Living Deliberately: When Your Loved Ones Don’t Get It

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to love deep and suck the marrow out of life. To put to rest all that was not life, and not, when I came to die, realize that I had not yet lived.”

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Whether in the 1800s or 2000s, the path to sucking the marrow out of life and living on your own terms is paved with challenges, including dealing with those who don’t understand the concept. Robert Louis Stevenson called Thoreau’s journey into the woods “unmanly” and something he “tended with womanish solicitude.” John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that Thoreau would have man “lower himself to the level of a woodchuck on walk on four legs.”

Safe to say they didn’t get it.

George Eliot did though:

“People—very wise in their own eyes—who would have every man’s life ordered according to a particular pattern, and who are intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them, may pooh-pooh Mr. Thoreau and this episode in his history, as unpractical and dreamy.”

Quite a woman, that George Eliot (real name Mary Ann Evans), and it’s amazing how wise her words still are, as many of us who have chosen a path different from the norm can appreciate.

In our private communications, Diana Baur* has called this “the untold side of the expat story.” When we carve paths for ourselves that are independent, open, and outside of conventional boundaries, even if it’s without leaving one’s home country but it seems especially then, we run the very real risk of losing people along the way.

I wish I could tell you that when you take your life into your own hands and create your path, all of your loved ones will be overjoyed for you. That they’ll continue loving and supporting you, so very proud that you not only know what you want but are also working your ass off to get there — learning, growing, and confronting challenges you had no idea existed. That no matter what you do in life or where you go, you’ll always be able to lean on the support network you thought was solid. But I can’t.

Some of your loved ones not only won’t get it, they won’t even care to try.

Now let’s be clear. It’s completely understandable that your mom may not *immediately* get why you’re planning on a year in an ashram in India, or that your childhood best friend can’t wrap her head around your career change from investment banking for teaching. You can’t make enormous life changes and expect that everyone you know will understand your choices and motivations from the moment you reveal your master plan — or even your next step.

Picking pinecones

Picking pinecones

But if you’re lucky, you have some people around you who care enough to try to understand.

Through that experience, some in your inner circle will prove to be your lifelong connections; they’ll do so by hanging in there. They’ll talk to you about your life, your goals, your dreams, your decisions, your actions, and try to understand where you’re coming from — and you will reciprocate and keep up the relationship you’ve always known, only enriched by new experiences and a deeper level of understanding.

They’ll travel across the city, country, or the world to visit you if you’ve physically moved, send you silly e-cards and motivational quotes when you’re having a bad day, or simply make sure you know about what’s happening in their daily lives, ask you about yours, and otherwise remain involved and engaged in your relationship.

They know that the lines of communication run two ways, and they will keep their end open so you know they love and support you, no matter what.

I’m lucky. My parents were blindsided by the whole “move to Italy” thing eight years ago, but they’ve loved and supported me anyway. Neither of them would choose to have their daughter live halfway around the world, but they accept that this is what I have decided is best for me — and they understand it has nothing to do with moving away from them and everything to do with moving toward me. In other words, they’re happy that I’m happy.

Unfortunately, there will probably be another type of person in your current sphere — the kind who flat-out refuses to try to understand your life as you envision it, or perhaps as you’re already living it.

These are people with closed minds and strict ideas not only of their own lives but also of yours and everyone else’s, or as Eliot wrote much more poetically, “intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them.” They can’t fit you comfortably into a proverbial box, which means you threaten everything they think they know as absolute.

You thought these people loved you unconditionally, but, as it turns out, they only support you when you live on their terms, according to their plans and expectations. They may or may not confront you about the mistakes they think you’re making, but regardless they can’t help but judge your decisions and withhold love and support based on those judgments, whether they are based in fact or assumption (usually assumption since they don’t know enough about your life on which to base a valid opinion anyway).

Diana has written about the monstrous benefits of changing your life, and I actually think this is one of them — learning who really has your back and who will only be there for you when it’s convenient or comfortable for them. I call these types of people conditional lovers. And I also call bullshit.

Sunlight streaming in

Sunlight streaming in

Unconditionally is the only true way to love.

People who offer conditional love can suck the energy, inspiration, and dreams right the hell out of you if you let them. So don’t.

When it becomes painfully obvious that in certain places all you will find is a wall of judgment, condescension, and conditional love, it’s tough. When you’ve tried for days, weeks, months, or even years to keep a relationship going, but you get nothing but criticism and judgment in return, it can tear your heart out, stomp on it, and throw it down a ravine.

If you’re living a good life, though, you’ll feel that deep inside, and you’ll realize that if someone else is judging or criticizing you, it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their own insecurities and failures and unhappiness, and if they don’t want to try to understand you and your life, that’s their loss — and so *not* your problem.

