Thursday, 21 March 2013

On pain at (a) distance

I often start my blog posts either apologising or at the very least explaining that I probably don't have much, much of interest, or anything useful to say on a topic.

This is a post where I fear I may say too much, so I am going to attempt to be generic and simply approach an expat issue that I imagine a lot of spousal immigrants have experienced, and that I (perhaps naively) did not think I would face, in a way that focuses on resolution.

When you leave your home, your family, your friends, and your country for love, it's safe to say that you probably didn't do it lightly. You have thought through what and why you are leaving; you are confident and exuberant about the love you feel; you have made both practical and more emotional preparations for your departure. Your investment in your new home and life is enormous. And because of that change, I imagine most of us who emigrate (quite rightly and necessarily) don't think twice after making the decision itself - not through lack of consideration but because of conviction and happiness, and because of the need for momentum to get through the immigration journey.

Whether you fell in love for the first time, or for 'real' for the first time, I suppose you always imagine that you are invincible. Your confidence in a relationship so fitting, so crazily simple and yet so unimaginably complex, skyrockets. In this particular situation, it's also important to invest and to believe, whether consciously or otherwise, because of that being the [main] reason for such a life-changing move. Of course you give it your all, because no one else would make you want to move countries and, conversely, because you are moving countries, you give it your all.

So what happens, one, two, three, ten years down the line, when an event shakes your relationship in a way that makes you wonder if you need to adjust your viewpoint? When the anchor that keeps you on these new shores seemingly loosens a little? Having psychological distance between you and the person who is not only your closest companion emotionally, but quite literally the closest person at all, in a country that is still not fully your home - what then?

Being so removed from long term friends; from family; hell, from what's just normal for you means that minor issues, like navigating supermarkets and the inability of an entire state to indicate when making a turn, can cause exaggerated frustration and sometimes misunderstanding. Major issues can trigger severe loneliness, depression, and even agony. But I don't think being far away from home should actually make a significant difference when it comes to dealing with the latter, believe it or not.

My advice is this: realise that you are the same person as before, and that you are capable of finding solutions regardless of your location. Take a practical, pro-active approach. Speak to people. Speak to friends. Friends in your new home that you can trust. Friends back home-home who know you. Parents if you can. Find solace and strength in their encouragement. And take that to your partner, who you moved for, who you wanted to be with above all else, and remind both them and yourself of that. Trust your partner. Because it's actually not that different to having relationship difficulties at home (even though you may feel a greater sense of displacement than you might otherwise have): such difficulties hurt, and you need to work through them, and you need to find common ground - like any couple, anywhere. Don't let being abroad overwhelm you. You are here because you choose to be. Keep making that choice, and move forward. Close the distance.

I never thought that what would take me out was what was hiding down below.
Lost the battle; win the war;
Bringing my sinking ship back to the shore.
... There's a time and a place to die, but this ain't it.
If there's a future, we want it.


  1. You really don't have the extended network of friends and family as an expat, that you might take for granted in your home country.

    If my wife and I argue, she can drive to a friend's house for consolation. I really don't have that luxury. Sure I have friends but they aren't *old* friends. If I want to see a family member, or friend, person to person, I would have to book a flight, with all the expense and planning that involves.

    It is an imbalance in the relationship for sure, you have to cope and adapt to it, there is no way to avoid it. I rely very much on my wife at times, and sometimes resent the situation to some degree(if I'm honest), because she is my main lifeline here and I can feel less independent than I did in my home country. (Buying car insurance, tipping a restaurant waitress, etc. I could do without stress in the UK, because I understood the system/rules)

    I know there wouldn't be the same pressure on the relationship if it weren't for the multinational element. I am not being negative, just saying that I understand the challenges. You have to live it to understand it, I think sometimes! :-)

    1. I agree that there is not the same wide variety/longevity of friendships that you have at home, and you make a great point about the comfort of things being "normal". Just knowing what to do because of understanding the system is something I never realised would make such a big difference, and I probably had misplaced confidence because of the language similarities too.

      However, I have not really felt that imbalance. Although I have had to rely on Ben for more practical things at first, and he has had difficulty understanding my anxiety at needing to know things in great detail (because I am learning them for the first time), for the most part I have not felt less independent or more reliant on him than I should be/would like to be. I'm not sure therefore whether I was simply upset because it isn't normal for Ben and I to misunderstand one another (for me, the expat factor didn't actually feature much once I had some time to think over it all). Of course, to expect a couple to never have a misunderstanding is also unrealistic, wherever you are!

      Finally, I think you and I must differ a little bit in terms feelings about/feeling 'with' friends. We are both way too aware of the fact that Skype and email and texts, while so lovely to have as options, are not in any way the same as a good hug and a face-to-face chat. However, I actually felt very much consoled and heard via these media, and did not feel as though I was without my older friends. I am also incredibly fortunate as to be very close with several girlfriends here, to the point that I feel as though I have a second 'family'. Although there is a lack of history together, my relationship with Ben is actually very new too, in the real living-together-married sense, so it all kind of feels rather new but old at the same time. I don't know - it just works, is what I am trying to say! There is of course the worry that such new friendships can be transient or superficial, or merely circumstantial (and I have had this experience with some of the people I know here), but these particular girls seem to be in it for the long-haul. Which is wonderful. :)

      Definitely agree about the extra dynamic of being in a multinational relationship. I was just surprised by the similarities rather than the differences when it came to this situation, and my increased resolve to be pro-active and brave about finding resolution. So I think I was actually saying not only don't be afraid of being in this situation, but actually being abroad can push you to work harder! And yes, you definitely have to live it. :)

    2. Regarding friends, I think age does make a lot of difference (I am 47 and you are 30, I believe). It sounds a little odd, but the nature of friendship changes as you get older. My social circle was enormous when I was in my twenties, but gradually shrunk back over the years, until it was about half a dozen close friends that I saw regularly, before I moved. Some friends I had 25 years or more of shared experience, so I could just be myself, without having to explain myself, or whatever.

      I have moved towns, cities, in the past within England, and socially it is just a lot easier when younger. Most people kind of settle into grooves as they reach middle age - many people of my age group really couldn't believe that I was upping sticks and moving across the Atlantic in my mid-40s!

      I also suspect that there might be gender issues regarding my perceived dependency. Subconsciously, I may feel a stronger social/personal expectation as a man to be earning money and know what I am doing! (I am earning now, but for quite a long time, I was pretty broke - I still don't always know what I am doing, however!). :-)

    3. Do you know, I was going to mention age and gender differences as other (non-multinational) factors that may also play a role, but I decided I'd waffled on enough! I totally agree, and I was also wondering how you felt the move was different for you and your friends, given the different age bracket. Were people mostly positive, or simply disbelieving?!

      We can start an expats-who-mostly-don't-know-what-they're-doing club. Ha! I bet there already is one! :D

    4. One of my heroes is Quentin Crisp, who moved to the US in his 70s! :-)

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. It's good to know my waffle can be of some use. :)


Thanks for taking the time to write! I try to reply to everyone, and I love to read your comments.