Thursday, 9 December 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Homesick But In Love

Please see update below.

Some decisions are easier to make when you are in your late thirties, let me tell you.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I know this isn't the normal line of question you have, but as you have first hand knowledge of being an immigrant bride, I thought you could help.

I am from the US, and have attended university in Europe for the last few years. There I met a wonderful British man and we intend to marry. Our original plan was to return to the US for a few years, especially as we don't really like the area in which we both live.

However, he now says he has seen how homesick I have been and isn't sure if he wants to move so far from his home. He has suggested that I return to the US for a few months, and also told me that if I thought it would make me happier in the long run to leave him and go back to America for good, he would be devastated but would understand.

The idea of living so far from my family makes me quite sad, but I also truly believe that this is the man I am meant to marry. He is one of the most decent, honourable, compassionate, thoughful and generous men I have ever met. I believe I would be truly happy as his wife, and I can't imagine my life without him.

This is all complicated by the fact that we both live in a town that has no real sense of community and where neither of us has been able to really find friends or put down roots. We have both found new flats in a nearby town that has more going on (including an active young Catholics group), which I think may help combat my homesickness. I also have a job which is perfectly ok, but not very stimulating and not what I wanted to be doing.

I was hoping you could give me some advice on this situation. I know you have made a huge sacrifice to live in Scotland with BA, so perhaps you could shed some light. I really love this man, but I also really love my family, and I need some auntly advice.

Homesick But In Love

Dear Homesick,

"God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten son..." (John 3:16). Love is wonderful, but it usually entails sacrifice. It is also a leap of faith, and so when taking any kind of vow, we have to be 90% sure that this is what we are called to do. Rarely are we at 100%.

When I realized that Benedict Ambrose was going to ask me to marry him, I knew that this meant that one of us would have to emigrate. And I knew it would be me because B.A. simply isn't the emigrating type and besides he has carved out a career for himself here. My writing I can do anywhere; he has to be in Scotland.

Still, I knew that this would be a big sacrifice all the same: I would be across the ocean from all my family, all my girlfriends, most of my readership, all my business contacts. Last Christmas morning, the first Christmas I ever spent apart from my family, I was almost hysterical with homesickness.

I have a Jesuit friend who very much loves his widowed father and his brother but he almost never gets to spend Christmas with them. This Christmas he'll be in Italy again. And I have a cloistered Benedictine friend about your age, whose father is so angry she became a Catholic nun, he may never go to visit. And yet my Jesuit friend, my Benedictine friend and I are all very happy in our foreign homes, far away from all those we loved best in our youth.

If you truly love this man and he truly loves you, you will have compensations to make up for your sacrifice. And even if you did end up living in your hometown, your friends and family might not always be there for you. Your older relatives will grow old and die; your girlfriends will marry and move away; your younger relatives will marry and spend more time with their spouses and children than with you. That is just how life is. We must embrace the future, not sacrifice the future to prolong the past.

I cope with living in a new country in a number of ways: I made good friends with my husband's Catholic friends (whom I adore), and I enjoy spending time with his non-Catholic friends and their wives. I go out of my way to befriend women in my TLM community, be they university students, young mothers or grandmothers. I do work I enjoy (tho' badly paid, alas!), and I keep up with both the Canadian and the British news via internet.

I keep up with my old friends via internet and with occasional phone calls. I invite family and friends to stay in exotic Scotland, and I send them Christmas cards, Valentine's chocolate (if single), and little gifts. I make new friends by going to Historical House-related events and parties, and I get along very well with my nearest neighbours, who are in their early 60s.

Of course I miss my family and sometimes I miss my girlfriends so much I could cry, but there is always the phone and, thank God, Skype-with-video, and I am just so thankful I have B.A., who is a great companion though not (obviously) as good at girl talk as girls are.

I concentrate on what I love about Scotland (without being blind to the drawbacks, e.g. the Central Belt's helplessness before snow), and I compare how beautiful Edinburgh is compared to my hometown (so disloyal, I know, but Edinburgh really outshines Toronto).

If you wanted to do an experiment, I would recommend going home to the USA without your fiance for six months to see how that feels. However, that might be an expensive way of figuring out what you already know and might feel like your heart is being ripped out, chunk by chunk. I hate being apart from my husband.

I am sure this is not a universal, but back in the day, men used to raid tribes and steal women for wives, carting them off triumphantly home. It didn't work the other way around. Possibly there is some deep cultural instinct that women can cope better having been carted off into a foreign tribe than men can. Maybe from centuries of being carted off, women-in-general developed a greater ability than men to thrive socially in new circumstances.

After thinking about this for a week, the only thing I have to add is that finding the love of your life in your mid-twenties is a gift that should not be thrown away. My great regret is that I did not meet B.A. when we were in our twenties.

I hope this is helpful. Oh, and I should mention that youth is very resilient. At 39 I should be a basketcase, having emigrated so late in life, usually the province of the adventure-seeking young, but most of the time I am as happy as a clam.