At that point, it’s time to go retrieve your heart, glue up the cracks as best you can, and move on.

How you react to the actions of others is always your choice, and you can either allow conditional lovers to suck up your time and energy, letting their snide comments, judgments, and lack of a desire to understand break your heart over and over again, or you can follow Thoreau and continue to suck the marrow out of life on your own terms, live deliberately, be mindful of each and every precious moment, and cherish the wonderful people around you who *do* love and support you unconditionally.

I don’t know about you, but I’m with Thoreau on this one.

*A special thank you and un abbraccio fortissimo to Diana Baur at A Certain Simplicity for being my North Star at the other end of the boot in Piemonte.

110 Beans of Wisdom to “Living Deliberately: When Your Loved Ones Don’t Get It”
  1. Gil

    I’m with Thoreau too! As long as my children are happy with the choices they make, who am I to complain. If they are not happy it is up to me to try and help.

    michelle Reply:

    Well put, Gil 🙂

  2. Great post – many of our loved ones ‘questioned’ our move to Dubai (shrieking, but it’s in the Middle East!). Many have rolled their eyes when I tried to defend our decision but in the end I thought I was wasting energy trying to defend anything.

    Fast forward 5 years later we are still here, happy, contented AND glad we have ignored the snide remarks and continue to do so.

    michelle Reply:

    Good on you, Grace; always love catching up on the happenings in Dubai, so *I’m* selfishly happy that you’re there haha 🙂

  3. Fiona

    Michelle, you just captured everything I feel and have witnessed over the years. Some people just cannot be happy for themselves never mind for someone else. It’s been many many years of trying with some relationships and even after my best efforts I felt worn out, empty and frustrated. It is most certainly time to move on. Thank you for your wonderful post.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment, Fiona; much appreciated 🙂

  4. 10.03.2011

    This is a brilliant post. It has left me rather speechless. Thank you for sharing your opinion on this. The expat journey certainly isn’t an easy one. I constantly seem to need to pick myself up, and motivate myself to keep on going, which at times is hard. But I am getting there.

    michelle Reply:

    The first few years were the most challenging for me, but some things will never stop being challenging, it seems…thank goodness for the Internet and being able to find others in similar situations to help us through xx

    Kim B. Reply:

    Beautiful post Michelle, and I so agree with your additional comment here about the blessings of the internet. Though I’m not as enterprising as you or Diana or Arlene or Cherrye, I take comfort in your strength and somehow it helps me along my path too. I’m not sure how I started out heading to the Italian gals’ expat club, but I’m glad I found you!! : )

    michelle Reply:

    Glad you found us, too, Kim!

    Diana Strinati Baur Reply:

    hugs, kim. always.

  5. Michelle

    Wow, this really encouraged me. Thank you!

    michelle Reply:

    Wonderful to hear, Michelle; thank you for taking the time to share it 🙂

  6. 10.03.2011

    we ‘outsiders’ are not alone.
    Thanks for reminding me.

    michelle Reply:

    Never alone, Charmain; thanks so much for your continued support 🙂

  7. Adrianne

    I wish I could get my mother to read AND understand this. I think she would read it but she’s at a point where she probably wouldnt get it. I think only one of my 3 sisters actually gets taking the risk and moving towards your dreams even when it includes being 1000’s of miles away from family (she’s the one teaching English in Korea) I had one sister tell me she wished I hadnt met my husband when we left! And my mother thinks she did something wrong in raising me that makes me want to be so far away!

    I just keep telling them I am happy! I am building the life I always wanted. It is hard being away from family but think of the travel opportunity (for them and for us to see my birth country in a whole new way, as a visitor). And hopefully one day they will get it.

    This spoke to me the most: “If you’re living a good life, though, you’ll feel that deep inside, and you’ll realize that if someone else is judging or criticizing you, it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their own insecurities and failures and unhappiness, …”

    I was thinking the other day about how much different I am to who I used to be, how much more satisfied I am. And I felt guilty for a moment for even feeling that way – how crazy is that.

    michelle Reply:

    Crazy, indeed, Adrianne, but I hear you. Sometimes you wonder if they think you’re lying about being happy and, I love your word, satisfied. I hope your family members come around to understanding one day so that you can all enjoy your lives together 🙂

    Diana Strinati Baur Reply:

    …and just to add to this, if you are feeling doubt or stress for whatever reason, it should be ok with everyone who loves you, because people feel doubt and stress and anxiety and all sorts of things regardless of the life they lead. But when it happens to the black sheep, somehow it can be a justification for poo-pooing the choices the black sheep made, you know?So what happens is many times, we feel compelled not to even explain anything about what we go through, for fear of the I told you so’s.

    michelle Reply:

    So true, Diana, and what is a relationship if you can’t feel free to express your feelings — especially when you’re feeling doubt and stress and anxiety? What’s your pay-off, as Dr. Phil loves to say?

