The seventh anniversary is rumored to be a rough one, when a marriage hits its make-it-or-break-it year. Yet my husband and I are going on nine years this summer, and I'm happy to say, our seventh anniversary came and went with no upheaval at all, during the delicious summer of le Petit's first birthday, when our life as a family of three was finally settling into a recognizable routine. Seven years, big deal, I thought. Now another seven year anniversary is coming up for me, and it looks like it may be harder than I expected.
This summer will be my seventh living in France, and recently I've been experiencing something between a mild malaise and chronic homesickness. I can and do list the things that I appreciate about living here, starting (and gratefully) with affordable health care, generously subsidized child care, and flexible family leave, and ending more frivolously with I-won't-admit-how-many-weeks-of-vacation and real cheese. But more and more, it sounds like I'm trying too hard to convince myself. I could come up with just as tempting a list of advantages from the other side, but I don't dare.
What am I doing here, I wonder. Is it what I dreamed or even what I expected? I already knew that life in Paris isn't as glamorous as I'd initially imagined. I don't know what I'd imagined, really, seven years ago. Shopping for clothing in confidential boutiques, spending my afternoons wandering museums or strolling along the Seine, writing my memoir from some sidewalk café? Maybe not. I don't think I was ever so stupid as to think my life would completely adhere to a stereotype of Paris, however alluring. I did genuinely think, however, that workaday life would be more seen from over here. Even life as a software engineer would somehow magically become exotic.
It was no big surprise, then, that I was wrong. I figured that much out three years into the experiment, got in touch with a pleasant reality, made peace and moved on.
What I'm feeling now is different. I think what is bothering me, though I'm not sure, is that I am suddenly aware that I've gone too far down this road to turn back easily. Even though I met my husband in the US, and even though I instigated our move to France, I doubt I could convince him now to move back. I'm not sure I would want to move back myself. But I fear a door is slamming shut for good, and I honestly don't know how I feel about that.
The flip side of the sharing and growth that is part of a bi-cultural and bi-continental relationship is the loss. For years, I only saw what I've gained: a new language, a new family, a wider perspective on the world. Now I'm starting to see what I've lost: the physical presence of my own family, the familiarity of my first culture, the landscape of my childhood. No matter where we move together, either my husband or I or both of us will suffer this loss. The other loss that hides behind it is my parents': I used to shrug and laugh when asked how they must feel about my emigration half a world away. Then I became a parent myself.
Who knows where our children will find themselves when they are old enough to decide. Part of me wants le Petit to feel as American as I do, and would be thrilled if he chose to live someday in my own "back home," following the path I didn't take. Part of me wonders if I'd be ready to let him go as gracefully as my parents have let me go. I remind myself that it isn't my life he'll be living, and there won't necessarily be a choice between Seattle and Paris for him. There could very well be a point C that I haven't even imagined elsewhere on the globe.
I am aware, too, that this is a problem any number of people would give anything to have. I also know how lucky I am to have all that I need to live well either over here or over there. It's a privileged, navel-gazing, full-of-oneself expat problem. Know that I am duly ashamed.
Still, to make it over the seven-year hump I've got to do something. First, perhaps most critically, I need to make some friends. Beyond work acquaintances, I can count on only two fingers of one hand (eek!) the friends I've made since I moved here. My close relationship with my in-laws fills much of the void, but still, it isn't enough. By nature I prefer to have a few very close friends than a large network of people I can only partially relate to, but I'm afraid I've hit an unhealthy extreme. I'm not sure how to go about fixing this, alas, but the first step is admitting there's a problem, right?
[Realizing as I get ready to post this that only a real loser could be lonely and complaining about living in Paris, of all places, right?]