Earlier this morning, on the way to the airport, my boyfriend and I were playing this vocabulary game. He would say some crazypants word and I was supposed to guess what it meant. We went through some really crazy stuff like “muntin” and “ferrule”..neither of which I got on the first try.
Then he said “The Desire Path.” Just like you I thought to myself “well this game has taken a turn for the x-rated hasn’t it…” But alas, it was not that at all. He showed me this picture:
When he showed it to me, I still didn’t get it. I had to ask him what it meant. He gave me this quick definition, which is something like this… “its what happens when people choose to create a shorter route than the actual one.”
The text book definition is this: “A desire path (also known as a desire line, social trail, goat track or bootleg trail) is a path developed by erosion caused by footfall or by bicycle. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.”
Goat track. Ha. Moving on.
So I thought about this for a hot minute, then our conversation switched to what airline I was flying out on. However, once I got on the plane I kept thinking about it. The desire path. The desire line. The shortcut we find when we know just where we are going.
This all reminded me of a conversation I had with Peter not too long ago when we were running along the Seattle waterfront. It was one of our first runs as a couple. His steps are about two times the size of mine in mileage covered so lets just say — it wasn’t going awesomely. I was trying to look cute while trying to keep up and he was trying to slow down which made him look like he was stumbling. We were trying to hold conversation but growing increasingly frustrated with each other.
The moment that I remember most was when he jumped off the trail and through this little mini park which has a pretty arch called “Rose’s Garden.” I all but stopped. WHY WAS HE JUMPING OFF THE TRAIL? I literally felt like Field of Dreams when I took my first step onto the grass. It was so crazy — WHO KNEW WHERE I WOULD END UP.
He thought this was hilarious.
“You’ve never gone off the path before?,” he asked.
“Well actually I guess not, no I haven’t,” I answered just as surprised.
This, much like hearing the definition of desire path, struck me. I’m just not one to go off the path. This is strange given I was brought up reading books like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and listening to poems about taking the road less traveled. I’m the one that took off from home at 21, seeking a coast I had never even seen. I am the one that picked a career my family doesn’t even think is real. I’m the one that used to stay up as a kid dreaming of ways I could build a ladder to reach the stars.
Yet here I am, a grown ass adult… freaking out about the concept of leaving the already established trail. What a strange dichotomy.
Needless to say, the entire flight I kept thinking about this concept of the desire path. I kept trying to find examples where I have “built” one in my life. I could’t really find one. Instead I found a laundry list of examples where I have stayed on the expected path far too long:
I’ve stayed in friendships I knew weren’t healthy.
I’ve stayed in relationships I knew weren’t healthy.
I fought for goals I didn’t really want.
I stood up for people I don’t think really deserved it.
I’ve stood by during injustices.
I’ve masked what I wanted for what I should have wanted.
And so on and so forth.
Just when I thought there was no hope I remembered this one time. I thought back to a time that something was expected of me, I should have done it, and I chose a shorter path to where I really wanted to be.
When I was a senior in high school my mom was dying of cancer. We found out over Christmas that she had a few months to live. I won’t go into it all too much here, instead I’ll save it for another time. However, as the school year was closing my mom had gotten increasingly sick. She was hardly herself anymore. She had stopped working. She didn’t really eat. She didn’t really sleep. She didn’t really talk. She was in a lot of pain.
My sister and I were seniors in a small town, at a highschool where everyone knew us. For months the town and highschool tried to help my sister and I behave normally. It was really important to my mom that we got to enjoy our last year in school with our friends. She insisted we go to school, and practices, and prom. All the meanwhile she was getting sicker, and time was running slim.
So the last week of school finals rolled around. I did well in school, mostly A’s with some B’s. I had to take this Psychology Exam. I remember being in my room two days before the exam and just staring at the books. I kept running out to see my mom in the living room where she now lived with our Hospice care late at night. The next day I went to my teacher and for one of the only times ever I chose the desire path. I said “I’m not taking this.” And as any great teacher would have done he looked into my eyes, knowing what I was going through, and said “ok, no problem, take care.” I walked out of the room and drove home. I sat by my mom for a few hours with no one else around.
She passed away a week later, it was the day before I graduated.
I’m the type of person that was brought up to believe you work harder than others. You put in your time, you do what you’re told, you walk between the outlined trail.
But just like all good theories there is a time to say fuck it. There is a time to look at the winding trail in front of you and step off. Forge your own trail. With this comes the knowledge that people might raise a brow, they might think you’re odd. But who cares.
With any desire path, one must assume there is a desire at the end of it. That alone warrants the risk of a few raised eyebrows, a few broken rules.
I’m excited to have learned the name for this concept that goes against my nature. It gives me something to explore. Who knows…maybe just maybe, the next time you see me I’ll be running along the Seattle Waterfront… on the grass, barefoot…zig zagging all over the damn place.
Here’s to hoping…