    Audra Reply:

    Hi Adrianne,

    I don’t know you but I understand you completely. Almost every day, like clockwork, my mom would call me via Skype from New York to Italy where I lived, sobbing and telling me to come home. For a while, she didn’t even want me to move out of New York!

    I was only 20 years old and couldn’t handle it. I’ve always been conditioned to live a certain way and to get good grades and be a dutiful daughter (because it’s just what you do). So when I moved away, my mom was just miserable. She couldn’t let go of me, and believe it or not, I wouldn’t let myself be happy. I lived with the huge burden of shame and guilt and it eventually got to be too much to handle.

    The whole two years I lived in Italy I was miserable. I was absolutely depressed because I just couldn’t let myself be happy knowing my mother would call and sob to me. It drained the life out of me and eventually destroyed my spirit. I wasn’t miserable because of Italy (Italy itself is wonderful), but I just felt like I let someone take over my life and sabotage me.

    This year, I’ve been working really hard on challenging myself to be happy. I am taking the right steps towards my own personal freedom again and it seems my mother is coming around to me moving out again. It’s been a whole three years later and I have the tools now to know how to respond when she calls, sobbing. But hopefully she won’t this time. I’m going back to Italy this year for my M.A. and I couldn’t be happier. I won’t let someone who “doesn’t get it” bring me down again.

    Audra Reply:

    Oh, and another thing. I couldn’t vent my frustrations with my mom and others because (and it never failed) I got the “I told you so!!” that I so desperately dreaded. It was as if my mom and others wanted me to be unhappy just so they could be right. If I wanted to call and just vent about a bad day, it would turn into an hour long sobfest/stern talking down to.

    As a result, I felt extremely emotionally isolated and I just turned in on myself. My boyfriend at the time (bless his heart) just didn’t understand the burden I carried on my shoulders even though he tried. So I just internalized it even more and it ended up destroying me to the point that after I got back from Italy, I lived with depression every single day. I wish I had never left and I wish I had stood up for myself, but I am trying to make up for it now.

  8. Gina

    Wow. What a great post. This is something I am struggling with right now…I am on the cusp of some big life changes and I’m afraid of the support (or lack therof) I might get from my parents. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I will refer back to this when I am feeling doubtful.

    michelle Reply:

    Best of luck to you, Gina, as you forge your own path; thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  9. I can relate to this post in so many ways – first, as a European expat living in the U.S. and second as a person who generally has chosen different approaches to life. Thank you for writing about this so thoughtfully, as always 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Always lovely to “see” you, Valerie. Forza! 🙂

  10. 10.03.2011

    “They can’t fit you comfortably into a proverbial box, which means you threaten everything they think they know as absolute.”

    No truer words. I encounter this attitude often. In suburbia. In this conservative city. Within my family. Yet I go on doing my own thing… which seems to infuriate them even more. Not my intention to infuriate, but that’s the way they see it.

    Good post, Michelle.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks Ally, and more power to your “infuriating” ways 😉

  11. 10.03.2011

    Brilliant post Michelle, I admire you for putting this into words as I completely understand. Although we made a life changing decision much later in life than you have done I can still empathise with you and agree with the words of Thoreau.
    Some of those negative comments you get are possibly jealousy. Take Care.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks LindyLou; this post has been a long time in the making, but it was time. It’s sad that so many people can relate, but I had a feeling that was the case. xx

  12. This is just an amazing post. As you said, it’s not just the expats who experience this.

    I have chosen to a very non-traditional lifestyle and often get flak for it. And trying to explain that I’m doing what I like to do (always have) seems to come across as a person who is justifying irresponsible behavior. That’s kind of annoying.

    Also, I sort of saw myself in the post as the person who criticizes other people’s life choices at times. I’m very opinionated and realized that my comments to whoever may be perceived as unsupportive. I passed the post on to my best friend (who has known me over 22 years) and I told her that I thought I saw myself in it.

    Rather than texting me back, she immediately called and allayed my worry, saying that being opinionated, although it may not come across well to the person on the receiving end, doesn’t mean that I’m not supportive of the choices someone makes for their life. Saying that it’s one thing to say, “I wouldn’t do that, but if they enjoy it…” isn’t the same as not supporting their choice or treating them poorly (not being friends with, disowning, etc.).

    Anyway…fantastic post. Loved it.

    michelle Reply:

    Yeah, I mean, I think it’s pretty natural for us all to have opinions and make judgments — unless you’re the Buddha or a VERY close follower, judgments are hard *not* to make.

    But I think it’s important to draw the line between what is our business and what isn’t. Are someone’s decisions affecting them or their loved ones negatively? Like if a friend is drinking so much that she’s not feeding her kids — yeah, that’s a good time to step in. Granted this is a personal decision and varies by situation — we all have our ideas as to what is “our” business….

