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.
When I moved to San Francisco, where I’ve lived for over 3 years now and where my sig other grew up, I decided to do it b/c it was the one place that – even if things didn’t work out with the relationship – I would still want to live here. I’ve found that’s been a really good way to gauge whether any city is some place we both want to build a life together.
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I feel like I understand your dilemma.
I’m only 21 but I feel like I already have this problem. My parents want me to save up and buy a flat and plan to settle down but I don’t really know. I’m not a true TCK, but I don’t feel like home in any of the countries I’ve lived. I’ll be working somewhere else for at least a year and I just don’t know where to go afterwards. The same goes for relationships I guess, I’m scared of getting involved because I don’t want to hurt anyone by just up and leave but most of all I don’t want to be rootless forever. Good luck 🙂
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I’m what you would consider to be a lovepat, but to me it sounds like your issue with moving has less to do with the specific problems that come with being a lovepat and more to do with just the way you are and your wanderlust! You said the problem of being in a relationship with someone from another country is that you have to choose a country to “settle” in…but I don’t think that’s true. My husband and I split our time between Chile and the U.S. with a healthy dose of travel in between. It’s worked out great so far, and when the time comes that we don’t want to be on the go so much I think we’ll find that we’re naturally leaning towards one place or the other. You say settle like it’s such a bad thing, but sometimes having a base and roots is really nice.
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That’s a good point. There are only a few cities in the world where I’m pretty sure I’d feel at home. Funny that you chose SF as your base. I think that if I were to move back to the US, that’s exactly where I would go. The only problem is that Lars has never been there, so he has no idea what a great place it is. So if I can just manage to get in a visit with him… 🙂
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Thanks, Cass. I wouldn’t worry too much yet if I were you. 21 is a perfect age to keep exploring, whether TCK or not. And I don’t see any reason for you to rush into buying a house or settling down, or even a relationship yet! My gosh – at 21 I had just graduated and was on my way to Nigeria and only wanted to work in non-profit. And look where I am now! So enjoy the ride and good luck to you too!
It sounds like you’ve found the perfect solution! We actually do hope to split our time between Norway/Sweden and Spain one day, but the logistics of it are too complicated right now, especially with Lars having a full-time job in Oslo. You are right in part – it is a matter of wanderlust that not all lovepats or even TCKs share, but some do. I guess that’s what makes us individuals!
Excellent article! Can so relate to the ‘itchy feet’ syndrome.
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I’m an American-born child of American-born parents. BUT, I spent a significant amount of my childhood and early adulthood living in Mexico, Romania, and Peru…with side jaunts to other nearby countries. All of my family (including a Peruvian BIL and a Peruvian SIL) are now settled back in the US. I married, had a child, and we bought a house. My husband has never been out of the country (not even to Mexico or Canada!!).
Last year we finally decided to make a plan to sell our house, buy an RV, and travel the US while our kid (and future ones) are children…then hit Europe and beyond when they are teens if possible. While that means that currently we are still stationary, the knowledge that my wanderlust will be fulfilled in the future helps to keep me from being TOO antsy!!
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Wow Julie, That’s quite a plan! And kudos to you to getting your husband to agree to vagabonding for a while and for opening the world up to your husband! We also have dreams of traveling the world again… and again… one day. By boat and by motorcyle. RV might be a good way too. 🙂 I admire your tenacity and wish you the best. You’re an inspiration! BTW, I lived for 5 years in Peru when I was a little girl – we may have been neighbors!
Return to Norway – Checked out your blog. Wow, interesting life! Itchy feet indeed! I know another person here lucky enough to split his life between Norway and South Africa, and he’s not even from either one! You should talk to my husband about returning to Norway… he loves the topic – he has only done it once, but it has been an unforgettable experience.
Hey Anna Maria. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading your article. You are an inspiration to me.I am half Lebanese, half Ivoirian born in Ivory Coast, lived in Abidjan, Beirut, London and no Hanoi. I was actually traveling in Vietnam when I met this amazing half American half Belgian man, who was born in India, and lived in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seattle and Hanoi. So yeah, basically both of us are TCK, we describe ourselves as citizens of the world. And now, I’m a lovepat, as I decided to leave everything to settle down with him in Vietnam.
So yes Thank you for this inspiring article. 🙂
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So glad you enjoyed the article and flattering that I am an inspiration to you! You yourself have a fascinating background, as does your partner! Wow, what a mix! And what a rich tapestry you two would weave if you have kids! Vietnam is a pretty cool neutral place to settle. We both loved it there when we traveled through in 2006. Best of luck in your lovepat-hood!
I’m so glad I found this site. And I love your article – to which I can relate so much. I don’t even know where to begin (I’m sure I’ll post more in the future). I’ve been a lovepat, and struggled with it a lot, but I’m also really glad for the experiences it gave me, where it took me (literally and figuratively). We split up in the end, but I decided to stay in his country for what ended up being another 1 1/2 years, and I’m glad I did. The way I see it, no matter who I end up with next/in the longterm, I’ll always be a lovepat of one sort or another — I just hope that I find someone who not only understands and shares my wanderlust (combined with my own TCK-flavoured version of wanting to settle down and have a home-base and roots), but that our preferences and requirements match enough, and our jobs give us the flexibility we need to maintain it as a family 🙂
I would never trade my TCK upbringing and adult life; I feel it has enriched me so much, and I love it. But, as we all know, it has ups and downs. One that I’ve struggled with a lot is that it can get to be an expensive lifestyle and need (because it’s not just frivolous!) to travel around, even move every so often. …. And the other that goes along with it is career or job choices — ones that allow you to have financial solvency and support the additional expenses, but that give you the freedom to travel often (2 weeks a year doesn’t cut it!), preferably mostly according to your own choices, and to even switch your base with relative ease and freedom. …. add to that a partner, and the complexity rises exponentially!
(btw, I, like you, Anna, am half American and was born in Spain, where I grew up; I’m also half British.)
very interesting read indeed. Wanderlust is hard to cope with. Moving a lot when young tends to set you up to not be able to stay in one place for long. but hey the world has sooooo many great places to see and live why stay on one place for too long?
Thanks for your comment!
That’s what I often feel. Why miss out on all these other great places in the world? Though there is plenty to discover where I am now. And I think I can still have a base and travel enough to satisfy the wanderlust. I hope!
So glad you found the site and enjoyed my article! Like you, I don’t regret my TCK upbringing at all.
I see we have a lot in common in terms of the TCK background, cultural mix and expat/lovepat lifestyle. I’m glad that despite the split you see the positive in the experiences you had and what you learned through it all.
I’m sure you WILL find someone who shares those values, primarily because you’ll be searching for those traits.
But I feel I have to caution against the ultimate wanderlust type. If you have two wanderlusters in the family, you may never get your feet on the ground again! I once fell for a vagabond-type but realize now that we would be forever on the road and I’d never get to fulfill the part of me that needs roots too.
Yes, the post-TCK lifestyle can get expensive (I have come to terms with my yearly travel budget, but not sure my husband has yet ;-)). And as you so perfectly put it, it’s not a frivolous thing – it becomes a basic need. The flexible job is another issue. I think I’ll get there eventually.
The ideal that we both strive for is complex, but it’s not impossible either, so I wish you the best in achieving it! And if you ever want to chat or share ideas about this stuff, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bringing up on an old article i know but I just found this amazing site and wanted to pose this question:
what if the your fiance said he would be a lovepat for you, understanding how hard it would be, after the wedding and finishing grad school but then actually a few months into the marriage changed his mind? Now what?