As a Third Culture Kid, I see the world in a very different light to other, more ground-loving people. I’m a child of the sky. I love airplanes, love to fly, and love those 6+ hours in the air as I embark upon a transcontinental journey to a distant land. It’s blissful, freeing, and it gives me the sense that when I touch down and cross through that airport on the other side, I’ll be somewhere that isn’t the place I’m accustomed to. There’s so much excitement in those moments, going through immigrations, getting your bag, walking through customs, and then walking out into a sea of excited faces, of people waiting for those they love to step back into the country and back into their lives.
The arrivals terminal in any airport really is the happiest place in all the world. You’re never standing, waiting for someone and all of a sudden a nice big man comes charging forward and punches someone right in the face as they come through the gate. You only get the smiles, the little children sprinting at full speed towards their mother or father, the young couples finally reunited after however long they have been apart. It’s so beautiful, so perfect in every single way. And I know this because I’m a traveller, a Third Culture Kid that has walked through that gate countless hundreds of times. I’ve seen it first hand, from being reunited with family to being reunited with the woman of my dreams.
Like I said before, as a TCK, I see the world through a different lens to most. It’s small. Very small. So small in fact I can get to the other side of it in less than 24 hours. It’s so insignificantly small, in fact, that when I dated a girl 4,500 miles away from where I was living, it wasn’t the distance that bothered me, just the fact that I didn’t get to lie down next to her at night to go to sleep. To me, distance isn’t an issue. It never should be. I’m a global nomad, and I plan to stay that way. I will always be pushed and pulled around this planet, jumping from A to B, B to C, C to D, all the way down the line until I have to start using chinese characters instead of letters. It’s just the way I am.
So to me, that taboo of a long distance relationship, or LDR as I hear it called all to often when I’m in one, isn’t so much of a taboo. Instead, I think it’s the greatest test, the strongest evidence of whether or not you as a couple can stand to be together. If you can look at a LDR and think “I don’t care how far apart we are, nothing will ever stop me being beside you,” then you’ve got the makings of something spectacular. It’s that crucial flaw, one I’m guilty of and will never do again, of thinking: “I’ll see her in a month,” or “It’s only for another year,” that brings it all crashing down. The second you let that little idea crawl into your mind, you’re doomed.
The thing is, to a TCK, I don’t think a long distance relationship is that big of a deal. So many of our relationships are long distance, with networks of TCK friends scattered all over the world. It’s true, we are incredible at cutting people out of our lives when we move, of letting go of the past and starting again, but there’s always that network in the life of an adult TCK that never dies, that never fades, that’s always there despite how little you talk to them or how little you stay up-to-date on each-others lives. And so in a way, we are built to survive the distance.
The hard part is in realizing that not everyone else is. As wonderful as it would be for TCKs to find and marry other TCKs, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve met thousands and thousands of people in the past six years, four and a half spent at university and one and a half in the adult world, and I can safely say that of those thousands, I’ve met no more than three TCKs. Three. That’s it. So the idea that we are going to stumble across a person we find captivating, beautiful, interesting, clever, and sexy who is a TCK just like us is slim to none.
So instead, we look for people that have characteristics of TCKs, ones that enjoy similar things. We hunt for the people that say things like “I’d love to live a life where I travel from place to place all the time,” or “I’ve never really had much of a family anyhow.” We look for people who are like us, slightly damaged and ready to live their life to the fullest by experiencing everything their is to experience.
The problem is, they aren’t TCKs. I have done this time and time again, looked for that girl that wants all those things. I thought I’d found her once, beautiful, smart, funny, gave me chills just looking at her. She wanted to travel, to see the world, to be brave and explore and never worry about anything else. And so we gave it a shot, with a 4,500 mile gap that to me meant nothing but to her meant everything. I saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice, and so I would say those words that I knew, even then, were the words that called heartbreak up from the pits of hell. I said “we’ll see each other in a month,” and “we will get you out here soon, I promise.” I sang empty promises across the Atlantic Ocean, and in the end, heartbreak heard me calling and came to settle its score.
The truth is, as TCKs we will always be looking for someone to love, to build a family that we’ve never had and one that’s so unlike all the ones we know. We will look for like-minded thinkers, first culture kids who want what we want. But in the end, we must always remember that they are not like us. They do not see the world through the same lens that we do. They do not bear the weight of three, or four, or ten different cultures. They will never be as comfortable with distance and loss as we are. They will never stare heartbreak in the eyes, and say “you can hurt me all you want, but I will keep looking for her.” So remember, no matter how hard you try, do not believe that they see the world just as you do. Because the truth is:
They will never be Third Culture Kids.
Post by: James R. Mitchener
I’m just going to respond to your response on this one because it covers it all so well. Like you, I’m have no problem trying anything, I refuse to think something is doomed from the beginning. The problem is that very few people are willing to take that same sort of a risk, especially when it involves the dreaded LDR. I’ve never understood the extreme aversion to them. Of course, they aren’t ideal but they aren’t as horrific as people make them out to be either, at least in my book. I think you make a great point with saying that once you starting thinking “its only for a month” etc etc that it dooms it in a way because people get too hung up on that sentiment.
I’m Darja, by the way. German-born, grew up mostly in the Philippines, US, and a bit in Germany. Now living in Canada, at least for 8 more months then its off to somewhere new 🙂
Hi Darja, nice to meet you. I’m James. England-born, grew up in France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Bangkok, England, and the USA. Now I live in Texas, but am trying to escape. But then, you already knew that!
All the same, am absolute pleasure to digitally meet you.
Ach, I hate this post and yet I love it for so accurately encapsulating what I’m struggling with. Found this while trying to ask Google for LDR answer (ha!) Currently dating a FCK long distance for the last year with no end in sight thanks to grad school and US immigration nonsense.
Bev here. Nigerian, raised in the UK, moved back to Nigeria, high school through law school in the States (N. Virginia, Boston, DC), Ethiopia, Kenya (currently), moving to Senegal next month. Sigh. haha
Hey Bev, wow you ended up way in the past on this collection! Took me a long time of scrolling to reach this post to respond. Phew. Welcome to TCK Life! I wish I could tell you I have a solution the LDR issue so many of us face, but unfortunately, I do not. The challenges are that right now the world is set up in a way that isn’t very friendly to those of us that are global nomads. Immigration everywhere is a nightmare, and solving that problem is one that requires a commitment that most TCKs aren’t read to commit to so quickly. All I can say is do what feels right. That’s all there is to it. You’re a TCK and you know more about the world than most. If there’s a solution to be had, you’ll find it. It’s what we do.