In 2008, early morning on Thanksgiving day, I arrived in the Netherlands for a two week visit with a friend. After a visit to town, jet lag set in and I needed to get a little rest. Ten minutes AFTER I stretched out my legs, the doorbell rang and then he entered the room… This is how my Love story started. Go to the video to get all the dirty details!
Last month, I was a guest blogger on Ute’s Expat Lounge blog. I wrote a post about when friends move and how an expat, specifically me, adjusts to losing friends. Inside that post, I discovered something that had eluded me in the seven years living abroad: there are two distinct groups of expats.
Before I go any further, if you are new here on this blog let me clear up one word right now. Expat is short for expatriate. The Merriam & Webster’s definition is, to leave one’s native country to live elsewhere; also: to renounce allegiance to one’s native country. That includes a lot of people!!! I didn’t even know about the second, part of it, renouncing your citizenship! So now that scope is even bigger.
Back to my post, I talk about expats in two groups. To simplify it: 1. those who come for a short period and move on. 2. Those who come and stay indefinitely. It’s here, number 2, that I’ve been thinking a lot about these last few weeks. This one, I am currently a member. I asked myself what makes me a part of this category. Well, I married a Dutchman and I came for Love.
I’ve been aware of another term thrown around the expat community and that is, Love-pats. At first glance, you may think it’s an affectionate term for “a tap on the bum”. 😮 But for expat purposes, it’s this: someone who moved from their home country for LOVE. Love + expat becomes then Love-pat. The dash represents the “ex”. I’ve seen it typed differently but that’s my take on it. 😉 It’s a cute way of talking about this group of people.
I wanted to explore more into the world of us, Love-pats. You see, I know first-hand this isn’t an easy gig. There is a lot of trust that goes into making such a decision to move to a foreign country. Trust in your partner. Not to mention strength of character from the love-pat themselves, because let’s face it, people will ridicule you for moving for Love. I sure did! It comes down to a person and that is, unfortunately, an easy thing to tear apart, create suspicion or a sense of fear. That’s before you even move. Then comes the living in the country part. There are more obstacles to climb over which impacts the relationship every step of the way. And let’s not forgot to mention, that the relationship is a bicultural one where communications are often strained since one person, or both, is usually not speaking their native tongue*. Ahh..Love is a wonderful thing but for our group it can get complicated. x
I originally wrote this post in April 2016 for Ute’s Expat Lounge, now Ute’s Lounge blog. I’m sending it out again because today one special expat has left the flock and returned to her home country. Yet again I met with mixed emotions and thoughts about this horrible experience of saying goodbye and feeling the sadness of a friendship that has helped me through a lot of life-changing events.
I dedicate this to my friends, Jo Thomas and Katie Miller, who courageously moved with their families to far away places in the world, one a new country and the other returning home. I’m not sure if we will see each other again but I wish you both so much success and happiness in your new homes,countries, jobs, and lives. xx
It’s late on a Sunday evening. My Spotify playlist selects, “Somebody I use to know” by Gotye. Ironically, I feel like this song really hits a nerve with the subject of this post. It’s also my biggest worry; will my friends who are moving away become “Someone I used to know”?
It was also a Sunday when I got the news. The news that one dear friend was moving, in just a week and a half! Another scheduled to leave several weeks beyond her. The maelstrom of emotions came hurdling at me while riding in a car home with a few friends after a women’s weekend away. We shared this pain and well, this shock as it was one member of the carpool who was the subject of the fast move. I couldn’t help but think, “Where was I for all this conversation about departing during the weekend?” All the women in the car were talking while my head was rounding in circles asking:
What am I going to do that last day when she leaves?
How can I prepare for this?
Why is this happening so fast?
Will we keep in touch?
Will the friendship fade?
Can I go through this twice?
I have to chuckle at myself because even as I grow older I see how we do not ever really GROW up from childhood.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”null” suffix=”null”]Friends are always an important part of our lives.[/inlinetweet]
I would dare to add friendship is more cherished as an adult, even more so, when it’s coupled with being an expatriate.
In that car drive home, I listened carefully to what my dear departing friend was saying about all of the arrangements and plans for her move. I listened also to what the others in the car were saying. I wanted to hear their feelings and take careful notes on how they seem to be taking it in. I’ve been an expat for 7 years now. In that time, I haven’t had a close “inner” circle friend move and now, I will see two leave. After we dropped our friend off, we talked about a few of our feelings but not too much. We were all on the verge of breaking down. The emotion was palpable. We got to my house and well, the hugs started and the tears flowed. We were all beside ourselves. It was a healing moment but awful at the same time because we knew there would be more of this for sure. There was a comical round of, “Do you have plans to leave?” We reassured each other that none of us did. We parted to our homes, assuming to tell our husbands and partners of the awful fact that we’d be down a few great friends. This is when I realized something that I never thought a lot about: There are two groups within the Expat Community:
The ones who move here indefinitely to settle down and watch kids grow through school.
The ones who always had plans to either return home or move on to another country.
