Have a Nice Life
How Relationships Can Change when you Move Away
Where we originally come from in New England, most people don’t move to places like Arizona, let alone another country. If they move at all – which is pretty rare - it’s most likely going to be to Florida or maybe the Carolinas – you know – staying within the safety net of being on the same coast, in the same time zone – easy to get back home if you have to – not too far from the kids or grandkids, etc. So, in 2003, when Paul and I packed up and moved from Rhode Island to Arizona, many friends and family members were surprised. We were asked why we wanted to move to the desert where there are no seasons (there are seasons in Arizona, just different than New England). We were asked how far away from the Mexican border we’d be (about 300 miles). There was some concern by a few people about Arizona still being the ‘wild west’ and weren’t there still a lot of cowboys carrying guns in their holsters (yes, we’ve seen a few, but usually in the tourist town of Tombstone where gunfights in the street are reenacted). We were also asked how Christmas would be celebrated in Arizona when there was no snow (I hadn’t realized that Christmas was only celebrated if there was snow on the ground).
Something else interesting also happened. When we would mention that we were moving to Arizona, many people volunteered the reasons (excuses?) as to why they couldn’t move away, too. And it’s not as if we were asking them to join us or why they felt the way they did – they just volunteered to tell us these things. The top reasons/excuses were:
I could never move to Arizona. I have grandchildren.
I couldn’t live in a place where all the landscape is brown.
I love the four seasons. I love the fall foliage. I could never leave that.
I suspect that some people thought it was just a ‘phase’ we were going through (we’ve had many ‘phases’), and that within a year, we’d be back ‘home.’ We ended up living in Arizona for nearly 20 years.
But it never occurred to me that the relationships we had with people we knew for years could actually change because we were moving. After all, we were only moving across the country and not across the globe. But change they did.
Have a nice life.
The first indication of a relationship changing was when we were invited to dinner at our friend’s home just a couple of days before we were flying out to our new home in Arizona. The dinner was great and the conversation easy, just as it had been many times before. But as we were leaving and getting into the car, one of the friends said to us, “Have a nice life.” I thought that was a strange farewell. Did our friends think we’d never see them again? Did they not know how to use the internet and email? Or the phone? Or social media? Or even ‘snail’ mail? Or would they not ever visit us? Or think we wouldn’t go back to the east coast to visit? Apparently not, because as much as we tried to stay in touch, the friendship drifted apart.
Other (former) close friends – friends we hung out with a lot in Rhode Island - promised to be our very first visitors to Arizona. We’re still waiting…
Moving to Portugal.
In 2021 when we officially announced that we planned to move to Portugal, similar reasons/excuses were provided to us by people as to why they couldn’t move away to another country. The top ones were:
I can’t move to Portugal. That’s too far away from my children and grandchildren.
I don’t know the language.
I could never live anywhere but in the United States.
I can’t risk living in Portugal. The healthcare in the United States is the best in the world.
I don’t like fish.
I’m too old to make new friends.
I need to live close to my family in case something happens to me. They’ll take care of me if I get sick or if I’m alone.
Before we flew out to Portugal to begin our Portugal journey, we spent a few weeks on the east coast visiting family and friends – from Florida all the way to New Hampshire. Some good friends – like people we’ve known for decades - invited us over to their house for drinks. As we were leaving, one of them said, “Have a nice life.” Wow. It was happening again!
During another visit, we went out to dinner with a certain relative of mine, who proceeded to tell the restaurant servers in a rather sarcastic tone that Paul and I were moving to a little “fishing village” in Portugal and that all we were going to have available to eat was fish (we live near Cascais which used to be a little fishing village but hasn’t been one for decades – and there’s a wonderful variety of food here). I kind of felt hurt. But I let it go since I didn’t want to leave on unpleasant terms.
I don’t begrudge people their reasons to do or not to do something. I don’t even begrudge it if people don’t understand why Paul and I wanted to move away. Everyone is entitled to feel the way they feel. It just seems peculiar to me that people offered these reasons as to why they couldn’t do what we were doing, when we weren’t even asking them! I wondered – is it a subliminal thing? Were they secretly wishing they could do what we’re doing? Were they trying to make excuses to justify staying in one place?
And if we were so really far apart in our thinking, would Paul & I still be able to keep the (strong?) relationships we had nurtured for so long? Or would they change?
If you dwell on this subject long enough, you can start to feel paranoid. And guilty. And wondering if there’s something abnormal with you for wanting more from life and not having similar reasons or excuses not to move away as the people you care about do. I personally experienced this. I started to think that maybe I wasn’t a good enough sister, sister-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law, cousin, aunt, or friend. Maybe if people were pulling away it meant that I was being punished for being a lousy person or friend. Maybe this was “payback” for not being around (in New England) for the last twenty years (and yes, we did visit family and friends back ‘home’ while living in Arizona). Maybe I was being selfish wanting to move away. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
If you don’t live close by, then it’s “buh-bye”
I’ve really tried to understand the real meaning behind “have a nice life” but it troubles me. I really try to care about and support the people I know unconditionally – be it family members or friends – whether they live around the corner from me or across the world. I don’t see distance as a barrier to relationships forged over your lifetime. I don’t see it as weird or selfish that we want to explore and live in another place other than the U.S. before we’re too old to do it. But apparently, others feel differently. If you’re not right in front of them – if you don’t live in the same country, the same time zone, the same state - if you don’t live close by, then it’s “buh-bye.”
Is there an underlying issue?
