Monday, 7 September 2009

Cracks, hindsight and voluntary exile

(photo credit: Kyknoord via

Sometimes I wonder if I had known what I know now, would I have done things differently, made different decisions. Of course it's futile to indulge in what-ifs, what with the benefit of hindsight and all that. And yet.

I've always been fascinated by languages and other countries. As a consequence, teenage me, from the age of 15, took every opportunity to travel. It coincided with asserting my independence - and travel, learning languages, plus to a certain extent music and literature, both linked to the countries I was crazy about, became synonymous with developing my independent self. It was part something that is aptly called "Abnabelung" in German, the process of cutting the umbilical cord. In my case it was more than just independence of my rather controlling parents, it was also about establishing my identity amonst my peers, gaining confidence as a not so confident, slightly overweight teenager who was always at the edge of being bullied.

Travel, and even spending significant periods of time abroad wasn't just great fun, it also made me special, and offered an opportunity to meet people who met me without preconceptions, a new start, a new me, free from the loathed and untrue load of the reputation my peers back home had not so kindly created for me (it wasn't that bad a reputation, but none the less loathed good and proper).

Every time I returned, I longed for the next trip abroad. I worked my backside off to scrape the money together for the next trip, too proud to ask my parents for a penny to support my passion. There were youth exchanges, paying guest stays, school trips, a year as an au pair split between two countries, years abroad from uni, assistant teacherships and then, when I had enough of seeing new countries and really wanted to either settle in Ireland or go home, destiny brought me to Glasgow as a Lektor. This is where I met my beloved, the rest is history. While I didn't choose Glasgow (Glasgow quite definitely chose me), I did choose expat life.

My parents had never been supportive of this passion of mine, or of my stay abroad. For my part, I don't see much difference in living in another town in Germany or abroad, and in fact I may see more of my family than many. Yet the cracks that started to appear as soon as I got married, thus cementing my life abroad, are widening. And I'm at a loss at how to mend them or at least keep them from breaking the fabric apart. A good relationship with some disagreements is now threatening to take a turn for the worse, all efforts on my part at worst failing, at best misunderstood. My life no longer has the flexibility to accommodate the expectations and demands made by my family, or rather, part of my family, because part of the problem is that there is more of family now and still only the same me. It is like forces tearing at me, with me trying to stretch to square the circle, and failing miserably.

Would I make the choice to live abroad again? Would I exchange all the good times I had, the sense of belonging I only experienced abroad, for a game of happy families that cannot be guaranteed to even exist? To be honest, I don't know. What I do know is that it pains me immensely to watch the currents of life make us drift further apart. That I wouldn't want to put the same strains on my husband, say, in a move to Germany. That I would definitely think again and not take my voluntary exile as lightly as I did at the time.


Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Great post, really pinpointing some of the issues that arise when we choose to go and live abroad. Can I use it on the expat mums site? I think you have raised a really important issue.

I too, took the decision too lightly. In the future, I'd like to think more, but I don't think I would make a different decision. I'm sure that my childre will also make that decision lightly and I'll cry, but will try to remember what it is like and be supportive. x

Mwa said...

That's a really tough one. My husband feels it very keenly sometimes as well. Especially around birthdays he misses and the like.

Really Rachel said...

It is a really tough choice - one that I have avoided, thankfully!
Got an award for you over at mine...

B said...

I often wonder about this, although I always end up convinced that I did the right thing... maybe I'd do some things differently, but I'd like to end up where I am, so I guess I didn't do too bad. It's definitely a decision that people tend to romanticize, when the reality is not, as you say, all ideal.



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