Remember that old campaign for Nationwide Insurance that had the tagline “Life Comes at you Fast?” I’m sure most everyone has experienced some sort of life changing event that was not entirely planned. For us, this event happened a year ago this month and I think we internalized it enough at this point for me to actually sit down and write about it.
What made our “Nationwide” moment different from most that I know about is the confluence of crappy timing, momentous events (both personal and global), and a test of whether our relationship was mature enough to sustain the stress that was to pile onto us over the course of the next six months. Looking back at this experience, I feel that we came out of it stronger, more resilient and more sure of ourselves and that in itself was probably a good return on the emotional investment.
Now mind you, our lives were following a pretty non-conventional path up to that point. My now wife moved from her hometown of Moscow, Russia to London with her job, as a news producer. She walked away from the comforts of home, her family and friends and an exciting job to take on a completely new challenge, both professionally and personally. A few months before her move, I made a similar jump across the Atlantic for reasons that largely mimicked hers. We were both looking to get out of our comfort zones, to experience new things and meet new people. Thousands of people do this every month of every year, but it is still a relative minority, which is why I define our life decisions as non-conventional.
We met in the winter of 2013, got engaged and started planning our wedding and our life in London. We had a small group of really close friends, our Russian families were happy that we were only a short flight away from them, and my American friends visited often. London seemed like a pretty rational choice to put down roots, start a family, etc. Certainly, there was no indication that someone other than the two of us would be deciding our future. Brimming with confidence, love for each other, and the thought that we had a pretty cool plan for the next few years, we committed ourselves to planning our wedding in Greece, which was to happen in May of 2015. As an added bonus, my wife’s employer (a Russian media broadcaster) offered us a bigger and better apartment, which we were going to move into a week and a half before Christmas of 2014.
At this point, I’ll provide a quick geo-political lesson, to paint the scene for what 2014 was like. After the morale-boosting Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and the conflict between the two countries escalated even further, as a succession of events, culminating with the downing of the Malaysian Boeing over Ukraine by a missile allegedly fired by Russian-backed separatists. At this point, Europe and the U.S. imposed tough economic sanctions on a swath of Russian economy. If this was not enough, the global oil prices were accelerating their slide toward historic lows. Cut off from its largest trading partners, engaged in a costly conflict with its neighbors, and undermined by shrinking revenues from its main export, the Russian economy began a free-fall. The ruble, Russia’s currency, became worthless overnight (it started the year at 50 rubles to 1 British Pound and by the fall was at 100 to 1). This hit us directly, as my wife was paid in the Russian currency. While this was difficult to digest, we felt that we could weather the storm, but the other shoe was bound to drop, and it did a couple of weeks before Christmas, when we were told that my wife’s bureau was being shut down and she was being asked to return back to Russia. She declined, and the wheels of uncertainty spun into motion as we faced many simultaneous decisions: where to live (most immediately), where to move to, what job to look for and last but not least, we still had a wedding in Greece to pull off!
We obviously managed, but it was tough. We were forced to move from apartment to apartment, and thanked our stars that we had good friends who let us crash with them for the final month of our stay in London. I interviewed remotely with multiple companies, and we had to decide between Los Angeles, San Francisco and even Zurich, in terms of options. All the while, I continued to work at my UK company, while my wife was making sure that our wedding plans didn’t get lost in the craziness that was our life. At some point, we had decided to throw all of our stuff into storage, return the keys to our AirBnB apartment and fly to Moscow to spend two weeks with our family to decompress from all the stress. Thankfully, a couple of days prior to this, I received an offer from my top choice company and we were feeling a lot more certain about our future.
We managed to survive these crazy six months and thought at times it felt like all the odds were against us and nothing was going our way, we did the one thing that has been the hallmark of our relationship: every evening, hand in hand, we would go for long walks and talk about everything, no holds barred. We discovered an entirely new dimension in our relationship and grew to respect and appreciate each other that much more. In a way, we felt that what we experienced in those six months, matured our relationship the way a decade of married life might not.
We had an amazing wedding in Santorini on May 14th, with our closest friends and family sharing this moment in our life with us. And just five days later, we boarded our flight to LA to start our new lives.
I am glad we had the chance to confront such a challenge and persevere through it. Now, whenever we face a challenge or a difficult or frustrating decision, we both have something to look back to and realize that we can overcome just about anything together.