    But it’s also important to choose carefully how we express our opinions to someone else. I think if one is communicating their concerns with another’s choices, although it may not technically be any of their business, it can still be received well…but making sarcastic comments and otherwise being passive-aggressive, well, that’s not helpful to anyone. Honest discussions are always the best way to go, but not everyone wants to have them.

  13. Izabela

    great entry.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for coming by, Izabela 🙂

  14. 10.04.2011

    Sometimes those who are negative about a friend or family member’s decision to take an unexpected path gradually broaden their own perspective by seeing how a life change brings happiness to someone they are close to. In today’s world we all need to broaden our vision, although some of us do so vicariously. Those who have the adventures may never know how much we have taught those who stayed home.

    michelle Reply:

    Broadening horizons does seem to be a positive to me as well, G.G.; I guess some people just don’t see the benefit. A true shame.

  15. 10.04.2011

    What a wonderful and truthful article.

    I find it hard to “give up” on conditional friends, but after this really see the worth of stopping them from sucking up my time and energy.

    michelle Reply:

    So glad you enjoyed the post, Sue; I hope you manage to maintain as much of your valuable time and energy as possible 🙂

  16. David

    As another American who moved to Italy recently with his family, I concur with your posting. Most Americans will never “get it”. We left for financial reasons and to raise our son in what we considered to be a healthier environment. As for “effeminate” thinking on the part of Thoreau, what he spoke of is very much an Eastern mindset, which I have great respect for. The older I get the more I realize that going through life with a ham-fisted attitude and outlook only cheapens our short time on this big blue marble.

    michelle Reply:

    Totally with you on the Eastern mindset, David; I find it’s something I’m drawn to more every day. Sounds like your kids are quite lucky 🙂

  17. 10.04.2011

    This was great! My family was actually great about it every time I left (mostly, they’d say “Oh good, we’ll visit you, Italy sounds fun”)…. but I did have friends who, while never having said anything negative, didn’t really express much joy either. I still remember when I made the announcement at a dinner party, to a group of friends who already knew I was going to move to Italy, that I had officially bought my plane ticket. I was expecting a “yeah! Let’s toast to that!”, but instead they all kind of grimaced and said, “Hm. That’s nice. Yeah.” It was a little weird not to have their enthusiastic support, but I knew that they just didn’t like me going so far away – sometimes it’s just hard for the people in our lives to accept that they can’t see us so easily. It all comes from love, right? 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Mmm I think there’s a difference between un-enthusiastic support and actively discouraging; honestly I think sometimes it comes more from selfishness than love…anyhoo we’re sure happy to have you on this side of the pond 🙂

  18. So true and well said, Michelle. You don’t have to be an expat, as you said, to experience this rejection from people who presumably say they care about you but then chide each step along your personal path to bliss. No one needs anyone else’s permission to live their life in their own way but it sure is nice to know there are people who support you unconditionally…..for any other conversation is just background noise in this thing called life.

    michelle Reply:

    Ben detto, Lisa. And I do hate noise hahaha 😉

  19. Kristi

    Wow! This is a great post. I totally understand everything that was written, because it happened to me. Getting divorced, you find your “conditional friends” really quickly and your true, honest, supportive friends just as quick. Because my ex employs alot of our friends and most of them stay on the premises and work or play there every weekend, when I stepped away from that, I lost alot of them. It was not convenient for them to come see me or talk to me anymore. And my good, true friends that stuck by my side and didn’t judge even though I did cheat on my husband in a marriageless marriage, they were there to talk to me when I was crying. They took me in and my dogs when I had no where to go or put my dogs when I was work traveling. They stood by me when my world was completely upside down and inside out. They were there to listen when my ex went completely nuts on me and supported me to just get away (which I did to England and found a great love).

    Now, I smile, because I got to experience that horrible time (and unfortunately still experiencing some tough times) and found out just how great my circle of friends really were. And when they are going through tough times and I have a few, I’m there at their beck and call, anytime of day.

    michelle Reply:

    So happy you’ve found some solid support, Kristi; funny how these tough times can lead to so much clarity and, eventually, calmness in our lives. Forza! xx

  20. Kristi

    And my family truly supported me, as well. I could haven’t gone through that without my parents. My brother and I are now close again after all these years and I get to see my nieces more. I couldn’t ask for any more…except maybe a few thousand more dollars a paycheck!

    michelle Reply:

    Hah, yes, the extra money to follow our dreams would never hurt… 😉

  21. Kristin

    Very passionate … and very true. I know I was one of your supporters … I’m wondering who wasn’t 😉 You know you’re very brave in my book. Love ya!

    michelle Reply:

    Indeed you were, Kristin, and your support has always been *very* much appreciated. Un bacione xx

  22. 10.04.2011

    Hi Michelle,
    What powerful words from Thoreau! It takes a lot of guts to go that way. And it’s doubly hard if our loved ones don’t understand and are not supportive.
    This is indeed a reminder if my children wants to carve a path for themselves that are not the norm, to keep an open mind and not to judge and criticize but wish them all the best.
    Thanks for sharing this insight. Have a nice day!

