|Not my legs. My legs aren't that hairy.|
My husband? He is the compartmentalization king. The man can take a thought, pack it away in a little box, and come back to it later...or never...either way, he is fine. My seven year old son, Sam, is the same way. Being on the Autism spectrum, he is able to take the list of tasks he needs to do, complete them, put that in the back of his mind, and move on to the next job or game or task. So long as he's had the time necessary to check everything off of his list, Sam is fine, and can move on without thinking about or rehashing things. He can separate himself from a completed thought or task without questioning himself in a way that baffles me.
But me? I am completely unable to do that. There are conversations I had in the eighth grade that I still go over in my mind, thinking of new and more inventive ways to have gotten my point across without sounding like a boob....which, if history serves, was a significant pattern in my life. I still go over arguments in my first marriage where I feel like I could have been more succinct or clear. I talk and talk and talk, trying desperately to get my point across, because I never quite feel like I am heard, even though most of the people around me feel like all they DO is listen to me. I am forty years old and have a knee-jerk reaction to everything, not because I am a loose cannon, but because I usually have no fewer than 11,934 thoughts running through my mind at any given time, and I want--nay, NEED--to get them out. And what my husband is able to get out in 2 sentences or less, I am unable to get out in fewer than 5K words, including bullet points and color coding.
In other words, I'm mental. I have problems. If you've learned nothing else here, you should have learned this. This is elementary Brooke Moss stuff, reader friends.
However, that being said, moving abroad has forced me to learn (somewhat unsuccessfully thus far, but I'm getting there) to compartmentalize. To divide myself in two. The American Brooke. And the expat Brooke. Both of which are normal, every day mothers who have too much on their plates and not enough time, money, patience, or energy to go around...but only one of which should be present at any given time.
When I am in America, I can be free to be me. Silly, irreverent, loud mouthed, outspoken, introspective, open & transparent, self conscious and painfully self aware, firm, stubborn, true to my belief system. I have friends there who know and love me, and when someone doesn't understand or like me, who cares? I have a few dozen other people to pick from. I have laws and rules to back up my incessant need to say what is on my mind at all times, and I can always fall back on the fact that "It's a free country, I can say what I want!" Because, well, when in the good ol' USA, that's the case.
But unfortunately, I do not currently live in 'Merica. I live in South Korea, which is lovely and modern and quite up to date in their thinking, it is definitely not the US.
Because I am living abroad, I am not so free to speak, whine, gripe, complain, freak-the-crap-out, lose my temper, cry (sob), or post. I have learned over the last 6 months of expat life that I always need to be open minded and calm. I need to think before I speak (or type), I always need to know my audience, and I need to keep my opinions to myself. I also need to let sh** go, and I need to let stuff roll off my back. And of course, I need to be careful who I open myself up to, and accept that not everyone is going to like me.
It sucks. Hard.
In America, I have an established "tribe." I have a group of friends who accept me just as I am, and I am very blessed to have them. And if a relationship goes awry, it's okay, because there are a billion other American women to befriend. There are always new people to meet, new relationships to establish, and new connections to make. That's the beauty of being in my home country. Convenience is a blessing I took for granted, folks. Big time. I miss it.
Since moving to South Korea, I have felt, in a way, trapped. When I am awake here in Songdo, everyone at home in America is sleeping. When I email friends, they rarely email back, and when they do, the moment has passed, thus removing any instant communication that we human beings have grown so dependent on. The main source of communication with the people that I lovingly refer to as my "tribe" is done via social media, because that seems to be the place where I get the quickest response. That seems to be where I can carry on "normal conversations," normal being the operative word, because instant messaging via Facebook has become the "new norm" for me.
The problem is, when I whine and complain about my life here in South Korea, I isolate myself from my burgeoning friendships here. My local friendships, which are still in their infancy compared to my friendships in America, become strained because every time they log onto FB, all they see is my complaints about a life in a country I don't enjoy (yet) and they themselves have already learned to enjoy.
"You're so negative all the time." "We're worried about you because you never have anything positive to say." "Does it occur to you to do anything to fix these problems, instead of b*tching about it on Facebook?" "It gets old to hear you complain all the time."
I've heard it all. Sometimes it's said in a manner meant to make me feel like they care about me, like they want to help me through my rough time. (Big eye roll.) Other times it's said in a way that clearly says, STFU because you're annoying. I've learned to accept each kind of "help"...which usually means letting them have their say, then going home and eating ice cream while I let all of their words drain out the other side of my head. I know that (some) want to help me through this rough transitional phase of expat life. I also know that (some) don't really like me very much and wish I would catch the next plane home. And frankly, there are days when I agree with them. I wish I could catch the next plane home, but alas, I can't. My life is here.........for 2.5 more years.
(*squeezing eyes shut* I can do this, I can do this, I can do this...)
