Letting Go of the Plan

For many of us, an early-in-the-relationship deal breaker might be a loved one moving to another country for work. But what happens, when, like April, your love moves to Egypt, and then things fall apart? What happens to your relationship? What happens to your future plans? How do we evaluate and re-evaluate when the truly life-changing happens and all in an instant? This is April’s story of how she found herself in the land of wedding planning, and what she’s learned through crisis and multiple continents.

The inevitable interview question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” If you would have asked me that a couple years ago, I might have talked about where I see my career taking me, potentially going back to school to get a law degree or maybe buying a house. But now? Now, my answer would be much different… I had been dating Shaun for a year when he got a job offer to move to Egypt. Up until that point, we had been dating somewhat seriously but had never discussed our plans for the future out loud. I knew there was a possibility of him moving away from Wisconsin since he had just graduated from his masters program and was on the job hunt. I was always secretly hoping he’d find a great job in Madison and we could keep on keeping on the way we had been. Prior to the Egypt offer, I was the most stressed about an interview he had in Seattle. (Ohmigosh! It’s so far away!) Little did I know Seattle really should have been the least of my worries. We were in Florida on a long weekend vacation when he got the interview offer, and I initially was so mad that this terrible news (for me) had to come right at the beginning of our vacation. But, it turned out to be the best thing that could happen. It forced us/me to actually talk about where this was heading. And, after a night of wine-fueled conversations about everything from student debt to babies, it was decided. We were going to see this through to the end. Whatever that may be. In November of 2010, Shaun moved to Cairo while I stayed back in Wisconsin. Our plan was that I wouldn’t move to Cairo unless I really couldn’t handle the long distance. I couldn’t. I couldn’t handle it at all. I give kudos to those in long-term long-distance relationships, especially the military wives. I don’t know how you do it. I was applying to jobs in Egypt by the end of November, only three weeks after Shaun had left. I was ready to move to Egypt, but I still clung to an idea that I must have a job lined up first. And ideally a job that wouldn’t be a complete detour from my current job. And would ideally further my career. These lofty ideals ended up being just that, and the job hunt turned out to be pretty fruitless.

Finally, I decided to throw caution to the wind and move to Egypt ASAP regardless of the job prospects. Oh yeah, we officially got engaged on New Years Eve while Shaun was back in the US for the holidays. He asked my dad for permission and everything. I gave my notice at work on January 28, a Thursday. The next day (literally, the.next.day.), I woke up early to call Shaun before I left for work. No answer. Not on Skype either. I turned on CNN and started my morning routine, and the first thing I saw was someone getting shot in the chest by a rubber bullet in Tahrir Square in central Cairo. The country was in the midst of a popular uprising that would eventually topple their 30-year dictatorship. Minutes later, I found out that all forms of communication, phone and internet, had been shut off by the Egyptian government.While I felt sympathetic to the Egyptian people, I couldn’t help but be terrified about what might happen to my fiancé. This was my nightmare. I spent the day at work responding to emails and phone calls from family and friends. No, I had not heard from him today. Yes, I hope he is ok too. Yes, I am sure he’s fine. We’ll see what happens…. I quickly rescinded my notice (which turns out was happily accepted by my superiors) and checked the news every fifteen minutes looking for a positive update. A day later the phone lines and internet were turned back on, yet the situation in Cairo was continuing to deteriorate. Not knowing whether things would take a turn for the worse, Shaun evacuated Egypt and returned to Wisconsin where we would spend two long months living in limbo in my studio apartment. At this point, the plan had gone completely out the window. Our new plan was just to be together. No matter what.

Finally, Shaun was cleared to return to Cairo in April, and we were thrown back into the same conversations we had had the summer before. Was he going to go back again? If so, was I going with him? What would I do there? Was it safe for me? After some minor wavering, I decided to take the leap and move to Cairo for real in June of 2011, almost a year after we knew this was a possibility. I eventually got a job working in the same US government office as Shaun, and we have had one hell of an adventure traveling the world and growing up together this past year. If I’ve learned anything from this past year, it’s that things don’t always go according to my plan, and il hamdo li lah (thank God) for that. I know if my life had gone according my plan thus far, it sure as hell would not be as great as it is. Where do I see myself in five years? I will be with Shaun. Other than that, why waste energy trying to plan? I would rather enjoy the now… and my plans never work out anyway.

