“I get a strangely gratifying relief from walking away from situations that require commitment. I seem to have an aversion – not to committing, but to settling. When you have spent most of your life recovering from the great losses that come with relocating, when you have uttered too many goodbyes and shed too many tears to the point of gradually becoming numb, you find yourself loving in a way that’s safe – outside of yourself. That way, hurt won’t hurt so much.
When you have spent most of your life in comfortable solitude, when you have loved to the breaking point, when you have had to find your way back again, it’s hard to sit still. That’s what commitment feels like to me: being bound. I can physically feel myself retract from the possibility of being loved.
I have become entirely too comfortable in loving myself so no one else will have to. It is an armor that I wear boldly, proudly and daily. It is unbreakable. I have become my own guardian – a force to be reckoned with (although I wouldn’t suggest trying).”
10 days ago, I wrote the lines above. I was presented with a situation that would have been normal to most people. But as a previous child of the world who is now an adult, I have slowly been coming to realizations about how my childhood has affected my present perspective. This week’s theme is “The Accidental Effects of Goodbyes.” Liam and I did not intentionally write about this topic, it just kind of happened that way. It is yet another example of how we are processing our childhood and teenage experiences and trying to navigate through adulthood.
I realized that moving caused this noncommittal rift inside of me – something I hadn’t honestly examined until this year. Saying goodbye to friends, family, house staff that were like family to my parents and I, and those I was romantically involved with took an unforeseen toll. The stress of losing people over-and-over again can eat away at you. It’s a cycle none of us can ever truly prepare for as TCKs; losing a friend to relocation, or being the person who is forced to move yourself never gets easier.
It becomes routine: parent gets job in other country, family packs up in short notice and bodes tearful goodbyes, family relocates, family becomes so immersed in settling down in new place as quickly as possible that they don’t really have time to process the grief of the place before. Often, I felt like I was ripped away from a place just when I was ready to call it “home” – another trigger word for TCKs. But that was our normal. It wasn’t until I graduated from college last May that I felt overwhelming grief. As graduation approached, I panicked, realizing that this was a new start, and although I was excited about being a working gal, I was terrified of leaving behind a community I had so carefully carved into “home.” The goodbyes were not as deeply painful as I had prepared for. I unintentionally created a guard that would soften the blow of leaving the friends I loved behind. I was forward focused – work and relocating to Baltimore were next. This was routine.
The first two months were horrendously lonely. New job in a new city, I was forced to come to terms with the cycle of grief. This was the first time I was living separately from my family (college doesn’t really count, because you’re an adult without real responsibilities), my friends were scattered all over the country and world, and I was alone. Now, I have never felt uncomfortable with solitude, but this was different. This was the realization of the goodbyes that mattered. And damn, did they hurt. I was blindsided by the brutality of missing humans. It is both an absolute privilege and merciless damnation to have to process people.
As the months passed and I settled, it was my quickest turnaround in 9 moves over 22 years. I was getting comfortable in this new city, and I was so proud of myself for taking on the grief and allowing myself to go through it so I could accept it and move on. But, I also realized that I did not have space for the idea of love. I believe in love, I just felt like it was a foreign concept and for another time. Another place. The Future. I was content with being a good friend – it was and is my M.O. I have long felt comfortable with the idea of flying solo.
But the way that I disconnected from dates and the possibility of romance is something that I have had to admit is unhealthy detachment, with a good push from the person who knows me best: Mom. She came to visit me this weekend and we had a nice, long introspective look at the way I am quick to disconnect from those who pursue me romantically. She encouraged me to take on a new challenge: let go of the past and the pain of goodbyes and give the limbo between dates and a relationship the chance normal people would.
I was taken aback at how I had gradually come to view relationships and love. When you are you, you don’t necessarily pay attention to how you think what you do all the time. So I had to be intentional about my perspective and realize: oh man, I’ve really been shutting people out, huh? I didn’t mean to, but it’s a form of coping and self-preservation. Why? Because of vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential in building any relationship (friends, mentors, teachers, family, etc.) and the scariest vulnerability is when you give it to someone romantically. You can never go back once you go there, and that place made me uncomfortable and shut down in ways I was finally ready to admit.
I say all this to say that I think it’s complicated and beautiful to look back at the journey that created You. It’s ongoing. But it’s a relief to come to new places of understanding about yourself so you can be truly comfortable with all aspects of who you are. The next challenge I’m taking on is the adult version of my Third Culture Kid self. Fingers crossed, folks, and stay tuned! This is all part of the wondrously complex self-growth journey!