Happy Valentine’s Day.
Today, carrying on with February’s theme of “Relationships, ” we feature a piece by Rylla Resler, a long-time supporter of the BCT. The article comes from “The Trailing Spouse Reimagined“, a book that Rylla wrote with Adriana Quarck and Francesca Incocciati.
Read on and you will find words that are relatable to most of us at the BCT. Indeed, it serves as a powerful reminder that we have agency over our lives and that by being here, we are choosing new experiences and growth over discomfort.
Knowing That Hearts Would Break – by Rylla Resler
Relationships change always, but it can seem to especially be the case when you move abroad…
Lynda is an intense woman of few words. Chiseled cheeks carved of stone, piercing blue eyes gazing at you directly, you know she is fully present with you; she is that deliberate. If she didn’t want to be here, she wouldn’t.
Lynda was quite young when she and her husband decided to venture to Europe from Canada. Both had considered it in their university days but hadn’t acted on it. Now, as young adults, they found they were still curious. In addition, Lynda had experienced significant losses in her life; not only had she lost two members of her immediate family, she had recently become unemployed. This played a part in their decision to move.
She described her conversation with her husband Will:
“Lynda, I think that there is potential for us to move”.
“At that point, because we had lost so much, I thought, what if we don’t ever get out of this, this level of sadness, heaviness and weight? So I told Will to pursue the possible move”.
Lots of paperwork and discussions ensued, then Lynda’s husband was hired in Switzerland.
“I think I didn’t realize this until a couple of years after we had arrived — that it was ultimately an escape for us, in that we wanted to have a different existence, we wanted to start over. Anything would be better than where we had come from, because we had felt such sadness and loss”.
Lynda and Will left Toronto for opportunity, for adventure, and to build a different life.
They thought their stay would be short and so they planned accordingly. Having just bought a home, they rented it out, put their belongings in storage, made arrangements for their cats, and said “au revoir”—fully expecting to return within two years.
It’s been 10 years now, and they are still in Switzerland. When they had lived in Switzerland for about two years and their first contract was coming to a close, they began to talk about what was next.
“We just didn’t feel finished. We didn’t feel we had gotten all we could out of our time abroad. Will had the chance to take a new position, but if he accepted it, it would mean staying another five years”.
It wasn’t a hard decision for the two of them because they wanted more time abroad. But it was hard telling their families.
“We sat there at our dining table chatting, knowing that hearts would break when we made the decision to stay in Switzerland”.
I remember when we told my husband David’s family about our decision to move abroad.
For me it was not difficult; my parents were both deceased, and my sisters (I am one of five daughters) were used to the idea, as we had grown up living abroad. Our father was a diplomat, and my family had lived in various parts of Central and South America. Indeed, my family saw my move as a tremendous opportunity; they could come visit us in Europe!
But it was completely different for my husband’s parents, especially his mom.
Our kids had been born far from where their grandparents and great grandparents lived. Then we moved “home” to Minnesota, where my husband was born and raised. I think his mother thought that we had finally come home and were there to stay. It was so difficult to tell her that not only were we moving, but we were moving to another continent, and taking her only grandchildren with us.
To make matters worse, just as we were ready to tell David’s mom about our plans to move, her mother (David’s grandmother) died. David went to tell his mom the news and then told me about the conversation. His mother had burst into tears and told him what a terrible idea it was. She had listed all the reasons he shouldn’t go. He just listened. He let her cry.
He told her that he understood that she must feel so very sad. And he put his arms around her. I am still humbled by his wisdom and compassion.
In Lynda’s case it was her mother whose heart seemed to break the most.
Lynda’s mom had recently lost her husband when she found out her daughter and son-in-law were moving to Europe. Then two years later, they decided to extend their stay, perhaps breaking her mother’s heart a bit more.
“My mom has a hard time with us living this far away and I said to her, “Mom, what did you expect? We never lived one place long!”
“We always were moving and adapting and making a new home and friends when I was growing up. I don’t think I ever anticipated that I would be living in Switzerland and raising a family here, but I think it’s a great existence, and in some ways, I’m not surprised”.
Lynda also seems to be OK with the fact that her mother still may not have fully embraced their move abroad. In a family, people react differently, and regardless, we make the choices that work for us and our immediate families. Perhaps this experience of children leaving the nest, no matter how far they go, is just a part of being parents.
But why do we do it?
Why do we, the partners, agree to leave all that is familiar, including the support of family and relationships we have built over years? For me it’s as if the world is calling, inviting me to know it better, to see its beauty from a different perspective. I felt compelled to visit not only as a tourist but to live abroad and learn from people who handle daily life differently.
