Australia

My dream, my passion, my planned future is gone. And I’m not talking about my ex wife…
I’m talking about Straya. Oz. The land down under. Australia: my own personal promised land.

I have had a relationship with Australia even longer than with my ex. It started ten and a half years ago in February 2008 during my junior year of college as I set off on my first ever international trip. Seeming to follow the go big or go home mantra for trying new things (my first ever flight, the year before, was from the Midwest to Hawaii), my first international trip took me from Ohio on a 24+ hour voyage to Perth, Australia on the near exact opposite side of the globe for a study abroad semester through my college.

Sparing the details, I had an amazing time. Drank too much, studied too little, but bonded with new people over a shared experience in a new land. Started learning the basics of a new culture and widened my worldview. Probably typical of most American college students who go abroad, I came back from my time abroad in love with my host country and dying to go back. Senior year of college, while full of its own trials, tribulations, experiences, and memories, was also tinged with hints of nostalgia for Australia.

Lo and behold, lightning struck twice. Through a cultural program I participated in during study abroad, I was offered the opportunity to come back to Australia after graduation. The circumstances of my potential return seemed crazy; I would be going to a small country town in the middle of nowhere, playing Australian Rules Football with a local amateur team, and working in a grocery store on a 12 month visa. Little other details were provided other than I’d need to leave two days after graduation in order to make the timing work. Going to an academic-focused college, with friends accepting what seemed like big time, real world jobs, plus being someone who at the time was not a big risk taker, this all just seemed like a complete jump off the deep end. But I was directionless and Australia was my north star; the pull was strong.

That’s how I found myself moving out of my college apartment, unpacking and storing all my belongings in my childhood home, and re-packing two big ol rolling suitcases for a new adventure in Australia in 48 hours. Fulfilling my dream of returning almost exactly a year after I left.

I look back on the next year in Australia as one of the best in my life. It was a hugely formative experience; similar to my study abroad experience but on another level in that I was truly alone. I was a all by myself in a vast country, in a town of 2000 souls on the remote southern coast. Throughout my year I struggled with direction, finances, loneliness, and injury. But I fully immersed in a new culture. Picked up vital travel and independent living skills. Built the foundation for post-college life, beginning to put together who I was as an adult. Made countless fun memories, lived through crazy adventures and made absolute, ride-or-die friends for life along the way. I gained a deep appreciation for and understanding of Aussie culture. Their good-natured, kind-hearted, never-take-anything-too-seriously mindset resonated deeply with me and I felt home.

Needless to say, by the time my visa was running out a year later I was in no rush to leave. After six months down south, I had moved back up to Perth and had created a life for myself. I was established and, while still grinding to make ends meet, I felt settled and eager to continue exploring the city and Australian culture. I had friends, a job (several actually), a killer apartment with a balcony view of the ocean, and a new girlfriend. And while I can’t say everything was always rainbows and sunshine, my dream of living in Australia was my day to day experience. The very city I had romanticized post-study abroad was now my home! But laws are laws (let me tell you, Australia’s immigration laws are no joke) and it was time for me to go.

So for the second time in as many years, I found myself back in the American Midwest experiencing reverse culture shock and moping around wishing I was back in Australia. Except this time it was even worse because all my friends were now a year into adult careers and I was living at home with my parents, unemployed and directionless.

Fast forward several years and I had “made it”. I parlayed my limited work experience into several different gigs culminating in a good job at a tech company in Chicago. Throughout the journey from depressed unemployed kid living at home to tech-bro yuppie in the big city, Australia was always in the back of my mind. In lonely moments, I thought of my Aussie friends and all our fun memories. In tough patches at work, I thought of happy times from my Aussie jobs. In good times, I thought of my ex-girlfriend and how much I wanted to share the moment with her. Nostalgia for Australia was always right there under the surface, ready to bubble up in any quiet, undistracted moment. There was definitely a grass is always greener effect going on, but it was what it was.

Eventually these nostalgic feelings were given an outlet as communication with the old Aussie girlfriend mentioned above increased and blossomed into a real relationship. My love for Australia and Aussie culture now once again became a part of my day-to-day life. Over the next five years as my wife and I grew in our relationship, I learned more about Australia than I ever thought possible. I was also able to make three more trips to Perth to see friends and in-laws, totaling about a month and a half in total time.  I think it’s safe to say I became an honorary citizen. Or at least a cultural ambassador!

My wife and I agreed that we would end up in Australia. She could not be away from her family forever and let’s be honest, I preferred it there. Australia was the “settling down” point… when we’d have kids and buy a house and become real, live adults. While we wrangled over exact time frames, I was content that that my future was Aussie. The move was my goal post; everything I did at work and in my career was aimed at acquiring the necessary skills and job title that would make getting work in Australia feasible. Visa and immigration costs, as well as the general cost of starting from scratch in a different country, were never far from my mind and the chief savings goal (not a house, car, or retirement, to my later chagrin).

Then came the split. Relationship over. Dream destroyed. Future clouded. Due to restrictive immigration laws, it is impossible for me to immigrate to Australia without a “partner visa”. My nearly ten year involvement with the promised land was over. We were no more than 1-2 years away from making the move.

