Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
I’ve written to you before, but it was silly and trivial matters when I think about it now. Honestly, I am a bit ashamed that I wasted your time. It’s a few years later and I’ve reached this point where I can’t seem to make sense of anything in my life. What I really need is the perspective of an outsider, a person with a lot more life experience under their belt, and someone from my own (North American) culture.
Over three years ago, I moved to a farm in a very rural part of a Scandinavian country. This country is truly amazing. Life is safe, it is simpler, the benefits are amazing. The people are closed, but nonetheless it is a nation where everybody is honestly a good soul. I absolutely love my job — it is way better to do this job here than back home. Most important, my partner is the kind of person that I think every human should hope to be. I moved here to support his dreams of eventually taking over his family’s farm because I knew it ran deep in his soul. My hopes and dreams for the future could be moved anywhere. I could picture raising a family on a farm, with his parents across the lawn and an amazing social safety net. So I gambled and took a leap of faith.
I’d made decisions before that I knew I would regret sooner or later, but this didn’t feel like that at all. In fact, when I left home I felt like I had filled in a piece of my life that I didn’t know was missing. Then I spent the first few years on this farm learning the language, and generally surviving. During that time, my partner was still spending half his time working at sea because his father, who was running the farm, hadn’t reached retirement age yet. The long, dark winters were tough. I tried a lot of new things, and even things that I was never really into at home hoping to get to become more settled. But it didn’t help me find any true friends. I’ve gotten to know everybody better, but as for a real and true girlfriends like any I’ve had at home — it simply hasn’t happened. There is no chemistry with all the farmers’ wives, we just don’t have enough in common. Nobody here in this tiny valley is interested in the same sporty, active things as me. And they are all busy raising their families. As for us, we haven’t started our family yet because … I am so lonely here that I can’t fathom spending a year on the farm, alone, nursing a baby. I need the social interaction my job provides to keep me going. But my work is a 45-minute drive away in the closest town.
Social interaction here is a big problem. My partner doesn’t notice because he and all the other men around here are busy all hours of the day and every day of the week running their farms. Not to mention, he grew up here and is totally fine with the occasional outing every three months. Otherwise, social gatherings are usually tied into communal work activities, or the few yearly events that are celebrated locally. Or there are the numerous committees to be a part of (again, all work/farm/community related). Basically if I want to interact with the locals here it has to be on a project. All work and no play.
Also, all the women around here have mentioned that you really do have to enjoy doing things on your own in this village. Residents in this traditional, rustic valley are extremely independent. I go for bike rides, horse rides, walks, cross-country skiing, do yoga. All on my own. I am so depressed by doing pretty much everything by myself. It makes me sad that I can’t share my life with other people here without having to serve the community. And after three years, I don’t really see anything changing in the future. I can picture myself pushing a pram in the winter on the roads here, alone, because there are usually only four or five mothers in the local baby group that is spread out over a 45-minute radius that I am not in the middle of. Recently I’ve finally accepted that if I am going to have any friends that I have anything in common with, they are going to be at least a half hour drive away. Any activities that I enjoyed at home are going to be in town, even further away … I do have one friend in this village. I’ve known her for five years now, but we’ve never gotten close like I know a good and true girl friendship can be. We go on dog walks when she has time. (So I’m not totally alone.)
If someone described the most important things in life, I have them. I love my partner more and more every day — I cannot imagine a better person to have in my life. I have a job that makes my soul smile. And we own this beautiful, historic farm. I’ve been looking forward to renovating the farmhouse and using all the incredible antiques to furnish it since we moved here. This country has the most generous social benefits in the world, and its financial future is secure. Oh yeah, I’ve got a horse! These are all the things I’ve dreamed about. I should be so happy to have all these blessings in my life. But instead I am soul-crushingly miserable … My day-to-day life is hollow and empty, even if all the important boxes in life are ticked. I miss having anything that even remotely resembles the life I had before, and especially my culture (no matter how messed up it is).
I have made the decision to move back home so many times in the past three and a half years and then changed my mind. I so badly want this to work here that I keep hanging on. I keep thinking that maybe I’ll turn a corner and suddenly life on this farm will be rewarding and worth all the struggles. But on the flight back from a visit home this summer I was overwhelmed by this feeling of “I just can’t do this anymore,” and this feeling keeps coming back no matter how many times I convince myself that life on this farm is going to be OK. Sadly, I have nothing to go back to anymore, really. My partner and I have always tacitly agreed that if things didn’t work out here then I was going back on my own. He can’t leave over 250 years of family history for someone he’s loved for five years … So I have to walk away from a person I love. Professionally it will take a few years to get a job and have a stable income, plus it is a lot harder with less financial reward. I must mention also that I’m at the tail end of my baby-making years so I feel like I am giving up my dream of having a family by leaving. My friends have all moved on in their lives now and are busy with families of their own. I know I won’t be going back to the same place that I left. That’s just what happens when you move away … Can I mention that it also feels like North America is going to hell in a hand basket? Politics. GMOs. Fracking. Banking. I’m running away from “the dream” to what seems like just different struggle. Surely having a rewarding job, friends, and activities 45 minutes away, plus the love of my life can be enough here? Am I crazy because I have an exit strategy completely planned and the only thing missing is the momentum to go through with it?
Do you know what the dickens is going on here?
Sick of the Dream Life
Dear Sick of the Dream Life,
I think what is going on here is that you are about to throw away an amazing life merely because you have hit a rough spot. Don’t throw away your life. Instead, fix what’s not working.
If social life revolves around community and work and service, then adjust. Throw yourself into the kind of activities that will provide you with a social life.
You have something amazing right here and the fact that you are not happy about it does not mean you should abandon it. Rather, it means you have to truly commit to it — on its terms. I suspect that you are expecting the feeling of belong to come, and then, once you feel you belong, you will decide to stay. But that’s backwards. You won’t belong until you’ve decided to stay. Begin truly living in this place and the feeling of belonging will follow, because it will be a fact. Once you’ve committed to staying, then you will belong, and the feeling of belonging, a feeling you desire to have, will arise because you actually belong.
Begin this project you speak of, renovating the farm house. Get pregnant and have children. Raise them. Join the other women who are mothers. Become a part of the life by participating. When you have that feeling of not connecting, remind yourself that the feeling of not connecting is different from the fact of not being connected. If you connect, you will be connected. Your feelings will fluctuate, but you will know you are connected even in those moments when your acute sense of it wavers.
In short, in a purely practical vein, I ask, why destroy this remarkable and lucky situation? Instead, rescue it from your own dream of destroying it. Build on it. Make it work. That feeling of belonging that you crave will come. It will slowly take root in your heart.
Five years is not enough time. Try 20 years. Try a lifetime.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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