I am writing you this letter because I want us to have an amazing future together. But for that to happen, there are a few things I have been keeping from you that I need to get off my chest.
What you are about to read is an outpouring of all of the things I´ve been wanting to say, but have been too afraid. Please understand nothing I say here is meant as an attack on you. This is not an accusation that you’ve been doing anything wrong. This is me sharing with you a glimpse of my world, a piece of my experience from moving abroad to be with you. This is me being transparent with you about what goes on in my head and my heart that I don´t always let you in on.
Maybe it is the red wine I am sipping while I write this, but I´m ready to break through the fear because I know in my heart that holding it in is no way to create a future together. *deep breath* Here it goes.
I will never forget what I have given up to be with you.
No matter how lovely it is in your home country, nor how much I gain from living abroad – I have experienced loss.
I have given up living and working in my native language. I have left loved ones behind to celebrate birthday parties and anniversaries without me. I have moved from a place where I knew how to be polite in almost any given situation. I have stepped away from the career path I worked so hard to start. I´ve left a home where my common knowledge was common.
This is not your fault, nor is it all bad. I just need you to remember that despite the benefits of living in your country, in your culture, or following your career, I have experienced inevitable loss.
I have given of myself to be with you.
By saying “yes” to living in your country, I also (un)consciously agreed to vulnerability, awkwardness, and an intense process of new learning.
I have spent countless hours sitting in cafes trying to learn a foreign language, when I would have rather been out jogging or hanging out with friends.
I dropped my career momentum just to be with you, and now invest immense energy trying to reinvent myself.
I am giving my all to fit into your world, without losing myself. (Tweet this!)
This can be exhausting. I know it. You know it. So as the years pass and we adjust to this new life together, please keep in mind that while we are living in “your” country, equal footing is an illusion. We started in totally different playing fields. Know that I am working my tail off to make it work, and this means sacrifice.
The good news is that I haven´t packed my bags and moved away because you are worth it. We are worth it.
I see what you do for me.
I know that you get tired of being my language and cultural translator. I know it´s hard to remind your friends that I don´t yet fully understand the local language when we are at a party. I know it´s annoying when you are swamped with work, and I ask you to call and make my dentist appointment. I know that it feels horrible when I collapse in your arms sobbing about what a shitty day I had. But I feel the sincerity in your hug. I feel you rubbing my back and saying, “Oh, honey. I am so sorry.” And I know that deep down, you may be feeling like you are responsible for my suffering. But you´re not.
My unhappiness is not about you, it is about me.
I know it feels like a personal insult when I complain about the local culture. I know it´s hard for you to see me cry. When I get really honest with myself, it isn´t really about the bartender who doesn´t understand me when I simply try to order a beer in your language. It´s much more about me feeling frustrated by how hard this gets. This is me in a moment of exhaustion from continuously adapting. I really hate to admit it, but it is less about the country itself and more about my journey adapting to the ups and downs of life abroad. This is me going through the hard process to adjusting to a place that doesn´t seem to quite fit my values and preferences. This is me venting. This is me feeling challenged. But this is also me growing. And that is a good thing.
And honey, this is not to say that we don´t have issues. There are always areas within our relationship where you or I could do more, but I´ll save that for another letter! However, the fact that I´m on the bumpy road of making the best of this life abroad, I own that.
This is what I need from you.
I need you to accept your own journey of adapting to another culture in your home, in your life. You are adapting to me, my family culture, my gender, and my national culture. I want you to get clear about what ups and downs in your own journey are about you.
I need empathy. I want you to remember when we come home after a dinner with your family on Sunday night, I might lay awake wondering if I’ll regret having spent so much time away from my childhood friends and close family.
I need your support. When I am struggling, I don’t want unsolicited solutions. I want you to
ask, “Is there something right now that I could do to help?” And then listen to the answer. I know you want to be my hero and save me from this struggle. But you can´t, remember? This is my journey. I know I have to do this on my own, but I don´t want to do it alone.
I want you by my side.
And I need a hug.
This is what I want for us.
We will commit to remembering our spark. We will refuse to lose sight of why we said, “I do.” We will dig deep to remember that initial curiosity about each other. No matter how deep our sense of passion and love is buried under foreign language diplomas, nights curled up sobbing in the fetal position, or the stress from trying to make it all work, we will find it.
This is my promise to you.
I will remind you how much I love you, even when times are tough. I will tell you when I miss “us”. I will work hard to bring the good stuff back to the surface. I will work hard to keep focused on what is great about us, about this country, about your culture.
I will not lose sight of the fact that together we are alchemy. Together we are something special.
No matter how much I protest, I will try to remember that this was my choice. I am not a victim. I will try to see myself as a hero(ine) smack dab in the throes of an intense learning process. I will open myself to the possibility that when I feel stress, I may actually be adapting and growing. I trust that I am becoming stronger because of it.
And when times get tough, I want to find a solution so it works for us.
We are partners, and we are doing this together. And it is so worth it.
With all my love,
One important caveat about this love letter
The spirit of this letter is meant to capture the challenges many individuals go through when they leave their home culture, move abroad and settle in the home country of their partner. Its intention is to start a dialogue about these experiences. The letter obviously does not nor cannot represent every “international” couple, nor can it represent everyone´s experience. The letter gives voice to some of the many challenges I have witnessed through over 15 years of research, personal experience, participant observation, and client work with individuals in binational partnerships.
If you are on your own bumpy journey to adapting to life abroad and would love to turn things around for the better, learn how here.
Here´s to making the most of life abroad.
p.s. If you are new to www.sundaebean.com, make sure you don’t miss my guide 5 Things You Are Going to Do Wrong While Living Abroad and get ongoing simple solutions for thriving abroad for FREE.