One is the Loneliest Number

As I sit here on a bench at Aidan’s baseball practice, I can’t help but think how one is the loneliest number.  The bench seats four of us, all mothers of players.  I sit in the middle. Around me, everyone chats, but I can’t participate.  Because they are speaking in Dutch. I just stare straight ahead at the practice and try to pretend it doesn’t bother me.  But the reality is… it does.  

I’m not angry.  How could I be?  I’m in their country.  This is their language.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel isolated, sad and frustrated.  Sure, it would be a kindness for them to speak in English when I’m around, but I also don’t think that’s a realistic expectation.  The solution, of course, would be to learn Dutch.  But that’s easier said than done and it certainly doesn’t happen over night.

But as I sit here, it reminds me of the downside of expat life.  Every now and again, I get to a point in our lives abroad where I just feel comfortable and at home in my new environment.  We have sports, activities and routines.  And things just feel normal.  Then in moments like these, I’m brought back to reality that this life … this amazing life… is anything but normal.  And while expat life has it’s glamorous side (as in my 3 trips coming up next month), it also has it’s downside.  And isolation is often one of them.

Sadly I’m used to it though. It doesn’t make it easier and these are the moments that I crave home and living in my own language. This feeling of isolation isn’t just here in the Netherlands.  I felt it in Spain too. And I speak Spanish.  But not the level of fluency of native speakers by any means – and there were plenty of events through school, my gym or life in general when a conversation would go on around me in Spanish and I would just nod my head and pretend like I had a clue while thinking “why do I do this day in and day out?”.

I still wonder that sometimes.  Do the upsides really make up for the downside of the feeling of isolation?  90% of the time they do – especially when I look at my (very) worldly kids.  And this year has been a year of change for me – not all of which have been covered in the blog as of yet (but I’m getting there, just very very far behind in my posts) and recently I’ve realized a few things about myself and my identity as an expat, a mom, a wife and a business woman.  One of those things is letting these little moments that irk me daily go and just continue to move forward.

No, they aren’t super little things.  Feeling isolated and ignored when in a small group doesn’t feel good.  But I need to realize it’s not about me.  If they have an interest in connecting, they know I speak English (and Spanish which doesn’t really help me here). It’s a different culture and the connections are not made the same way we do in the US or in Spain.  And in talking more with Josh, this is finally coming to light for me.

So I’m taking a page from the Josh Marcus book of life and have decided that this can continue the depress me or I can make the decision to not give a shit and to move onward and upward.  From now on, I’m letting go of my feelings of isolation (ok, as best I can) and living for the now.  If they don’t want to talk or connect with me, so be it.  I’ve got plenty of friends here that do want to talk to me!  Sometimes, being an expat is about survival and to me, surviving is letting go of what you cannot control and focusing on the big picture.  And on the positives of expat life… like those trips coming up!

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

16 thoughts on “One is the Loneliest Number

  1. Kind of how I’ve been thinking although it’s not about language here. I told a friend recently we would like to do three years in SA (mostly for the travel) and she therefore automatically assumed I was “loving” life here. Well yes…. And no. Like you there are good times (we just returned from a long weekend in Cape Town) and bad (getting up in the middle of a very disturbed night, husband away, because I’d left some sausages out on the side and they were now covered in ants…). Overall good is still winning but I feel very over the honeymoon period….

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    • Love you too Kendra! You did it for a long time too – you know what it’s like! Angelo and I were just talking about you the other day and the little guy (and how big he’s gotten) – wish you were here!

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  2. It’s true, expat life can be isolating because even without the language barrier I sometimes feel like it’s hard to make close friends, partly because I’ll leave eventually and because our lives are so different. Of course, friends and family who only see our travel photos think I’m living the dream but it’s not always easy.

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    • You are so right! And I think as an adult, it’s harder no matter where you live and what language because by a certain age, we have our circle of friends. And when you leave that, you have to start all over and it’s a lot harder to get into those already formed groups.

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  3. Today, I feel your pain. I speak English and live in London, therefore life should be easy, right? Except I miss the rhythms of home, the familiar, my friends. Some days are just overwhelming. Even loving London doesn’t always help. But my daughter has opportunities here that she would never have at home, so I have to just suck it up and do what you’re doing. And look forward to my next trip – which is to Amsterdam!!!!

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  4. Loneliness can happen anywhere! It even happened to me when I lived in NYC and DC because I was so busy working that I rarely had any fun time or chances to meet other people. And now, we’ve been living in Australia for 9 months and I’ve had a lot of lonely moments. Just because you speak English doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Aussies are fun socially but seem to be difficult to really get to know. Many of the Americans I’ve met here whine and complain all the time so I don’t want to hang out with them either. So like you, I’ve finally made my peace. All you can do is try to be positive, do things that make you happy. For me that means, editing and taking photos, wandering around with my camera, walking along the beach, planning our next trip, etc.

    So yes, even though there will always be some down days, the positives still outnumber the bad things! 🙂

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  5. Yep, I hear you Julie. I also live in The Netherlands, just moved 8 months ago, and even though I understand Dutch I can’t speak it. So I’m sitting there understanding what they are saying but unable (or too shy) to speak up. I also think it’s more isolating to live in a country where its kind of expected that you learn the language…in Vietnam for example, no-one expected me to speak Vietnamese and locals would speak English if they could. My approach is the same as yours: I know I have friends, I know it’s not a reflection on me, I try to move on…but we all want to feel liked and included right?…

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    • First off, I love your blog Lucille – I just started going through it when I saw you had done some likes on mine. And secondly, thanks for the feedback – it sounds like you’ve probably been through this countless times living in all of these cool places! You are right – we all want to feel included and sometimes it can be a challenge, though I will say, since I wrote this post, things have improved at baseball and it’s getting slightly less lonely! Where are you in the NL?

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  6. Pingback: Dutch Kindness | The Expat Chronicles

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