Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen
If my marriage fails it will be due to “irreconcilable geography”.
My wife and I have been together for 11 years, and she wants to set up home in Sydney. I want to move to London. It sounds simple on paper, something hundreds of couples must face. We have spent time in both cities, but as we get older we both gradually harden our stance – and short of some fictional globe-trotting job, one of us has to lose – or leave.
A good start, says Michael Carr-Gregg who believes compromise is key. “You try and reach a compromise – three years in Italy and then three years in Australia – whatever allows each person to get a little of what they want and that way everyone feels like they have been heard and their needs met,” he says.
But people change, and people also don’t, which is how we find ourselves in our current conundrum.
We started off living in London then, when we moved back to Sydney, I referred to it as “her turn”. Her turn lasted seven years and I never felt settled, always restless for when “my turn” would start. When we were younger this idea of taking turns seemed fair, even a little romantic, but when one of you wants your turn to last forever, it is hard to feel at home in the other person’s city.
Carr-Gregg says that in this instance we should learn to control the things we can. “If in life you can't change something, you can always think about it differently,” he says “All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle we can choose our own attitude to what happens.”
A friend recently ended her long-distance relationship based on the inability to find a common-ground home, but they were young and childless, which does not diminish the heartbreak but does reduce the complications.
We recently tried a compromise candidate and moved to Singapore, but neutral ground only served to highlight the things she missed about Sydney and the things I missed about London.
Yes, it’s all about compromise, but with something as concrete as where you want to put down roots, someone inevitably feels more compromised than the other person. Our choice of abode has also served as a metaphor for other key difference that have surfaced over the years.
Sydney – where I spent a large part of my life – is coming to represent quitting, the concept that all of life’s adventure is over. That I have returned to quietly put myself out to pasture.
To her, London represents my trying to recapture my carefree 20s where most of the weekend was spend in Soho basement bars, or catching low-cost flights to Europe.
She likes the heat and the beach, I like the cold and the Great Indoors. She likes space and I like bustle. She likes being near her family, I am ambivalent about being near her family, or mine, for that matter.
But I don’t think we are drifting emotionally, the truth is simpler and all the more difficult for it. I have moved around a lot and London is the first place I felt like home. Even on trips back to Australia to see relatives or friends arriving at Heathrow felt like the homecoming part. I loved it so much I went through the long and arduous process of becoming a UK citizen, my British passport is something I hold dear.
She feels the same about Sydney, to her it is home, no question.
I don’t think you can pick the city you love any more than you can the person you love. And if they don’t love each other you are just asking for trouble, even if you are the party that “wins”, you lose because you know your other half wants to be somewhere else.
If we did split, would I move back to the Old Dart? Not unless I could pack up my two sons and take them with me, and that would be over my wife’s dead body. So do we keep taking turns, or does one of us just accept they will see out their days in a home away from home?
Carr-Gregg admits that kids complicate, depending on their “sensitive to frequent transitions” but ultimately the only time to think about leaving is when you get no compromise from your other half then its time to “recognise that you shacked up with the wrong person”.
Oh well, let the turn-taking commence … for now.