about that between ourselves, because it definitely hampered our hard-won freedom, and they weren’t our kids to worry about – they were the neighbours’ pre-existing problem – but we made an effort anyway because, despite being self-centred semi-formed humans, we weren’t jerks.
The flat got dirty, because why clean when nobody’s asking you to do so? But it was gross, and unfair because some of us were doing the right thing for all of us and cleaning, and some of us weren’t. So we worked out a system to make it fair and ensure we weren’t living in filth. Enter the cleaning roster.
The school year started, and some of us were at uni, and some of us were working, and we all realised pretty quickly that to perform in a quasi-optimal manner, we needed some sleep. The music got turned down again.
My flatmate ate my cheese, and it was mostly funny but also kind of annoying because I had been about to cook with it, and we made an agreement to be more thoughtful with what we ate and when we ate it.
So time went on, and gradually we had to introduce some more rules which impinged on our freedom a bit – but that was okay. We were still free to do what we wanted, mostly! Much more so than we had been in our parents’ houses. We just needed a few guidelines to maintain harmony, was all.
One flatmate held a party without giving us any warning, and my boyfriend’s PlayStation was stolen. She then disappeared for three nights and we went from angry to afraid for her. We agreed to let each other know if we weren’t coming home after that. And not to throw big parties unless we had all given the okay.
One flatmate moved out and another flatmate invited a super-weird dodgy guy to move in with us. A few weeks later, after we had successfully got that guy to move out again, we agreed nobody could move in unless we were all in accordance.
One flatmate chose to put a substance into his body that threatened everyone else’s safety. His body, his choice, he argued. Sure, but it’s our safety, so surely our choice too? I argued back. There was an altercation. I moved out.
My parents welcomed me back with loving open arms that somehow looked just like a safety net – back into their clean, calm, quiet home, and back to their rules which kept it that way. Their rules, though, weren’t much different from those we had created in our flat. What I hadn’t realised as a technical-adult-but-actually-still-kid was that all those rules I had railed against were in place for a good reason. I only understood that after experiencing the complete failure of a system that tried not to have them. I relaxed into the security and safety of my parents’ house and enjoyed all the ways in which that environment actually gave me so much more freedom, knowing and trusting everyone would play their part in keeping it so.
A few years later, I moved out again – still not quite an adult (it’s more a mindset than an age, right?) but much closer than I had been. I took the rules with me, knowing this time that freedom cannot truly be experienced in a setting where other people exercising their own freedom without constraint means your things may be stolen, or your food may be eaten, or your surroundings might be unhygienic, or you may have your safety compromised. Now, I have those rules in my own house (and a few more besides – I’ve become quite an uptight adult) and I watch my five year old daughter resent them vociferously, and I laugh quietly. She’s a child still and she’ll learn what true freedom looks like one day.
Oh, BY THE WAY, just randomly – there’s a super-lame protest going on at Parliament and I hate it very much.