How Relationships Can Change when you Move Away
Thank you is simply not enough words for me to express to you right now for the willingness to open your heart and write this. I come from a long line of wanderlust people and have travelled extensively all over the world. Less in recent decades while raising our now adult sons, but still, quite a bit compared to many. I married a man who is growing every single year and embraces my need for new experiences and thinking outside the box and for that I am eternally grateful. We decided in 2020 to pursue moving to Portugal in 6 years time at that point. We are halfway through that decision and while I was full steam ahead from the get-go, he took more time. I am a firm believer in speaking your dreams and goals into existence and did that from the start. That is where things got sticky for me/us. The reactions were just as you have listed above. Varied and very insightful, to say the least. Our children, both big travelers themselves, immediately embraced this and still to this day fully support it. We have recently found out we will be grandparents in 2023 and there is a tremendous amount of guilt that I am processing, as you listed above, with moving and not being near my kids and grandchildren and not because they want us to be near but out of fear of what others will judge us for. We have literally been told we are the most un-American people they know for being willing to embrace an 'ex-pat' mentality and this is the greatest country in the world. I won't go into details on every single thing in our lives that match up with what you wrote but I will say this: you have provided me with the hope and excitement that, despite this being a challenge for our relationship and other relationships, it is well worth the experiences and the personal growth that I knew we would find. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We will start 2026 in Portugal and cannot wait to see all of this planning, all of the scouting trips (the ones where I cry on the airplane coming home, 'cuz that happens) and all of the renewing of our spirits and minds while we still are able come to fruition.
Hi Carol, Your journey - and your experiences with family and friends left behind - are amazingly similar to ours. In 2006, we left behind the harsh Rhode Island winters for the blazingly hot summers of the Southwest, landing in southwestern Utah. The response from those "close" to us was to go silent.
We didn't dwell on it; the flip side of this is you find those folks that are "truly" close to you.
I think part of the reaction is related to Rhode Island. There are so many people that never live more than a few miles from where they grew up, work at the same jobs for years, and cannot fathom getting out of their comfort zones for any reason. From my perspective, it's their problem.
We left RI and very successful careers to move to a place so totally different than what we knew, with our talents and skills, and trust in each other that we would make it work. And work it did! We are so much better off in every way than the life we left behind.
What made you leave AZ for PT? Was it the water situation? That's one of the reasons, along with having to drive five hours to Salt Lake City for proper medical care.
PT came on our radar this spring; it looks almost too good to be true! We'll be making our first visit in April, visiting friends that moved there this past July. We would love to connect with you. We run into fellow RI'ers everywhere. As the saying goes, it's not a state, it's a state of mind! Cheers, Ron
After being an expat for 18 years, I have experienced almost all the concersations you described. Excuses, rationalizations, and smug presumptions of superiority have all been encountered. Even after this long, I am still asked not "if" I am coming back to the US; it is usually phrased as "when". I don't see any value in forcing an encounter, even when someone has blithely made assumptions about what is in my best interest. I gently state that, at the current time, I feel that - all things considered - I think the best life for me and my family is to stay where we are right now. Number Two in terms of irritation is when they ask if I will send my 9-year-old son to the US for his college education. Once again, I don't respond abruptly, although the temptation is there. I just defer the question by saying that 9 or 10 years is too far in the future to be making decisions today.
I can end most of these unwelcome conversations with a simple question: Why do you ask? By throwing the focus back to their motivation or presumptions, they are placed in a defensive position and I am off the hook. However, if I am willing to have an actual conversation, I have found that, whenever I am given one of those platitudes or presumptions of superiority as a reason why they could never consider leaving the US, I can get to the real reason - sometimes, at least - by asking, "In addition to that, is there any other reason why you ...?"
Hi Carol, I just discovered your blog and Wow! This is an amazing post. So thoughtful and nuanced. I really appreciate your viewpoint and see my husband and I going through something similar, as we are seriously considering moving to Portugal soon (in 2 to 3 years). I look forward to reading more of your blog & benefiting from your observations. Thank you !!
It always surprises me when I mention I'm moving to Portugal and people respond with the reasons why they could NEVER do that. Did I ask? No.
They don't ask me why or what appeals to me about Portugal.
But then I've read that what someone says often tells you more about them, than it does about you.
And remembering that helps :)
I grew up in Colorado which was more transient and not as many multigenerational families. I moved back to New Jersey for a few years and was amazed at how many people didn't travel and all the family lived in close proximity.
You have to remember the early history of the West was people who left family and struck out maybe never seeing family again.
I think people are all busy with their lives and usually if you go back to visit everyone is glad to reconnect. I agree with the person who said don't take it personally. We love your information and envy your adventures!!
I know exactly what you mean. When I was young, in my 20s, I was married and living in Virginia. I’m originally from Washington state but I was going to college in Virginia and was finishing up. I had a number of friends that I routinely spend time with and as we were about to move to Italy because I was in the military I noticed that some of my friends that I was close to began driving away and not inviting us like they used to to functions. When I asked them about this they said, “you’re right I guess we were actually just protecting our own feelings because we know you are about to leave.“ They were going to miss us and that hurts. And so they begin insulating themselves from us because they didn’t want to feel that pain. I think this is normal and natural but it is hard especially for the people leaving.
The box is so confining for me- and apparently for you as well.
