A sense of self in a foreign land

Last updated 11:19 21/01/2013

There's a dynamic between couples that can emerge when one moves for the other.

See, when LP moved to New Zealand in 2008, she was stepping into my domain. We saw a lot of my family and my friends in my home city. I already had my favourite cafes and restaurants and shops and bars all set. So when she stepped into New Zealand she stepped into a very well formed outline of a life. She made some of her own friends of course, in time. She's a pretty likeable person.

jrusa1But what is convenient isn't always the best thing for feeling like you have a separate, individual identity and existence within a relationship.

When LP and I moved to Boston, this dynamic was not as pronounced. Sure, LP moved with me because I was doing my masters. But we were both new there. When both parties in a relationship are struggling to make heads or tails of somewhere it levels the playing field. I can see why some couples do this when moving to different parts of the world.

The past few months in San Francisco have shown me firsthand some of the sacrifices that LP made in 2008. I'm on her patch, which I do like. I am extremely fond of her family and her friends. But it's shown to me again that when a person in a relationship moves to what is ostensibly the other's home patch, one person gives a sense of independence up. She knows more than me about the place. She has history there and stories and people and places. I have none of that.

I don't mean that in a snarky or bitter sense. I spend time with LP's friends, many of whom I now consider friends. We have a good social life. But there's a sense of possession and ownership that you lose.

Socially, I am an extension of LP. I follow her lead largely on where we go to eat and where we go for outings (otherwise we would just end up going to the movies and the same Mexican and Japanese restaurant within the radius of a 10 minute walk from our house). Given that I'm just finding my feet in certain other aspects - I don't drive, for instance - it's like in some regards, I'm a permanent resident but still a tourist.

To make a circuitous tangent, I've been thinking about this, as I bang about Salt Lake City and Park City on my own covering this year's Sundance Film Festival.

jrusa2I like travelling on my own. I'm relatively content in my own company. I enjoy the slow peace that comes through spending a few hours with my own thoughts. I frequently talk to myself and enjoy chuckling out loud about things I see, even if I'm not sure if the latter makes me a bit mad or is just evidence that I'm really tuned into the world.

I was a little intimidated about coming up to Utah for 12 days. It's a long time to be on your own, even if you enjoy solo adventures as I. I adore my wife and I miss her and we talk often. But there's been something particularly nourishing to me about being up here and making do on my own.

Namely, it's bought home to me that I know this country and that I am part of it in some small way. I can rent a car, get about, spend 15 minutes scraping the ice from inside and outside my back window as I leave and come home each day, survive in the cold, tip, talk to Americans and seamlessly align myself with the times and culture.

I can go into a supermarket for munitions and instinctively know to ask for directions to the cold cuts section, rather than having an awkward back and forth with a clerk while she struggles to understand my pronunciation of the word ham.

It is second nature.

I had several people tell me at the premiere party for the New Zealand movie Shopping last night that you can hear an American lilt in my voice. This both shocks me and pleases me.

Having LP as my trusty sidekick and partner in crime is a blessing, but I think maybe that I can be guilty of being too reliant on her in matters American.

I know it sounds simple, to philosophise about setting my own pace and routine for a few days. I pack a lunch, get myself to the media center here, sit with a coffee and a book for an hour and shuttle myself between movies. Who cares?

But given the trade offs that come with moving for a partner, it's nice to be out in America and reminded that I have a history of my own here and even being some place that I haven't been before in this country, it's not that much of a stretch.

More or less, this is country is part of me now. These past few days have been fun to consider my own sense of agency in navigating that American-ness in and of itself, not through LP.

Anyway, Salt Lake City is beautiful, a high altitude treat set to a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. You'd like it here.

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