Am I Cold, or Are You Just Codependent?
Do you have to be with someone every day to be close to them?
After 15 years of living abroad, a lot of people assume I’m a cold person, and they have no problem saying it out loud. Especially when the topic of family comes up.
“I could never do what you did,” they say. “Just leave like that, without being there for your family.”
I already know what’s coming, so I’ve got the eye roll prepared.
“I guess my family is just closer than yours,” they usually end. Sometimes, they try to explain themselves. “But I’m just much more a family person.”
Are you, though? Or are you just codependent?
The Reward of Living Abroad
People tend to assume that the reason you leave your country is that you’re escaping something, or that you don’t have great relationships with the people at home. I don’t deny that I didn’t feel comfortable in my hometown. But still, for me moving abroad was much more about moving toward something.
I always wanted to live abroad. My hometown felt oppressive, too small and boring, too filled with people who knew exactly who I was, too judgmental. Finnish people are too quiet, it didn’t fit my personality. But most of all, there were no opportunities for real personal or professional growth, to be whoever I wanted to be. I guess that’s why nearly all my friends left, as well.
Of course, when I moved to Barcelona in 2006, staying in touch with my loved ones wasn’t as easy as it is now. I shared a computer with my roommate, and there were no smartphones yet. But I managed because, you know, life. Everybody has one, and people aren’t usually hung up on what I decide to do.
My first night in Barcelona was terrifying, and I still remember how hard it was to fall asleep. Listening to the sounds of the big city, understanding I was far away from home and on my own.
The same thing happened when I watched my plane land in Buenos Aires, the miles and miles of houses and streets and the interminable rows of lights. This was something I was completely unprepared for.
I was alone. I depended on myself.
But that’s the reward.
I learned to be by myself.
You Need To Live Your Own Life
Back in 2006 when I left, my Mom would call me every two weeks (she still does), and I’d send long, handwritten letters with my best friends. Every now and then I would speak to some other close friend online or on the phone. And when I went back for a visit, I’d see all those other friends with who I’m not in constant contact. It still feels like no time has passed. We’re there for each other when we can. And it’s perfectly okay.
I love my family and friends. But I have a life of my own, and I need to live it. I can’t condition myself to live my life to keep others happy.
Luckily, my family has always understood this. They know it’s preferable to have me living on the other side of the world and being happy than in Finland and suffering.
These days, we have a couple of group chats with my family, and I follow everything they do online. I have long Skype conversations with one of my best friends who live in France almost every week. I talk to another friend who lives in Canada every couple of months. Another one of my best friends I only contact when I’m on my way to Finland, to see what part of the world she’s currently in and if there’s a chance to see get together. She doesn’t update her social media all the time, so I have no idea whether she’s in France, Mexico or New Zealand.
I miss them, of course, but we all have separate lives. I know they’re the best possible friends I could have in the world, but I don’t need them to spend every day of their lives with me.
The Loving Italian Family
One of my friends here has a big, Italian family. She considers it a close one. I find it suffocating and codependent.
My friend says she couldn’t live abroad because of her family, and I get it. Whenever someone misses a birthday, there are complaints and yelling, and a whole lot of Catholic guilt thrown around. They don’t spend time together because they like it. They do it to avoid being the bad person who wasn’t present. That’s not a healthy kind of love.
They all participate in really toxic behaviors to keep others close to them, and they often take those behavior patterns to their relationships outside of their family. It doesn’t lead to great things, I’ll tell you that.
My family is the opposite. We miss each other, sure. But my mom has always considered me and my two sisters as something of a loan from the world. She knew we would leave home when we became adults, and she encouraged it.
She knows we love her, but she doesn’t need her adult children to be with her at all times. Because she’s a healthy person.
Can I Have a Real Boyfriend?
I don’t have a boyfriend, although I am seeing someone. We meet once a week and barely talk to each other during the week. It’s great. He’s busy, I’m busy, and this way we both can really look forward to seeing each other.
It’s a special event to see him on Saturday nights. I put on makeup and something other than leggings or sweatpants exactly once a week, and it’s when I meet him. If I saw him a couple of times during the week, the relationship would start losing that specialness I love. It wouldn’t be the highlight of my week anymore.
People often say this kind of relationship can never become serious. I disagree. We enjoy each other’s company without needing to make demands, and it’s a great way of getting to know each other. No obsessing about what they’re thinking about or who they’re with, just good times. If we want to see more of each other someday down the line, we’ll do it.
A lot of people are just afraid of being alone. After a breakup, they tie themselves to the first person they meet. I was alone for five years after my last breakup, but it wasn’t tragic, and it doesn’t make me a cold person.
I just wanted to be alone so I’d know that whatever I got into was what I really wanted, not something I needed to be able to exist in the world. Now I’m able to have a balanced, non-clingy relationship with a person I really appreciate, and who appreciates me.
Don’t Judge Independence
It’s fine if you want to spend time with your boyfriend, or your family and friends. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationships are codependent, of course, but I think it’s always good to consider what you do before you judge others.
If someone chooses to live abroad, in another city, or without a serious relationship, it doesn’t mean that they’re cold or selfish. It doesn’t mean they’re not a ‘family person. They just have a different life, and they might not have a need for physical proximity at all times. They might be independent, not cold.
This story was originally published by me, on Medium.