In May of last year, a month after I wrote a blog vying never to date men again, I went out to lunch with a young, white, teacher named Sam. He was cute but a little idiotic-looking, sported a cane in the way certain men flash fancy car keys, and had a habit of doing a little head toss every now and then that was so ridiculously dramatic that I decided then and there I would only be seeing this gentleman as a friend. We had a sumptuous lunch in the middle of Sheffield, and I was quite comfortable about going home and maybe never texting him ever again.
What happened next wasn’t for the purposes of this blog (which my family sometimes reads) but the upshot was that despite all my misgivings, somehow, by the end of that same day, I’d fallen in love with this young, white, teacher boy I had vowed not to waste my time with. *
A fact about me: all my romantic partners have been, to use a very impolite term, somewhat “broken” boys. They have self-esteem issues, they are usually going through some sort of career crisis, they have a major beef with one or both parents, and they have usually been rejected pretty badly at the hands of someone else before me. This is my type – in both my personal and professional life, I am attracted to misery, because I believe I can fix it. **
Sam was no different, and in Sam’s case, the self-loathing extended not only to his circumstances and himself, but also to the country he belonged to. Two months into our relationship he left for a preplanned eight-month hiatus to India, where he was going to teach slum children and improve his self-esteem. It was a journey that was supposed to test our relationship, and it did: our relationship failed. Sam realized somewhere between month 4 and 5 that he didn’t want to come back, that he could achieve so much more where he was than in this place, and that this potential for achievement outweighed any life we could have together. We broke up.
The trouble with being attracted to dissatisfaction is this – it rubs off. I wasn’t super happy about moving to England when I came here just over a year ago – I had left everything that meant anything to me behind in Karachi – my friends, my networks, my extended family, my job, my alma mater, my flat, and my boys. I had left behind my life with my mother and my memories. I had to start almost from scratch in a cold, indifferent, difficult place, and I hated it.
Sam’s unhappiness with the country was a point we both agreed on, but also one of the points on which we grew apart. I have lived in a developing country, so to speak, for most of my life, and while I love Karachi I am not blind to the multitude of problems there, and consequently I am that much more grateful for the freedom and safety living in the UK provides. So while I was unhappy about moving here because of all I left behind, once I put down my roots in this country I was so much more able to appreciate everything I had gained instead of lost.
And the breakup, in that sense, liberated me to feeling exactly as I did about this country, instead of also absorbing and reflecting my partner’s dissatisfaction. Just a few days after we broke up, I was standing by the window of my kitchen and looking outside. The entire side of the pub wall next door, the roof, the ground and the parked cars were all gently sprinkled with ice, and the cold was phenomenal. It was so cold in the draughty kitchen that my breath was misting up in front of my face, and as I stood there I could feel my toes slowly turning into tiny brown ice cubes.
But I was thrilled. And I realized at that moment I could be thrilled, I could be unabashedly glad about this, without worrying about how my partner would feel about the miserable Manchester weather, since he didn’t matter anymore. I was able to take a step back and evaluate how I felt about being in England, and I realized it wasn’t so bad.
In that moment, I was actually happy.
And hence the point of this post. A year on, it has been incredibly difficult, but also incredibly satisfying, moving here and letting myself slowly, inexorably, fall in love with this place. It has its problems, but in this one year alone it has given me so much, so unimaginably much. Even aside from my family, who are the literal light of my life and for whom I would do anything, this country holds so much – so much freedom, so much liberty, so little danger to my person as a non-religious, hardworking, unconventional south asian girl.
A year on, I have struggled with living alone, with a long distance relationship, with navigating taxes and finances, with the work politics of a completely different medical system, with building a relationship to two siblings I didn’t really want but have come to love infinitely. A year on, I have lost and found and worked on and built myself into a Shumaila I sometimes struggle to recognize, a person my mother would probably also struggle to recognize, but would hopefully still be proud of. And this country, and its people, have helped me do it.
A year on, I cannot say that I am always happy, but I will say that I am content, and that is more than I thought I could achieve when I first moved here. It has truly been good. I hope it continues to be so.
See you guys soon. xx
* This says a lot more about me than it does about him.
**This is an uncharitable view of things. I could just be attracted to the sense of struggle these boys give off, the sense of resilience and attempts to self-improve. Or I could just have a savior complex. Or maybe both.