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So You Want to Blow Up Your Life
Only you can decide if you're ready—and if it's worth it
Maybe you wouldn’t put it like that. You’re not going to blow up your life. You just want a little change of scenery, a little midlife adventure. You want to dream further afield. Pull up roots and go bloom somewhere else.
But detonation doesn’t have to a bad thing. It can be incredibly liberating to flip that switch and BOOM.
It’s an especially intoxicating scenario to consider if you’re feeling trapped or stale or disenchanted or just straight-up Done. Standing at a crossroads, arms outflung, ready for a transformation.
The thing is: Results vary vastly. Your post-Boom metamorphosis might not (will not) look like that family on YouTube or solo gal on Instagram or cute couple on TikTok or even us right here on this blog.
Where and how the pieces fall depend on a number of factors, one of the biggest of which will be your stage of life.
I’ve had a number of conversations lately with parents of young(er) kids — children who haven’t yet hit double digits and multiplication tables. These Stateside parents have lots of questions about what life might look like, especially for their children, if they were to explode everything and start over.
They daydream about relocating to Portugal or Italy or maybe somewhere in northern Europe, a picturesque place far away from their chronic American routines.
It’s not so much that they hate their routines—the beaten path can be comforting and comfortable, especially when you’ve got everything dialed in. We had a routine like that in San Francisco too, once. A plethora of playdates and babysitters and best friends down the block. Easy-to-find snacks at Trader Joe’s and a booming business of boba teas and a playground in any direction you walked. Libraries and summer camps and carpools to school. Neighborhood bike rides, house keys shared amongst neighbors, backyard barbecues and Gus’s Market three blocks away.
We didn’t leave San Francisco because we hated our life. We loved our life. It was a Very Good Life. It was cosy and well-furnished and we had worked so hard for so long to build it, to set everything up just the way we liked it.
So when my friend A in Portland tells me she’s thinking about moving to Amsterdam but, “Some days I'm like THIS IS THE BEST IDEA EVER and other days I'm like HOW COULD WE LEAVE OUR BEAUTIFUL HOUSE AND HOW EASY LIFE CAN BE HERE?!” I know exactly what she’s talking about.
Whatever your reason for contemplating detonation—you want to throw in the towel on late-stage capitalism or you’re afraid you’ll regret it if you don’t at least try or you’ve got a bad case of generalized life stagnation or you’re sick and tired of America being so ‘Murican all the time or your kid keeps having nightmares about school shootings or just What The Hell; Why Not?—there comes a time when you have to get serious about what things might actually feel like for you, over there in the greener pasture. Because they might not (will not) feel exactly the way you imagine.
And this is why you must make sure you are crystal clear about your reason for pulling that string/pushing that button/flipping that switch and going off.
It’s different when you’re younger and more free to move about. Or (I imagine) when you’re older and finished with your major obligations.
But when you’re in the stage of life that I’m living right now—kids in school and a burgeoning career and aging parents and a bank account that is not exactly retirement-ready—well then, blowing up your life by moving to a new country is a different version of life-altering.
You’re not going to chill in the praça Margaritaville-style every Tuesday afternoon. You’re not going to be a regular in the retiree-friendly walking group or perfect your tummy tan on the beach after work all summer or comb the online expat clubs looking for funtivities to decorate your social calendar.* Your life in your adopted country will, in some respects, resemble your life in your old country (kid stuff-work stuff-home stuff-family stuff-more kid stuff). But it will be less dialed-in.
You won’t have playdates in place. Or babysitters. Or best friends down the block. There will be no Trader Joe’s. No boom of boba tea. You have to find them all—new friends, new snacks, new neighbors and new bike rides and new hiking routes and new ways of barbecuing. New ways of doing everything.
You’ll have to remind yourself that this is one of the reasons you came here, for all the new ways of thinking and being and doing. (Whole new friggin’ language to speak!) This is what you signed up for—the thrill and the trial of it.
You’ll have to remember that other people’s children might adjust quickly. They might make friends in a flash, might get fluent overnight, might prove all those pontificators right with how easily they adapt. But your kid and your kid’s ease or lack thereof might be a very different story. It all depends on where you land and how you land and who you are and who your kid is.
You’ll have to keep telling yourself that nobody writes a perfect story, no matter what they say on the internet.
On the days when it’s so very hard, when you’re so very lonely and so afraid this move might have fucked up your kid beyond repair (it hasn’t), the thing that helps, the thing that makes it all worthwhile, is your reason for leaving.
I’m sure there are some people who do this sort of thing (moving across the globe sort of thing) on a whim. The same kind of people, I assume, who get tattoos on a lark, without an appointment, just stroll by a studio and go, “Yah, I think I’ll get some ink today? I’ll close my eyes and point at some flash and that’ll be the one!”
I am not one of those people, with tattoos or with resettlement. I have to think about it every which way, turn it inside out, print it on a piece of paper and nail it to my wall for a year so I can stare at it every. single. day. and think about it some more. If I still love the idea after 365, I’ll go under the needle. Or, you know, push that DETONATE button.
Marido and I first talked about moving to Portugal in July of 2020. We poured hours and hours of conversation into the idea, of research, of meticulously crafted google docs and bullet-pointed lists. We considered from every conceivable angle. And still we missed a few—of course we did. No matter how good your imagination or research skills, you don’t know how something looks/smells/feels/tastes/works/sounds until you try it for yourself.
The thing that has made all the difference, each step along the way—11 months from inception to detonation and the 425 days thereafter—is that we were sure, 1000% sure of why we were doing this.
It doesn’t really matter what your why is and whether it makes sense to anyone else or if they think it’s frivolous. It just has to be good enough for you. Big enough so that on the days when you wonder, “How could we leave our beautiful house and how easy life can be here?” you have a very solid because sitting in the palm of your hand.
*I guess maybe you could chill like Margaritaville and join the weekly walking group and tan your tum and fill up on funtivities, etc. even if you’re juggling work and kid and spouse and creative ventures and pets and property and gardening and checking on your parents and getting to know new friends and staying connected with the friends you left behind. You could do all that if you’re a superhero (or an extrovert) or just, you know, not me!
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