  23. 10.04.2011

    Too true! When I made the choice to pursue a career in writing, there were a lot of naysayers. It’s always important to have people who believe in you no matter what you choose!

    Brittany Roshelle

    The Write Stuff

    michelle Reply:

    Good on you for following your writing dream, Brittany; as a fellow freelancer, I know how difficult and wonderful it can be. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  24. Michelle, Look at what a nerve this struck. I can see by reading the comments that many of your readers have faced conditional love and many have been blessed with the sweetness of family and/or friends who love unconditionally. When we’ve felt that and been strengthened and soothed by it in our lives – we understand how gracious it is to give. Thank you for such a beautiful post this morning. I feel fortified.

    michelle Reply:

    What a lovely comment, Barb; thank you so much for your continued support 🙂

  25. Carlo

    Your pen and your heart have gathered lots of followers around you. Although I often avoid a comment it doesn’t mean I’m not in the numbers eager to read your posts, always amusing, witty, introspective. Like you, as life’s course changes, I feel the need to look inside myself, to center and find the compass once more, then I know I’m on the right path. Then we know what is truly good and what can be dropped, and we proceed lighter. I’m with Thoreau and with you.

    michelle Reply:

    Grazie mille, Carlo, come sempre xx

  26. Even before the wee hours of the morning in New York City on October 3rd, I woke up with a jolt in the middle of the night, with one of those “calls to action” (and no it was not a weak bladder) which you spoke about in one of your previous blog entries. AND I immediately went to your blog and saw that you had posted this. There were not even any comments yet, which is rare for your great blog, and so I felt too shy to weigh in.

    My immediate reaction though upon reading this entry was this: What a great disclaimer to your post about the inability to steal second base with your foot on first! (“I wish I could tell you that when you take your life into your own hands and create your path, all of your loved ones will be overjoyed for you.”)

    Now today as I come forward to offer my thoughts, it is with the knowledge that Steve Jobs, the C.E.O. of Apple has died. I have written about him in a couple of my blog entries because I was very moved by him, and particularly by what he said in his speech to a graduating class from Stanford.

    Here is just a snippet as it relates to your posting:

    ” . . . you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”


    “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life.”


    “Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don’t settle.”

    AND there is much more but I will end with his prophetic quote:

    “When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

    Thanks Michelle for always posting things that require mulling over, I am very grateful that I discovered your blogs! Keep up your good work and don’t ever let the bas*#* get you down!

    michelle Reply:

    Wonderful, Patricia, thank you; I’ve watched Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech before, but I think I’ll watch it again today — maybe even make a habit of watching it once a week. So much wisdom and inspiration there.

  27. Brilliant writing, Michelle! I understand this so deeply as it’s something I’ve struggled with in my family since LONG before making the jump to expat life in Italy. Conditional love is a bitch. I guess I learned that very young – that unconditional love doesn’t always come from the people who you need it from the most. But that doesn’t make it any easier or less painful to put those pieces of your heart back together again and again. Or to overlook the moments of judgement to try to forge some semblance of a relationship. It has made me grateful for the people in my life who do understand, who have taken the time to walk along my path with me open minded and who keep that communication two way. Living deliberately and loving unconditionally – I’m working on it each and every day! Thanks for the inspiring words, Michelle!

    michelle Reply:

    Hugs to you sweet Laura 🙂 xx

  28. 10.06.2011

    An uncomfortable and unfortunate part of expat life is discovering who your true friends are – and aren’t. We’ve lost many along the wayside because as you said, they don’t care to even try to understand, much less accept the choice we’ve made. Fortunately, our parents are whole-heartedly supportive; a few family members were outright hostile to the idea, for some reason our choices to live deliberately rocks their world. Oh well, a little tremor now and then is good! 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Haha totally agreed, Valerie; sorry to hear you’ve also experienced the bumpy road too, but it certainly seems you and Bryan have made the right choice 🙂

  29. Brett

    Hi Michelle,

    Great post.

    I refer to those negative people as Dementors – a creature taken from the Harry Potter books. Wikipedia describes Dementors as “Besides feeding on positive emotions, dementors can perform the Dementor’s Kiss, where the dementor latches its mouth onto a victim’s lips and sucks out the person’s soul… After such a kiss from deadly creatures, the victim is left as an empty shell, incapable of thought and with no possibility of recovery”.

