When It’s Over: Regret and the Post-Expat Life

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches

Welcome to the inaugural four-way guest posting of NorthSouthEastWest! We are four expat bloggers who have joined together to rotate our monthly guest posts from the four corners of the world on each other’s blogs: Linda (Yours Truly) at Adventuresinexpatland.com (North), Russell at Insearchofalifelessordinary.com (South), Erica at Expatriababy.com (East) and Maria at Iwasanexpatwife.com (West).

Sometimes we’ll have a theme (July’s theme today is Where We Are Right Now), some months we’ll just write about whatever strikes our fancy. I hope you enjoy today’s guest post on my site, and that you check out my NSEW guest post over at Russell’s site. Better yet, why not check out all four?!

[Regular adventurers will recognize Maria from my earlier post Ladies and Gentlemen, I was an Expat Wife, and know that I am a big fan. Here we go!]


‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.






Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these words in 1850, and ever since, well-meaning people have been offering them as a salve for the broken-hearted.

What’s that, you ask? What does a Victorian-era poet’s pronouncement on the value of lost love have to do with repatriation?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. For many of us, repatriation is all about rebuilding our lives – and often, our identities – once our expat days have drawn to a close. We leave a part of ourselves behind when we move back home, and the intensity of this loss can easily rival that of a romantic break-up.

Think for a moment about the parallels between love and expatriate life. When you first meet that special someone, you’re enchanted by his strength/accent/beauty/wisdom/old world charm. You can imagine yourself being with him forever.

After a while, though, cracks start to appear in the perfection of your life together. Those little quirks you once found adorable become irritating. Sometimes his behaviour baffles you - angers you, even. You tire of struggling to make yourself understood. You start to wonder if you’d be better off without him.

So you break up and go back to your old life, but somehow it’s not the same. You miss him. And it hurts.

Sound familiar? It’s the expat life cycle (one version of it, at least) in a nutshell.

I’ve lived through that romantic roller coaster many times once or twice, and I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion Lord T was talking out of his backside when he proclaimed that the pain of losing love is preferable to the emptiness of never experiencing it. I was even more dubious when I repatriated - the loss of my expat life affected me so deeply that I seriously wondered if it had been worth it.

It was with mixed feelings that I’d finally bid adieu to my expat status. I knew there was much I would miss, but after years of living in a state of perpetual bewilderment, I looked forward to an unambiguous life. No more struggling to fit in, no more wondering what am I doing wrong?

Once I was back home, I didn’t have to mentally run through the norms of grocery shopping before heading out to the store. I didn’t have to map out entire conversations in my head before opening my mouth. I no longer needed to be constantly alert to all the subtle nuances that can trip up an unsuspecting expatriate.

For a couple of months, it was heaven. And then those tiny cracks started appearing, and I realized that in my haste to return to my pre-expat life, I had overlooked one small detail: the dreariness of living on auto-pilot was what drove me to make that big move in the first place. The truth is, I’ve never felt as alive as I did when I lived overseas. The challenges were sometimes overwhelming, but they were definitely not boring.

I knew I had to mourn the loss of my old life before I could even think about moving on. It took about two years to work through the grief, but now I can honestly say that things are good. I’m at a point where I can embrace the positives of being home while remaining philosophical about the negatives.

Sometimes, though, I’m hit with a wave of longing so vivid, it brings me to my knees. If I close my eyes, I can see the vines ripening in Bordeaux, or smell the heady aromas of a Singaporean hawker centre. In my darkest hours, the enormity of what I’ve lost makes me wish I’d never moved abroad.

But then I remind myself that if I hadn’t taken that leap, I wouldn’t have met the people who continue to make my life sing: Kate, Susanna, Josephine, JB. I wouldn’t have strolled atop the Great Wall of China, learned to speak Mandarin, or had the pleasure of watching my daughters grow into the global citizens they are today. My life would have been infinitely emptier.

It’s taken some time, but I’ve come to understand that if something’s worth loving, it’s worth remembering – even if the memories are bittersweet. I guess that means I owe Lord Tennyson an apology. The old guy had it right after all.

[Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/joshblake]



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