Photos by: Lexia Frank

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  • This “Where do I see myself in five years? I will be with Shaun. Other than that, why waste energy trying to plan? I would rather enjoy the now… and my plans never work out anyway.” and il hamdo li lah…

    Congratulations for taking the leap and finding a job in a foreign country… I am in kind of the same boat… and though I have a job it is hardly what I wished / studied for and I constantly struggle with finding my place in this new place. But yes, all I know is that I will be with the boy. Though hopefully I will get to exercise my profession too…

  • Wow, speaking of plans being overthrown.

    I’m so happy for you. So happy that Shaun stayed safe through the Egyptian part of the Arab Spring and happy that you now are together.

    May expat life suit you both!

  • Nicole

    Kudos and congratulations to you. This–moving to Egypt but more than that letting go of your plan in general—sounds both terrifying and incredibly exciting to me.

  • Kamille

    “Where do I see myself in five years? I will be with Shaun.”


    I’m doing the same thing. I’m getting out of the military & moving to be with my fiance. There will be many more moves as he’s not leaving the military, so why worry about where exactly we’ll be, except that we’ll be (mostly) together?

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    If I’ve learned anything from this past year, it’s that things don’t always go according to my plan, and il hamdo li lah (thank God) for that. I know if my life had gone according my plan thus far, it sure as hell would not be as great as it is. Where do I see myself in five years? I will be with Shaun. Other than that, why waste energy trying to plan?

    Amen. I’m glad things have worked out so well for you and that Shaun stayed safe!

    Our plan for A. to move to England for me was disrupted when he got a (crazy, amazing) job in Hong Kong, and the distance made our relationship stronger. Our subsequent plan for A. to move to England for me resulted in an elopement which originally felt like it had preempted our wedding plans but now feels like a blessing. We’ve had 16 months to grow into marriage before we invite in the world; our wedding is next month. Our plan to move back to the US after I graduate has turned into a move to China, where A. has a job, I have faith that I’ll find something, and we’ll have each other.

    I love that “Planning a wedding during a revolution” is tag on APW.

    • I also love that it’s tagged!

      I would also add as someone whose future location is unknown (or if it will necessarily be with my soon-to-be husband) that there is a lot of comfort in knowing that I will be with my husband (even if I’m not directly beside him all the time).

      (May I also add that your photos are awesome?!)

  • Love this post! I get so tied to plans, even though pretty much every AMAZING thing in my life came flying out of left field, smacked me in the side of the head, threw me down and knocked the wind out of me. The Universe’s plans for me are so beyond my wildest imaginings–and they are certainly bigger than some stinkin’ plan. Yet, learning to hold on and enjoy the ride and quit trying to drive is a lifelong process.

    • Exactly! When I make plans, I tend to not dream big enough! I heard a quote some where the other day that if you think you can accomplish all your plans in your lifetime then you are thinking to small. So true!

      • Summer

        Too Funny! April and Manya, do you know each other?? Manya and I met in Togo and April and I were together in Egypt. Small world….Loved the story April and the pics!

        • No way!! Haha what a small world!

  • Jess

    I really needed this post today. I needed reminded that when life gets turned upside down it’s OK it will work out.

    We just found out Thursday that my fiance is being involuntarily transferred to another Army Reserve unit that is deploying to Afghanistan in June. Things are upside down from where they should be right now, but that’s OK we are going to get through it.

    You seem to have what my grandmother calls “come hell or high water love”. You two will really fight for each other and that is AWESOME.

    • PA

      I am so sorry, Jess. Another Army fiancee here – let me know if you need someone to talk to (leave a comment on my blog)?

      Endless hugs and tea coming your way from the midwest!

    • Emilie

      Oh Jess, I am so sorry. Sending you lots of hugs and good thoughts from another Army fiancee. We had a deployment last year that was equally surprising and unwelcome. You hang in there, and as PA said, let us know if you need anything.

    • “come hell or high water love” – I like that. I’m going to start using that phrase! That seems like something my grandma would say too ;)

  • Cass

    This post came at the perfect time, I really really needed to hear this today. I’m currently in the midst of dealing with plans gone very array, and am unexpectedly headed back home after living overseas for almost a year. My time here is mostly certainly what I planned, or expected, but I’m learning to be ok with that. Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    “Our new plan was just to be together. No matter what”. Love this line in particular, that’s my and my finance’s new plan. Just to be together and ride out all the changes that are coming after being long distance across oceans for almost 3 years and finally getting to be living together. Scary as it is, I know that we’ll make it through on the other side.

  • PA

    I cannot IMAGINE what it must have been like to have your fiance suddenly in the middle of that chaos. I wish I could go back to be there with you and hold your hand through it.

    I wish you so much luck as the two of you nurture your baby family in a new country! I hope we see wedding pictures!

  • Caitlin L


  • Peggy

    As a fellow expat and world traveler, I loved this. FH spent the first year of our relationship in Rwanda for work, and after just 6 months in the states, we both moved to Uruguay. I too struggled with the “but I can’t move without a job!” mentality and the difficulty of distance. If nothing else, I think it teaches you a great deal about yourself and your partner, and tests your relationship in ways you’d never imagine. If you can survive that sort of distance, you can survive anything…and you get the added bonus of being super-close to the other person after so many multi-hour skype conversations and long emails. Mostly, I’m glad you had the courage to stay with someone in this position, rather than throwing up your hands as many people would have. Your partner is very lucky to have you. I wish you both all the best in your new country, and thank you for reminding me that plans are made to be broken!

  • Wow. Just… wow. This hit home for me today. We’re in the middle of some life upheaval at the moment (although nothing as drastic as yours!) so thank you for writing about this.

    “Where do I see myself in five years? I will be with Shaun.”

    Yes, yes, yes. Exactly.

    • Funny how that person you’re with being the only constant you can count on is the most freeing thought ever. For us its Will we be poor? Well off? Living in a city? In the country? In a car? Frankly, we have no clue. The plan, the only plan, is to be there together.

  • Letting go of the plans is really, really hard. So often it’s so worth it though.

    I’m glad you both made it through everything safe, and happy.

  • Leila

    My parents got married in 1976 and moved to my dad’s home country of Iran (my mom is American). My brother was born in ’77 and at that time Iran was very western and modern. Then the revolution happened in ’79, and like Shaun they were in the capital city and in the middle of everything. Their plan certainly wasn’t to raise my brother in the middle of a revolution that eventually became a war with a neighboring country. Neither was their plan to eventually come back to America permanently, but their love for each other and their son got them through several tumultuous years. I love planning and am known to make plans to plan, but at the end of the day you have to what you can to help yourselves and your relationship survive. Thanks for this story!

  • Love this post :-) I’ll be leaving active duty in June after six years. The plans I’ve tried to put in place aren’t really working out, but I’m strangely not worried about it… Regardless of school/work prospects (or lack thereof at the moment), it just feels like the right time. Not sure where we’ll wind up or what I’ll wind up doing, but I’m at the point where I don’t really care. I’m finally able to prioritize my family over military obligations, and that’s really something to be thankful for (at least, we think so). So, I don’t have as much of a plan as I thought I would at this point, two months before leaving a secure job, but I’m way less worried about that than I thought I’d be. It’s kind of exciting, in a way, to just live for the now. Scary, yes, but exciting also.

    • Isn’t it amazing how going through “hard stuff” brings such a sense of calm to the other stuff? Perspective is a wonderful thing.

    • DKR

      Kelsey, you’re where I was about three and a half years ago-I left active duty in Sept 2008 after four years in, and my plans for career change fell apart in the year that followed. I too felt it was the right time to go, even though I had a secure job. It worked out well, tho-I went back to school (yay GI Bill!) for what I thought I wanted to do, met my fiance, figured out that I didn’t want to do what I thought I did (thank the Gods my career change plan fell through!), and changed my major. I’ve got one semester left, and we’re getting married in December. After that, who knows? Yeah, it can be scary taking that leap, but have faith – you’ll be fine.

  • kayakgirl73

    Excellent Post!

    I’ve had so many plans go very differently than planned, but I still continue to make plans. I still get extremely upset when a plan doesn’t pan out as planned. Hopefully, someday I will learn that plans don’t always work out and sometimes the alternative is actually better. I ended up at a different college than I wanted due to financial aid and I think that really did work out better.

    However, I’m really struggling at the moment, we’re stuck in a condo that we’re under water on. We want kids and we delayed for a year after marriage hoping we could move. We realized that moving wasn’t happening, we decided to proceed with having a baby anyway. However, here I/we sit TTC for 17 months and now waiting to see if the IUI (fertility treatment) worked. Age is not on our side at 38/39. Who knows what our eventual path will be. Hopefully I can embrace whatever it is.

  • Love, love, LOVE the energy and juice of life that is just bursting out of your story, April! Grabbing and holding on to life in this way is so gratifying and I hope you and Shaun have a life filled with love and this terrific energy.

    I’ve never regretted going with an unexpected change of plan in my life — those changes always somehow turned out to be exactly where I should have been going all along. Yay for all of you who embrace possibilities!

  • Just wanted to say hooray for both of you, for following your dreams and doing what feels right, letting the rest of the stuff fall into place around the important issues in life.

  • A wise man once told me, back when I was starting college and thought the plan I had for my life was a pretty darn good one, that “Man makes plans and God laughs.” I’ve learned to laugh too. That plan I had back then was pretty silly compared to the awesomeness that my life has been. I just make sure my feet are moving and let God choose the direction.

  • Elemjay

    Eisenhower apparently said that plans are worthless but planning is everything. No plan survives contact with the enemy but the exercise of going through all the thinkings and mulling over is the real value.

    Best wishes for you both as you seek to find your way through some tumultuous circumstances.

    • Maddie

      This is my new favorite quote.

  • lmba

    You have described exactly how I hope to live my life! Awesome!

  • As someone who doesn’t even have a plan to cling to, may I just say how ballsy it is to let go of planning entirely. We have no idea what country we’ll be in in five years. I hope it will be the U.S., but that may be out of our hands. Maybe Canada, or the UK, or Kenya. Until then, we’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other and hoping that everything will work out. Maybe that’s all you can do, plan or not.

  • Such an uplifting but real post. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Posts like this one are the reason I visit APW every day, even though I got married nearly a year ago. Thank you for sharing your story April! My husband is Israeli, I’m American and we’ve always talked about moving to Israel someday. Part of the biggest trouble we’ve had is not being able to figure out “the plan” for when we do it, how we do it, and what works best for both of us. It’s been maddening and caused a lot of strife. Your reminder that we’ll be together, is as much of a plan as we need, and such a relief. Remembering the heart of it all – that I get to be with my partner no matter where we live – makes everything okay.

  • Jessica

    I like your attitude. You never know where life will take you.

    I always thought that I would end up in a similar situation as you. I have lived in three countries and dated men from all over the world. My last relationship had been five years with a Turkish man. I was so certain that I would marry someone bilingual and live abroad. Then, I met Douglas…from Indiana. He is determined not to live anywhere but the USA. I am determined not to live anywhere but with him. So, for now I will sit tight. Maybe someday the opportunity will arise for us to live outside the USA.

  • Emily

    This is exactly what I need. In the midst of potential (and hopefully temporary) setbacks with our whole from-different-countries immigration situation, I’ve been trying to remind myself that being together, whatever that looks like in a given day or month or year, is what matters. If we spend time in different countries for a while, it’s terrifying, but overcome-able.

  • Autumn

    I too really needed this today. My situation is a bit less traditional as it is my polyamourous boyfriend (with whom I have a wonderful relationship, in addition to my relationship with my partner with whom I eloped with two years ago). Anyway, he got an offer in San Francisco and I was all sad (we live in miami now) until he got a job offer in Germany. So now, I will be spending this summer visiting the west coast and next summer in Germany. Nothing goes as planned but life is better for it. Thanks so much!

  • Kate

    Thank you for this! A friend of mine who I recently introduced to APW highlighted this post for me. It’s so relevant to me like it is to others. As a military spouse in law school, there is the minor issue of passing the bar where we live, and also not knowing where we will live in the future, or how I will advance my career as we move who knows where. But I know that my husband and I will make these decisions together, and somehow (at least in the best moments) that is what calms me.

    And on a greater scale, I pictured myself staying on the east coast, probably in DC, working in international relations, early in college. Here I am, married and pursuing my law degree in Texas, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • God, I loved this. Here’s to the unknown and travel and letting go of the plan! And here’s to partners enabling all of that to happen!

  • Kristy

    I looooove this. Congratulations! Exactly what I needed to read today.

  • Congrats on everything! Good luck to you both!

    Oh, and it’s always exciting to see a fellow Wisconsinite on APW! Something just made me smile the moment you said “Wisconsin”. “Oh! Where is she from?”

  • Ash

    THIS right here. Easily one of my favorite APW posts EVER. Not completely sure why, maybe its because things with me and my man are kinda up in the air at this point too (his lovely quarter-life crisis has thrown us both for a HUGE loop,) including when to get engaged and married. And where to live/work, basically everything. So this post just spoke to me in a big way! Thank you so much for wearing your heart on your sleeve for a moment and sharing with us your story!

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