I’ve asked a few new expat friends (Yes, I’m old and have still managed to make lots of new friends here) if they’ve had some “have a nice life” moments of their own and it turns out they have. I’ve also done some reading on the subject and have spent a great deal of quiet time contemplating this.
I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not a therapist, but if you’ve experienced excuses and have noticed a change in some relationships because you moved or are planning to move to Portugal, another country or even another state, here are some possible reasons why relationships can change when you move away:
Envy. It might be on a subconscious level, but people just might envy you for moving away. Not everyone has the courage to leave the comfort of a familiar environment even if it’s a toxic one or one that no longer serves them. Envy may cause someone to pull away from a relationship with you.
Fear of change. I’ve always believed that fear is one of the most powerful 4-letter words in the dictionary. It dictates all kinds of patterns of human behavior. Some people must live in a predictable, routine-driven life. When a change occurs (as it inevitably will), fear can overtake them, causing people to retreat to the comfort of their perception of a safe environment. That change can be something such as your decision to move away from them. Relationships can alter as a result.
"Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone." - Billy Cox
Abandonment. People may feel that you’re abandoning them by moving away and they’ll lay a huge guilt trip right at your feet. When Paul and I moved from Rhode Island to Arizona, an older relative said, “You’re leaving me at this time of my life?” It took a while for this relative to come to terms with our move and to accept that this looked nothing like abandonment.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Your family and friends may not be able to comprehend why you would leave your children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, or lifelong friends. This is another perception of abandonment. Paul and I can understand this one because we each left an elderly parent on the U.S. east coast when we moved to Portugal and agonized over it for an exceptionally long time and we felt a lot of guilt. We wondered if we should wait until they passed. But they were both in their mid-90’s, had led full lives, and we weren’t getting any younger. In reality, living in Portugal is not any further away from them than if we were still living in Arizona. Plus, other relatives oversee their wellbeing and have been doing so for the last several years, so there’s no abandonment going on. In 2021, we decided that it was time for us to make the move.
“Guilt is a useless emotion, and it keeps us from stepping into our full potential.” – Emily Fletcher
Loss of influence and control. Let’s face it. There are probably people in your life who feel better when they have (or believe they have) some level of influence and control over your decisions. When you haven’t included them in the decision to move away, it can cause a kink in the relationship. Remember that ‘certain relative of mine’ who told the restaurant servers in a rather sarcastic tone that Paul and I were moving to a little “fishing village” in Portugal? I think this is the reason for that.
Risk averse. Many people are not risk takers and they can’t understand why you are.
Unwillingness to learn new technology. Yup. I think this is a big one. If you already live in another country, you probably are accustomed to using WhatsApp or something similar to communicate with people back in your home country or even with new friends and associates in your new country - especially if you have cancelled your cellphone plan in your home country or have a limited data plan. You might be surprised at people’s unwillingness to learn how to use new technology to communicate with you and this can cause a break in your relationship with them. Some folks are creatures of habit and won’t learn how to use something new. Or in the case of one my relatives, “I don’t have time to do that.”
Unpatriotic. Some may find it difficult to understand why you want to leave “the greatest country in the world.” Since this is subjective, what one considers the “greatest,” might not be what another believes is all that great.
My personal perspective – (it’s okay if you don’t agree with it).
When we moved to Portugal, it was exciting. It was also stressful. New country, new culture, new language – no matter how prepared you are – and Paul and I were very well prepared - it still takes time to navigate all the nuances of living in a foreign place. For me personally, there were times when I could have used an extra dose of encouragement and support from some of my family members and friends. Instead what I heard was ‘crickets.’ People who I would normally exchange texts, emails, or WhatsApp with frequently (or even infrequently), went radio silent.
You may notice a pattern in this post. The reactions, the reasons/excuses, the withdrawals, or unwillingness to learn new ways to communicate - they’re all part of fear of change, losing control of a situation, of making a mistake, of letting go, or trying something that might feel uncomfortable because it’s not familiar. Your family and friends may not be as ‘brave’ as you are – even though bravery has nothing to do with it.
It's not bravery. There are some people who instead of dipping just their big toe into the water to assess the temperature first, they jump right in. They figure out things as they go along. They keep their eyes wide open and take in what the world has to offer. Most people don’t do that. They’re conditioned to think they can’t. Or they shouldn’t. Or they provide a dozen different reasons/excuses not to change. That’s the reason for changes in relationships and even sometimes – the silent treatment.
Stay or go. It’s a personal choice. Everyone is different with a different set of priorities and I’m not trying to persuade you one way or another. But if the guilt overwhelms you, and you consider putting off your decision to move away and decide to stay to avoid risking changes in relationships, ask yourself just one question: If you stayed where you are just to make everyone else happy, and didn’t make the move to another country or state – would you be happy?
Have a nice life!
You are entitled to have a nice life! You don’t have to feel guilty unless you want to. Feeling guilty for some people is their ‘happy place.’ It’s familiar. A good excuse not to make a commitment or face what’s really going on.
And some people – even the ones you think you’re close to – may never come around and that’s something you must accept if you’re going to move your life forward. Acceptance is a lesson in humanity. Consider trying to understand what is behind the reactions of family and friends so that you can rationalize it and deal with it in a positive and healthy way. For those people I know who went radio silent, I did exactly this. I put myself in their shoes and tried to understand their perspective. And although I may not be able to fully repair or continue some of those relationships, I feel much, much better understanding the why.
Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear about it!
Until next time…