The problem is...I have to make these relationships work. I can't do this expat thing without friends, guys, it just doesn't work without them. But forging friendships out of thin air is tricky for me. Making lifelong friendships has never come easily for me. I've found myself in many a controlling, unhealthy friendship, and I've found myself being taken for granted or generally just mistreated in my friendships before, and so now, at forty (almost) I am very careful who I let into the "tree of trust" and who I push off the branches. I no longer look at friendships with "quantity is best" goggles. Now I look at friendships with "quality is better" goggles. No more backstabbers or sh*t pot stirrers. No more phony friendships with people who make me look good or who have money or connections, I would rather have one or two or three most excellent, loyal friends who are like-minded and who share my belief system, than a plethora of friends I can't really count on or stand by in good conscience.
But when you're an expat, all of your rules go out the window.
Making friends as an expat is much like making a giant fruit salad. Stay with me, I have a point, I swear I do.
Most people like one or two kinds of fruit. Me? I really dig nectarines and watermelon. Grapes will do in a pinch, and I really love apples--but only when they're from Washington during the months of September through November. (I'm sort of picky about my apples--a side effect of being a lifelong Washingtonian.) I don't particularly dig bananas or cantaloupe. My husband CANNOT STAND watermelon or nectarines, but likes pineapple and mango. My kids would eat watermelon until they puked, and then wipe their faces and eat some more--but ask them to eat a Kiwi and they all act like you've asked them to eat a live puppy.
My point? Everybody likes different kinds of fruit. But very few people will pick them all to eat at once. Because different people have different tastes.
Well, when you're an expat, especially in a city like Songdo, that has a very "small town" exclusivity, despite the high rise apartment and Gucci purses everywhere, you are basically thrown into a "bowl" with a handful of other "fruits," and expected to be friends and play nice with everyone.
Uh huh. I just compared expat life to being in a fruit salad.
So here's the deal: let's just say that I am a grape. A very tart, sour grape, if we're being honest. Well, tart, sour grapes don't really lend themselves well to, say, cantaloupe, which is a very fleshy, mild melon. Or let's just say another person is a crisp, green apple, but they're thrown in a bowl with a soft, thick-flavored mango. Normally these fruits would likely not be used in a fruit salad together. The tropical fruits are usually thrown in together. And berries are usually thrown in a salad together. And the local farm fruits usually hang together in recipes of their own. Some people add marshmallows to fruit salads. Others like shredded coconut. Some like whipped cream based dressings, and others like it naked, with just the fruit juices to moisten the salad. And tomatoes? Hell, they're a fruit, but nobody is ever stupid enough to throw them into a fruit salad, are they? Yes my friends, tomatoes are here in the expat fruit salad, and it's baffling!
Expats come in all different sizes and colors and kinds. As an expat, you are thrown into the bowl with people of other religions, people of different races, people from countries you've only ever heard of, and people to think and behave WORLDS different from you. You're tossed around in the bowl with people that, if you were back in your home country, you would likely never become friends with. Not because they are different religions or races, so don't go there, but because they have completely different lifestyles, and because other than the expat factor, you have nothing in common with them! And the tricky part is...you can't just walk away and say, "I'm not trying with that person" because they're one of just a small array of fruit from which to pick from. And all the fruit know each other, so if you reject one fruit, they're all going to discuss it...at length. So you have to buck up. Try the fruit. Give it a chance. It's fight or flight time. Sink or swim. Make friends or don't. That's where I'm at right now.
For the most part, I'm excited. Some of the people I've met are pretty incredible--not to mention the languages and accents I hear every day! Super fun for a small town American girl like me. But there are days when I feel so overwhelmed, so lost, it makes me feel like I'm going to start climbing the walls. Some days I don't want to be part of the fruit salad. I want to go back home to my predictable array of friends and family, who love me no matter what I say, or how much I complain about my life on social media. They're predictable. And safe. They don't judge me as much as I am judged here in the expat fruit salad. And I miss them. Good Lord, how I miss them.
But I know that I've been brought here for a reason. To grow. To stretch myself. To gain some perspective and maybe even some appreciation for what I had at my home back in America. And I also know that it is my job to buck up and allow myself to find new
And as for the other "fruits"....well, I'm learning. I'm learning to take them at face value, and let the rest go. Sure, sometimes they say and do things I don't understand or agree with, and sometimes they judge me harshly for just trying to muddle my way through something that turned out to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Sometimes they hang out without me, and that stings, and sometimes I feel like my kids are being left out of things, and that makes me want to go all "mama-bear", but.......over all, they're not bad people. They're just different. They do nice things, and not so nice things. They say the right thing, and sometimes the wrong thing. They accept me sometimes, and they judge me other times. That's all part of being different, I suppose, and sometimes different is cool. There are lessons I'm sure I am meant to learn from these people, and there are experiences I'm sure I am meant to have with these people. Will I stay in touch with them long after I leave for home in 2.5 years (not that I'm counting)? Some of them, not all. And that's okay. It's sort of like high school. You keep in touch with some, others you let go. And that's acceptable.
|You don't have to like all the fruit. You just have to try all the fruit.|
In the meantime, I'm going to keep working on compartmentalizing myself. I'm going to work on finding the good in these different kinds of fruits, instead of focusing on how much my fruit doesn't go with theirs. Having one foot in two different worlds is not easy for me, and I might struggle with it forever. Who knows? But I take comfort in know that someday I will be back home in the USA and I will be able to look back on my time abroad fondly.........
And thank God that it is over.
Until then....to fruit salad!