Lauren: Love On the Other Side of the World

You don't need pants where you're going

Winter has come back to Australia. It happened without warning; one day I was wearing shorts and sandals, the next I was pulling out my fleece onesie, inspecting the closed feet for huntsman spiders before I put it on. It’s the kind of cold where your scalp tightens and you move around with permanently hunched shoulders, as if this will protect what little heat you have in your body.

Even though it’s cold, the winter here lacks the bitterness and length of my childhood winters. It feels like Australia is just dabbling in the cold season, conducting an experiment to see what it’s like. I wrap myself in a blanket and lament the lack of insulation and central heating, but secretly I know that this isn’t that bad. It’s not like Korea, where we used to wear coats in the classroom. Or Indiana, where going outside with damp hair meant a head full of instant icicles. I dig my two sweaters out of a drawer and place them in a prominent position in the closet, knowing that in a few short months I’ll be able to put them away again.

Even though we all know that the weather is different on the other side of the world, understanding it is another story. Two months ago my dad was preparing for his inaugural visit to Australia, unconvinced by my then-balmy weather reports. The topic of what he should pack came up repeatedly.

“Do I need to pack a sweater?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“What about pants? I’ll need pants, right?”

“Not really,” I said. I tried to remember the last time Jared wore pants when he wasn’t going to work. Six months ago, maybe? “No, shorts will be fine.”

It wasn’t until my dad was here, fresh from one of the worst winters in Midwestern memory, that he became a believer. The rumors were true; it was still the end of summer in Australia. We leaned against a wooden fence, his familiar forearms already sunburned, and watched Jared surf. I didn’t have to explain what it was like anymore, to be here, because my dad could finally see it for himself. He took it all in: bare feet, endless coastline, coal ships waiting on the horizon.

“You live in Australia and you are going to marry a man who loves to surf,” he said. “Does that surprise you?”

Jared paddled for a wave, the motions second nature as he matched the ocean’s speed and prepared to pop up. I’d never thought of him as “a man who loves to surf.” He’s Jared, and he happens to be Australian. But to other people he’s not just Jared, not just my fiancé, but my Australian fiancé. It would be one of the first things that came up if they were describing him to a friend, a defining characteristic that I stopped noticing long ago. Was I surprised that I was here, planning a wedding to an Australian?

Jared and I had known each other for exactly one week when I first suspected that he was more than just another face in the sea of Aussies coursing through Europe. We sat side by side on a bench at the bottom of a dark hostel stairwell in Berlin, talking about everything and nothing. For hours we passed a giant bottle of Pilsner back and forth, heady with the thrill of falling, hard, for a complete stranger. I’d had crushes before, sure. A handful of boyfriends, a few fleeting moments with other travelers who I’d never see again. But this. Before my brain realized it, my instinct had perked up and taken notice that this one. He was different.

“I know it sounds like a cliché,” Jared said, “but I’ve always believed that when you know, you know.”

If it had been a romantic comedy, I would have rolled my eyes and shouted, You’ve known each other for a week! A week! That’s such a line! But it wasn’t a movie. It was real, and in that moment, I got it. I believed in the possibility that sometimes you do just know. I didn’t decide to marry him right then (Hello? A week?), but felt a confident hope that this Australian in the squirrel-patterned shorts was not going to pass through my life, he was going to be in it. Six years and many countries later, here we are, a team. But it happened so gradually, through a series of conscious mutual decisions, that it doesn’t surprise me.

I forget that I am the American fiancé, the friend, the daughter, the sister who merits a mention whenever Australia comes up in conversation, the way I say, “Oh, my sister lives there,” if someone brings up LA. Here, I am different; my accent and nationality define me before my character does. But in my day-to-day life I do not think of myself as Lauren the American; I’m still just Lauren. If you’d told me ten years ago that this would be my life, I’d have been more taken aback that I was getting married, not that I was marrying someone from another country.

It’s the mundane details that catch me off guard: wearing sweaters in July, not tipping at a restaurant, or measuring distance in kilometers. What surprises me is realizing that I’ve internalized this new normal, that I’ve gotten used to it. Where we are, where we’re from, the obvious facts, they aren’t the details that frame my life.

Sometimes the things we know for sure aren’t facts, like what season it is on the other side of the world. What we know—we just know—is the way we feel. The little leaps of faith, when we act on our instincts without knowing where we’ll end up, shape our reality. What may have sounded like an outrageous fantasy to our younger selves can very easily become our lives, and we’re comfortable and confident in a place we never guessed we’d be. Like in Australia, marrying a man who loves to surf. So if you come to visit, and I tell you to leave your pants behind, you’ll just have to trust me.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Kari

    You realise every Australian who reads APW now claims you as their own, right? We can be so parochial….

    • Lisa

      And I’m a born and bred Hoosier (person from Indiana) who is relishing all Lauren’s references to my home state! :)

  • Lian

    I’m also living in a different part of the world than where I grew up, marrying someone from here. This rings very true.
    I looked up the weather in Newcastle right now, though, and the thought that that is considered chilly is making me laugh. Or cry. I guess it’s cry when I compare it to my own winters :P

  • Joy

    I know I would have been shocked to know that not only did I marry a Frenchman, but I live in France- I hated French class and was never even slightly interested in actually visiting France. I always thought I’d marry a southern boy, live in the Midwest and have lots of babies. Bit of a shock really.I mean I always wanted to travel, but this would have never crossed my mind.

