So, we have just put down a deposit to buy a house here in Spain. For us – the husband, two kids, dog and I to live in. Forever (as much as forever can be). How exciting, you might say, especially after renting and living abroad as an expat for so many years. Finally being able to settle down in one place and put down some roots. And yes, it is exciting to know we will be able to create a family base, for memories for years to come, but I have to be honest and say it has also created some very mixed emotions, including anxiety, fear, grief and dread. It is not just about the huge amount of money, also about committing to a place after so many years of living abroad as an expat and nomad and feeling free.
The meaning of settling down for most of us is synonymous with getting married, having a steady job and having kids. Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the definition of settle down as:
1 : to become quiet, calm, or orderly
Settle down, children.
When things settle down here, I’ll come for a visit.
2 : to begin to live a quiet and steady life by getting a regular job, getting married, etc.
They swore they would never settle down and get married.
3 : to put oneself into a comfortable position
He settled down for the night.
4 : to become quiet and begin giving one’s attention to something
They quickly settled down to their work.
Even reading those definitions makes me feel jittery! Settling down to me has always equated to having a pretty dull life, watching tv every night, two weeks holiday a year if you are lucky, going to the pub once a week maybe. Totally untrue and unfair I know, but it has taken me to get to this point to realise what settling down meant in my mind.
Yes, I am already married, but we still moved cities and then took a year off and went travelling around the world. Yes, we had kids, but moved to Australia when I was pregnant, moved to Costa Rica when they were 7 and 5 and went travelling around the world before we moved to Spain. And now, yes, we are committing to staying put. To settle down in this beautiful part of the world, but I can honestly say I am pretty scared about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that we are in a position where we can buy our own home, that we can move out of rented and no longer be at the whim of the owner about how long we can stay there, what we can do to the house, paying ‘dead’ money for rent. But, renting also gives you freedom, no responsibilities really as they have to sort out any issues. We have rented for the last 10 years, giving us flexibility and freedom, but always with the idea that we would buy one day. Only then we would be to able to decorate to our tastes, create a home that the kids could always come back to and even have one of those height charts on the wall as they grow taller that I secretly covet when I watch family films.
Now we are on the brink of buying somewhere it feels a bit different. Yes, it will be hard work, a change of focus to be able to create our ‘dream home’ an opportunity in so many ways. But I am finding it hard to get excited, and I don’t think it is just because I am overwhelmed by plans, paperwork, choosing paint colours and having to tend a garden.
It is more the thought of being stuck, confined in one place for the next 10 years. And even though we moved back to Europe with that intention, to specifically stay put for our kids’ secondary education, buying a house really seals the deal (especially with the high buying costs here in Spain, it is not something you do twice if you can help it!)
We buy here and then we stay, it feels like we are shutting the door on any other possibilities, even if we are unlikely to pursue them. I finally think that we are settling down. Responsible adults with responsible jobs (well my husband at least), 2.4 children (if you count the dog) and a mortgage for 25+ years. I now realise we have sub-consciously chosen to stave off this moment for as long as possible and now aged 48 it is here. The quintessential middle age.
I realise now that I have shirked settling down or being responsible for most of my life. I was pretty terrified of commitment and marriage, a bit oblivious about the consequences of having kids until major anxiety set in before I had my second (only once I knew what it was like with 1). Moving country, travelling, renting was always a bit of an escape hatch for adventure I think and it feels like the hatch is starting to close.
Of course, we could easily just carry on renting, it sounds ridiculous in some senses to be fearing something that is entirely voluntary. But I know we will also miss out on so much if we don’t commit to a family home right now. As our kids are now 13 and 11 I want them to have a family base, like my husband and I both did. Somewhere that they come back to for holidays, with girlfriends, boyfriends, reminisce about when we planted or how they chose hideous coloured walls when they were teenagers. To not have a home, a base, feels like we are almost depriving them of these memories. Of course, my husband and I are their safe home, and we will always be there for them, but a bricks and mortar home is important too. Somewhere we can create together, argue in, do the garden or decorating together, have Christmasses, Birthdays and milestones in. A space that is truly shared and belongs to us and only us. That strengthens that sense of belonging which is so important to us all, but particularly when you live abroad and sometimes aren’t sure where you truly fit in this world.
So I am acknowledging my mixed feelings. I could relatively easily brush this all off, numb my doubts and say:
“Gosh Emma, get over yourself, don’t you realise how lucky are right now, especially to be even be thinking about buying a house in Spain. An opportunity so many would be ecstatic about, let alone this amazing opportunity of creating a family base”.
But I have learnt from bitter experience that by not exploring these mixed feelings I have it canl can lead to other issues: anxiety, depression, anger to name just a few. I know I am extremely fortunate. I am very grateful. But I am also scared. I am scared about becoming a stagnant person that gets stuck in the hamster wheel of life, that spends their weekends doing the garden, rather than following adventures, that doesn’t look much further beyond their own four walls. Settling down doesn’t need to equate to any of these things, in fact my rational side is actually saying that some of these things would also be quite good for me, for us. It doesn’t have to be black and white. We can still travel (hopefully soon!), we can still explore, be creative and dream about what next month, next year, when the kids leave school. Buying a house does not have to mean we need to commit to here forever and ever, amen.
I will be looking for balance as we ‘settle down’ here in Spain – for weekends away, holidays to explore, adventures on our doorstep, in books, personal and family goals and challenges. Yes, in part to stave off my fear of becoming dull; I hope not to escape my reality nor out of fear of being boring, but to seize the day, to make the most of this great adventurous life. That also means embracing this next phase of planting and nurturing some roots and starting a different type of adventure for us, one that creates a happy family home.
I am working on truly embracing it, but I must confess I am still looking for the escape hatch, to keep that door even a little bit propped open.
How do you feel about settling down? Are you an expat enjoying the moving and adventure or keen to move ‘home’ or find a base? Or have you stayed put for many years? What does settling down mean to you and how have you navigated the process?
I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives………