Man. You guys, I’m just…… kinda sad. Things are changing around here and not all the changes are what one would call fun, or “good”. I’m hoping for the best. I hope we are making good decisions. I don’t know. Basically, Jon and I are moving back in with his parents in the hopes of saving enough money to buy a house in 2013. It’s a lofty goal, and maybe too overly ambitious, and ya know, who really needs to buy a house anyway? But we’re doing this. We are also suffering through some personal physical issues, but I’m not about to splash that all over the internet, know what I mean? But anyway, that’s the reasoning behind a relative radio silence over here. There just isn’t as much to say in this new year. We’re halfway moved out of our place now, so our flat is particularly sad, which makes me more sad. We will be all moved out on Saturday, and it will be the end of an era/beginning of a new one. I hope we are doing a good thing. I hope we make the best of this grand idea. But right now I just feel….heavy.
The January ennui has set in. And as dramatic as that sounds, it’s a real thing, I swear. After all the bustle of the holidays, it’s to be expected. But it’s not really the holidays or the sparkle of December that I miss-it’s more a feeling that 2013 doesn’t have that much good in store for me. Which is just a crazy cynical way to look at a fresh start, but as of now, is how I’m feeling. Hopefully a year from now I can read this back, the future me who had a fantastic 2013, and laugh and say that was pretty dumb. Hopefully.
I passed the first week of the new year in a bundled up, cozy stupor, spending days one and two at home, on the couch with my books and my laptop and my Jon, days three and four at school, teaching private lessons, then trudging back home. The weather, not too cold and finally dry, in comparison to the stories of extensive snow and ice coming from back home. I would love some snow. The lack of it here tends to give me a sort of seasonal vertigo, where I can walk down the street and completely forget what month I’m in, or where I am at all. It is strange.
Just after Christmas, on December 27th, passed the one year anniversary of my indefinite move to England. It has been a year, let me tell you. And if you’ve read along with me, through this year (and maybe even longer, some of you), you know what kind of year it was. Good, and bad and everything in between. Lord knows I talked about it enough. But those are the things that make a year. It is strange to think that I can’t say when I will go home for good. Maybe I never will, we never will, and the thought makes me sad and nostalgic for things that haven’t even happened yet. It is strange to think that I still say “home” for multiple places. Columbus, Cardington, Brighton. When does that stop? Does it?
I know that home is an intangible idea, but it has never felt as intangible as during these last few years.
This year was bittersweet. With all the stresses of starting a new life in a new country-making new friends, finding a new job….there was a lot going on. And not all of it was nice. Then again, it was our first year of marriage, and despite all the things we had to go through this year, 2012 wasn’t all bad. It definitely had its high points! (Although I hope that next year will have more high points than low points, if I’m being honest).
I thought of doing a big month-by-month year in review, as I’ve done before, but I’m just not feeling it this year. I’d like to quietly say goodbye to the old, and welcome in the new with all the optimism and positivity I can muster.
Some personal highlights of my year:
Travel-Paris with my dearest Lindsey and my love Jon in June. Such an amazing trip, a dream, really, being there with two of my favorite people in the whole wide world. In April I took a long bus journey to Nottingham to see Penny-my first trip to the North of England! Exeter for a fancy -and soaking wet-summer wedding in July. A great Ohio visit with weddings and love in September.
As with so many other things, there are far more differences than one would think between America and England. And when it comes to the Christmas holidays, this is true too! Over the past several years I’ve noticed all the little differences that add up to a very different holiday experience, and here I have compiled them for you. Ta-da!
Movies: As we Americans know, the quintessential Christmas eve films are “A Christmas Story” (you’ll shoot yer eye out!) and the classic Dr. Seuss animated version of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”. In the UK you get the much more staid “The Snowman”, which is mostly silent and only 30ish minutes long. Anticlimactic!
Treats for Santa: In England children leave a carrot for the reindeer, and a mince pie and some sherry (!!) for the fat man, while in the States we do cookies and milk, which seems far more wholesome if you ask me.
Songs: It seems to me that here in the UK the most popular holiday tunes (aka, the ones I hear allllll the timmmmeeee) are a few decades old: Slade and Band Aid and The Pogues seem to be on a never-ending loop, accompanied by Wham’s “Last Christmas”. In America I think Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is the big song of the season, and whatever other pop songs get released each year (NSYNC and Justin Bieber and Christina Aguilera singing their remakes of classics, plus dudes like Michael Buble doing the Xmas crooning thang). It seems that these, plus a sprinkling of traditional carols, like Silent Night and all of that, make up the American musical repertoire at the holidays. And don’t forget about Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby! (America skips the past few decades and heads straight for the fifties and sixties).