In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, there is a song about the middle daughter, Hodel, who falls in love with a man who is moving to Siberia. She leaves her family, traveling a great distance to be with the man she loves, and breaks her father’s heart.
I so relate to that song, to traveling “Far From the Home I Love”.
Like Hodel, I was once happy living in my own country, the United States, happy to travel and then come home again. However, maybe due to living overseas with my parents at a young age, I had a longing to experience other cultures more deeply.
Hodel moved abroad for love, and in some ways, so did I.
However, I didn’t follow my husband blindly. I think we followed each other. He had traveled abroad extensively with his work and study, but he hadn’t lived abroad until we got together. I initiated our move to Latin America; he was open, and we found a way to make it work.
Then when he began traveling to Switzerland regularly, we began to think about moving to Europe. He let his boss know he was interested, and here we are. We share a love of exploring the world which is one of the reasons we are together and why we are living away from our home country. It is a wild ride. Like love, it can be grand, difficult, exciting, rife with possibility, and risky.
It means leaving loved ones behind, who may or may not understand. In the end, we followed our hearts.
And then we began again, working to create new friendships, with locals and other foreigners.
There is a certain irony to the fact that you often make friends with others on international assignments because you have so much in common. They sometimes get transferred elsewhere and leave you just as you left your loved ones before.
“My husband doesn’t seem to understand what I go through when our friends move away. He has a good work environment and his team is relatively stable, so there is a consistency with his everyday world that is not there in mine. We live in such a transient city, so many people have come and gone”.
“I was lucky when we moved here; I found Jennifer. She was my go-to girl for everything. She lived in our building, we had family dinners together, I traveled with her, she would watch our children if we left. I was devastated. She was my second go-to girl that left. And Will was like, “Come on, people move, Lynda.”
“Yeah, people move! But when I was stuck out on the balcony because my daughter locked me out on the second floor in winter, who rescued me? Jennifer! That’s what I miss. When my husband had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital at 4 am, I called Jennifer, because I thought my husband was dying. She was there in a second. She was with me. She wasn’t a friend; she was my family. I loved her”.
“When she was leaving, I was helping her get organized and pack, but the day she left I thought, I can’t even look at her. It was heart wrenching in a way that I think my husband will never understand. She was so important in our lives, in such a deep way. Especially when we don’t have our family around—our friends become our family”.
And then, sometimes they leave. And hearts break—ours this time. It’s the risk of falling in love.
“Living here— wanting to dive into all of the intricacies of the country—knowing as much as I can and really feeling smitten with my surroundings and the environment, was like falling in love with someone. And now that I’ve fallen in love and I know this person and am more comfortable—leaving would feel like such a loss to me. Really like a death”.
“Maybe as I get older I would be more at peace with leaving, but there are so many parts that I would say have become etched into the person that I am today, because of this experience. I don’t know what the perfect time would be. Maybe that decision will be had an emergency . . . she was my person, and she made for us, maybe it will never arrive”.
“While it would be nice to be able to leave and say, I’m at peace with leaving, I don’t know that I ever will be. In that same regard I don’t know that I will ever feel like this is fully my home. I’ll never feel Swiss. I wasn’t born here, but that’s OK. Switzerland is such a special place for me on so many levels. Losing it would be like losing a person”.
So now for Lynda, leaving her adopted home of Switzerland would feel like going through another deep loss.
It seems heartbreak is a part of our lives.
It can happen when we leave those we love, those who know and love us so well. It happens when we aren’t able to be with them in times of joy and sadness because we no longer live close by. It can happen again when after working to recreate our lives, bringing new people into our inner circle—they leave, or perhaps we are the ones who are reassigned to another location.
But maybe heartbreak has much to teach us.
It creates space within us that we long to fill.
In time, we do fill it and become stronger for it. I know it took me a while to find my tribe here in Basel. Along the way, I felt afraid and vulnerable. There were days that I thought I would never fit in, never feel comfortable. People didn’t seem interested in me or in my friendship. But I persevered, and now can say that I have more strong relationships than I have ever had before.
I think we become, more humble, compassionate, perhaps kinder and wiser. I can better understand others’ loneliness and heartache. This kind of wisdom can’t be found by reading a book or taking a class, but only through life’s amazing experiences.
And so . . . knowing the hearts that would break . . . we chose this experience. Broken hearts are part of living fully and deeply, and that is the life we choose—this crazy adventure moving around on this amazing planet, complete with pain and tremendous joy. Most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.
We are grateful to Rylla for her ongoing support of the BCT. Rylla is the co-author of the book The Trailing Spouse Reimagined which shares the stories of those who have recreated themselves after moving to Switzerland. Rylla also writes on Substack and offers yoga, mindfulness and mindful counselling in the Basel Area. For more information, you can visit her website.