Dating as a Third Culture Kid

I am not exactly sure why, or what the allure was, My boyfriend wasn’t particularly good looking, smart, or charismatic, but he fit invisible check boxes. He was Canadian and had never set foot in another country, or another province in Canada. My Father stood there, full suit, holding out his hand to shake my boyfriends. My Father twitched, his lip went up slightly as the boyfriend, white as white can get, and all about money and power, tried to hold his hand out to twist my father’s under his own. He had read somewhere about shaking hands and the power to a handshake, how to hold out one’s hand and take someone else’s to show who had more power. Not sure why he decided to try it out on my Father, it wasn’t exactly a power move, but something that became a joke and anecdote at receptions. My Father thought it was just about the most immature and classless tact to take.

The slight twitch that my father had, the glint in his eyes were barely discernible. He said nothing, not even a “nice to meet you”, I knew better, having studied his poker face over the years. He was not impressed and wanted to laugh. My Boyfriend just stood there, and began to realize, that no matter how much money he had, or what power he thought he had, he was now completely invisible to my Father.

My Father opened my car door, half smiled at my boyfriend, not saying a word, got into the drivers side and we were off. My father clenched his pipe, and turned onto the main road leaving my small town boarding school behind us. My Father had come back to Canada for a set of meetings for heads of mission, and had taken a day off to drive up to see me and take me to lunch. We drove for 5 minutes in silence. He took a deep breath and said “so, you had to pick the most Canadian, unintelligent, pompous and opposite to me as you could find” (my father, rarely ever saying anything negative about anyone, was just not impressed) not much of a question, he just burst into laughter. The subject was dropped, my Father knew that this was a faze, but he still thought it was funny.

Little girls are taught to pick someone like their father. My Father, well, as an adult, looking back, I can honestly say, not many men could really compare to my Father, he was on another level of human). My first boyfriend was a far cry from anything my Father was, and my Father found it amusing.

There I was, one of only 4 diplomatic kids in a small town boarding school. One of 12 international kids, maybe 7 were visible minorities. The rest, a sea of kids that looked like me, but were nothing like me. It was the whitest, wealthiest Canadian school you could possibly find.  It was the most difficult transition, and culture shock I could have possible have faced. I never felt Canadian, I had never sat through a hockey game, understood small town Canada. My accent, mannerisms, and life were opposite to everyone else’s. I heard no other languages around me, other than the French and German taught in class, we all went to chapel, sang Anglican hymns, sang our national anthem in french and English. I had a choice, just jump in and glom onto the first Canadian boy that liked me and pretend I was fully Canadian in order to put my head down and survive boarding school, or stick out like a sore thumb, be myself and find myself an outcast once again.

I chose to jump into being Canadian. I chose a Canadian boy that was nothing like my Father, in order to become as invisible as possible, and it was a bad move. I lost myself, lost any shred of identity and confidence I had gained to become like the other kids. Becoming invisible, made me invisible even to myself.

My parents watched my overnight transition. I came back to Caracas during breaks, completely changed. My Mother would notice my weight loss, my lack of energy, or spark. My Father would quietly sit in my bedroom at 6am, and ask me a few questions, trying not to make judgement, but realizing I needed to think about who I was. He asked “who do you want to be?” “boyfriends shouldn’t take away from your light, but allow you to shine.”

My Mother didn’t quite understand the transition, she thought it was all due to the toxic relationship. My Father on the other hand knew it was my self destructive path, it wasn’t the boyfriends fault I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I just didn’t know how to survive in a boarding school that was so Canadian. The only way forward, was to become what everyone saw on the outside. To be Canadian and in this case, invisible, attempting to not make waves.

I became two people, I learned to be invisible at boarding school, and a proper International diplomatic kid back in Caracas. I never got a break.

Years later, I sat in a colleagues office discussing what it is like dating as a diplomatic kid. When you don’t know who you are, you don’t fit in anywhere, you aren’t enough either way, you lose a massive part of yourself. I was old beyond my years on so many levels, but young and naive and ill prepared to date.

Boarding school was the worst and best time in my life. It was an intense learning environment in Canadian culture, I learned to drop kick my International self and become as invisible as I could. I desperately wanted to fit in, and become someone I wasn’t in order to be liked and accepted. It came with a price. My PTSD re-surfaced (we just had no vocabulary for it), my insomnia became unbearable, my anger surfaced. It was hard to be invisible, and lose myself completely.

I was a complete mess. Holding onto a persona, a person, and trying to control everything around me, wore me out. I was simply exhausted from it all.

The thing is, as an adult, I realized, the best thing that I ever did, was try to run away from my Diplomatic self, and everything that I stood for as a Third Culture Kid. The very denial of my upbringing, made me question myself to the very core, it made me find deep gratitude for the experiences, the people around me, and the life lessons my parents exposed me to.

Dating sucks as a young person, but add the extra layer as a Third Culture Kid, and there is a whole lot of confusion, but in my case, I got through it. The first boyfriend didn’t last, I think my Father is looking down happy about that.




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