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Posts Tagged ‘restlessness’

I’ve been pondering the significance of the connections we form. People are complex. Relationships are tricky. I find myself marveling every day at how we manage to attach to others in spite of the things within and without us that cause confusion, friction, and disconnection. Our capacity for intimacy is enormous and resilient, surviving the many obstacles to being known.

This is a great comfort to me, as I have lived out many of the typical relational patterns of the TCK lifestyle. Global nomads tend to go deep quickly, making the most of the short time afforded them to form friendships and relational connections. I love meeting new people and making new friends. I’m eager to really get to know others, and find great joy in deep conversations about life experiences, beliefs, and values. At the same time, my highly mobile childhood primed me to expect that most relationships won’t last; one or both of us will leave at some point. With every new friendship that starts, I subconsciously prepare myself for the day when it will end. Thus, the connection goes only so deep: enough to feel bonded, but not enough to get too hurt when the inevitable goodbye comes.

Like many global nomads I hold things loosely, keenly aware that life could change at any moment. I don’t invest too much because I’m not certain it will last. This creates flexibility, but also produces rootlessness – a sense of not being tied down anywhere. Like TCKs before me, I found a way to survive the ongoing, inescapable loss by quickly moving onto the next person, place, or thing. Yet, I’m often plagued by restlessness, a desire for regular movement and change. At times, this pattern of alternating attachment and release can leave me feeling disconnected from life and relationships altogether.

All hope is not lost, however. My life as an adult TCK (ATCK) has taught me a few things about relationships that counteract these feelings.

First, relationships are worth fighting for. Like most TCKs, I often turned to the technique of “quick release”* in the face of conflict or anything that seemed to threaten the end of a relationship. I didn’t believe that a friendship could survive a fight or an absence. Yet, as I’ve learned more about what it takes to truly connect with another person, I’ve come to see that conflict is part of the natural flow of friendship. Two people will never agree on everything. They will hurt each other’s feelings. But this doesn’t have to be a reason to run away. Instead of a closed door to further connection, conflict can be a pathway to greater understanding, if both members are willing to stay and work it out.

Second, relationships can last. They may not look the same as they did in the beginning, but friendships have the capacity to grow and change as individuals’ lives grow and change. I clearly remember a conversation with a friend towards the end of my time in graduate school. I was preparing to leave the academic community in which I’d invested the past 3 years and I was mourning the loss of people who had become dear to me. My friend looked at me and said, “Laura, just because you’re graduating doesn’t mean we’ll stop being friends. We’ll still see each other. We’ll still talk. Our relationship isn’t over.” His words were a revelation. Prior to that, I hadn’t experienced many friendships that were maintained after I left the context in which they had formed. Yet, he was right; over these past three years, we’ve stayed connected. I don’t see him quite as often as I did when I was on campus every day, but I’m still a part of his life and he is still a part of mine.

Third, relationships have seasons. Global nomads are used to “old friends” fading into the background and new ones coming to take their place. This pattern does happen; there are times and places in which certain friendships thrive. Yet, it is also possible to maintain friendships over many years while also adding new friendships into the mix. It may be that different friendships take precedence in one’s life at different times, with some friends becoming closer after a period of separation, while others are present in particular circumstances. I’ve recently reconnected with some of my college friends after a few years’ distance. It’s been fun to reminisce about our school days and discuss current life events. I’m enjoying the way our friendship has resurfaced in this time and place in our lives.

Fourth, relationships can root us. Friendships provide a place of connection and knowing that we don’t receive elsewhere. We may not have the traditional ties to a particular place or culture, but we are rooted to all the friends we’ve made in all the places we’ve lived. We are tied to them by cords of shared memory, and we pick up those cords every time we are together. These roots stretch across time and space, and they remain, even as locations change and priorities shift.

Despite the legacy of our developmental years, we aren’t doomed to repeat the particular patterns of rootlessness and restlessness that led us away from connection and community. We have the opportunity to be intentional about forming attachments to people and places. This requires learning a new way of relating: working through conflict, reaching out, opening up, and allowing others in. It will feel strange; all new things do. Nevertheless, it is worth doing because friendship nurtured over time offers richness and depth that cannot be experienced otherwise.

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*Quick release: a relational technique in which the TCK pulls away from a relationship in advance of an approaching departure, acting as though the separation has already occurred. This can happen whether the separation is going to be temporary or permanent; often conflict can provide a way to “leave” the relationship without facing the more difficult part of working through differences. While the quick release may offer a reprieve from the short-term pain of saying goodbye, it does not relieve the more enduring grief of multiple losses. (Adapted from p.140 in Pollock, David C. & Van Reken, Ruth E. (2001) Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds Boston: Nicholas Brealy Publishing).

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