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

Do TCKs remain detached and avoidant in adulthood?


I found the following piece written by Ruth Van Reken really powerful. I’m curious to know what other Third Culture Kids think about it…

Due to the fact that I experienced my TCK experience of moving around every couple of years in such a positive way, I never expected it to have repercussions in my adult life. I loved moving to new cities and meeting new people. And I couldn’t be happier to have met all of those students from different cultural backgrounds as it gave me an awareness of other customs. However, as Ruth’s piece explains, TCKs tend to become detached in terms of relationships.  In order to feel emotionally stable, they need to. Since classmates are constantly leaving your school and you are often months away from leaving that city yourself, you need to find a way to manage your emotions.  As a child TCK, I think you do this unconsciously. It becomes natural, second nature to you. However, what happens when you grow up? As an adult, do you still stay detached from relationships? Do you ‘not care’ and remain avoidant in terms of resolving problems?

I have realized that as a result of moving and leaving cities and schools so often that I’ve always been quite detached. Although I can form close relationships with people, I always remain slightly removed emotionally, in case they leave or in case I do.  It avoids the emotional goodbye.  If you speak to other TCKs who have moved around often, they often agree with this.

Third Culture Kids would sometimes rather run from a problem that comes up in a relationship rather than taking all of that effort and emotional drama to resolve the issue. And maybe not all TCKs react this way; others may have learned to cope with change and departures during their childhood in a different way.  However, some of us run or stay detached, and Ruth’s piece reminds us as to why we do this. It’s all about how it first started in childhood: “I used to mind when people came to our area for a short time and then left again. Then I decided not to care and I’ve been fine since then.”

I think as a Third Culture Kid you sometimes just decide to stop caring. You detach. You remove yourself emotionally from the situation. And it literally does not affect you. It’s a coping mechanism. But what’s very interesting to me is that it seems to stick long into adulthood.  Do you need to consciously decide to change your behavior as an adult? Or would the coping mechanism slowly disappear over time in adulthood when you stop moving and settle down in one place?33477_752658154867_7070397_n


5 thoughts on “Do TCKs remain detached and avoidant in adulthood?

  1. It remains the only way of coping. I left “home” again at the age of 27, spent 7 years working in London, travelled as much as possible, changed jobs almost as often, came “home” in 2005, aged 33. Now 42, most/all of my friends live somewhere else – even the people I met/worked with in London are now scattered all over the world.

    I physically socialise with no one now, and it feels like I’ve been caged. I need/want to GO again, to meet new and fascinating people in temp jobs, in shitty share houses, in dodgy pubs, in backpacker hostels, on trains, in taxis… So I’m going with “yes, this remains true through adulthood”.

    • I went through the same feeling of people constantly leaving. It’s funny when you realize that you always end up making friends with international people who will also eventually leave that city. Of course, it would be better for us to make friends with locals who would most likely stay, but unfortunately you can’t choose who you get along with.

      That feeling of restlessness and wanting to go again seems to never go away. Another TCK I met said that whenever that happens to him, he decides to take on a new hobby, visit a new place, meet new people in that city, which helps him calm that never-ending desire to move.

      • I get tattoos, or shave my head, or dye my hair green or (very rarely, because I don’t like the pain) get a new piercing. It only dulls down the NEED SOMETHING NEW RIGHT NOW for a little while before the restlessness starts again. Having no $$ for travel is a bitch!

  2. Great blog! Ive been reading through and im glad im not the only one that feels that way.

    Regarding the comments above, yep i think it happens to all of us. Also as a single child TCK I feel I have developed a tolerance/appreciation for being alone, that many locals find to be very particular/strange.

  3. For me, I’ve gotten so used to saying good-bye that I just expect it. It is hard, but I don’t find myself employing any kind of detachment or coping mechanism. I still get close to people. However, what I think this speaks too is that, even within the TCK community that is largely a collection of similar qualities, features, and ways of living, there is still much in-group difference that is, in part, contextual and subjective based on our individual experiences and histories. So, I think it’s really disadvantageous at best and dangerous at worse to make any kind of assumptions or attribute arbitrary labels about TCK psychology. Being a TCK also isn’t the sole or most powerful determinant of someone’s personality and emotional health too. Just some FFT 🙂

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