…and Why They’re Wrong.
BEYOND THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
I read an article recently that upset me. It was called “5 Depressing Side Effects No One Tells You About Moving Abroad” by Manon de Hues, but what really depressed me about it was that anyone should have written such a disheartening diatribe about one of the most enriching human experiences.
In an effort to protect any hapless readers whom these assertions might have dissuaded from packing up and venturing out to search for their good fortune, and as someone who has recently “moved abroad,” I’ve decided to assesss the accuracy of the article’s claims.
“Loss has meaning. It speaks of change and progress,
it highlights the ephemeral nature of things.
It is both sad and wonderful. Both painful and poignant.
Like that spicy dish you haven’t tried yet.”
1. Your Loved Ones Will be Devastated
“No matter how you try to sugarcoat it,” Ms. de Heus writes, “moving abroad is essentially a selfish choice.” I totally agree. You know what else is a selfish choice? Living. Living is essentially a selfish act. Every living being is interested primarily and foremost in its own (or its own DNA’s) survival. Furthermore, if you’re not living for yourself in a very direct, unmediated sense, you are not truly of any good use to anyone else. If you’re not exploring your talents, loves and fantasies, whether they entail moving abroad or having fifteen babies right here in Iowa, you’re not really living. And if you’re not really living, what pray tell can you really give anyone else?
You haven’t traveled to behind the Iron Curtain have you? Oh wait, there isn’t one anymore. You’re not being held hostage. Then why should anyone be any more “devastated” by your general unavailability than, say, if you had a 50-hour a week job in Jersey City and a couple of kids to chauffeur around town, which you couldn’t really get away from either? Nobody will be devastated unless they’re selfish and confused. And it is not your job to indulge either of these traits.
All of this isn’t to say that should, god forbid, anything truly requiring your presence occur “back home” you won’t hop your butt on a plane and be there. Because you will. Just as you and any self-respecting adult should rise to any occasion requiring his full and complete attention. But otherwise, and unless you’ve promised implicitly or expressly to remain by someone’s side, your going off to find your happiness is not–I repeat, NOT–inherently a source of pain for anyone. A happy person (read: you) spreads joy, not pain. And this has been the way of the world since time immemorial.
2. You’ll Feel Guilty All The Time
“Over the past few years, I’ve missed most of my friends’ bachelorette parties, birthdays, baby showers and weddings.”Oh noes! What have your friends’ relationships done for you lately? Aren’t these the same friends who expect you to spend a month’s rent on their schmancy destination-wedding just so that they can (a) basically ignore you throughout the event and (b) ruin your weekends for years afterwards with phone calls about what a jerk their significant other is being? And you’re the one feeling guilty? If you’re prone to guilt, I recommend finding a good therapist and a couple of meditation techniques, not attending more weddings.
Friends who matter know that “being there” for them doesn’t culminate in a formal event. They know that it can also mean getting their baby an amazing potty-training book in Italian. Or writing them loving and heartfelt notes that change the way they feel when they most need it. It can mean being sane and happy enough to send your mom helpful and inspiring articles and videos rather than bickering with her at insipid family gatherings.
Exceptions abound. People (or creatures) you are the guardian of depend on you. Here, the choice is more complex, but stil not unequivocal. I didn’t travel for years because I had a cat who couldn’t really be left for various reasons. I didn’t mind. I loved him. It’s important to remember that travel, like anything else, is about priorities and ability. No one is advocating that you do things that make you uncomfortable. But if YOU are comfortable with your decision, gratuitous “guilt” over what other people “might feel” is a mere neurosis.
“Your going off to find your happiness is not–I repeat,
NOT–inherently a source of pain for anyone.
A happy person spreads joy, not pain.”
3. You’ll Feel Really, Really Lonely
You know what? Good. Perhaps you’ll actually write that novel, paint that painting, and take that dance class instead of “chillin'” with the same old posse for the umpteenth weekend in a row. Loneliness is the human condition. Loneliness is the space from which anything worthwhile has ever been created. Einstein didn’t come up with the theory of relativity while partying with his buddies. Shakespeare was probably a hoot but not, I bet, while he was busy writing. Be lonely! Enjoy it. If you don’t know how, I recommend you learn: it’s one of the most useful skills a person can cultivate.
Okay, of course you’ll get lonely. You’ll miss the people who’ve seen you trippin’ balls on psychedelics, diving drunk into an empty pool, and engaging in other potentially ill-advised activities. You’ll miss the people who have known you at your worst and saw that you were beautiful, even when you didn’t. Every once in a while, you’ll want to hear their voices and see their faces unfiltered through pixels and fiber optics. You’ll want to hug them and laugh with them and break bread with them and do more ill-advised things with them. And you will. And when you do, after having been “lonely,” you’ll have so much more to offer.
4. You Won’t Fit In Anymore
Ms. de Hues writes “moving abroad has changed me in so many more ways than I ever imagined it would. I’ve discovered loves, passions and fears I never knew I had, and have abandoned old convictions and beliefs that just didn’t feel right anymore.” As a result, she explains, she no longer fit in anywhere.
While there is something quaint about bemoaning one’s expanded horizons, I dare say it’s diffcult to have sympathy for it. Once you get over the idea that life is like Junior High School, you realize that not fitting in is a wonderful thing! You want people to like you for what you bring to the table that’s fascinating and different, not for frequenting the same frozen yoghurt shop around the corner.
You probably also don’t fit in at kindergarten. That’s right, you outgrew it. Painful? Perhaps. Awesome? Definitely. As Ms. de Hues alludes, the people you now “fit in with” are likely to be more interesting than those you with whom you don’t. And you know what else? There are more of them!
5. You’ll Lose Dear Friends
Here too the author laments all the friends from whom she has grown apart. Again, I must respectfully dissent.
People grow apart for the lamest reasons. They get invited to different parties. They’re busy. To grow apart from people who have failed to remain interesting or relevant to you is neither a mortal sin nor a terrible tragedy. It is part of the beautiful, textured, variegated fabric of this human existence.
Loss has meaning. It speaks of change and progress, it highlights the ephemeral nature of things. It is both sad and wonderful. Both painful and poignant. Like that spicy dish you haven’t tried yet. Like that breathtaking view you haven’t seen yet. Like all those cities, built by the hands and hearts of men in times bygone, that are waiting for you to behold them, to love them, to know them. Like all those eyes that are waiting to tell you how wonderful and rare a creature you are. Because you are, and sometimes it takes a change of background to really bring out your colors.