I’ve known about these two groups but never really gave it a lot of thought. Let’s face it 7 years without a single expat friend moving gets you comfortable with the way things are. And why examine things that don’t relate to you, anyway. Pfft! But there it is. When we were asking each other “are you going to move?” it came from this feeling of loss and desperation. We needed to feel secure again, though, it won’t help with what we were really running away from, grief. No matter what I would have answered that question, eventually, we know that it’s each person that makes up a whole. Neither of these women can nor will be replaced in our hearts and minds. When one leaves we have to deal with that vacancy in our community. No, they are not dying but they are gone. Our children won’t have playdates anymore. The social events will be down a woman or two. Events you all regularly attended will be missing them and your mind will note it every, single, time. It’s devastating!
As an American who lives so very far away from her own family and home, I’ve come to realize that my friends have become my family. We can laugh together about the differences that living abroad brings, look at how our kids are coping beyond us in so many ways(and thank god for that), and now and then check in with what is “normal” in raising our children among foreigners! These people know all my struggles and have shouldered me through some huge life changing moments: becoming a wife, a mother, a house owner, retaining my driving license (again), becoming a business owner, etc… These are often bittersweet events and moments that when you go through them without your family around can be hard but with these women, friends, they more than fill that gap. This is what makes it all the more difficult to say goodbye.
I’m still working through all the emotions and questions that this life event is bringing. I recognize that this should have been, by now, a big part of living my life as an expat. It’s extremely special that seven years have gone by and I haven’t seen another go. I can only reflect back on many years ago when I decided to leave Washington D.C. and move back to my home state of Michigan. But even this pales in comparison because I was making the decision to leave and now I’m the one being left behind. What can I take from that? As I write this exposé over my feelings, I realize a lot more has to be going on for the ones that leave. They made the decision, got the job, and now have to move their families to another country or back home, which by now can almost feel like another country. I remember when I moved, it was time. I was sad but ready. The busyness of moving helped me keep a lot at bay, emotionally. I wonder how it is for them and if they feel the same, will we become to them: Somebody they used to know from a place they used to live?
What are your thoughts on friends moving away? How do you cope with saying goodbye? Please share in the comments.
This vlog is about “owning your shit”. How often don’t we tell our truth or when we aren’t honest about how we feel about situations or people. I think for expats this is an important topic because often our support structures are created by the friendships we make. In this video, I suggest it’s better if you own your $#@! at the start of creating friendships. I would love to hear your experiences on this topic.
Did you struggle to find solid friendships when you moved abroad? In what ways do you still have to “own your $#@!”?
Share with us in the comments your experiences with NOT owning your shit.
I’ve been low lately. I’ve come to this conclusion: This weather is not for me! Here in the Netherlands, the winters are like this: rain….more rain, and then followed up with some rain, with consistent skies of grey. YUCK! If we get snow that would brighten things up but seldom do we see it. The first few years I lived here, it was a “fluke”that we got so much. Seriously, people didn’t even shovel their sidewalks!! What?! This Michigan girl was in shock. 😮 Also, because no one stopped biking on ice slicked cobblestoned streets. WHOA! How do they do it?!
But now, I can pretty much count on a long winter full of rain. We’ve just begun to feel this winter rain stuff recently and along with it, zapping my energy and motivation. Not ideal while building a business but that’s what is happening. I’ve been thinking how weather affects many people. I’ve heard that some who live here actually start visiting the sun tanning salons to get their fill of vitamin D everyday. I’m not going down that road of sunbathing because, well, it’s not my gig and I think it’s a bit strange to walk around with a full tan in the middle of winter. I posed this question on my personal Facebook page:
I’m kinda in a funk today. Anyone else?
I was surprised, and comforted, at how many felt the same way, right then. But what can we do about it. Well, first by posting that question and having a conversation with friends made me feel better. The conversation revolved around “funk” as what the word means, and as in the music genre. We got creative with it [thanks guys!] by listing all the funk songs we knew. This helped me get out of the funk for awhile because we were having fun. But, maybe taking a cue from that we could listen to some good tunes and dance around the house?
I explored this a little more for myself and I realized, it’s also about moving. When you sit around at home all day, it’s easy to slide into a “funk” no matter what the weather. It’s been some time since I had a gym membership, ran a 5k, or exercise in any formal way. Recently a friend of mine, who’s building her own business: Shrinking Violets Fitness, has begun offering a Pilates class in her home studio. We had one class already. Yes! This is a FUNK killer for sure and a step in the right direction for me. I know that being consistent in moving (exercising) weekly will fight those funky winter blues. I will report more on this as the weeks go on. But first, I want to know from you, have you felt the funk lately? And if so, how do you kill your funk?
Raising children in a foreign country is not easy, especially if the language is unfamiliar. Finding confidence, building a support network and feeling comfortable in family lives abroad are top priorities for international families. The International Family Fair is here to help internationals navigate the Dutch parenting waters!
This fun and informative event on November 8th promises to be a great day for the whole family. Parents can roam the information market with 45+ exhibitors showcasing their services for the family or join one of the workshops on parenting, raising international children or understanding the Netherlands. At the same time, children can enjoy a fun kids’ program with workshops and ongoing activities. For the youngest children, free professional daycare services are available.
I will have a booth at this fair! Come meet me, have a mini-session, and see what I can offer. I hope to see you there.