It is cold in Brighton. Winter is here. And I have a gross little cold that doesn’t want to leave me alone. I called in sick to work this morning, and slept most of the day away, watching movies and surrounding myself with tissues and orange juice when I was awake. I’m hoping that the Nyquil I brought over from America (an elixir of the Gods that is not sold in this country-I think because it has some alcohol in it?) really knocks it out of my sorry immune system tonight. Tomorrow is our staff Christmas party at school and I really want to go! It’s going to be another early night for this little lady.
Being abroad as a couple is a much different experience than going solo. I was thinking of this on Saturday night at our friend Pete’s surprise 30th birthday party-which was lovely, by the way, so full of joy and happiness. In our group of friends there are lots of couples-mostly couples, actually, these days. A side effect of nearing thirty. And serious couples too; some have even been together for close to a decade or more. But Jon and I are the only married ones. And I think herein lies a big difference (just to get it out there-I don’t think we’re cooler than anyone because we’re married, and that is not the difference of which I speak). I think even the word marriage still strikes fear (or something like it) in the hearts of many of my twenty-something compatriots. Like, as a married couple Jon and I don’t do the exact same things that our other co-habitating friends do. But we do! We’re just also, like, legally bound to each other. I mean, there are some differences between marriage and dating, certainly, but it seems to me that maybe other people think of those differences more than we do. Couple this with the fact that I’m not from around here and didn’t move here officially until we were married and instead of “there’s Ashley”, it becomes “there’s Jon’s wife, Ashley”.
I don’t think I’m explaining this very well. I’ll keep trying.
When I was travelling by myself-to France and around Europe, to South Korea, etc, I was just me. And when I met people, these people were eager to chat and invite me along to do stuff. I think it’s a way of looking out for other people in your similar situation. You know they don’t have a built in support, so you pull them under your wing, and vice versa. You don’t want anyone to feel alone in a new place. But when you’re in a couple, all of a sudden it becomes a bit of an impediment. People look at you as a twosome, rather than an independent entity. You’re already never alone. You’ve got it together, and you’ve obviously got someone to hang out with all the time, so meh, you just get passed over when it comes to the day to day social gatherings.
Here’s an example. In 2009, I moved to Korea 3 months before Jon ever got there, and 6 months before Jon and I started dating. So I had lots of single woman in Korea time. I went out with my lady friends, expat and Korean, and had awesome adventures. More teachers came over, some left, the wheel keeps turning, yada yada. But eventually I’d been there long enough that I had a few friends who had never known me before Jon and I were a thing. And I remember specifically one night being out with a big group in Seoul at a bar. Jon wanted to go home and I wanted to go out dancing, so he and I said our goodbyes, and one of the girls I was with remarked that she’d never seen me out without Jon, and she was super surprised by this. And I just felt like that is the case-she wasn’t there when I was single, and in fact, I (and my roomie Marisa) hosted ladies’ nights all the time or just generally hung out minus dudes, but because in the short time that this girl had been around our little group in Korea she’d only seen both Jon and I out together, that meant we must only ever go out together. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To bring this back to now-it seems to be even more of a theme in an expat life where only one member of the couple in question is foreign. Our friends here in England, for the most part, began as Jon’s friends-some from childhood, some more recently acquired, but nearly all “belonging” to him. And this predicament also goes hand in hand with just being in our late twenties and out and away from the college/university/early 20s experience of meeting your friends’ partners and just generally spending more time casually hanging out or going out with new people, or people you’ve just met. Now people work and chill with their partners in their free time, and have their own groups of friends that they’ve cultivated and narrowed down over the years. It’s harder to make friends at this stage in life. I think most people would agree with that. And I’m still trying to make my own friends, independently of Jon.
Not to worry though, I have made progress on this front in the year that I’ve lived my immigrant life. I just find that vignettes like Friday night-in a room of smiling, happy people who I really enjoy spending time with, but who I know I probably won’t see again until there’s another big get together-just brings some things to mind. This isn’t a new situation, and it’s not terrible, and it definitely can’t even be confined to being an immigrant wife-I was in the same situation when I lived in the Marshall Islands with my former partner. This happens when you travel (or live abroad) with a person. It changes the dynamics of how people see you, and assumptions are made. But with that being said, I’m more than fine with working through it and carving out relationships of my own-and still spending the majority of my time with this guy, for whom I’d move to the ends of the earth. It is worth it.