Grace and peace,

UPDATE: I wrote my reply assuming my reader was formally engaged to her fiance. It did not occur to me that they might not be engaged, although readers have pointed out that this might actually be just a boyfriend-girlfriend thing. If so, I would certainly advise my reader to go home. If she is not engaged, but her, um, boyfriend is serious about marriage, he will be there within three months with a ring. B.A., who formally asked me to marry him before I left Scotland, arrived in my hometown two months later with a ring. That doesn't solve the "where will we live" problem, but it certainly clears up any doubts about whether the marriage will happen or not.

As a tip-to-getting-engaged-to-foreigners-abroad, I would say that it is an extremely bad idea to go on to them about how homesick you are. When I realized that I was in love with B.A., I worried that he would think I would fear homesickness too much to want to get involved with him. Of course, I wasn't homesick, and I very rarely am homesick.

Absolutely, there is a difference between a fiance and a boyfriend. I do not want any reader to give up anything for a relationship as tenuous and, in the end, meaningless as "girlfriend-boyfriend."


Annie said...

Seraphic, I read this letter and the first thought that popped into my mind is that HBIL's fiance seems to be looking for a way out without explicitly asking for one. In telling her that she could leave and that he would understand if she did, he's not exactly fighting for the woman he chose to be his bride. It sounds like there may be some problems in this relationship and that this man isn't entirely ready for the commitment of a woman giving away her entire life to move across the ocean for him.

HBIL, you and your fiance are in my prayers. :)

berenike said...

I wouldn't go making doubtful noises about the feeeeeelings of people's fiances.Boyfriends is one thing, but fiance is serious and it's like suggesting someone's husband may not love them that much.

People are different, with different tolerances and strengths. And not all of us are Mariannes. Seems to me this chap sees how unhappy HBIL is, does't want her to be unhappy, worries that he'd be unhappy there (and therefore make her unhappy) and has been entirely decent in making the offer he has. He hasn't said "ach, you know, this'll never work, go home".

Cordi said...

Annie, that was my first thought, too, and I'm inclined to agree with you. But Berenike, you're right, different people are different, and hopefully he was just expressing concern for her, and they'll live happily ever after.

healthily sanguine said...

I don't know, I'm tempted to side more with Annie on this one, even though there really isn't enough data to back up the conclusion. I guess what worries me is that the separation is his idea. Also, she says "we intend to marry" but not "we're engaged," right? Seraphic is spot on that love entails sacrifice, but I'm left wondering whether Homesick is necessarily the one to sacrifice in this case. We live in the 21st century, where men establish careers, not "cart women off." If HBIL's fiance/boyfriend has not established his career yet, or even if he has, but at the same time isn't willing to look into relocating and trying his chances elsewhere in order to make the woman he loves happy, it might be a sign they're not meant to end up together. Homesick, if you are not happy with your life right now, as it is, living in Europe near this guy, come back to the US! Either that or write up a concrete list of things that the man you love has done for you, and make a cold, hard calculation as to whether his current and future sacrifices balance out your sacrifice in being apart from the family you love. Just my two cents. :)

some guy on the street said...

I can't help but remember that the scripture says "And so the man shall leave his family and join his wife..."

Reading the uncertainties expressed here, I'm also reminded of that delightful cliche, "if you love someone, let them go..." (as if imprisoning our romantic interests were the ordinary way); maybe I'm just too sensitive, but I can easily imagine being both madly in love and overcome with pity for my beloved's homesickness. It could be a ruse, and yet it might not be. Miss Inlove ought to have a better intuition for her case.

Seraphic said...

I just wiped a whole long comment which could be summed up as, "If I were a great feminist, I would be neither Catholic nor married today."

If my reader and her boyfriend are not actually engaged, as I assumed, then it may be a different situation. If my reader hasn't really grown up yet and is still "a young thing and cannot leave her mother", then it certainly is a different situation.

But the issue seemed less, "Is This The Right Man for Me?", and more "How Do I to Deal With Homesickness?"

I have often read that women are much better than men at developing new social ties, and I honestly think it would break my own husband's heart if we had to move away from Scotland for some reason.

Canadians and Americans seem to think nothing of moving house across town, across provinces or states or from one coast to another, not just from generation to generation, but from decade to decade. Europeans (the ones who never seriously consider emigrating) aren't really like that. My mother-in-law never leaves her hometown, and all my German friends always seem to return to their tiny hamlets after their world-travels.

Anyway, I hope it works out for my reader. Getting your vocation at a young age is a wonderful gift that few of us are blessed with. I'm very envious of my pal who joined the Jesuits at 17 and is still happily Jesuit today.

Seraphic said...

Annie, I will say that you may have a point. "Why don't you leave me?" never sounds promising. Hmm...

Seraphic said...

Of course, if you can't stop talking to your boyfriend/fiance about how homesick you are, "Why don't you go home?" may become his inevitable question and therefore, if you are longing to be engaged to a guy abroad, and aren't yet, it might be a very bad idea to mention how homesick you are.

theobromophile said...