Over the past year I’ve grappled first and foremost with the sudden loss of my partner and best friend, my ex-wife, as detailed periodically in this blog. But I’ve also had to contend with the fact that the door on Australia has also shut, and that’s been a tough pill to swallow. In retrospect it’s a bit humorous but I’ve had to follow the same getting-out-of-a-relationship tropes with Australia, like unfollowing all Perth and Australia-centered Instagram accounts, taking down Australia related pictures and art from my apartment, and removing checking Perth news outlets online from my morning routine.

As with the break-up with my ex, the past year has brought some closure on my break-up with Australia. Or if not closure, acceptance. I am lucky to have made friends with some incredible people. I’m a better person for the cross-cultural experiences. And I’ll always still have Australian Rules Football 🙂

Day 364

If you really want to go down a rabbit hole with me, check out my old combined post-grad and study abroad Australia blog here

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Piano Face

Seven months after the fact

I still occasionally crack.

The tears well up in their usual place,

Remembering her delicate face.

My heart used to thump when I saw it:

When she played piano

When she was freshly showered

When she puttered around in her pajamas

When she concentrated hard on a puzzle.

Now I can barely remember her smile…

But that delicate face used to make me melt,

And it’s all I see as the tears are falling.

I don’t know why they continue to come calling.

I think it’s because she made my heart grow larger than it had ever been

And now all that extra space is empty, and I can’t say when it’ll be filled again.

Day 219

I’m in a Rut

I am functional and focused on moving on. I am doing all the right things; I’m focused on me and working to develop friendships and hobbies. I’m putting thought into who I am and who I want to be. For the most part I’m enjoying life and the newfound sense of freedom. I’m definitely on the road to recovery.

But at the same time, I’m in a rut. I come home from hanging out with friends and I’m lonely. I see other friends having fun on social media without me and I get depressed; why didn’t they think of me (although I didn’t text them either)? I have dreams where my ex comes back to me and in the dream, I’m happy. These dreams worm their way into my brain as seeds of hope for us. This woman dashed my hopes and dreams, rejected my love and commitment, and yet there is a piece of my brain that holds on to her. That assumes we’re just on a break and she’ll be coming back. It simmers under the surface, bubbles to the top when my mind is blank or I’m day dreaming.

Having these feelings makes me exasperated… makes me feel like I’m not moving on fast enough. There is no logical reason to hold out any hope for her after what she did, but it’s still there deep down inside despite my best efforts. I assume it will go away with time, but I don’t like it.

Day 200
(wow)

The Anger Stage

I supported you financially for five years. I paid all all rent, all bills, and a decidedly large chunk of your classes and courses. I worked full time, you part time and then only occasionally because getting your dream careers started took time. You sometimes contributed for groceries but then would get upset about not having any money and I would reassure you that I could cover them, that you should save. I worked continuously so you could pursue your passions.
–You said you needed someone more generous at heart.

Fuck you.

I supported you emotionally when all your schemes and projects failed. I invested all of my emotional energies into being your shoulder to cry on, and your therapist. I spent countless hours consoling you and doing my best to help you gain confidence and meaning. I stayed up late, got up early, did everything I could to help you feel good. I wanted to pull my hair out at times but more than anything I wanted you to be happy.
–You said you needed someone more kind.

Fuck you.

We got into fights in the early days because our personalities were so different and we dealt with conflict in different ways. But over the years I changed my entire worldview, my inner personality, and my outlook on life to better understand you and be aligned with you.
–You said you needed someone who was more like you.

Fuck you.

When you started doubting us, I asked you about our wedding vows. I asked how you could have stood before me and your family and read wedding vows, since you were claiming to have never felt 100% sure of us. Didn’t you take those seriously? I did!
–You said, “to be honest I don’t think I really believed the vows myself at the time”.

Fuck you.

We were in love for five years. You were my everything. Bringing you joy and happiness was my #1 goal, and became my chief hobby. I lost myself in you. I gave you everything I had and still had more to give if only I was given the chance.
–You gave up on us three weeks after first telling me you were having doubts. You didn’t do me the courtesy of even trying; you never got around to scheduling that couples therapy appointment…

The last time we saw each other, to sign the divorce papers, I had prepared some things to say. I knew this was the ultimate moment, the climax of all our time together, of our entire shared life, and that we would never see each other again. I wanted to make sure I expressed to you what you had meant to me, what you were leaving behind, and how what you were doing made me feel. I knew if I didn’t think things through ahead of time and write them down, I would fail to speak clearly and regret it. Reading these final words to you was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, and by far the saddest.
–While I sobbed through the words you also cried softly, but you said nothing. After ending our five year relationship you had nothing to say. You came prepared with nothing to tell me, no closure to offer. You told me you’d write me a letter, that would explain everything and give me more information on the decision you made. You said you’d write my parents one too. Six months later the only thing that’s been written is this blog, by me.

You’re a shitty person. It’s too bad I have so many fond memories with you, because I am becoming decidedly less fond OF you.

Fuck you Annabelle.

Day 179

On Dating: When is it Time?

