“So, what brings you to London?”
I hate when people ask me that question. Being the awkward turtle that I am, I have developed a number of canned responses:
- The professional response: “I wanted to work in digital and there’s no better place to do that than London — at least where I could get a visa and speak the language!”
- The grown-up response: “I wanted to continue to live abroad and travel, and it’s easy for Canadians to get a visa for the UK. And it’s London!”
- The blunt but funny response: I thrust my thumb at Tom and say “That guy.”
Of course every answer is true, but one is truer than the others. I admit it: I’m one of those girls who moved abroad with a guy. I mean, it wasn’t just him. After Martinique I wanted to continue travelling, but London was never a place I would have considered living (I was more into Paris). So, I moved to London because of him, but for him. I moved there for adventure and to see new places, but I could have done that anywhere.
And I gotta say, thank goodness “That guy” is from London because I don’t know what excuse I would have had for moving to, I don’t know, Chichester? shudder
Enough about me. This is about you. Here is what you should do if you’re thinking about moving abroad for love:
I don’t mean that you shouldn’t move to a new country with him, I mean don’t do it for him. Do it for yourself, because you want to see the world, learn a new language, or challenge yourself. If you don’t find your own reason for moving you will resent him when you’re having a hard time (and you will have a hard time). If he has a job there and you don’t then you’ll need to find a way to keep busy and make friends.
Set yourself a goal to achieve or find a new hobby that will help get you out of the house — start a blog, research some aspect of the culture, get a degree online — just do anything that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something besides being a ‘trailing spouse’.
If you can’t think of a reason why you want to go for yourself then you probably shouldn’t go.
Again, maybe don’t do it.
I think long-distance relationships can work when you both have a time-frame for your return. Tom and I did the long distance thing twice for about five months each time. Each time it was pretty open-ended and that was the most stressful part of it: trying to figure out when and how we would be in the same place again. If your partner is going on a 6-month job posting you’ll find it a lot easier to be apart than if she’s getting transferred and she could be gone for 3 months or 3 years, and you have no idea which.
- A lot of people seem to be misunderstanding what I’m saying. I don’t mean you shouldn’t move abroad for love, I’m saying think twice before you do it: First, can we make this work long distance? Second, is there a reason besides my partner that I would move there and would it be without detriment to my dreams, goals, and needs? Because there is no comeback worse than “I moved countries for you!” or “I gave up a full scholarship at Yale for you!”. Your partner may never sacrifice in the same way and will be unhappy if you use that as a trump card every time things are going wrong. It’s why I say, find a reason that ain’t your partner 🙂
Consider whether you really have to live together.
If you’ve been living together already, then by all means, go for it. But depending on where you’re moving you may not have the same luxuries you’re accustomed to. You may have to share with strangers or your apartment could be cramped — and if there is one thing I learned from living abroad with my partner, it’s that small living spaces make for really big fights.
Tom and I don’t live together in London now and if he ever decides to join Generation Rent then it will be nice to have separate flatmates and places we can escape to when they piss us off. Besides, house shares are a great way to make new friends!
Learn to speak the language if you can’t already.
There is nothing more isolating (well, besides being put in isolation) than being unable to understand the people around you. It will help you get a job (or a better one) and talk to people while you’re abroad. If you need to take lessons then you may even make some friends that are in the same boat as you.
Be honest with him–and yourself.
Hopefully you have honed good communication skills throughout your relationship. Being an expat couple is a blessing and struggle but you go through it together; on the other hand, moving abroad for love and being the only one who is adapting to a new country can be especially lonely. If your partner is a local let him know that you’re having a hard time and talk about what he can do to help you (and how you can help yourself).
Discuss your expectations of living abroad.
Perhaps you totally want to become an honourary Moroccan–you plan on learning the language and how to cook couscous–but your partner doesn’t. If you’re both moving to a new country he might want to experience the culture in a different way than you or won’t be as willing to make himself uncomfortable in a foreign country. Everyone has a different expat style and adapts to new places in their own way.
If you want a partner in crime, let her know. If she just wants to continue living like she did at home but with better Instagram opportunities, you have to decide if you’re cool with being the one who orders the food, talks to the landlord, and does all of the engaging with your adopted home.
Don’t lose your identity.
Keep your cultural heritage alive by sharing the food, music, and history with people. Your partner, and people who care about you in your new country, should be interested in where you come from because it’s a huge part of who you are. I’ve made Tom and his family pancakes and we’ve had lively discussions about the differences between the US, Canada, and England. And when I start to feel homesick? I eat ice cream drowning in maple syrup while watching TV shows and movies that remind me of home…