    Sound familiar????

    Regards Brett

    michelle Reply:

    TOO familiar. Love it, Brett; thanks for sharing!

  30. 10.07.2011

    I have just stumbled on your blog and feel as though I have met an old friend – I could not have put it more succinctly. In the late 1980’s I gave up a successful career in film and TV to live on a Greek Island and couldn’t wait to live a simple life where I could remove my suit of armour and be me. It was not easy – but I have never been happier. I long to return to that life, (I am now living back in Sydney) where I can shed the dross (“friends” and the trappings of modern city living) and just BE again. A newcomer to blogging I am so excited by my new found friends. Thank you

    michelle Reply:

    Lovely to “meet” you, Francesca! Best of luck getting back to where your spirit feels best; looking forward to following your journey 🙂

  31. 10.07.2011

    i am so with you on this, missy!

    i have fought to live deliberately my entire life…
    my choice to work or not,
    to have children or not,
    to travel ALONE!

    i am reminded most recently of steve jobs
    and his quote about ”’crazies”’

    ~~Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently~~

    thank goodness
    you were crazy enough
    to follow your dream, michelle!

    now I DON’T HAVE to move to Italy;
    i have YOU!

    oh happy day!

    michelle Reply:

    I love you SPF. That is all. xx

    Wanderlust Scarlett Reply:

    Some Pink Flowers, Italy wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful without Michelle in it.


    *group hugs!!*

    michelle Reply:

    MWAH! xx

  32. 10.07.2011

    I really identified with your post.

    In September 1977 I moved to Italy alone with no job and no connections. My mum thought I was crazy. I told her I had a 6 week excursion air ticket so I found no way of supporting myself in Italy within 6 weeks, I’d fly back to Vancouver. She scoffed, “Oh! You’ll be back!”

    I quickly found a job teaching English at a language school in Salerno–not legal, but a fun job to pay my way. I lived in Italy three years on the Amalfi Coast and in and around Florence teaching English, working in the Florence’s San Lorenzo market and in hotels. Had a Tuscan boyfriend and was part of his family.

    When I went home in 1980, I no longer took an interest in mum’s business and began teaching Engish to adult immigrants. A job I loved for years. Now I have a tour company that takes people and me to Italy.

    So many new paths in life opened up for me in Italy back then, in Canada afterwards and continue to open up in Italy today. When Mum died, she’d cut me out of her will, but I got my half after a court battle with my brother.

    I don’t regret for a second running off to Italy in 1977-80. I would have regretted NOT doing it. I’m very happy now in Vancouver, but will always have a definite Italian side in my life.

    Thanks for a wonderful post!
    Margaret Cowan

    michelle Reply:

    Good on you, Margaret, for taking control of your life and living without regrets; I’m sure all of your students and clients appreciate your decisions as well! Best wishes xx

  33. 10.08.2011

    Michelle, this post resonates so much in me. Thank you for writing this. *hugs*

    And yes, its not always easy to leave everything behind and start something new (with people questioning your decisions, even)..but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat…homesickness, tears, doubts, and all.

    michelle Reply:

    Brava! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Odessa, and for your continued support 🙂

  34. Connie Colley

    Thank you Michelle,
    This is a burst of wisdom that I am sure that will help everyone. And you are so right There has been times in my life and sometimes even not that I feel such rejection and disapproval that I feel myself being beaten down to nothing. And know that If I dont find some happiness and acceptance ( not tollarance) in my life I will surely die. I have two little dogs now and they love unconditional and they make me laugh and I love them . So I keep them in my focus at all times. Animals do not judge they just love.
    I do not let any person beat me dont any more.Thank you for sharing as I know that it will help so many

    michelle Reply:

    Best of luck to you on your journey, Connie, and hug those pooches for me 🙂 xx

  35. 10.09.2011

    So many interesting, insightful comments.

    When you, Michele, and I, in one of our many (important, life-affirming) exchanges hit on the topic of conditional love and a self determined life, it occurred to me that when we go about fashioning our lives in an individual way, we stop validating the choices of others. We don’t necessarily mean it, and most times, we aren’t even aware of it.

    But that’s what happens. To do what we do, and I am speaking about people who don’t choose the beaten path, we have to grow up fast. And when you grow up fast, you understand what does not work anymore and become less able to fake it. But core relationships are filled with so many unspoken preconditions; if we stay in our assigned rolls, it’s much easier to not challenge, not question. For both sides.

    Until one day it becomes impossible not to. That’s when everything changes. And while it can hurt like hell, it’s probably better in the long run. Because being clear with ourselves is more important than anything.

    Having said that, I am blown away at the amount of empathy I receive from all kinds of people. I find empathy often comes from those who have gone through some kind of radical change or trauma themselves. There’s a core of understanding – the kind of understanding that comes from not being understood.

