Being a Triangle

A lot of things change when you make the decision to emigrate, and in some ways the actual move can be the least hard. Culture shock, and it’s ongoing effects, influence so many areas of an immigrant’s life, and it can feel like no sooner have you established yourself in one phase, another challenge will come along.

An ex-pat friend of mine made me aware of the idea of “becoming a triangle”. In the broadest terms, this is what happens when a person from one country moves to another and undergoes strong changes in how they live their life. A Circle from Circle Land can move across the world to Square Land, but they will never be a real Square, regardless of how long they stay and how well they integrate into their new society. Instead, they retain certain parts of their circleness and absorb some attributes of the Squares, eventually changing to become a Triangle. Even if they were to return to Circle Land, they will never return to being a true Circle. Their experiences, both those good and bad, will have changed them in far too many ways. The exception to this rule is when a young child moves to a new country. They tend not to become Triangles, but instead take on aspects of their Circle past and Square present, plus those of their Triangle parents, to become Stars.

Becoming a Triangle isn’t an instant change, in fact it can be ongoing for many, many years, and it is not always obvious to those becoming Triangles that it is even happening. They might recognise that they don’t feel like a Circle any more, but they are also very aware that they are not a Square. This is not necessarily a negative feeling, more a very acute understanding that they are in a state of flux and change. Many people push too hard in this phase, desperate to be affiliated with and accepted by the Squares, to shed their Circleness as swiftly as possible. Others may shun this process, and work at trying to change their environment to suit them, they attempt to make their life in Square Land as close to how it was in Circle Land.

I can feel that I am a Triangle already, in fact for me it happened very quickly. Perhaps because I was not happy with my life in Circle Land, and because I was fully ready for adventure and change. I suspect also that there is a part of me that just fits in Square Land which I had never found in my home country. The pace, the attitudes, the negativity I experienced is simply not there in Square Land. It would be naive to think that there is none of that in my new country, because of course that is not true, but even now the honeymoon phase has passed, I am still completely in love with the good things my new home is offering me.

I think one of the very hard parts of adjusting is feeling the emotional flow of what is happening, and understanding how you are changing as a person. I felt like in the first year I was still very temporary, that at any point someone may come along and tell me I had to return to Circle Land. I felt a mixture of emotions from the people “back home”, which is how I still referred to it. It was interesting to me to see how people responded when they knew of my plans, how at the time it felt like very few were truly and genuinely happy for me. There was a focus on grief and loss and how my presence would be missed, and less on the wonderful experiences I was about to have. Jealousy, selfishness and anger seemed quite common. The idea that I was deliberately leaving people and that it was somehow a personal affront. Some friends even stopped talking to me before I left. Perhaps it was my own worries and uncertainties affecting me, but it also felt like some people wanted me to fail. In contrast, those who were happy for me really were very happy. They focused on the positive changes, the amazing opportunities, and the beauty of the adventure. These are the Circles I still keep in contact with.

You expect the culture shock feelings in the first year or so, that period of initial fitting in and settling down, so it has been a constant surprise to me to find that those elements continue to influence how I feel. Right now I am in the phase where I have accepted that there are some people who were extremely prominent in my life who I am unlikely to ever see again. The logistics and financial impact of travelling back to Circle Land just aren’t feasible, and, if I am truly honest, there is a reticence in me to return. So I feel grief and loss myself, yet in a strange way, because those people are still there, it’s just they are no longer fully present in my life.

Thanks to the internet we are able to keep contact with almost anyone, and before I moved I felt like that would make things considerably easier to keep in touch. I believe now that it has made some things much harder. I can follow people on Facebook or write emails to catch up, but the presence is not really there. I feel like an intruder into people’s lives, and, perhaps weirdly, I feel like they are intruding in mine. I have entered another phase, where I am becoming aware of what friendship really means to me, and also recognising that a number of the relationships I have fostered in Square Land are already more fulfilling and healthy than some I maintained in Circle Land. The people I now choose to associate with are often those who have had similar experiences to me; they may be ex-pats who understand how it feels to be a Triangle, or they are Squares who are passionate and ambitious, who have an overwhelmingly positive attitude.

My husband talked of one of the differences in attitude between Circles and Squares. Ask a Circle how they’re feeling and they’ll likely say “Not bad”. Ask the same question of a Square and they say “Pretty good.” It might seem like a tiny thing, but it has an impact, especially on emotional health. It is perhaps that difference that I noticed so keenly in the communication I kept with many Circles. Not all, but many.

It becomes exhausting, that emotional tug of war; of feeling the guilt that you did leave people behind, but the joy in fully embracing your new life. At wanting to keep past friends in your life because they are important to you and you love them, but also feeling like they anchor you to the past, when you want to live totally and completely in the present. When you realise that some relationships were actually incredibly toxic and were holding you back, and now you are free from that.

Family give another different pull once again. Being so far away from them and losing that network of love and support is very, very difficult, but also in doing so you realise that friends, neighbours, co-workers and local community, can all become your new family of sorts, that your support network can be as big or as small as you let it be. You just have to work at it, to make the family you need for yourself.

I do not miss any aspect of my life as a Circle, in fact my only regret is not becoming a Triangle much sooner. The experiences I’ve had and the widening of my world view has been invaluable. I came from a tiny village two miles away from Whitby on the North East coast of the U.K. to live in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, 12,000 miles away from where I was born. This is not the place where I have lived and loved and grown up. It is not the land of my family, nor that of my ancestors, as far as I am aware, but my heart knows I am home here. I am a Triangle, and I am completely happy with that.


Credit – with sincere thanks to Naomi Hattaway and her article ‘I am a triangle and other tips for repatriation’ September 2013, for being the inspiration for this post. https://www.naomihattaway.com/blog/2013/09/i-am-a-triangle-and-other-thoughts-on-repatriation