I will enjoy every beautiful night sky with you and will think of you often when I learn new things and travel to places I have not yet seen. And we will, together, delight in adventure and discovery, appreciating and enjoying it all! Your posts are always a great read!
This was a great post Carol! In my life, I have moved nearly 40 times. While not all of it was because I wanted to move, I deliberately chose to embrace change because, simply stated, it is the most certain thing life has to offer. And it was clearly more pleasant to use each and every move as a learning experience than it would have been to resist the new expanse of experience.
I have known “have a nice lifers” and I have known those who, regardless of time, distance
or circumstance, have continued to communicate and embrace my movements because they possessed a perspective about life that goes beyond time, distance or circumstance. Most of my friends who follow in line with the second model are European and have, all of their lives, been immersed in travel, cultural differences and learning about others beyond their borders. Those are friends who will always have a place in my heart and soul.
I think life is rich and it does me a world of good to embrace that richness beyond time and distance and circumstance.
So know that goodbye is not forever, just for a long, long time except know when you are watching that spectacular sunset in Portugal, I am watching in Rhode Island and we all live in the same small sphere.
You have hit upon such an important topic--especially because it's one that we expats and immigrants shy away from discussing. We've all heard such comments, in some shape or form or another. All too often, it becomes an albatross of guilt around our necks. To reckon with such a serious and sensitive topic so eloquently is a blessing to behold.
I believe that many people would benefit by reading this article. It would give them a sense of peace, of "See, we're not the only ones," of something concrete and tangible that they can ponder, perhaps discuss with friends, and -- most importantly -- take to heart.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. So much of it resonates with mine. Such astute observations you have made. I moved from CA. to London (30 years) than from London to St Petersburg FL (2015-2021). We recently settled in Lisbon & have certainly encountered many reactions, similar to what you have described…before, & after our move. It’s a very unsettling situation, especially the metaphorical distance…Thanks again & I wish you the best!
We have experienced this. Our initial move was selling our house to travel the US in an RV, and boy...the responses we received. On our very last dinner with our super close, you could say the best friends, the husband could barely even talk about our leaving. He so strongly felt against it, that he would rather not talk about the subject. Needless to say, despite our attempts to keep the relationship going, it has been almost non existent. Now, we are planning our move to Portugal in the next few months and I can't imagine the response we will get.
I think you have provided most of the reasons why there is this disconnect. I immigrated once and am looking to do so again; and I am in my early fifties. I have to look at working remote as I am not at the point of retiring and don’t have sufficient passive income. I experienced this disconnect when I first immigrated and found it was either jealousy, avoiding the reality of how things are not good in the home land, or just a case of “well it will be too difficult to communicate and maintain a relationship”. Well over 20 years down the road, the technology and mindset should have helped facilitate a bit more of a global inclusion. For me, it doesn’t matter if we did not meet for 20 years, we can still be friends and find other avenues to connect. And, if the relationship is strong, we would go out of our way to meet in person, even on the other side of the World. Signed “from the other side of the world”.
It's good you are trying to understand their perspective. You care and want to be a good friend. But you may never really understand and they may not be able to explain even if they wanted to. Like you, I have been one of the wanderers for most of my adult like. Studied abroad. Lived abroad. Married a foreigner. Lived in his country. Later, started career that took me to a different country every few years. So I know. I have so many colleagues - especially the ones who want to be close to and devoted to their families, even though they have chosen an overseas life - that feel so hurt when they are given the cold shoulder, treated like the black sheep when they go home to visit. After lots of thinking about this - and for me it's not really an issue any more - I think it comes down to the fact that the people you leave behind from your hometown are part of a whole life package that you have traded in for something you think is better. Maybe it's for the best if they get to take the first step in emotionally distancing from you. Something you don't believe you are doing to them. The relationship has changed. Ce la vie.
100% can relate having moved from Poland to Chicago 1983 to Phoenix in 2005 then to Texas in 2017 back to Arizona in 2018 and now Portugal! I’m so grateful for your perspective Carol! I thought it was just me. Thankful to have you sharing while we take this journey in moving now across the pond! See you soon(metaphorically speaking)😉!
This is a really great post and, after having spent the last several years traveling full time, I have many thoughts on it. I think a lot of it boils down to this though: Don't take it personally.
What I would say to anyone thinking about making a major change like this is: Lots of your old friends and family will say they are going to follow your adventures and lots will say they are going to come visit you, but most will not. While it may feel like they're disinterested, what we found was when we went back "home" to visit, it was like nothing had ever changed and our friends were still great friends. They were just living their lives and we weren't present anymore. It's not that they were mad at us. It's not that they didn't care. They just had their own stuff to do, weren't particularly interested in following in our footsteps, and weren't going to keep us apprised of every event that happened in their lives when we were so far away.
Regardless of what anyone says, most people only have so much bandwidth to spread around, and are going to focus on their immediate concerns. And when we are thousands of miles away, we are not their immediate concern. That's why I've always focused on making friends who are doing what we're doing and who have the same interests. Blogging and Instagram have been great ways for us to connect with other people doing the same things. If our old friends want to follow us on those mediums, they can, but they don't have to and I don't take it personally if they don't. The important thing to me is, when we go "home," it's like we never left. And, when we're there, we make a point of focusing the conversation on them or on current events or other interesting topics and not droning on about our travel stuff. I think that helps a lot too.
Anyway, a great and thought provoking post!!