    So I tip my hat to you, my beautiful, warm, generous friend who is anchoring the the southern tip of the boot for me. You are wise beyond your years and I can only hope for many long chats, emails, and face to face conversations in front of a stufa surrounded by sleeping animals that will, undoubtedly, enrich my life.

    I thank you from my heart.

    michelle Reply:

    Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, Diana: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” by Anaïs Nin. That’s exactly it, isn’t it? When we realize that staying in our assigned roles does absolutely nothing for us, and in fact, limits us — and hurts us in many ways to boot.

    And I’m totally with you on empathy. Conditional lovers, or at least all the ones I’ve met, seem to lack that capacity of imagining themselves in someone else’s shoes, what the might be going through, what they might need or want…radical change or trauma definitely has a way of pulling us all a little closer together, because you’re right — it teaches us that ANYTHING can happen at any given moment to anyone…that whole “there but for the grace of God” stuff. Yeah, conditional lovers rarely “get” that.

    And I thank you from my heart right back. xx

  36. 10.10.2011

    This was the most incredibly, insightful, delightful, inspirational, truthful, and intelligent blog posts that I have ever read. I commend you and thank you at the same time due to the current surroundings of ‘conditional’ acceptance in my life in my work surroundings. You have helped me see ‘more’ clearly. You have helped me realize that it is all a bunch of crap. You have helped me (beside my own insight) move on. You, my dear unknown blogging friend, who lives in my native Italy. . . I wish you many blessings for your brave integrity in living. Thoreau rocks on! Roz from ‘la bella vita’

    michelle Reply:

    Un abbraccio forte, Roz; thank you for your kind words and best of luck to you in getting rid of the crap hahaha. FORZA! xx

  37. Shelvin

    This is a brilliant post. It has left me rather speechless. You just captured everything I feel and have witnessed over the years. Some people just cannot be happy for themselves never mind for someone else. It’s been many many years of trying with some relationships and even after my best efforts I felt worn out, empty and frustrated. Thanks.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Shelvin; I hope you can find some peace and happiness in relationships that are worth keeping up 🙂

  38. Nell

    Dear Michell and Daine, how physic you two are on this issue of the nay sayers, they were talking about this last night on Oprahs life class, and how those who want you to fit into the life they feel you should be in and not the one you choose to live ,has to do with feeding thier Ego.
    Advice from the heart sincere and simple will strike a true cord, its been the catch phrase for a while , but”follow your bliss” to all who voiced their experiences I am making an effort small steps to follow mine.

    michelle Reply:

    I suppose there are worse places to be than on the same wavelength as Oprah 😉 Thanks for sharing that, Nell; I had no idea!

  39. 10.11.2011

    Michelle n Diana,

    Gosh who would think that a couple of expats (and one is a legal beagle) could wax so eloquent. What a thrill to read that “consciousness” and “living deliberately” is alive and well “over there”. I think both or you are dead on in your observations and your method for reporting those conversations….both blogs are in fact in my google reader.

    Only comment I need to make which is from my own experience is; “love that is less than unconditional is NOT love” it is in fact some form or EGO portrayal of some sort!!! Nearly every civilization, nearly every valued sacred text describes “good/pure/spiritual love” in a manner that requires ones heart, mind and soul to be given. If that is accomplished then Love (hmmm manifestion of The Divine?) is seen and felt. So for me, if there are “hooks”, “conditions” or any other tether to them…..runnnnnnnnnnnn do not walk runnnnnnnnn away and be happy.

    Actually now that I get my head and heart moving in this writing, I think you both have also done extremely well at describing what I have personally experienced within my “recovery program” in the last 37 years. I have people in and out recovery that are there for me, that are aware of my physical, emotional, and spiritual make-up on a real-time basis. They have found out that thinking of others is in fact the necessary practice they need to stay “happy, joyous, and free” themselves. This is born out in scripture in that short passage of; “…Love thy neighbor as thyself”. I Am in fact their “neighbor” just as you and Diane are my “neighbors”.

    Thank you all my neighbors for letting me share just one more thought with all of you.

    Love and Light.

    michelle Reply:

    Lovely thoughts as always, Richard; thank you for taking the time to share your experiences — I especially love your advice to runnnnnnn 😉

  40. 10.14.2011

    Well, what more can be said after so many insightful and heartfelt experiences shared here? For one, I think it is difficult to live in one’s own truth no matter what or where that might be especially when it doesn’t always match up with the main stream. I think being an expat snaps it all into a clear picture more quickly and decisively about where you and your loved ones stand than one would think. Embracing that truth and your own is a series of lifelong challenges that brings great rewards along with many new people and experiences as others fall away. Like the seasons, it has it’s ebb and flow. I’m grateful for having choices and opportunities in a world rich with things to explore and another one out there on the internet too. Thanks for sharing your musings, it’s always interesting ans usually resonates with me.

    michelle Reply:

    Agreed, Marla; there’s something about such a drastic move that brings everything into extreme focus. Thanks so much for your comment and continued support 🙂

  41. 10.14.2011

    PS…I love all the different quotes!

