We were 26 and 28 years old then – and we had been living in Blackheath in London with our 10-month old puppy. Our weekends consisted of walking across the heath to the farmer’s market with our dog on a lead, stocking up on food from the various stalls, nipping into the village store for the papers on our way home, and then sitting in front of a roaring fire as the hours passed slowly and lazily. In the evenings, we travelled into London and met friends, laughing, chatting, and drinking wine and cocktails early into the next morning.
We were happy – and I was sure my soul belonged in London.
But he worked in finance – and with the ‘credit crunch’ paralysing the financial industries in the UK, we both decided it was a sensible decision to accept a job he had been offered in Dubai.
It was a mutual decision – and in hindsight, it was the right decision. But I still felt like the world had been ripped out from under my feet on that warm July day back in 2009.
He told me he would give it 6 months and we’d see where we were. I moved in with my parents – furniture in the top of their garage, dog running a-mock in their house, and clothes crumpled in several suitcases. I flew out to Dubai to visit him every other month – and he returned the favour on the ones in between. That six months passed slowly and difficultly – but he didn’t return. I forgave him when he proposed on a sunny day in Greenwich Park with the sparkliest diamond and a view over London that will forever be etched in my mind.
That 6 months turned into 18 months – and we got married on a December day, with our beloved London blanketed in snow. And as January ticked around, I packed those belongings in a suitcase once again, kissed goodbye to our dog on my parent’s doorstep with tears pricking my eyes, and made my own way to Dubai to begin our life as husband and wife.
That was 6 and a half years ago now – and 3 kids and 6 homes later, we are still here.
I often think about our life in London – and my heart aches. But I don’t think it’s aching for ‘home’ – I think it’s aching for the simplicity of life before kids, when my skin was glowing with the benefits of regular sleep, when friends answered pleas to meet up within minutes, and the buzz of London living perked me up far quicker than a mug of strong coffee.
I adored that city and I adored that life – and if you had told me that I’d be living in the Middle East as a mother-of-three in eight years time, I’d have laughed until I was on the floor, then thrown a bowl of cold water over your head to sober you up.
I never had wanderlust. I never travelled the world after I finished university. I never wanted to live anywhere else in the world. Each to their own, but the idea of being an expat just wasn’t appealing to me – so I am as surprised as anyone that I am still here in the desert, bringing up my kids in a 45’C eternal summer and barely stepping out of my flip-flops in nearly a decade.
But I don’t regret the move we made for a second – and whilst my love from London has never waned, my love for Dubai has grown strongly and steadily alongside it as the years have passed. The city that embraced me as I grew three children in my belly, that has given me friends as close as family, that has offered us opportunity after opportunity, and that truly is ‘home’.
The pang in my heart I feel for the London skyline is still there – but now I feel the same for burnt orange desert dunes, for palm trees swaying the breeze, for silver skyscrapers jutting into a flawless blue sky, for starfish and pale pink shells on the shore, for the smell of jasmine in the air on a warm evening, for the sound of crickets when I head outside to my car. And for the people, every colour and every nationality, living shoulder-to-shoulder alongside us. Two cities and two homes.
Eight years ago today, my boyfriend left.
And I will never regret letting him go.