(how an) INTJ travels

A year and a half ago, before I left for Brazil the first time, I had a boyfriend who didn’t get it. We had been arguing about me leaving, and after a particularly horrendous backpack shopping trip, he said, ‘Why do you like to live abroad? You don’t even like people.’

He was right about me not liking people, but not about the correlation between having a desire to travel and wanting to socialize. I’m an INTJ, which, for those of you non-MBTI-savvy people who have happened to stumble across this blog, means Introverted, Intuiting, Thinking, and Judging. It means crowds stress me out, as do repetitive music and loud people. It means I hate small talk and learning about things I have absolutely no interest in. It means adrenaline rushes are not for me and that trying new things is almost always scary. But it’s this last reason that motivates me to live abroad.

Something I’m noticeably bad at is living in the moment. This deficiency has helped me not get pregnant, overdose on drugs, or get a tattoo of a Chinese character on my ass, but it can also make me live completely in the future, a place that will never match reality. The future becomes the present, which is usually more disappointing than the future I had planned out. In the U.S. I have books full of lists and a routine that allows for over-planning. While abroad, I don’t. I have unexpected opportunities to do strange things with questionable people and I take them. I wander around and try to figure out another culture and language. It’s a challenge just to go to the grocery store or post office, and it makes me stop and notice in a way I wouldn’t at home. It’s annoying and new and uncomfortable and interesting. It wakes me up.

I felt guilty about this viewpoint at last year’s work orientation. Everyone was so bubbly and excited to learn how to dance forro and play samba and make so many new Brazilian friends while researching social inequality in the favelas or whatever. I was excited to drink caipirinhas on the beach and take things in stride, which, though I tried, I failed miserably at (but succeeded stupendously at drinking caipirinhas on the beach). I felt bad for not being enthralled with Brazilian culture. But then I realized I’m not enthralled with any culture, or really anything, except for about three people and books and kissing and the history of obscure languages. And that makes me a crotchety old hermit, but that’s ok. I’m allowed to live anywhere I want without a pat answer for why I wanted to live there.

When people ask why I chose to come to Brazil I say because I love Portuguese, which I do. I can see on people’s faces that this often isn’t enough of an answer for them, but it is for me. I’ve crafted a life here that I like. It includes starting a book club, attending a History of Portuguese class, and watching foreign movies at my neighborhood theater. I go to Starbucks and read. I speak Portuguese with other foreigners more than I do with Brazilians. I drink as much as I want and sleep in as late as I want on the weekends. I go to the beach and meditate and listen to music and people-watch. I stop to listen to violin players on the street playing Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major. I eat too much fried cheese on a stick. I travel around with reckless friends. We talk about sad things, smart things, stupid things; we laugh. It may be different than what others think it should be, but it’s enough for me.

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I’m most of the way to spinster cat lady

It’s far too easy to let others determine your worth.

As my ruined relationships pile up and the list of those that I consider healthy versus those I consider ugly tips in favor of the latter, my poisonous instinct is to blame myself, wonder what’s wrong with me that I can’t keep those I want around.

I’ve made this mistake again recently. I could regale you with tales of our recent travels, the beautiful things we saw together, the things we learned in museums and read on buses, the general joy of traveling with someone you like, but none of those things are what stick in my mind. I think of the maniacal hope I let grow in me unchecked, and how expectations truly do choke out happiness. But that knowledge doesn’t stop them from growing.

I’m not old, but I’m old enough to be fucking exhausted by failed relationships. What doesn’t kill you makes you more bitter, calloused, and distrusting. Whenever I get excited about somebody new, I always think that I’ll sooner or later regret that elated feeling, because every positive feeling must eventually have its negative counterpart, and that it’s just a matter of time. I will never love as purely and stupidly as I did at 18, which sounds fairly emo, but is fairly true. Though I used to scoff at it, I’m slowly recognizing the merits of staying with your first love.

So I keep telling myself the girl-power mantras that I don’t really believe: you deserve more, he wasn’t right for you, you’re awesome, you just haven’t met the right person, just relax and have fun. I roll my eyes and go out, dance with strangers, drink too much; I play beer pong in my international apartment like I’m ten years younger than I really am, giggling and taking shots and generally looking like the poster child of a fun study abroad billboard.

And afterward, I smoke too many cigarettes and ponder too many things as I sit alone on my balcony, the fetid smoke curling through my neighbors’ windows. I keep coming back to how hard it is to make true connections with others, and how I hate myself for hoping when I do.