Being a dependent expat without children or a job is hard.
When Peter and I moved to England, I quit my job and became a stay-at-home doggie mom. I thought, “No work and all play! This is going to be awesome!” In reality, the opposite happened, sort of. It was awesome not working but the lack of social interaction I previously got from work, happy hour, friends, and family – no doubt – impacted my mental health.
It took about one year for me to realize that I was socially starved. I literally talked to no one from the time I went to bed to the time Peter got home from work the following day, usually around 8 or 9pm. This roughly equated to 2-3 hours of social interaction with Peter only every 24-hour period, weekends aside.
The lack of social interaction impacted my social skills and still to this day, I feel a bit socially awkward, something I’d never experienced before moving to England. Being socially starved is best described by saying I felt lonely and isolated. I didn’t necessarily feel this way at the time but as I reflect, this definitely was the case.
I remember one day I was having a conversation with a supermarket cashier and I remember thinking, “How did I get here? How did I get to this point where I am having a conversation with a supermarket cashier?” I had become that person, the one who strikes up conversations with strangers for no reason at all.
At the same time as my social starvation, Peter’s social life was flourishing. He made friends at work and was organizing pub outings after work and I was doing the opposite, sitting on the couch at home watching TV and cooking dinner or whatever. And just to clarify, Peter invited me to his outings when appropriate but they weren’t all that enjoyable for me. He and his coworkers talked shop and I listened and drank shitty English beer. This social life flip was a strange twist to our relationship because historically, I’d been the more social one of us and seeing the social tables turn was hard.
This begs the question: Why didn’t I join interest or expat groups for social interaction? Well, I was never interested in joining groups because our time in England was to be limited to two years and we lived in an area with very few expats and, in general, I wasn’t really interested in joining a group of other American expats. The other option was to get a job and I had no interest in that either.
The lesson learned was that being a dependent expat without children or a job is hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not interested in having children but I do think that children are a social gateway of sorts when it comes to being an expat. Parents are forced to integrate with the locals by way of school and thus, forced to integrate with other parents and thus, friendships are forged and so it goes.
In closing, I wouldn’t change how I handled those first two years in England. I enjoyed my time walking the dogs and zipping around roundabouts and exploring the English countryside. I just wish I would have been given a heads-up regarding the whole social starvation thing because it hit me like a ton of bricks once I realized I was, in fact, socially starved.