Am I Undateable?

TCKLoveAm I Undateable? 

A Third Culture Kids Reflects on Love and Dating 

By Olivia Charlet 

Global Living Magazine – Issue 16 | Jan/Feb 2015

Born in Tokyo. Lived in Düsseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna and Hamburg (all before the age of 18). My parents are French. And Belgian.

This is the kind of profile you hear all the time from Third Culture Kids – all that varies are the countries and nationalities that they belong to (or don’t, as the case may be). With a combination like that, how can you expect to find someone who will understand you, with whom you’ll be able to connect on a deeper level? How can you truly fit in with the locals when you’ve never been a local yourself?

I’ve been asking myself that very question since I was a teenager. As a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, I’ve picked up customs from all over the place. My French side learned to love eating snails and steak tartare (which, for those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, is raw minced beef mixed with raw egg yolk, onions, mustard, pepper and salt). My mouth still waters at the smell of pungent Pont l’Eveque cheese. When my brother and I reminisce about our time in Johannesburg, we always come back to the Millipop, a cornmeal dish, often served with marinara sauce, that our nanny would make. But culture is more than just culinary – there are the character traits, too.

My personality is a mixture of influences – on one side are my mother’s Belgian roots; she’s known to be discrete and never likes to impose, and part of me reflects those attributes today as an adult. On the other side are entirely different traits, taken from the American International Schools my siblings and I attended: I’m outspoken, and will happily voice my opinion when I feel strongly about a topic. In Johannesburg, I learned to play soccer – not in a girls-only after-school club, but outside with the boys. I continued to play in a Women’s League in Vienna and Hamburg, and had to quickly learn how to speak German to be able to communicate with the coach and other players, who didn’t speak English. There were many nights when I’d come home from practice thinking how hard this was. Why couldn’t it be easy? Why couldn’t they adapt to me instead? Why did I always have to make the effort to adjust to new customs? But these difficult experiences of adjustment also made me the fighter that I am today. For better or worse, all these various exposures have a part to play in who I am.

As an adult TCK, I’ve enjoyed dating, but when it came to settling in with someone, I would constantly think: “I’m not being understood.” “They don’t get me.” And several months later, feeling bored and restless, I would leave. I got tired, over the years, of having to adapt and accommodate for what would be seen as ‘normal’. For me, being ‘normal’ meant being different.

And it’s not just the lack of cultural homogeny that can roadblock your romantic aspirations as a TCK; the rhythm of life you’re used to can play a role as well. If all you’ve ever known is moving, attending international schools where friends pick up and leave from one day to the next – where every couple of years you have to say goodbye to your home, your teachers, your classmates – eventually, it can start to feel like leaving is an inevitable part of life. You don’t have a choice; it’s not your decision to make, and it’s out of your control as a child. Therefore, it’s hard to assume once you’ve finally settled down somewhere as an adult in your 20s or 30s that people will actually stick around. That when you start dating someone, they won’t walk away in a year’s time. You’re so accustomed to leaving people (and people leaving you) that you no longer have faith that the people you know will stay in your life. How can you be ready to fall in love when on some level you’re always gearing up for the next goodbye? That, it seems, is yet to be determined.

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