When my husband and I were talking about moving to France, it never occurred to me how much our lives would change. There is a huge difference between thinking about something, imagining it and what it’s actually like once you’re doing it.
Though I don’t regret moving here and on average I am much happier in France than I ever was in the States, there are certain rough truths that no one explained to me. Maybe they couldn’t have even if they had tried. The biggest one is that none of my relationships with my family, my childhood friends, or my adult friends will ever be the same. In fact, several of my friendships have dissolved or are currently dissolving. Since any friendships I had in the States are now long-distance, none of those people can be here, experiencing daily life with me or near me anymore. Even though some of them were already in other states, we were still living in the same country, which made me feel significantly closer and more connected to them.
I imagine that some of my friends let our relationship drop because of the extra work of keeping up contact, and maybe others are resentful that I left them, and still others have even seemed confused by my efforts to keep up with them.
I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I will only be able to visit my parents every two to five YEARS unless they come and visit me in between. And with most of my husband’s family up in British Columbia, which is not close to Oklahoma, there is that added complication of how to split up the visits. So I will never be able to see my whole family in one place ever again.
Also, with the exception of the time I spent at college and one gap-year, I attended the same home church from the age of seven to twenty-eight. And now I no longer have those ties. I can send people cards or emails, but I’m no longer a part of that community.
My husband and I are starting over from scratch. We had to find an apartment, and now we’re working on breaking into the system as far as jobs, residential status, healthcare, etc. We have to find social opportunities and networks as well as cultivate them. And there’s also the question of a spiritual community or support system.
If our lives where a car, and we moved to another state, it might have been like we needed to replace a part or that we ran out of gas and had to go get more, but we could have put it in neutral and pushed it where we needed to go or called a toeing service, and then the car would be fixed and good as new.
People who transfer jobs to a new place and have housing either provided, subsidized, etc by their company or the foreign government are like people renting a car: It’s a little unfamiliar, awkward and belongs to someone else, but you get used to it and can function quickly since you’ve got your wheels.
Us? We sold our old car when we left. We came over with a picture of our dream car in our pockets. That’s what other people are looking at when they think of our lives. The reality is that we have a list of all the parts and some local maps and the names of a few stores but no car. Every day, we go out and hunt for a few more pieces. By now, my husband and I have the undercarriage completed and a seat stuck on top so that our “car” can roll around. And it’s moving a little faster sometimes and a little slower at others, but believe me when I say that it is far from complete, it is challenging, and picking up momentum takes a lot of energy.
Yes, we get to make a new beginning, but to use another metaphor, we’re drawing up the plans, getting the permits, breaking the ground, laying all the bricks, and putting in the plumbing and electricity with no pre-made parts and no work crew.
Luckily, I married another only child who is just as stubborn as I am (only he has a British passport), and we are not giving up. Not even close.