Tag Archives: Love

The Question I Can’t Answer

I feel that today, of all days, I must address the single issue that has plagued me with complication my entire life. As a writer, a knowledge seeker, a sharer, and an educator, I have dedicated a large portion of my life to fully understanding what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. There are just so many of us out there, all scattered around the world with such a small idea of what the gifts our upbringing have handed us along the way, and so it only made sense for me to do everything I could to help spread that understanding to anyone who wanted to know about it. It has been a difficult journey, one that has forced me to confront countless aspects of my past, my present, my future, and my highly subdued consciousness in order to become the educated TCK that I am today. But it has been rewarding, too. Because of my willingness to stare that bitterness in the eyes, I have been fortunate enough to develop a strong and consistent fan base, give advice on a personal level, and even have been asked to be the featured writer for the ThirdCultured website, creating all the ThirdCultured Blog copy targeted towards the importance of growing up a TCK.

Regardless of how much I try, though, how much I learn and understand, there is always this one tiny place in the recess of my mind that is just untouchable to my logic. It has hidden away so quietly, protected itself so well that no matter how much I try to use common sense or logic to break it down and explain its importance to the world, I find myself struggling to describe the impact it has on me as a TCK. I fit it in to these posts as often as I can, a word here or a sentence there, but the explanation never follows, and it only works to support an argument that already has enough backing to stand alone, without this tiny fragmented addition. The thing that gets me, that I hope confuses other TCKs as much as myself, is love.

I will try now, because I believe given the fact that this blog is about TCKs, but also about me as a TCK, to use my experience yesterday to explain why the topic of love confuses me to no end. I know that it plays a crucial role in the life of an Adult Third Culture Kid, that it plays a crucial role in the life of anyone, but even though I cannot explain why, I just know to my core that the way it effects a TCK is unlike the way it effects anyone else on this planet. It’s more than just love to us. It’s a gateway to something terrifying, because the entire principal of it all requires so much access to things we as TCKs have given up to be who we are.

Statistically, TCKs are the group with the oldest first-marriage rate. We don’t do it young, and we generally wait until we are in our early 30’s before jumping into the marriage game for the first time in our lives. Likewise, we are also one of the most stable marriage groups on Earth. We generally don’t get divorced, and we generally don’t want to. So far, I can explain why to all of these things. The problem comes here: If all these things are true, then what is it about us, or perhaps just me, that makes love so terrifying?

It’s time to give you the background, I suppose. It has been scattered in fragments throughout this blog, and detailed a little closer in The Illusive Home, but it’s time to put it all out on the table so that the potential for understanding is right before your eyes. I fell in love with a girl, we will call her Lara for the sake of not putting her name out into the world, the very first time I laid eyes on her. That’s not a joke, and is important to understand because like many TCKs, I’ve always been the guy that falls for people very quickly, but falls in love slowly. That tactic gives me the ability to open up enough to see their value, but close the door too if I don’t find what I’m looking for without pain or frustration. So when I first saw Lara (and this is difficult because I’ve actually known her her entire life, but went many years without seeing her until she came to visit America with my cousins well over a year ago), I had no idea what was happening. Love at first sight is such a stupid concept, a foolish one that leaves you open to so much hurt, but there it was, unavoidable and uncontrollable.

Lara felt the same. We said “I love you” after 15 days, of which we had seen each other for no more than six of those days. She left America, then came back three weeks later. We had a long distance relationship, and it really didn’t bother me except for not getting to lie down beside her at night and kiss her when I woke up in the morning. We did well, and violated every standard relationship protocol and wall that TCKs are so fantastic at creating. Then we broke up. Neither of us wanted to, but it happened. It’s complicated, and I still don’t fully understand what happened.

I spent six months and sixteen days working to get over it. I’m usually pretty good at that. A couple weeks, maybe a month of heavy drinking and spending far too much money followed by a whole lot of writing and severe depression, and then one day I wake up, anything from 3 weeks to several months later, and I feel fine. It’s just… gone, plain and simple. I still love the person, but the TCK side of me has conquered it all and cut the emotions and ties out of my life. A remarkable skill, one that I love so very dearly in times like that.

With Lara, that didn’t work.

I arrived back in England on Thursday, and we met up yesterday. My TCK side did what it always does, it put up walls and protected me. And like always, my level of perception or situational awareness or whatever you wish to call it had already mapped out exactly what would happen. We would meet, we would talk, and all those days in the recent past as my return to England grew closer and her saying she missed me and loved me got stronger would fade away, because like me, she would have protected herself. And like usual, I was right. Down to almost every minute detail, I was right.

So here’s where it all comes together. here’s where curiosity and developing a TCK understanding hits its wall. I understand how we behave, why we behave the way we do, and why we are so good at letting people go that have meant so much to us. So why, then, is it impossible for me to do so here? Why, when love comes into the equation, does it become so nearly impossible to do what we do every single day of our lives without any issue or frustration at all. I ask only because the collective minds of TCKs are just such powerful tools. I mean, I understand that to me, she was always the closest thing to home I could ever ask for. But why should that matter? I’ve never wanted a home before, and I don’t want one now. So the real question, the one I want to leave everyone with to ponder or respond to or mock me with, is this: Why when you love someone more than you ever thought possible do all the skills of cutting loose and letting go you developed in your life fail to work? What about that situation makes our unbreakable castle feel as though it was built out of Lego bricks?

