Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The unknown expat dilemma

I've written about this before, about how hard it is to be far away from your friends and miss out on their lives. This becomes especially important when they get married and start having kids – unless they live in a country adjacent to yours to where you can get decently cheap Ryanair flights.

The sad truth of it is that I have now tiered my friends. I'm not worried about writing this and posting it in the ether because I've told them all before. Basically, I have had to be coldly rational and mentally sub-divide my friends as follows:
- People who, if they get engaged and invite me to their wedding, receive a card
- People who, if they get engaged and invite me to their wedding, receive a card and gift
- People who, if they get engaged and invite me to their wedding receive me in person at their wedding
The number of people in each category diminishes the farther you go down the list.

I haven't done this out of cruelness, but out of necessity. I'm at the age where every day brings another Facebook relationship status change to "engaged" and a subsequent "if I invite you will you come" email. And I can't go, most of the time. Airfare has gotten so expensive, and hotels are so expensive, and it's not fair to The Irishman to have to use all of his money and all of his holiday days to jet over to America for my friends' weddings.

This is coming up because one of my friends is getting married in Florida in April. She is in the bottom tier, someone whose wedding I will not miss despite only having gotten engaged 6 weeks ago thus giving me 5 weeks notice (it's okay, she's ALWAYS late). But now my challenge is to decide whether to go to the wedding for the weekend, or morph it into a week's vacation in Florida. This is definitely a "first world problem" but one that is important - to me - as I'm trying to make it to see my friends get married on the beach without breaking the bank, and get the most value out of a 10 hour flight.

This is the sad reality of expat life: weighing the pros and cons of jetlag, hotels, and baggage fees just to share your friends' big moments. It's another sad reality that I desperately wish, at moments like this, that I traveled more for work so that I had more frequent flyer miles in the bank – even though business travel, especially the up-and-down- in-and-out-in-a-day type, is absolutely exhausting. But at least I could redeem some miles for an upgrade or something.

This part of expat life is not glamorous, nor is it exciting; it is exhausting and tedious and often heartbreaking. Yet had someone actually given me this heads up before I moved abroad, I'm not sure I would have taken it seriously. It's just one of the things you have to accept with the visa, like being called love all of the time and standing in long immigration lines. 


  1. True that - this summer is the second in a row that i'm flying back for a wedding in June. I don't want to go home in JUNE!!! nothing good grows on the berry bushes in june and it's too cold to go to the beach. it's time to start my own tier system. although i'm the maid of honour in this one coming up...

  2. I'm a bit ahead of the wedding crowd, but I was abroad then too. I missed so much. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I have regrets. My daughter is 6 and this is already coming up. I took the eldest kids back to London in December to visit friends. I had to do it before school was out here, otherwise everyone in London would be on holiday. She was desperate to see her friends. She loved seeing them. But when school started she came home a little weepy because she had missed the holiday concert and party. One of the moms had made a memory book of the day, and she wasn't in it. She was sad that she missed it. Such is the secret pain of expats. Our hearts are always in two places at once.

  3. I didn't realize this would ring true for so many. @Jen, good luck with finding cheap flights and @AH I hope your daughter realizes how lucky she is to have two amazing groups of friends she will hopefully have forever. Just remember how balanced she will be! It truly is the expat issue, though. And thanks for the redo compliment :)

  4. I just came back from a trip home and I HAVE to go back again in August as my brother is getting married. Definitely first world problems.

  5. It's annoying, isnt it Melissa? You don't want to feel selfish, but at the same time you're like, that's a lot of money and vacation time I could be spending to go pretty much anywhere else in the world! But then it's your family and the guilt... Good luck finding a cheap flight - the Olympics might work in your favor!