How to stay sane when you move far away to your husband’s hometown.
It wasn’t just rose-tinted romanticism that convinced my American mother to move to England forever with her British husband. There were lots of practical reasons. For one, my father’s job paid more than hers, and he was more in-demand by British companies. Nationalized healthcare was a big draw, especially with three children under the age of 5, including one with severe cerebral palsy. My father—who had not been warmly welcomed by my mother’s family—was homesick for his own. And then there was my mother’s toxic relationship with her own mother. At my parents’ wedding, Grandma allegedly accused my father of selling her daughter into “white slavery.” Shortly before we emigrated, Grandma cursed my mother that one day her own daughters would leave her: “I hope they break your heart, the way you broke mine.”
Once they arrived in London, the fantasy bubble burst. My father was working 10- to 14-hour days, leaving my mother at home with the aforementioned children. As well-intentioned as my father’s family was, they were not close enough to be the village they say it takes. She eventually made some friends through our school pick-ups, but when she finally had the time to get back to work, she hit a cultural brick wall. It’s no secret that old-world Europeans aren’t too fond of Yanks. Ambition, the driving force of the American Dream, is seen as vulgar by the class-obsessed Brits. My mother’s various employers seemed to take personal pleasure in having an ambitious American woman to humiliate. This cultural gaslighting drove my mother almost insane with frustration, depression,
True to my grandmother’s curse, both
When I was a kid, our family was a rare example of Third Culture. Now, no one stays put anymore. The cross-country (or continent) move has become almost a rite of passage in modern life. And it’s never been so easy to get up and leave: for a job, a relationship, or just a fresh start. The Buzzfeed listicles that make it sound so easy don’t help. “Best Cities in the U.S. to Start a Family” or “10 Reasons Why Cleveland Is the Answer.” Just because we can move doesn’t always mean we should.
When I met my husband four years ago, we connected over a lot of things. We’re both Anglo-American half-Jewish Francophile bike commuters, fluent in sarcasm and dad jokes. We both love street food, immersive theater, and cheap travel. Also, he’d grown up in Los Angeles, where I was planning to move to advance my career as a screenwriter.
It was fate!
Two years ago, we did move. We arrived in Los Angeles in October 2016, the day a first, light rain signaled the end to the worst drought in the state’s history. We found a jewel of an apartment, and almost broke up over furnishing it. I learned to drive. We
Once the cross-country honeymoon subsided, we settled
Until then, I’d never realized how deeply rooted I’d become in New York. I’d moved there from Chicago after college, also for love. Those early days were dark and fraught—not just because I’d graduated with a theater degree in 2008, the year the economy bottomed out. The next six months were spent in the Hungarian Pastry Shop, drinking free coffee refills and applying to Craigslist jobs. But over seven years of hustle, I made big things, found great people, and amassed myself a history through theater and grad school and divorce and dating and writers’ groups and sex parties. I’d become a New Yorker.
It wasn’t until I got to LA that all this became apparent through its absence. Because now I was back to that coffee shop Craigslist life, only 10 years older, with a closet full of useless sweaters. Jon’s parents were in far-off suburbia, and he had fallen out of touch with his old crew. My NYC>LA transplant friends were aloof and hustling, in a perpetual 24/7 “writing hole.” And because we’d both transitioned with work-from-home remote jobs, neither of us had the organic community of a workplace.
There’s an expression in Buddhism that you are always either doing or undoing. In the six months after our move, Jon and I did a lot of undoing. He complained about the driving, the price of gas and rent (“It’s the same as New York!”), and the dearth of 24-hour falafel restaurants within walking distance. I questioned whether our decision to move out was even mutual: Yes, LA was his hometown, but I was the one who initiated the move. This morphed into me feeling guilty for dragging him across the country, then resentful for his making me feel guilty, yet masochistically up for the challenge of fixing all of our problems. I went into a frenzy of planning and scheduling busyness; determined to prove wrong the constant nagging feeling that no one in this new, strange place gave a shit.
What became horrifying clear was that all the issues coming up for us had been there all along. But instead of working on them, we’d turned our energy towards the shinier problem of moving logistics.
What helped was the hardest thing of all: To slow down, take it easy, and challenge all the assumptions we had about moving. What we ultimately realized was that not only was that we were becoming different people in our new home. Our move was not just a geographical fresh start, but a reset button on the entire relationship.
When my sister followed family tradition by moving to New Zealand with her Kiwi fiance last year, she had the advantage of a job waiting for her. She also had our experience to learn from, as well as a more pragmatic mindset all her own. As a result, her move wasn’t as rocky as ours. I recently asked her what advice she’d give to other couples. I wish I’d had this list three years ago.
- Make your own friends and stay busy. Get a job, join a club/sports team. Keep up with the things that make you “you.”
- Invest carefully in new friends. Locals—who already have their family and established friendships around—will be harder to crack than other transplants, who are in the same position as you. (One tip for courting locals is they are generally terrible at finding new fun restaurants, bars, exhibits and events, and you can “get in” by doing the legwork of research and booking tickets.)
- Recognize that this will put a lot of pressure on your relationship in big and little ways. Give your partner a break. They will be adjusting, too. Just because this is their home town doesn’t necessarily mean it is easier for them. They have the move on their shoulders and will be feeling the pressure.
- Keep your old friendships alive. Often your friends and family will have feelings of anger that you have left. It’s up to you to work through those and show them they are still important to you.
- Factoring phone calls, Whatsapp group text sessions, and Facetime into your day will satisfy homesickness almost as much as the real thing.
- You will be homesick. It feels like an actual sickness, and it comes and goes when it pleases. There is no cure but it does decrease over time.
- Look for things that make your new home special and take the time to enjoy them. Moving from London to Auckland, I reveled in the new subtropical weather and no longer having to travel on the hot, sweaty Tube.
- Spend the
first monthwatching, ingesting and gaining awareness of the culture you’ve entered. What are they wearing? What are they talking about and interested in? When you do begin to engage, it can help to start by mirroring.
- Have an exit plan. Maintain your financial independence. Keep working.
Obviouslygive it a good go, but if it doesn’t work out, you need to know you can get home again. At minimum, have $500 in a ring-fenced account to get yourself home.
It’s been two and a half years in LA, and things are looking up. We’ve worked hard to build new traditions that help us enjoy the city and feel situated: Jon’s Switch pizza parties, my farmers’ market runs. Through theater projects, tech meet-ups
Lucy Gillespie is a playwright, screenwriter, and creator of the cult hit series UNICORNLAND. Lucy’s plays have been produced in NYC and LA. She is an alum of the Obie-award winning Youngblood Playwrights