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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The Itchiest of Feet

When we were young, moving was never a decision. Maybe for some, their parents sat them down and told them this was what was going to happen, asked for their opinions and said they’d take them into consideration when deciding what the next step in their lives was going to be. Mine didn’t, but I’m not excluding the possibility for other Third Culture Kids. Some families have alpha mentalities, and some have democratic mentalities. Ours was an alpha household. Decisions were made at the top, and they trickled down the caste system until they hit the bottom, which was always my brother and me. It was just the way it worked. So when it came time to move, Dad would tell Mum, then some other people would find out and be told not to say anything, and then one day we’d find out. And that was the end of that. By then, it was law, no longer a debatable bill still passing through government.

So for me, traveling was never a choice, it was a requirement. I was told when I was going to move, told that I needed to say goodbye to my friends, told I was going to start a new school in a new land, told what apartment we were moving into, told what country we would land in, told with which grandparents I would stay with while we waited, told where we going on a family holiday, and told that everything would be alright and I’d meet new people and make new friends and uncover new and exciting things. But the strangest thing about being told all of these things by my parents is that, after reading my works in The Illusive Home, my mum sat me down extremely concerned and asked me if I believed they had ruined my life in moving me to all those places. She told me she had no idea that I was adopting cultures, that I didn’t believe I had a home, that there was no country that I completely fit into. She truly believed that my experience growing up all over the planet was exactly the same as hers as she moved from place to place as an adult; it was just a long trip away from home.

What she didn’t understand was that in a way, she was right. It was a long trip away from home. But the length of the trip was infinite, a permanent trip that was like a classic science fiction story in which humanity all boards a shuttle and jettisons themselves into space, saying goodbye to the Earth as it burns up into nothing behind them. I was that shuttle. When I started my life as an international nomad, I watched as my home burned to nothing behind me. I would never be able to return to it, because everything that it was to me ceased to exist. It was nothing but shattered memories and distant echoes.

Like that shuttle full of refugees escaping the destruction of Earth, I was looking for another place full of strangers to be my home. I wasn’t looking to take over, to claim control and oppress my views. I was just looking for somewhere that I fit in, somewhere that I could safely say was mine and mine alone. The unfortunate truth of the situation is, however, that the only place that existed was in my high school in Hong Kong. At the Hong Kong International School, or HKIS, I was completely at home. I was surrounded by other TCKs, other kids that had no idea they were part of the Third Culture Kid community. We were immersed in each other, trying to do the best we could with the lives that were thrown upon us. Everyone on the outside called us lucky. They knew us as the rich white kids that came to this foreign land because we were special. But inside that community, we knew were weren’t what everyone else thought. We were something else. We were different.

With the life that was given to me, I grew. I adopted everything I could, learned how to survive to the best of my abilities. I knew that my time in Hong Kong was limited. I knew that the end would come, and I would be moving again one day to somewhere so foreign that I’d have nothing in common with anyone. I never thought it would be Texas, though; a backwards world of people so proud of a state they’ve never left. But that’s where I ended up. And so I survived. But in the time that I survived, I adopted a trait I never expected.

I got itchy feet.

Today, at 24 years old, almost 25, I sit at home and think “where can I go next?” I don’t want to stay here, I can’t stay here. Texas isn’t for me anymore, and I know that I’ve learned all that I’ll ever learn from this culture. I’ve adopted what traits it has to offer, and so I need to move on acquire new ones. But while I was in University, I was a prisoner. I couldn’t go anywhere but where I was, and so I did what little I could to satisfy the crazy. Every year, without fail, I moved apartments. I moved every single chance I got, 6 month leases, 12 month leases, it didn’t matter so long as I got to pack my things and start again somewhere else. It wasn’t the same, moving down the street, but it was enough while I was there.

Then one day, something strange happened. I met that girl you have all read about, the one that lived across the ocean, and through her I no longer wanted to move. She loved what I had, and it made me love what I had. I was proud to live in America, maybe not Texas, but I was proud to be in this country. It made me want to stay. But all the while, I still wanted to move somewhere new. And that need to move, that feeling of incredibly itchy feet, could be satisfied in one of two ways.

I could leave America, and go somewhere else. Start my life with new people in a new land and never look back, or I could move someone I loved to me. I could start my life again and see all those places I’d seen before in a new light, visit all those sights I’d seen a hundred times, but add a completely new value to each of them. I could share what it meant to grow up a TCK. I could be proud of who I am.

And that’s the curse of itchy feet. It doesn’t matter how we approach it, but a TCK is always going to want to move. One day, we’re going to feel that burning desire that we simply cannot avoid. We’re going to need to get up and go, to experience something new and unique. There was a time I believed that meant that I had to get up and go and experience an entirely new country with a completely new culture. Maybe that is still the case, maybe I will always end up back at that belief, but I’m pretty excited to see if there’s a way around it. What if all I really need is someone there to show me a different perspective? What if I just need someone to make me proud of what I have, because they’re walking me through it like I’m seeing it for the very first time?

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

Long Distance Love

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.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener