After a Divorce, a Longterm Expat in Istanbul Falls in Love With the City

Image By  PERI SHARPE - ISTANBUL–This past year I fell in love with Istanbul, the city I have lived in for most of the last 18 years. I am a Turkish-American New Yorker, born in the U.S. to a Turkish mother and an American father. I moved to Istanbul from New York in 1996 for what I thought would be a year or so of getting to know the Turkish side of my family. And then I met someone. We fell in love, traveled back and forth between the two countries over the course of our 16-year marriage and until recently, I thought I was living in Istanbul because I was married to a Turkish man. I thought I was waiting for us to be able to move back to New York. Our plan for the future was to make our way back “home.”
Then we got divorced.

What happens when an expat, albeit a half-native expat, gets divorced from the native part of the couple? If you had asked me before, I would have said I would pack my bags and I would leave. But that is not what happened. I realized I was going to stay and the reason I was going to stay was this was the place where I had made my life.

This was where my work as a therapist was, where my friends were and where I had started once again to call myself a photographer. My thoughts about Istanbul shifted as the choice of being here became my own. In some ways I had been sitting on the edge of my seat, not completely claiming the city.

In the year since my divorce, Istanbul has become mine. A few months into my single life, I fell in love with it. I remember the exact moment I realized this; it had been a full day of meeting friends, wandering around town going to galleries and I was on the ferry crossing from the European to the Asian side. The Bosphorus Bridge was all lit up with the ever-changing colored lights hated by all my friends, but secretly loved by my kitschy self.

I had made the year my own, opened up socially and creatively, rediscovered my love of photography, lived the city according to my own terms — and that was how I fell in love with it.

This problem of “waiting” is a common one I hear in my therapeutic work with expats, and most commonly with expat women who have moved to the city because of their husbands’ careers. They seldom claim the city as their own. It is usually treated as a layover, whether a year or two or many more. Projects are not started and friends are not made, because they will eventually have to be left.

However, just as I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was doing this, they also do not realize it is happening and that it is not a fulfilling way to live. Whatever the reason, however long the duration, one must commit to living a full life. Taking responsibility for the decision to be in a specific place at a specific time is a large part of living that full life. Even if one is in a place because of a spouse’s position, we have chosen that spouse and have chosen to support them in their move.

When it comes down to it, just as we must embrace life despite the inevitability of death, so too should expats in term-limited situations seize the day. In my case, I had to take responsibility for choosing to stay in Istanbul in order to finally see all that I could have just by saying, “I am here.” Now when people ask me what I am going to do, if I am going to move back, I answer: I am here now.

- Peri Sharpe, born in the U.S. and raised in New York and Ankara, Turkey, is an Istanbul-based clinical psychologist and visual artist. She shot both photos in this article.

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07