“This isn’t just a fun year abroad anymore. This is your life.” – Mindy to Emily in Emily in Paris
Probably the only bit of truth in the entire glossy series.
I was telling someone recently about how when I first moved to Europe, I was so open. Everyone was my friend. All invitations and opportunities that came my way were accepted. This almost indiscriminate receptiveness and latching on was a necessary buffer and lubricant for the great life shift that was migration. Back then I remember telling the guy I was dating how I was weirdly so much nicer in Madrid than I was in Manila. I wondered whether this was going to be a more long-term version of myself moving forward, or if it was just some kind of weird suspension. (Either way, it was real. I wasn’t pretending)
My sophomore year of moving here has proven that it was the latter. I didn’t come here as a blank slate. Wherever I go, I take myself with me. That includes my temperament, my needs and wants as a person, and all the reasons I left home in the first place. These parts of myself kindly suspended themselves to a great degree while I tended to the more urgent needs of moving to a new country. But they never went away. As soon as I was safe, connected and as established as I could be, they started taking up space again.
And so I found myself working so much harder to meet my actual lifestyle. I had a longer list of maintenance tasks. I also started dealing with compatibility issues in relationships I had built during my open phase, which had now given way to the, well, me phase.
I noticed there were people who simply described me as quiet. And there were people who quickly disagreed with wide eyes when I told them I was an introvert. And there were people who understood that I could be confident and expressive with my stories and ideas AND also have bigger be-in-my-own-world needs than most others. (“Everyone needs alone time,” someone tried to assure me. But somehow I have started to sense that my needs in this regard are above average). I also realized that anyone who describes me as intellectual or analytical probably thinks I’m far away—which isn’t a bad thing. We all live on different wavelengths and meet each other where we can. But I do appreciate the people who immediately get that I am right here.
My second year in Europe has so far been about coming to terms with myself in an environment where I’m stripped of the safety nets and privileges I had back home. Here I pay, both literally and figuratively, for every choice and aspect of my existence. I’ve had to learn what that means in terms of how I work, how much I’m willing to give, and how much I can realistically ask for in return. What kinds of relationships to build with each person I engage with. What degrees of closeness are no longer working, both for me and the other parties involved.
The things that made my transition easier aren’t necessarily the same things that I need one year and three months deep into my move. Coming to terms with this has been incredibly painful. If letting go of what no longer fits was hard back home, it is much, much harder here. I’m clingier in a foreign country, with bigger fears of being left out in the cold.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned about all the previous times I let go, it’s that life doesn’t tolerate vacuums. Almost as soon as you release, something else rushes in to catch you and fill the space. (I am reminded of that almost eerie time I sold a huge balikbayan box of my new and old books for $20 and in the same week received an envelope with $200 worth of National Bookstore gift certificates). This something else can come in the form of new lovers, new jobs, new friends, or even just all that freed up time and energy to do what you need to self-actualize and not be so consumed with tribe-building.
This is where I found myself towards the end of 2021. It’s what I’m most pumped up about at the beginning of 2022.
I only have two resolutions this year. First, I would like to expand and be a better, kinder person to others in general. To still have boundaries but not operate from a place of lack. Second and simultaneously, I would like to be brave enough to seek, cultivate, and hold out for what fits. This is actually the main reason I moved continents. In my first year in Madrid, it was acceptable, necessary even, to focus on building safety nets and seeking comfort. But in my second year, I think it’s about time I go out there and take what I came here for.