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks Marla!

  42. Patrick King

    The problem with unconditional love is that those you love tend to take you for granted.

    michelle Reply:

    Of course this can always happen, but loving unconditionally doesn’t mean you can’t create and enforce boundaries about the way people treat you. Unfortunately some people just aren’t meant to play major roles in our lives — and they tend to be the people who haven’t understood how to love unconditionally right back.

  43. 10.18.2011

    Bella Mia,

    Don’t ~ever~ let anyone make you feel bad about following your dreams; for you are precious, and so are those dreams, and no one and nothing should try to convince you otherwise.

    If you want to go to the moon, then do it. Anyone who would let go of you along the way (as you mentioned) creates a loss on both sides, but I believe they hold the greater deficit as they are shorted by the blessing of having you in their lives – and as one who knows, you are definitely a blessing to be treasured.

    Enormous love and hugs to comfort and encourage. Keep going.

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    michelle Reply:

    Grazie mille, as always, my dear friend from way across the miles xx

  44. 10.19.2011

    I have been reading your blog for several years now and used to post more often (as Michelle from Smoochdog) but have been more of a lurker lately. I had to comment today to say that this post touched something so visceral in me that I found myself reading and re-reading the post. Another commenter mentioned how she lost some friends in a divorce and I realized that your words apply so truthfully wherever you are. Calabria, Massachusetts, when it is a move to another Country or the life one chooses post-divorce. Thank you for posting so eloquently what I often feel but have a hard time putting into words. I love your blog!

    michelle Reply:

    Great to “see” you again, Michelle, especially with a blog link attached to your name 🙂 xx

  45. 10.24.2011

    Great post – it made me cry because it is so true to where my life is at the moment. It’s not even the older generation who seem to be having trouble with this. My mother (81) and step-father (92!) don’t necessarily like that I am so far away, but understand my need to do it. It’s my brother and sister who judge and find me in some way wanting. Why? They would say it’s concern. I would say – who knows? I hope one day they can accept my life the way I want to live it. If not, we will all lose out.

    michelle Reply:

    Cath, you’re in good company; in speaking with other expats about this, there often seems to be more issues among people in our peer group than people older than us…maybe b/c the people older than us can better appreciate the fact that life is short? Boh. Forza cara xx

  46. 10.26.2011

    Thank you for the wise and mindful post. I will continue to follow and I look forward to hearing more about your take on living life deliberately.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for coming by, Dianna 🙂

  47. Antonio

    Very well written article, I was destined to read it. I have made the decision to move to Italy on my own and have had quite a few negative responses and reactions. I spent the last 3 years gathering documents for Italian citizenship and finally achieved it. I have learned over the course of my journey that the nay-sayers will only bring me down with their negative opinions, I have chosen to leave them in the background and continue my journey. Those who have cheered me on in my quest to fulfill my dream have given me unconditional support and love and I know they will continue the journey with me. I will pass this article along to those who still believe I am making a huge mistake so they can understand where they stand in my life.

    michelle Reply:

    Bravo Antonio; all the best as you continue on your journey 🙂

  48. 11.08.2011

    Can you believe I just found this, following a link from Facebook. It is so lovely. I’m going to be thinking about it for days. Thank you for writing it.

    Your friend,

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for coming by, Candace; always nice to “see” you 🙂

  49. 11.19.2011

    I think most of us can relate to this post as we may have encountered one or two or many people who think this way. There is no one-size-fits-all way of living. We are all individuals – creative and unique – and capable of culling our own paths in life. I agree, I am with Thoreau on this one!

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for adding your thoughts, Jen 🙂

  50. 12.05.2011

    Wow. Fantastic post and well said. It’s not easy making the decision to move halfway across the world and have loved ones understand. There seems to be an internal battle raging war on the decisions we make for our own lives. After all, it is our life to pursue once the diapers and wet-naps have been packed away for good.

  51. 12.09.2011

    Thank you for this entry. I too made the decision to live deliberately and move abroad, and your post is full of truth and comfort. Though I do try to appreciate the support of my friends and family that have stuck by me through it all, your words have reminded me just how fortunate I am to have them.


    I’m also with Thoreau.

  1. [...] This time I am free of those fears, no longer an obsessive Mum who wouldn’t let her children out o...
  2. [...] blogs have long been favourites of mine.  Firstly from Michelle Fabio’s blog post about livin...



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake