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The dreaded question – When are you coming home?

This is a question that most travellers and expats are all too familiar with. The interesting thing about it is that it tends to come up at all sorts of times. Sure, it’s more common in the beginning of your journey when your original plan with “only staying away for 6 or 12 months” has turned into way more than that and the people back home that love you start to worry. Then it might go silent for a while and then the questions begin again. So many of my clients describe this as ‘confronting’ or ‘upsetting’ because they don’t like their life decisions being questioned by people who don’t live with them. I can totally relate to this and I’m sure many of you readers can as well.

Imagine though if we chose to see that question as an expression of love rather than a potential source of judgement. How different would your relationship with that person be as a result of it?

It’s impossible to understand exactly why someone is asking you the question of when you’re coming home at the frequency they do. But when working through this myself, and helping my clients do the same, I’ve found some useful things to consider (before you get mad or upset).

  1. Understand where they are coming from. They may have travelled and lived overseas themselves or they may not have. Most of these questions tend to come from people who have not lived overseas themselves, but there are always exemptions. From their perspective they are most likely just curious of when they’ll see you next or simply missing you. They might not understand your decision to leave in the first place, but you can choose to be the bigger person to some extent and really try and understand them.
  2. Own your decision. You don’t need to apologise for your decision of living far away, much like the question askers not needing to apologise for living where they do. Owning your decision and being proud of the decision you made is not something you need to say. It’s something you need to fully allow yourself to feel.
  3. Be respectful of your differences. Sometimes it’s hard to try and understand each other and if this is the case for you, just settle for respecting their view and agree to disagree if needed.
  4. Find ways of meeting or communicating. The channel you choose to communicate through will make a difference, so pick one that works for you and this specific person. I used to get a lot of questions from one specific family member for many years regarding when I was planning to come ‘home’. In our case phone, text message or email was not ideal, so I wrote this person a letter to explain how I felt about the constant question and how I was hoping we could get past this and express our love and care for each other without that question being in the mix. It helped us get closer and I’m really glad that I took the time to think about the best place to meet this person in the middle.
  5. Know when to say no. If someone is outright harassing you or making you extremely uncomfortable with repeated questions around this subject even after you’ve made it clear what the deal is, you can decide to say no to contact with this person for a while. I wouldn’t recommend it in all cases, but sometimes actions speak louder than words and sometimes a clear “no, that’s not OK” is important to move past the question loop.

What’s your experience around this? What worked well to manage this in your family or group of friends?

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