TCKDating

Third Culture Kid Dating; adults who have spent their developmental years outside their parent's culture


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When I finally settled down in a city, how did I work on building sustainable relationships?

In my previous post, I mentioned an article by Bill Drake about how adult Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have less problem-solving skills in relationships and friendships than other adults. He explains that the reason for this is that they move so often that they don’t need to resolve issues that come up within their relationships. They simply move on to the next city and make new friends, rather than working on those older relationships.

Although I was surprised by this statement at first, I then realized it was true, at least for me as a TCK.   When I moved to London for my first job out of uni, I made the conscious decision to change.  I had to start working on my relationships here as I knew I would be sticking around for a while!  I had to build more sustainable relationships.

After two years in London, when I noticed I was pulling away from one of my close friends, I had to figure out why I was doing this.  On the one hand, I had spent amazing moments and times with this friend: dinners out, late cocktails on Friday nights, chatty coffee breaks at work, and endless conversations on life, career, friends and love.  The problem: I was bored.  I didn’t feel that same level of excitement I had at the beginning. I was annoyed by some of the little things she did.  I didn’t feel like working on the relationship either.  I simply wanted to drop her and make new friends. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s what I had done repetitively throughout my life as a Third Culture Kid, and over that time, it was not always by choice. It’s all I knew.

I had reached that two-year point, and normally at this stage I would have moved cities and therefore built new friendships and met plenty of new people. Meeting new people gives you that adrenaline rush. That flavor of excitement.  That feeling of getting out there, reaching out to people, charming them to make them like you.  And it’s just not the same as keeping an old friend.

She felt it. That I was pulling away.  For some reason, she knew and expected it too. Probably because I had mentioned this sort of situation in the past when moving from city to city.  She called me out on it and told me that I meant a lot to her and that I wasn’t going to throw her away.  This made me face the reality of it. I couldn’t constantly be throwing away friends when I got bored.  I needed to work on my friendships, build that spark back into it.  Plan fun and exciting nights out over gin and tonics in Shoreditch.  Leave our routine, and get out there to meet new people. Go out again to house parties with her and flirt with the cute guys we met. Make up ridiculous stories to the ones who were drunk and annoying us.  And funnily enough, when we did that, I didn’t feel bored anymore.  That relationship is stronger today because I have been through more with her. It’s more interesting. It’s built on past experience. It’s built on memories. It’s built on stories she knows about me. It’s built on holidays away together. It’s built on hour-long conversations about that wonderful first date we had with a guy met on Plenty of Fish.  It’s built on more glasses of red wine than I’d like to count.

I know this is going to be a constant challenge for me. Not to get bored. Or more importantly, when I get bored, to work on a relationship. To fight to bring back that spark. To shake things up.  Not to throw away the old and look for the new.  To build.

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As Third Culture Kids, do we struggle to solve problems in our relationships?

After reading an article by Bill Drake on cosmopolitan blog The International Man, I thought about what he said: “Third Culture Kids often seem to lack problem solving skills in their personal relationships since many have moved frequently and learned to leave a problem behind rather than deal with it”.  I was upset when I first read this, thinking, come on, that’s not true! It’s too easy to say that just because we moved around every couple of years, as adults, we were more likely to ignore a problem then solve it because we never had to resolve issues in our relationships as kids.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I started to realise that I did find it difficult to care enough to resolve an issue with a friend. I had never had to resolve issues with friends before because I always knew that there was an expiry date to my stay in that city.  By the end of my stay, there was something bothering me about the friendship that I was in. However, rather than taking the time to solve it, I thought, what’s the point? I’m leaving anyway.

So for example when I was doing my Bachelors in Boston, I had decided to study abroad in my Junior Year.  One of my best friends who I had spent the majority of my freshman and sophomore year with had recently started dating a new guy.  She started spending all of her time with him and when she asked me to hang out, she would constantly bring him along. I would therefore feel like a third-wheel on their dinner and movie dates.  Instead of bringing up the issue I had with her, I thought, what’s the point, I will leave in 2 months’ time for Auckland, New Zealand (where I was studying abroad). It felt like too much effort. And from past experience, I knew how quickly I would make strong bonds with new friends as soon as I arrived in Auckland.  Instead of resolving the issue, I thought, I’ll make new friends in the next city.

I saw myself doing this several times in my uni years: in Boston, in Auckland, in London where I studied abroad, and Paris where I spent summers during my uni years.  I just never felt the need to improve those relationships or deal with the problems that had arisen.  When I moved to London in 2010 for my first job out of uni at Bloomberg, I made conscious decision to change this.  Find out how in my next blog post!

Paris pic


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Nope, I don’t know that TV series either!

Has this happened to you?  You’re having a conversation with your friend whose lived in one country their whole life.  They ask you if you’ve heard of this fantastic TV series that has this famous American actor and this other famous American actress in it.  They push on saying, come on it was on all the time when we would get home from school when we were teenagers.  “Nope, have no idea what you’re talking about !” It’s the truth. We don’t know that series.  And no, we don’t know that famous actress.  They are so surprised. Couple of weeks later, they ask the exact same thing about another American TV series similarly unknown to you.  You answer the same thing: “Nope, I don’t know that TV series either!”

Instead, what you do know is a very eclectic list of tv series from the countries you have lived in over the years: Germany, France, Belgium, and so on.  If you spoke to a German or French or Belgian person, you probably would end up having the exact same conversation as above because you only know one or two TV series from each of those countries as you only lived in each country for two or three years.  You missed out on all the rest, as you’d already moved to the next country!

Of course, this is not limited to TV series.  We have that mixed knowledge in music, films, history, stand up comedy, without having a thorough grasp on any.  We have breadth rather than depth in these, whether that’s a good thing or not is subjective!

What do you think?


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What makes me a Third Culture Kid?

I have a very strong American accent, which means the first question from people I meet for the first time is “Where are you from in the US?”.  My reply always seems to be the same: “actually, I’m not American. I’m half-French, half-Belgian”.  I instantly get a puzzled look from that person, and they ask me why I sound American. I explain that my Dad is French; my mom is Belgian.  Born in Tokyo, I then moved to Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, Hamburg, Boston, Auckland, and finally London.  We went to international schools with American teachers throughout, which is how my sister, my brother and I all sound like Americans!

Of course, this results in more questions: did you enjoy moving like that every couple years, where is ‘home’, how many languages can you speak, which city was your favorite, where do your parents live now and the questions keep coming!  If you have experienced the same sort of life, moving from one country to the next, you end up feeling close to many cultures without identifying fully to a single one.

It can seem strange to others, but to you it’s normal. It’s all you know.  Curious to know if there are others like me. Are you a Third Culture Kid? Where have you lived?  And how does it make you feel when others ask you questions like this?

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