Love, love, love the update! A lot of the problems of our time arise from young women treating men who are not their fiances nor husbands as if they were. Moving states, leaving jobs, sacrificing education, moving in together, sex - those are things that you give to your husband, not to some slob who hasn't put a ring on your finger. So, yay to the update!

Okay, my cheerleading for the update aside, and writing as if there is a ring and a wedding date set: the grass is not always as green as you think it is. If your job in Europe is mediocre, please don't think that coming to America will improve that - the job market over here is dismal, too. If you aren't living with your friends and family over there, don't think that moving back to your hometown will help. I moved back to my hometown (Boston) after graduating from law school, only to find that my friends had all moved to NYC, DC, or New Hampshire. Now all of my Boston friends are people I've met since graduation, and I can't see my college and high school friends without hopping in the car for a several-hour drive.

Now, I have a feminist core to my heart (real definition of feminist, not the corrupted, modern version), so let me say this: be wary of men who expect that you'll be fine with being carted off, or who refuse to move themselves (i.e. "Go home without me, but if you want to get married, we're living exactly where I want to live,"). Do not marry inflexible men, because your problems will go far beyond geography.

Yes, women are often more flexible, yes, Americans think nothing of moving all over the place (I think my record was about 8,000 miles of moves in three years), no, home isn't going to be the Eden you may be imagining, but if this guy isn't prepared to move to America for you, then he's not the one you should be with. And, ahem, my feminism aside, Christ left His eternal home for his Church....

Elizabeth M. said...

This has nothing to do with your post, but while doing some extensive reading the other day I found this quote by L.M. Montgomery in one of her letters to G.B. Macmillan. It made you pop into my head immediately and I'd thought I'd post it for your enjoyment:

"A girl who would fall in love so easily or want a man to love her so easily would probably get over it just as quickly, very little the worse for wear. On the contrary, a girl who would take love seriously would probably be a good while finding herself in love and would require something beyond mere friendly attentions from a man before she would think of him in that light."

It was regarding girls in love & their speed in getting over it.

Seraphic said...

I'm sorry to say that I don't think LMM is a good judge of the female heart. Anne's lifelong rejection of Gilbert's attentions and then her volte-face, and I quote, "sweet surrender of the bride" is psychologically dangerous to real women who think real life must be like that. Quite a lot of the thinking that led me to my first disasterous marriage I can trace write back to LMM and even lifelong Seraphic Single Louisa May Alcott.

LMM married late in life to a most dour Presbyterian minister who suffered from clinical depression and made her life rather a hell. In later life, her descendents allege, she herself succumbed to depression and made away with herself.

Her stories are absolutely delightful, and it never ceases to amuse me that The Great Canadian Novel was written long ago by a WASP schoolmarm from Prince Edward Island, but I would take anything she says about love and marriage with a hefty dose of Atlantic sea salt.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear, "right back" obviously, not "write back". A very apropos Freudian slip, however.

Med School Girl said...

Auntie Seraphic,
Being Canadian myself, I am rather surprised to hear about LMM's own love life. I've always loved the Anne/Gilbert romance, even though it was only a figment of her imagination. I do rather disdain the girls (including my former self) who daydream tirelessly of a similar situation for themselves. I think it was "Dark but Fair" who coined the phrase: EMOTIONAL GLUTTONY. Oink! Oink!

Seraphic said...

Well, you can't really blame them. The story sounded so wonderful in the books. I loved Anne, but if she were a real person, I would have to say that she was emotionally immature for her age and era, and every pang of jealousy she felt when Gilbert (very sensibly) paid attention to other women was her own silly fault.

However, you can't keep a plot going if everyone behaves sensibly.

Dinky Di said...

Hey there,

I think I can give advice here based on personal experience. When I was 11, my father brought me to the US from Australia. My mother remained in Australia, my sister returned to Australia after 5 years. My father was abusive and I met a man when I was 17. We married after 10 years because we loved each other but more because we are both needy and desperate for love. We are incompatible in most ways.

My father killed himself when I was 25, leaving me with no family whatsoever in the US. My husband and I began having serious problems soon after we married (the week after, in fact) and I felt so alone in the US we moved to Australia.

This was supposed to be the answer to all my problems. But after 20 years in the US, I had no life here to return to. My husband is desperately homesick and I am just starting to feel at home again here.

We are in one awful situation here. If he wants to return to the US, and I don't, what then?

The reason I tell you these things is that you should think about what might happen if your marriage fails in 20 years. Your life in the US would be a thing of the distant past, but you'd be all alone in Scotland - unless you think returning to the US would be okay for you to do.

If this is something that does not bother you, then I say, go for it. Because so many of my issues for coming here were based on childhood pains, I was not looking at the future. If you truly believe in your heart and soul that this man is your future, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. A real shot, so you have no regrets.

Skype is a wonderful thing, really. Maintain your relationships in the US so you don't resent him for making you leave. If you are a writer, this will also make it easy for you to return home if you need to.

I think the single biggest problem is that the idea of "home" becomes very confused. But if your marriage becomes one of success and happiness, he is where your home is.

I hope that helps. Sorry for the extended background, but I thought it might give some extra added insight. :)