"What's your story? How long have you guys been married?" our new friend asked.
"Well, that's complicated," I said.
"Too complicated," Caanan chimed in. He wanted to both save her from having to endure the long story and spare us from telling it yet again.
Here's the short story: We're a legally married, Washington State couple living the life of our dreams. But it wasn't an easy road.
In 1998, when we met, getting legally married wasn't an outcome that we could have imagined. Even so, we got married-for-us in 2000 and have been a part of the fight for marriage equality - and equality in general - ever since.
In 2004, when we lived in Portland, OR, we watched the television, grimacing, as same-sex couples were belittled and spit on while they waited in line to be married. Eager to be part of the crusade, we raced down to Multnomah County's headquarters building and took our place in line in the blustery, early-March weather. As if the insults and objects that were lobed at us weren't bad enough, our legal marriage was unceremoniously annulled not long after.
The shift we've seen over the last decade, especially, is a testament to the fact that we, as citizens, should never let societal norms, others' expectations, and outmoded laws dictate the course our lives will take.
You never know the difference your courage to take a stand might make.
You never know what might be in store for you if you speak your truth.
It was our desire to, back all those years, fight for the equality we knew we deserved that propelled us to make similarly brave choices in the years to come. A bit later in the 2000s, we leaned further into the contrarian within each of us and decided to make a monumental life shift. We decided to start living on our terms. Full time. Full on.
We'd gotten so good at exercising our freethinking muscles in the fight for social justice that we decided to apply the same mindset to, well, everything. Upon closer examination, we learned that "traditional" was often a euphemism for stagnation. Emboldened, we set out to dismantle conventional interpretations of success. We quickly realized that cookie-cutter ideas of power and fulfillment had lost their luster, so we left our upwardly mobile corporate careers for the sake of authentic, enduring happiness.
No, we did not have trust funds or bulging bank accounts. Bummer.
What was once a bold idea has now become what we call our No Vacation Required (NVR) lifestyle. Since turning things upside-down, we've started a location-independent business so that we can explore the globe and (hopefully!) make the world a better place along the way. For us, it's all about maximizing every day - refusing to defer fulfillment or fall into the "I'll do that someday" mindset.
We committed to making our story a series of mindful decisions guided by our own ambitions and dreams. Thriving when you're going against pretty much everything you've been taught requires a very clear grasp of your core values. Thankfully, early into this life change, we did some heavy lifting and tapped into defining ours. Now, those values guide each one of our decisions.
Exploration is one of those core values, which is why globetrotting figures into our lives so heavily. As travel fanatics and on-the-side travel writers, we've been to all seven continents and have had experiences that our former selves couldn't have dreamed possible. We've been treated to stays in presidential suites and to extravagant meals that rival the cost of our monthly mortgage. We've run marathons around the world and have hiked more during two-week outdoor adventures than we used to walk in an entire year.
Another core value that continues to serve as a foundation in our lives is giving back. Knowing what it's like to have society try to hold you down, we've always had heart space for lifting up others. We've gone from fighting for LGBT rights / social justice to also becoming quite hardcore about poverty eradication, food security, and education for all. Our old selves never would have imagined advocating for all of these things on Capitol Hill, much less around the world.
Can you imagine what might have become of our lives had we decided to make long-term decisions based on the state of gay rights back when we met? What if we had dimmed our lights and let society cast us in whatever light it chose? Our happiness would have been nearly extinguished. We guarantee it.
People are always asking us how to live their own version of a NVR life. The best thing you can do is to figure out who you are - the internal you - so that you can exercise your core values and be who you came here to be - not who society wants you to be. You can then use the external you to serve as an unapologetic reflection of who you are at your core.
So, that's our story. The story of two men - one who grew up in Montana, and one in rural Oregon - who are living lives much different than the ones that society dictated and that were modeled for them.
Your story is always being written. Make sure you are holding the pen.