Being expat

The magic three for TCK’s?

Are three years a common time limit to friendships, stays etc. for TCK’s? In a recent discussion among TCK’s on a social network, a young TCK talked about her difficulty about “holding onto friendships long-term” and about tending to “start cutting bonds around 3 years into a friendship”. She thinks it could probably be a defensive mechanism on her part and supposed that it has to do with TCK’s frequent movings.

TCK’s usually do move frequently, but apparently it doesn’t matter how often you move, it seems that TCK’s reach for change on a regular basis. If they don’t have to move, they need to change something else: they assess their friendships, partnerships, the way they’re living etc. and really feel the need to change something. This inner urge to move on, to quit and restart over and over again, seems very common to TCK’s.

When I read the answers to her post, I realized that I do this too. I didn’t move so frequently during my childhood, but I’m also a TCK (well, now I’m an ATCK). But since I left my parents’ house at the age of 18, I moved every 3 years (once I did even move twice a year). Even while I lived in the same town for more than 10 years, I needed to change something every 3 years; my friendships, my jobs, my study etc. This doesn’t mean that I’m unable to have longterm relationships or that I am inconsistent (I have two very good friends since Kindergarten and did the same job for more than 10 years). but I really do evaluate my friendships and the situation I live in regularly every 3 years.

I did realize all this only a few years ago, when I felt the need to move again, but this wasn’t necessary. I really felt like if something was wrong with my life, but then I understood that it was only my inner 3-years-clock that was badgering me.

Now I happen to live at the same address since 7 years (and this is the first time since I was 18) and I am married for 18 years. But still, I feel this need to change something every three years: job, hobbies and I still do evaluate my friendships. But I don’t “quit” as much as I did in my twenties though.

If you are a TCK, did you experience something similar? Do you also feel like a perpetuum mobile that needs to change, to move on, to never rest? And does this happen to you every three years too?

(Niccolò Paganini Perpetuum Mobile Perpetual Motion, Yehudi Menuhin)

23 replies »

  1. I have the perpetual itch too – and I think it started in college. I got used to change and making new friends and adapting and thrived on it. I always admired Madonna, how she kept completely reinventing herself so frequently. This is our first expat assignment and it provided the change I was seeking and I know that my personality has to keep redefining myself, but I’m hoping to do so on a much smaller scale after we move back. I think it’s good to keep growing and moving forward and changing – holding on to the good and seeking out new adventures and friends that stimulate us and help us to keep on learning. Thanks for the thought.


    • Thank you, Adriana, for your reply. It’s interesting that we somehow get into this moto perpetuum that doesn’t want to stop. And if we have to “slow down” it doesn’t feel right. I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but as I noticed comments about this from TCK’s, I wondered if this is something related to the fact that TCK’s usually move very often. Or is this just a coincidence? However, I always considered every change in my life like something positive. Even if it meant to say good-bye or farewell to people, lifes etc.


      • It probably happens to people that move a lot. I was moving every couple of years and when we stopped moving, I got ” bored”…or too comfortable … needing something new and stimulating. I started finding new things to do every couple of years and that has helped. Great topic.


  2. I’m not a TCK, but married to one. If we don’t move, we move furniture around. This mainly because he feels the need of change and I’d agree with you on the time frame. It is usually every 2-3 years we either move apartments or rearrange the furniture.


  3. Thank you MaDonna for reminding me that: I also do rearrange furniture very often! But I must confess that I do that every 6-8 months… It surely feels like moving whilst staying in the same place.


  4. It’s so exciting for me to read on someone else’s blog what I’ve been living and know that I’m not the only one! This isn’t just a family thing…because most of my family gets this same thing. I knew that it had to come from the way I grew up but somehow knowing others do this is comforting. Seems obvious now that you write it out like that!


    • I’m glad, Lynette, that you liked this post. I was thinking about this for such a long time but never thought that others would experience this too. It’s really important for me too to find out that it’s a common thing to TCK’s. I’m doing a research about the TCK’s and am really glad about every response I can get about my posts on this topic. Thank you very much!


  5. I feel the same way, however I’ve never lived for more than a few weeks outside of the United States. There is something about needing to experience new things, new places, and new people that keeps the itch alive for me. I want to get to a new place after I’ve mastered my current one!



  6. That’s very interesting, Jeffrey. I know from some of my friends who travel a lot, that they feel the same too. There’s not this “three” thing, but the necessity to travel regularly and to experience new places, things, to get to know other cultures. They always come back “home” and some of them didn’t even move from the place they’re born. But I observe that they don’t integrate part of these experiences in their daily life, like TCK’s usually do (sometimes even without realizing it). Some of them may cook something they’ve eaten abroad, but it will remain “exotic” for them or they collect souvenirs, but they all seem like little pictures of a world that they experienced for a short time but didn’t really adopt. Some other of these friends visit the same places regularly and I really have the impression that they belong there a bit. They make friends there and form a real bond. – What kind of a traveler are you?


  7. I am an ATCK (24 years old) and have realised my changeover period is six months. I also find that I enjoy house-sitting alot- the frequent pack up and move scratches the itch when I can’t do anything about my circumstance. To be honest, I’m a little bit nervous about finding someone to ‘settle down’ with eventually. What happens after six months of the relationship?


    • Welcome, Rebekah, and thank you for sharing your experience with the “three” 😉 Apparently, the number three is important for you too. That’s very interesting! Can you tell me more about how often you did move during your childhood, in order to have an idea if there was this three-years-rythm already? I didn’t have it in my childhood and still did need to change something every three years. Talking about relationships, I can tell you only about my personal experience. I needed to change something every three years too, when I was young and in my early twenties. My relationships did end interestingly always after three years. If you have a “six month rythm”, you could see what happens if you strech it to nine months, then 12 and maybe you’ll arrive to three years? Anyway, if I would have known what I know now about my need to change every three years, I would probably have tried to change something else instead of ending those relationships. Who knows. But I felt really the urge to change something “big” in my life. But now I’m married since 18 years (oh gosh, it’s a multiple of 3 too ;-)) and I’m fine. So there’s hope ;-))


  8. So glad you linked to this on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page. Yes! It’s the magic 3. About a year ago my mom told me that beginning at 6 years old until after college I never slept in the same bed for more than three months at a time….It was amazing to hear this. It made so much sense that it affects me at that deep level. Thank you again for directing me to this post! Right now I am so restless it hurts…..we will have been in the condo we are now in for 6 years in December…..the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in my adult life…


    • Marilyn, this restlessness is terrible sometimes. Especially when others don’t have the same “rythm” and don’t share the same feeling. You refer to this topic in many of your posts and I think this is something that people underestimate; especially parents.


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