When is time to start dating? What is the temporal milestone that should be passed after a heart-breaking split? What is the emotional waypoint in your recovery that should first be reached? There is so much that can go wrong with dating if you’re not ready… things like inauthentically falling in love with the first person who likes you back, not being emotionally available to someone who develops feelings for you, being TOO emotional with someone who doesn’t really care, etc

Knowing when it’s time, and if I’m ready, is something I’m struggling with lately. I have learned from my past relationship that I enjoy life best when sharing it with someone else. I want to have a partner again to share life with; the rushes of excitement, the mundane details… the highs, the lows, the good the bad. But at the same time I don’t know if I’m ready yet. I don’t find myself attracted to many women right now, and I can’t imagine being intimate with anyone. It’s not out of any lingering attachment to my ex–that ship has thoroughly sailed–but there’s something holding me back, telling me it’s not time yet. I don’t really even know what I’m looking for, or how to know when I find it!

But I worry that it’s simply the overwhelming newness of dating, the unknown of it, rather than a legitimate emotional reason. After all, even though I am now 31 I haven’t ever really dated as an adult. I wonder if I’m holding back just because of the “unknown” factor, and I’m missing out on chances at finding someone as a result.

But at the same time dating just seems like a lot of… work. Lots of effort and energy put into a process that isn’t guaranteed to return a result. And at the moment I’ve gotten to a place where I’m finally starting to enjoy life a bit; nurturing some friendships, developing some hobbies. Why rush back in?

To date or not to date, this is the question and this is where I need your help. When did you start dating again after your bad break up, and how did it go?
What advice do you have for me, oh all-knowing blogosphere?

Day 166

Sunday Musings

What is happiness without sadness?

What is joy without pain?

What is success without failure?

What is day without night?

What is a really tasty, freshly glazed donut straight from the fryer without the prepackaged, stale, powdered sugar kind?

None of the former can be appreciated without an experience of the former. You gotta have experienced the bad to recognize the good, and to know what it is that makes the good worth enjoying.

What is my future life and relationship without this current period of sadness and change?


A quote from Netflix documentary Last Chance U in which Blues musician Jimmy “Duck” Holmes talks about the gradual decline of the town of Clarksdale, MS:

It is what it is, man.
And that’s LIFE, period: it IS what it is.
And once you get past it, it was what it was… but now it is what it is.

I think you have to watch the episode for the full gravity and context of the statement. I’m not sure what it means to me specifically, but it struck a chord. I think it has to do with an acceptance of life, of the things that have happened and the way things are… one day those things won’t matter anymore, but now they do matter and that’s okay. But accept them. Acknowledge the things you can’t change. Roll with the punches. Deal with it. Rise, rinse & repeat.

Day 143.

Moving on is a Bitch Pt 2

Expanding on yesterday’s poem, I’ve hit a snag in my recovery.

Things had been going pretty well, I was going weeks at a time without crying and I was excited about the future. It seemed that the past was in the past and there was nothing but a blue-skied future ahead. However, the past few weeks have seen a reversion back into melancholy and sadness. Memories of her and times we shared together are bubbling to the surface with their old regularity, accompanied by daily watery eyes.

I was shocked to catch myself thinking if she came back, I would accept her and still love her. That’s crazy talk! We’re DIVORCED… she ain’t coming back and I know it.

What happened? Have I gone backwards?

In the immediate aftermath of the split, there was nothing but pain, loss, confusion… the raw emotions the come from from having your partner of many years, the object of your devotion, suddenly end things. Every little thing was a trigger for sadness and I couldn’t even keep it together through the morning bike commute to work.

Then, after a few weeks, the pain morphed into action. There were divorce steps to organize, a project to work on. Grocery shopping and weekly dinners were something to figure out, another challenge. All the chores we used to split, like laundry, were now back on my plate and had to be slotted in. Everything old became new again; fresh challenges were tackled, new routines and habits were figured out, new freedoms were discovered. I spent time thinking about who I am, what makes me me, and what I’ll look for in my future partner. The silver lining started to materialize. Looking back, this was around when I wrote Movement.

That period took me into the holidays, which despite some trepidation about being alone for this festive time, were a welcome distraction. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks back in the midwest over both Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years. Being removed from Portland, back in familiar surroundings with family and friends, was enjoyable and for the most part made me feel happy and supported.

This momentum continued on through my return to home in January. I even returned to the therapist, not to get help moving on but to talk through my desire to start dating and how to approach it. But then, a few weeks ago, I found myself back in the sad state of mind. The sheen of my new life suddenly wore off: I am alone. Reality has set in… all the time, the years, spent getting to know her have been for naught. Finding someone new will be just as long of a journey, not something that will happen overnight. I desire a life partner, but it will take years to get there with someone. In other words, I’m going to be alone for a long time. This dose of reality is what brought me back to Earth, and likely is what has my brain serving up fond memories of the past, wishfully hoping I’ll make some attempt to regain that past relationship.

I know I’m going to be okay. I know I just need to keep continuing forward and this pain will subside, that this is just a phase. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t suck any less than it did on day 1.

Day 121