“You’re missing a stage” she said as we were staring together at the famous U-curve. Like savvy hunters comparing stripes on their belts we were comparing our relocation adventures. Trying to fit each story to a unique shape of yet another alteration to the expat adjustment cycle. I thought we felt quite comfortable with the modern flexibility of the U-curve (or J, or Linear, or a mere tangle, you name it) but she repeated her statement – more fiercely this time – “You’re missing a stage”.
My surprised look encouraged her to continue and she pointed to the plateau at the end of the U-curve. ‘Adaptation’ it said and it seemed to go on into the horizon. “And what next?” she asked. “Well.. in the life cycle of a typical expat” I was answering this seemingly rhetoric question “after adaptation comes another transition and with it another cycle of honeymoon, crisis, and so on”. “Yes, I know all of that” she said, but then added “and that’s exactly where you’re missing a stage”.
My now puzzled look has turned to understanding. And as she was naming the missing stage – “Detachment” I could already recognize the pain in her eyes. A pain I knew all too well. A pain that threw me back to all those, now to be called “detachment” periods I experienced in my transitions over the years. Those weeks or months just before the next move. After the excitement of the honeymoon was replaced by the depth of the crisis. After the hard work of adjusting to the new place has turned its place to a relaxed adaptation. Just as routine has settled down and all seemed quiet and peaceful, in an expat fashion of way comes the next temptation, another offer, another need (for whatever reason) to once again pack and go. It is when a deadline is set, a date of departure, that detachment starts to show its signs.
Feelings of drifting off, of staying away from new commitments, of avoiding the making of new friends, all are signs of what she rightfully named a ‘detachment period’. A time when I could remember myself almost accepting conflicts as blessing. Knowing these will help me soften the pain of the coming separation. A time when the house started deteriorating as all thoughts were already set on future home investments. Weeks or months of closing inwards into a tight family bubble, of trying to lean on each other as what’s going to be the only solid rocks in the storm that will soon push us all into a turmoil.
She’s going back home in the summer and her detachment phase has already begun. She has already started drifting away and I hope that somewhere in herself she’d find the strength to stay attached to the good memories she’s leaving behind. Even though avoiding detachment means accepting the pain of saying goodbye.