I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long, long time but it’s a big topic and a personal one, too. As a fiercely independent and travel-obsessed woman, the thought of ‘relying’ on a man to influence my future plans scared me.
At twenty-three, I had no concrete life plan, but I knew I was in the city I needed to be in with the man that I knew I wanted to be with. I was living out my dream in Paris with an awesome job and settling into life in Europe just fine. My boyfriend was Belgian but that only made it all the more interesting.
Life was good and love was good.
Then we found ourselves at a crossroads, the kind we never saw coming. I thought the hard part was leaving Texas behind, but what was coming would make that seem like an easy move. Six months into the first flush of our relationship, Laurens had a major work opportunity presented to him. He wanted to know:
Would I move to Indonesia with him?
The idea seemed so far-fetched I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I knew next to nothing about Indonesia and my mind started imaging the far-off foreign world it would be. How would I fit into it? How would our relationship shape up if I were to drop everything and follow him thousands of miles away?
On paper, it was a crazy idea, but I knew this guy was different. I trusted him. I wanted to be with him.
I’m sure my parents were shocked. Paris was already far enough, and now their daughter was moving to some island called Sulawesi with a foreign man they had never met. I made the decision to join him and in a cloud of excitement, I had an optimistic outlook of what Southeast Asia could offer both of us personally and as a new couple. I was in my early twenties after all, and given my love for impulsive travel, I was looking forward to the change and the adventure; I was also freaking out.
I didn’t realize the weight of that moment, but that flight to Indonesia would change my and our lives forever. I had fallen head first for a man whose career would move us four times in the next six years. Each country a chapter in itself with unbelievable twists and turns, and although each expat couple’s story is different and diverse, I want to share ours.
I promised myself both things were possible
Following Laurens to Asia with no clear career plan or talks of marriage went against the grain for a girl raised in Texas suburbia. Deep down, I felt guilty for pausing my budding food writing career and saying au revoir to Paris.
I grappled with the major excitement I felt and the societal expectations of someone with my education and age. Now that I look back it was silly I even cared as much as I did, but at the time I really struggled with what people thought of my decision. Above all, I wondered if I’d be losing ground in realizing my own dreams and path. I swore to myself then that I could do both: follow my heart and live out my biggest dreams, too.
To this day, we’re still rewriting the rule book. I’ve discovered along the way that no expat couple has the same trajectory or magic formula. The past seven years have been full of constant evolution and new homes. I pride myself in being an adaptable, flexible person, usually always up for the challenge. Most expat partners I’ve met from Asia to Europe have an unmistakably free spirit, one that makes the most of the situation they’re in. That spirit is necessary because this lifestyle definitely isn’t for the rigid or close-minded.
Purpose is paramount as an expat partner
In the first few years of moving around for Laurens’s new job, I was way too passive in the way I thought about purpose. I often thought, what if I’m losing time or my purpose passes me by?
No matter how long you’re an expat partner for, it’s crucial to be driven by something – professionally or not. What’s more, you have to go out and seize your purpose and bring it to life. So that’s what I started to do.
I’ve talked to dozens of partners in the same situation. It turns out boredom can be our biggest enemy to happiness abroad. The first few days of lounging around and lunching are great, but it can get old really fast. The contrast of your partner chasing after their career mixed with your idleness can feel frustrating and that imbalance can chip away at your relationship if you’re not careful. For me, finding purpose meant starting a small bag business in Indonesia and teaching English part-time. In Malaysia, it meant writing my restaurant reviews, editing part-time, and traveling into Singapore. Here in France, it means learning French and traveling and writing more than ever. Days fly by now because I wake up with energy and deep happiness. I want it to always be like that.
The constant change of country and career possibilities haven’t made pursuing my purpose the easiest of tasks; it’s still a work in progress and it’s my biggest concern when we consider where we’re moving next. When we leave France at the end of the year, it will be my number one priority all over again.
The partners I’ve met and the sacrifices we’ve made
How far away would you move for someone you liked? Someone you loved? Would you sacrifice a part of yourself, your comfort, or your career to support them in pursuit of their happiness?
Whether it’s short term or long term sacrifice, I can’t help but admire the people we’ve met around the globe who’ve taken the plunge and put their careers on hold or said bye to their families for their partner and their lives together. We’re a special breed. I’ve met men and women from myriad countries and backgrounds, and it’s always amazing to see how different people cope with the situation and make it their own.
I’ve learned amazing lessons from the fearless and confident women in the expat community who are raising a family abroad and assimilating wholeheartedly; from creative and free-spirited bohemians; from educated and driven professionals who don’t let a new country stop them from working; and from the women like me who were still figuring it out and embracing the uncertainty. The sacrifices we make are big and small. From being away from family to learning a new language and having to start all over more than once, I’ve seen people reinvent and restart in impressive ways.
Carving out a career when you follow someone in pursuit of theirs
“You’ll have all your life to work.”
My experience as an expat partner has been amazing, but when people ask what the hardest part is I tell them without a doubt finding work and building a career. Some couples get lucky and a new country can mean hardly any change in opportunity for the partner. That hasn’t really been my experience at all. Moving countries every few years presented logistical challenges and visa issues, all of which have forced me to get creative in my career options. It was only until Belgium (at twenty-eight) that I finally was able to maintain the same job for two years.
What’s funny is I always worried about getting behind in the work world, but what I didn’t know then was that just by living in Asia and Europe I was gaining invaluable cultural experience, travel knowledge, I was improving my writing and photography skills, and fine-tuning my palate to learn more about international cuisine. It’s only now that it really sinks in just how valuable those country experiences were for me and how perfect the situation actually turned out to be.
But here’s the thing: there’s absolutely no shame in not working. If you don’t have to, then more power to you. Don’t let the guilt mess with your head like it did me. This year I’ve taken the year ‘off’ and I’m loving every second of it – guilt-free. That elusive career chase had me feeling inadequate the first few years of our lives together abroad. Then one-day sage words of wisdom flew my way: “you have all your life to live and work”.
And man they were right.
Honestly, this topic could be its own blog post!
It can be tricky to move for someone else’s opportunity and to create a life around it. When you’re in the supporting role for someone else it’s possible to lose touch of your own direction and identity.
In my early twenties, I fell victim to that exact thing. It made the process much more intense and I saw I struggled with it more than the other older women in the expat community. I had no real clue of who I was then or what I was capable of. It’s been years in the making to see my identity as a woman shape up, not just a partner. I really believe moving abroad for someone you love is a great thing to do, but before you can fortify someone else or a relationship, it’s important to have a grasp on who you really are and who you want to be. Period.
Moving abroad for love, is it really worth it?
When I reflect back on the adventures we’ve had and the unconventional life we lead, I wonder if knowing then what I know now, would I do it again?
What I know is that my expat relationship with Laurens has taught me so much about adversity, adventure, openness, commitment, and seeking out the world and all it has to offer. It’s been an amazing ride with an amazing man who wanted to take my hand and who asked me to trust him. As my husband, he leads the way while giving me space and time to flourish on my own. He realizes how difficult moving often and far can be, yet he’s always tried to make it rewarding and fun. I’m grateful for that.
What I guess I want to say above all is that life and love hardly ever go as planned. Sometimes one encounter can sweep you up into a current of change, or maybe onto a plane to Indonesia. I made the choice to move for love, but what I want people to know about partners like me is that we’re not simply ‘followers’. We’re supporters. We’re adventurers. We’re dreamers. We’re driven. We’re so much more than you think.