Where do we go from here? Location Uncertainty as an Expat Couple

A transnational marriage presents logistical challenges in and of itself, so how do we, as a young newlywed couple, reconcile mystery destinations with wanting some semblance of a normal life and roots abroad?

Anticipation meets bittersweet nerves, and like twice before, we’ll be leaving the foreign country that we’ve gotten to call home. This time we’ll be leaving Malaysia, one of the most expat friendly countries there is. There’s strong sunshine, an easy way of life and endless travel possibilities. We have close friends, comfortable routines, and fond memories here that have given us the illusion of a more normal, long-term experience. I really grew to like it here.

Malaysia has been good to us. But as they say, all good things come to an end and this chapter is quickly coming to a close for us. Not only Malaysia as a chapter might be closed, but our Asian experience as a whole could be, too. We’ve been here for three years of our four-year relationship and that realization is huge!

From Europe to Asia: Our expat journey thus far.
From Europe to Asia: Our expat journey thus far.

To say it’s an important week is an understatement; we receive news of our next move and it could be anywhere in the world. Well, kind of. We have a vague idea of where we could end up, but the company could throw us a curve ball and propose a continent we might not have considered before. They’ve been dropping crumbs, postponing meetings and decisions. Changing others. It’s never a quick or easy process finding out where we’ll go next and at times it’s really frustrating.

People our age are growing roots. They’re getting married, having kids, buying houses, climbing corporate ladders. They’ve put in the time and stayed in one geographical place to progress into adulthood. My man and I? We just got married and don’t spend too much energy decorating our apartment because we don’t know where we’ll be next, or even for how long. It’s just us, our Indonesian cat, and suitcases full of our cherished possessions in our pre-furnished place. We are location uncertain and don’t know what country – or continent – we’ll be on next. Planning can seem foreign and almost like a luxury at times.

As any expat will tell you, the uprooting and restarting is both the charm and struggle. We’ve become addicted to the novelty of beginning again and adapting to new cultures. The languages, the food, the climate, the people – it’s exhilarating, eye-opening and challenging to open up yourself to such a view and to live it. It’s why we love to travel, it’s why we work the way we do; we both share the passion for this life and I find that crucial to us both being happy abroad. Overall, it’s a balancing act that we’ve semi-mastered: syncing to the rhythm of each country only to reset to culturally adaptable slates, all while packing away our newly learned culture to inform the next experience. We might love the change, but the thought of stability is a nice one, too. It looks like this next step could be three to five years, and it feels like finally we can ease into being longer-term-short-term expats. (Maybe with our own furniture, too!?)

The nature of our relationship has always been excitedly uncertain even before we moved to Asia. He’s Belgian, I’m American, and no matter where we plant our roots, one person – or both – will compromise to leave home behind. Somehow, deep down, both of us being in Asia has eased this realization. For now, we both compromise and it’s undoubtedly fortified our travels and relationship. As a newlywed couple without kids, we’re on the easier side of traveling, changing and adapting. Could we do this forever? Probably not. But is it amazing for now? Absolutely. It’s a nerve-racking and exciting exercise in flexibility and open-mindedness; my partner promised flexibility to his company, so flexible we are, hopping from country to country with little foresight. It’s crazy to imagine where we’ve gone together since Paris.

So, navigating newlywed life is a big and great change, but throw in an uncertain future and things can get real, really quick. We struggled with it at first, but now we consider this uncertainty a blessing, a way to test our spontaneity and a way to grow together regardless of the place we’re in. Our only workable plan so far has been not to plan, but above all? We’ve learned that thinking too far in advance is a surefire way to invite unhappiness and anxiety into our lives. As a result, we practice mindfulness and living in the moment like our lives depend on it. It’s taken me three years to reach this level of patience, but these last few weeks have more challenging. A few weeks ago, I was kind of in denial. When our friends inquired over and over, “What’s next?” I shrugged off the question because I simply didn’t have the answer; I imagined that our time in Malaysia couldn’t possibly come to an end. Instead of pondering our potential new lives like I used to – only to get my hopes up – I just pushed it to the back of my mind. It was as if my brain didn’t have the room to imagine possibilities until something was sure. Now as the arrival of news creeps closer, I’m more excited and ready to tackle whatever country comes next. I know we have the tools and experience to make the best of the next part of our lives wherever it may be.

I’ve seen how fast two years flies by in Malaysia, so the real balancing act we have yet to master is to grow real roots without anticipating the inevitable future, the inevitable move. I know it’s possible to love where we are without wondering how the next destination will change our lives. We’ve done it, and we’re getting better and better at living in the moment and restarting our lives when we need to. The world is an amazing, surprising place and being an expat has undoubtedly changed our lives for the better.

Maybe the secret to being the most successful location-uncertain-couple is to reach a level of presence where time doesn’t feel temporary or fleeting, and where we’re not one step ahead in our minds. Where the present can be just that. Regardless of the outcome of this week’s news, the realization that being unsure is the only sure thing in our future has a (strangely) comforting quality to it.

3 responses to “Where do we go from here? Location Uncertainty as an Expat Couple”

  1. Oh NO! I have just discovered you and now you’re leaving?! We’re British, we’ve lived in/around the UK, Brisbane, Lyon and are now considering JB. Lyon has been exceptionally difficult so we’re looking forward to nice food and plentiful yoga. I’m intrigued to know where you’ll head next :)Emma

    • Hey Emma! Thanks for following! We are leaving in one month back to Belgium, so definitely keep reading to see what happens next 😉 If you want advice about JB, feel free to email me so we can talk more! Cheers -Monica

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