    • Hannah

      I had the opposite thing happen. I love traveling and just always assumed I’d meet someone out there in the big wide world, marry them and live abroad. Instead I got the guy who lived a floor above me in college (and after a week my brain started say “oh yeah, this is it” to which I said “shut up brain, it’s been a week you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about”… clearly I was the wrong one)

    • js

      This made me think of the line from The Fault in Our Stars, where Hazel says, “I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep; slowly and then all at once.” I can’t think of a more accurate quote on what falling in love is really like. Nothing much like the movies at all and neither is life.

      • Hayley

        Ohmygosh best quote ever. I’m not sure I am emotionally prepared for this movie.

        • I’m in the same boat on the quote and emotional preparedness. That is *the* quote that describes how I fell for my now husband, and I knew within two weeks of us starting to date that he was the man I was going to marry. It just felt right.

  • Dm

    So does this mean Australian “pants” are the same as American ones (trousers, jeans) not British ones (underwear?)

    • Yep! We’re totally in agreement with America on that one.

    • Bindi

      Yes! Except Tasmania, where I recently moved. And learnt the hard way that here pants are indeed undies. Haha

  • js

    My only thought the whole time I was reading this is I could never forget he was Australian because he would have that hot accent!

    • EF

      but you don’t notice it after awhile. my fiance is british, we live in england, i’m american…and except for a few words, I don’t really notice his accent, day-to-day. only when he’s talking to other americans is it suddenly a jolt back to, ‘oh right, we don’t sound the same.’

  • Jules

    I love how international the 2014 interns are. I’m with a Frenchman who grew up a little in France, but mostly in Mexico and Alabama and then went to work in Saudi Arabia later. (And traveled like crazy during his off rotations.) We’re looking to move to Oz! We’ve both been for brief stints and loved it.

    Other mundane details: I kept a book of Australianisms when I was over there. Macca’s = Mcdonald’s, brekkie = breakfast, panel beaters = body shop, rocket = arugula….I forget the others; I was up to 2 pages before I left.

    • KC

      My (shameful) favorite Australianism/anti-euphemism is budgie smugglers. I do not think this says good things about me… ;-)

      • Shotgun Shirley

        Definition pretty please?

        • Budgie smugglers are what we call Speedos. Because it looks like you’ve stuffed budgerigars in your jocks to smuggle them through customs.

          • Shotgun Shirley

            Ahahahahaha this made my day!

  • ambi

    “Jared paddled for a wave, the motions second nature as he matched the ocean’s speed and prepared to pop up.”
    I loved this line the most. My husband loves to canoe big whitewater, and your description of watching Jared surf reminded me of the way I feel when I watch Ross deftly manuever a class IV or V rapid. It’s pride, awe, desire, happiness, serenity, and confidence mixed with a little bit of worry. Something about watching him do his own thing, totally independent of me, and do it really well, reminds me of why I fell in love with him. I sometimes wonder if he feels the same way when he watches me with our daughter.

  • Kelsey

    I loved this one, Lauren!

    • Kelsey, thanks! I’m always a little bit behind but i absolutely loved your last post – it reminded me of my faith in teenagers!

  • AH

    Chiming in with every other expat on the other side of the world – this line really resonated “What may have sounded like an outrageous fantasy to our younger selves can very easily become our lives, and we’re comfortable and confident in a place we never guessed we’d be.”

    I’m settling in to my fourth African winter, and though I would have never guessed I’d be figuring out what it means be married and have a family here (with a non-traveler, no less), its shockingly… normal now. Its hard to talk to casual acquaintances from the States about life, because on the surface it sounds so exciting and exotic and becomes this defining fact about me, but except the full-time maid and the immigration paperwork, our relationship and our life together isn’t much different than anyone else’s back home. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  • JSwen

    Oh I must miss my dad because I love your father/daughter conversation on the beach. I also moved away from home (though still in the US) and the feeling of sharing what you’ve made for yourself with your parents is so awesome.

  • Caitlin_DD

    Beautiful read.

  • Lauren

    “But in my day-to-day life I do not think of myself as
    Lauren the American; I’m still just Lauren.”

    There were many things you wrote that I could really relate to, but as another American expat named Lauren, this one stuck out in particular ;)

  • Hayley

    This is so beautiful, Lauren! I really like the part about internalizing the new normal – that’s something we’ve been talking about a lot lately, living somewhere we never ever thought we’d be, and all of a sudden realizing how much we’ve gotten used to it.

  • Rosalind

    I think Newcastle is warmer than Canberra. I have waaaay more than two jumpers :)

    • Prue

      It definitely is! My partner lives in Canberra and I have to concentrate when I pack to visit because I forget it’s not like Newcastle.

    • I heard a rumour that because of its location, it gets roasting hot in summer and miserable cold in winter.

    • I wrote this when winter first kicked in, before the weird extra summer happened! But even still, newcastle is in a much better place than canberra.

  • Tuppet

    For anyone planning a trip to Australia, this land is big – the same size as all of the United States kind of big – and weather is fickle. Newcastle may not always require pants but Melbourne is a whole different kettle of fish!

  • Nic

    I’m the Australian and my fiance is American. Right now we live in North America but I’ll be bringing my “American boy” home some day. It’s strange, because growing up in a tiny Aussie country town, I thought the coolest thing ever would be to have an American boyfriend. And somehow, it happened!