Now that I have a child I have an overwhelming desire to be closer to my family in the US: my parents, brother, niece. I feel isolated and lonely, and I did not make many close friends in the time that I’ve been here. My boyfriend works at a company that is US-based and could potentially have a job within the same company, albeit not desirable due to the fact that he would still cover the same non-US clients / region but in a US time zone. I have job prospects in the US. We have been arguing about moving back to the US: his argument is that he doesn’t understand why, with the three of us here in London, I feel the need to be close to my family in the US. He does not want to do over in the US the job he does here, and he feels that he doesn’t fit in well with the US culture.
There are many reasons for me to be happy in London: I have a good job, my son is happy and healthy, we have a comfortable lifestyle in a nice city, and my parents visit often. But I still feel something is missing. I cannot tell if it is the need to be closer to my family or if the relationship is breaking down. He is quite stressed and has a lot on his plate at work, plus caring for his mother and other commitments he has in France. I don’t know if the right solution is to force a move back to the US, since this isn’t what he wants. It seems either way one of us will be unhappy in the location we choose. — Unhappy in London
You say you feel like there’s something missing in your life, and, from what I understand, there are several things potentially missing from your life: close proximity to your family; local friendships; a life outside work and family; and possibly a lack of intimacy in your relationship (if “relationship break-down is any indication). Of these things potentially missing from your life, you can work on three of them without moving. Since moving could take a real toll on your boyfriend’s career as well as your relationship, I’d suggest focusing first on the three things you can address without moving: making some friends, getting a life, and making your relationship a priority.
Of those three, making friends is probably the one that’s trickiest. I get letters from people all the time asking how they can form friendships as an adult. Without school and the constant stream of new faces that different classes, part-time jobs, roommate’s friends, and summer internships bring, it can be tricky figuring out just where to meet potential pals.
Luckily, you have something that makes the challenge a little easier: your kid. Kids are friendship magnets. Before I had my son, I had maybe four or five friends in my neighborhood. Once I became a mom and started hanging out at playgrounds and the park and going to music class and hosting play dates, my social life really opened up. It’s ironic, really. You don’t think of parenthood as a way to jump-start a sad social life, but it totally can be. The trick is you have to be friendly, approachable, and assertive. Go out with your child, ask other parents about their children, introduce yourself, ask what else they like to do with their kids. Once you start noticing the same faces, you can swap numbers, plan play dates, etc. Eventually, while your kids play, you’ll get to know the adults. You may even suggest going out for a “mom’s night out” once or twice a month after you put your kids to bed. I do that with some of my neighborhood mom friends and it’s great. It gives us a chance to connect in a way that we can’t when we’re focused on keeping our toddlers from breaking their bones or setting our homes on fire. Plus, everyone is still so sleep-derived, we get loopy after, like, a glass and a half of wine, and that’s when the real fun starts.
Beyond making friends with other parents, you can kill two birds with one stone and start pursuing interests and hobbies outside work and family life where you will hopefully meet like-minded people who could become your friends. If you’re creative, consider taking a photography or print-making class or learn how to arrange flowers or write short fiction. You could join a softball team (do Brits play softball?), or see if there’s an American ex-pat Meetup group (start one, if there’s not) where y’all can go out and eat burgers and talk about TV.
Finally, you need to invest more in your relationship and focus on the family you live with rather than the family who’s back in the states. If your relationship continues to deteriorate and you decide to go your separate ways, how are you going to manage being a single parent and fighting for custody with a man who wants to live in a different continent than you? That sounds like way more trouble than what you’re dealing with now. So, don’t let that happen. Invest in your relationship. Hire a sitter and go out together regularly. Explore London. It’s an amazing city. Hell, explore Europe. Take a day trip to Paris. You can take a day trip to Paris! I mean, how fucking awesome is that?! Really take advantage of everything at your fingertips, appreciate what you have instead of what you don’t have, and make more an an effort to create an actual life for yourself where you are, and you’re going to find that happiness doesn’t have to elude you. There can be green grass exactly where you are — yes, even in grey London — and it isn’t necessarily any greener where you think you want to move. Search for the happiness where you are first. It’s cheaper and saner. And a lot more fun (day trip to Paris, enough said!).
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