Pints and Possibilities: The Curious American in London


There comes a point in every trip to London where I begin wishing I were home. Not America home, but home home, I miss my shower, with its hard water, and my sofa and my bed. You know, creature comforts.

Obviously this won’t be a problem when I move here, and I actually imagine it’ll be the bigger things I miss, like being able to get a drip coffee at any coffeehouse, and not having the barista sneer when you request it. (Seriously, London, this isn’t Italy; get over your coffee snobbishness.)

I just noticed a young man at the table across from me wearing Crocs. I suddenly feel a lot less basic for drinking drip coffee.

So anyway, this trip is coming to a close, and for those of you who follow me on social media, you know that getting here was quite an Odyssey. I’ll chronicle that at a later date. Right now I want to focus on how it feels to be back in London, and shoot off some quick, unedited thoughts. This is a free write (much like my Ferguson blog), so don’t expect a polished piece. Just stick with me. I’ll get somewhere eventually. I always manage.

I want to be here. More than anything, I want to be here. But the here I want is changing. My hostel is in Brondesbury, a fairly middle-class area on the cusp of Zone 3, with brick row houses and little children in school uniforms crowding corners in the afternoon. It doesn’t remind me of Logan Square (my neighbourhood in Chicago), but does have a bit of a Roscoe Village feel to it. Very quiet, residential, with just enough restaurants and bars and pubs to keep things interesting but not enough that it’s somewhere you want to stay on your holiday. That is, unless you’re me, and you like your holiday to be basically like your workweek except without the work. We’ll come back to this thought.

So here I am in Brondesbury. An ambulance has just blared its sirens past the cafe. That’s happened a lot here, with both ambulances and police cruisers, so I reckon there must be a station nearby. I’m not far from the Kilburn Tube Station, so I can see commuters hurrying to and from. You can tell the ones who have somewhere to be-maybe a job interview, possibly a lunch date-because they keep bumping into the wicker chairs and metallic tables that this place uses to create some semblance of cafe culture. In London. In November.

But you can pop out there for a cigarette, so I’m not complaining.

I really like Brondesbury, actually. There’s a gorgeous tavern/pub right around the corner, fully restored. Looks Victorian, but may be Edwardian; I haven’t investigated the history. The staff is incredibly friendly, as are the patrons. I had some great conversations last night whilst waiting to go over to my mate Nick’s for Thanksgiving dinner. My favourite was the old man who didn’t understand why a Frenchman could move to the UK without question but an American couldn’t. I didn’t bother to explain. I just accepted the compliment of his righteous indignation.

I could see myself living here, or just down the road in West Hampstead or Finchley. This is pretty significant, because in the past, I couldn’t tell you where in London I would live. My stock answer was also a complete fantasy; there is no way I will ever afford property in SW3. So where in London I “belonged,” where I would call “home,” was always a bit of a mystery, even to me. Bloomsbury will forever have a part of my heart, being where I stayed back in 2007 whilst at UCL, but again, that’s a cheque I can’t cash. And whilst I’m not even sure I could comfortably afford to live in Finchley-London is so much more expensive than Chicago-it certainly feels more attainable.

Indeed, I’ve seen a lot of London this trip that I haven’t seen before. I went down to Richmond, and then to Twickenham, a couple different times. On my way back, I stopped off in Chiswick, though I was slightly disappointed to not bump into Donna Noble. It was an entire side of the city I had never explored, and though my time there was brief, it was enjoyable. (Not least because of the company.)

Twickenham, and indeed Richmond, feels a world away from Brondesbury, though. I loved it down there, full stop. Not as unattainably posh as Kensington and Chelsea, but posher than Brondesbury or Logan Square, Richmond was just lovely. Like Logan Square in Chicago, it felt more breathable than the rest of London, but unlike Logan Square, my host told me many people wouldn’t consider it properly London. Indeed, Twickenham in particular, but Richmond as well, did feel more suburban than Logan Square and certainly more suburban than the parts of London I’m familiar with, but suprisingly, I enjoyed that. I didn’t spend enough time there to pretend to be an expert, but from what I saw, it was a bit of a slower pace of life, a little more laid back, and a lot, lot quieter.

I had one of my best sleeps this year in Twickenham. That my bedmate was a fantastic big spoon was only part of that reason.

Yes, I met a man. Yes, I fancy him. Yes, I would love to see where things go. But no, he’s not putting a ring on it any time soon. I don’t even know if he’s that interested in me, and I know the whole transatlantic thing kind of freaks him out. It’s understandable. It should freak him out. It’s scary as hell.

I don’t want to talk too much about him, though, because he A) hasn’t really given me permission to put his life and our date(s) on full blast and B) he reads my work so I bet this is already a little awkward (hey, you told me my best work was the confessional stuff). But what I will say is that he’s lovely. And when he texts me I smile. And that he’s good in a crisis.

I will also say that it’s nice to be dating again, even if just for this week. I mean the fact that this bloke is a gem aside, it’s been genuinely fun getting to know someone, flirting, and going through the inevitable self-doubt of whether they like you like you like them. I’d forgotten how exciting and terrifying and wonderful and stressful this could be.

Dating is fun, but it’s also frustrating. How many times have we all had that amazing first date, where you think everything went swimmingly, only to find out they don’t want to see you the next day? In 2012 and 2013, that happened all the time in Chicago. Sometimes you can tell, and you set reasonable expectations. But sometimes, man, men are dicks.

I did a cost/benefit analysis of romance and decided that it just isn’t worth it. Not in Chicago. Not when it’s impossible to find men stateside who want to move to the UK. I’m focusing so much on my writing career, and finding a job in Britain, that I don’t have the time or the energy to date.

Except in London. In London I do. Because he’s already here. But you try finding a man who is ready to do a long-distance relationship. A quick fling with an American, sure. But commitment across continents? Nope. And I don’t blame them. It’s bonkers. And even I’m not the biggest fan of it, because the last thing I want is anyone ever thinking that I’ve married a man for citizenship. I had that opportunity five years ago and passed on it, because I want to marry for love, not a passport. And could you imagine his family and friends always questioning whether my motives were pure? Fuck me. I’d never be able to live with that.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to date men in Chicago because I want to be in London, which means I don’t date. But when I date in London it’s only for a few days, and finding something that lasts is incredibly unrealistic.

There’s an obvious solution to this, and you’re probably screaming it right now. “Skylar, just fucking move to London!” That would alleviate a lot of my concerns, wouldn’t it?

So I think I’m going to. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it, but I’m going to figure that out. It’s not going to happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen next year. But I’m going to figure out a way to get here. Everything I want is here. My future is here. My home is here. Somewhere, my husband is here too. But I’m not here. So I’ve gotta get me here.

Each time I’m in London I feel closer to moving here. But this time my resolve is rock solid. This time I truly feel as though I belong. The problem is I have no idea how to make this happen. It’s something that comes up time and time again. But if I’m being honest, I just don’t know. My most obvious option is marriage, but as I said before, that’s out of the question. Trying to find a job is my next best option, but it’s hard, and I have no distinguishable talent other than writing. And until my career takes off back in America, I’ve no chance of actually moving here.

So I’m stuck. I’m stuck in Chicago. I’m stuck in America. And I’m stuck on my own. I’ll get here. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll get here. I just… have no fucking clue how I’m going to make that happen.

But then, I’m the bloke who sold everything he had, bought a one-way bus ticket to Chicago, and never looked back. I figured that out. I’ll figure this out.

Watch this space.

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