Sad Expat

21 April 2008

Expat Exes

San Jordi fills the air of spring with tidings of love and joy all over Catalunya. But what about us Expats? And what happens when things don't work out?

Its San Jordi this week, and that means that there ought to be a lot of roses, chocolates and indiscreet thinking flying around.  The Spanish don’t really celebrate this holiday, but like so many other things, they have adopted this excuse to party, drink, and sell indulgences.  I am not going to blather on about the romantic gushings of the Expat unwashed this week though.  No, I am going to talk about what happens to us foreign-set when matters of the heart go wrong, so far away from home.

A surprising number of expats in many countries become expats specifically because of love.  Or rather, come and settle into a new life abroad because they found lovers of different nationality.  Here in Spain I guess this happens a lot, if I consider how many of my expat friends came here for someone, to leave someone, or came for a short visit then met their dream partner and never left.  The sheer number of tourists both European and otherwise who come down here for a little R&R and inadvertently end up finding love, much to their consternation, must be staggering. 

Its all so romantic: getting swept off your feet by a mysterious stranger in a foreign land; discovering a truly magic bottle of Rioja together; then being tragically torn apart as you go home, only to miss them so much you proceed to exchange 600 text messages a week, 3 daily emails, and the occasional weekend flight over.  Yes, I have been there, and so too have many others.  It’s great when one or both of you compromise so much to join up and share a new life together in the most beautiful country in Europe. 

Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work out.  And equally unfortunately, I have been there too.  Splitting a relationship is always hard no matter where you live, but what is it like when your partner, with whom you have shared the Spanish experience is gone?  It’s crap, I can tell you.  Having set up here together then building up a life as a team means that once 50% of that team is out of the picture, many expats-exes discover that considerably more than 50% of your life has vapourized with them.  Why?  Initiating a new life in Spain takes a lot of courage and effort that non-expats can’t appreciate, so sharing the experience with your partner becomes a big part of the support structure to lean on when things go bad.  That being gone, many find that living here becomes unbearably alien, as if all the differences are now totally unfathomable, now that the communal and intimate shared reference point is missing.  As if you didn’t hurt enough already.

In normal conditions, a person has sympathetic friends and family they’ve known forever, plus the reassurance of familiar surroundings to turn to under break-up circumstances.  The expat-ex typically does not.  Sure you’ve made some good friends here, and Spain is definitely a great venue for partying away sadness, but often that isn’t enough.  I have been Sad Expat, and so have most of my friends.  Going home for a holiday is a good temporary measure, but it’s cheap escapism and too many expats I know came here just to get away from some failed love in the first place.  If you are serious about continued life abroad as an expat ex then it’s going to take more effort.  If stopping to smell the roses and remembering that Spain is a romantic country full of gorgeous people doesn’t work just remember the Spanish cure for all that ails the heart.  Two words: Ibiza weekend.  See you by the pool.

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