Illustration for Denizen by Lauren Pettapiece
My life resembles a game of real-life Twister with an arm or a leg in four countries at any point in time. As a TCK, I feel rootless and restless.
After a lifetime of traveling and moving, I harbored dreams of settling down. I met Lars, a Norwegian man with strong roots to his motherland. He was going to keep me centered as I followed him into the unknown territory of rootedness.
Growing my roots started as a casual competition. Lars and I had been traveling the world for two years and we couldn’t decide where to settle when our vagabond lives came to an end. We just knew we wanted to be in Scandinavia; I in Sweden, where my mother is from, and he in Norway, where he had grown up.
“Here’s the deal,” Lars said. “Whoever finds a job first, that’s who decides where we’ll go.”
“That sounds fair,” I answered, not realizing how motivated he was. During a quick family visit to Norway while I hung out in Denmark, Lars managed to squeeze in five interviews and received several job offers. He returned triumphant: “I got a job! We’re moving to Norway.”
It didn’t seem like a bad idea. After all, Norway is a beautiful country with a strong economy. There were plenty of jobs to be had. It has a lot of similarities with Sweden. Besides, I’m a TCK and I was certain I could easily adapt.
But just in case things didn’t work out, I set a deadline: “I’ll give Norway five years. I’ve never lived anywhere longer and I just don’t know if I can.”
Lars thought that was fair, probably assuming that once I got to Norway, I’d fall in love with his home and adopt it as my own. So we moved to Oslo, and I became a “lovepat.”
“Lovepats” are people who become expats for love, usually moving to their partner’s home country. When you fall in love and decide to follow someone to the ends of the earth, there isn’t always a lot of logic involved.
I decided to follow my partner to his home, and soon after, made my lifelong choice to marry him. As happy as I am to be with him, I find that this transition has been the toughest I’ve ever experienced. I am playing a tug-of-war between a desire to settle down and the itch that comes from a lifelong habit of packing and moving. The thought of never moving again makes me panic.
I store moving boxes in the basement in anticipation of our next destination. I have no desire to buy a house like everyone else my age has, because a mortgage will only tie us down. Instead, I have a significant yearly budget for travel and dream about living in a handful of countries.
It saddens me that I may never again experience a new culture close up. I feel like I’ll be missing out on what the world has to offer if I settle in one place. If it were up to me, I would check Norway off my list and move on. But it’s not up to me. It’s up to us now.
The first question “lovepats” have to ask themselves is where to settle. Where you live has a big impact because you will have to adapt to a new culture and possibly learn and use a new language. Do you choose to use the local language at home, the language you met in, or another combination?
Then there is the issue of roots. My partner, who is a Norway native, already has a family and support network in place. I had to start from scratch, and hope that his was open and friendly enough to welcome me.
If we have children, the questions get tougher. Language? Schooling? What citizenships do I want them to have? Where is home? What will be their identity?
Answering these questions can be tough. I’ve learned that being a “lovepat” means having to compromise. The secret is to own that decision and not let it lead to resentment.
First, you have to know yourself, understand your needs and try to work out a realistic compromise. I promised myself five years to acclimate to Norway, and I make sure I remind my husband of that regularly. I try to reassure him that if we decide to move again, it would be because of me, not Norway.
Second, you have to talk about your nomadic itch – constantly. Spend some time explaining those needs that you can’t compromise on and why. Create guidelines for your life together. Make decisions that will work for both partners and then make contingency plans. Remember to communicate at all times. Don’t let anyone get blindsided.
Today, I’m three years older and wiser since I moved here. One thing I learned is that competition isn’t always good. Neither partner should feel like they “lost.” If I could do it over again, I would avoid a win-lose situation and find a neutral country to settle down in.
My five-year “deadline” is coming up. I have no idea how I’ll feel at that point; whether I’ll insist on moving on or settle down permanently in Norway and satisfy my wanderlust through travel. But for now I’ll take the lessons I’ve learned and enjoy life instead of worrying about the future.