When writer Rosemary McCabe took a vacation to visit family in the USA, she had no idea how much her life was about to change.
There was a lot I didn’t know when I stepped on that plane in May 2019 to visit my sister and her family in Indiana.
I couldn’t have known that I would meet a man from Fort Wayne on a dating app. That we would embark on what was initially a long-distance relationship. That I would go through the process of getting a visa to live and work in the USA. That we would get engaged, then married. That just three years later, I would have a house with that man, and a family in the form of two stepsons and a baby born in October 2021.
Not only could I not have known what was coming. I would never have believed it.
A Dublin homebody considers a big change
For starters, I had never – not once, not ever in my entire life – given any serious thought to the idea of emigrating. I have always been a homebody – and I also felt as though my career tethered me to Dublin just as much as my love for the city itself.
I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else, I’d tell people when they asked – and they did. I graduated in the midst of a recession, with many of my friends moving abroad after college. I love vacationing, I would say. But I always love coming home.
The 2019 trip that started all of this was meant to be a vacation. I would fly to Fort Wayne, stay with my sister and her family for three weeks, then return home to my Dublin life.
I had only been in town a week when my sister suggested to me that I might look into moving over. “Why not?” she asked. “You can work from anywhere as a writer; why not work from here for a year or two?” It was a suggestion she’d made before – first when she was in New York, then in Dallas – but not one to which I had previously given much serious thought. Until now.
You’d think that I might have started researching visas, for starters, or arranged a consultation call with an immigration lawyer, and looked into options for freelance journalists looking to live and work in the US.
Instead, I joined Tinder – and immediately began looking for men to date in Fort Wayne.
Chicken wings and great teeth
Brandin was the second man I met. In his profile, he wore a kilt and described himself as a 6″6′ nerd. In my profile, I said I liked chicken wings and was looking for a man with all of his own teeth. “I fit the bill!” he told me, then asked me to lunch – to eat (you guessed it) chicken wings.
It was the first, um, taste of just how literal Midwesterners are, something that would eventually stop surprising me. (“You like chicken wings? I’ll take you for chicken wings!” It makes sense.)
The venue was Buffalo Wings & Ribs, which Brandin had told me had the city’s best wings. He was incredibly tall – and handsome – but also struck me as being very…American. His big smile showed straight, white teeth, and he had a booming voice that was friendly but also just a little bit…too loud.
We dug into the wings – which, I remembered too late, are terrible first-date food (the mess!) – and I drank my first ever Mountain Dew. He was friendly and funny and asked me questions, and seemed genuinely interested in the answers. And I loved his chocolate-brown eyes, expressive brows and dark hair that fell over his ears.
On our second date, he walked me around downtown and told about Fort Wayne’s history. On our third, I went to his house and we watched a movie and kissed on his couch like teenagers.
Yet too soon, I was headed home to Ireland, with a lot of research to do and plans to get the ball rolling on the small matter of a visa application.
A multifaceted love affair develops
I would come back to the US twice that year – in October, for six weeks, and again over Christmas – to get a better feel for Fort Wayne, to spend time with my sister and her kids and (of course) to see Brandin. Over that summer, we had made our relationship official.
I was in love – not just with Brandin, but with the idea of this move: with the idea of being in the same place as my sister for the first time in over a decade, with the possibility of getting to really know my nephews and witness them growing up, and with Indiana itself.
When it came to the question of moving abroad, one of my greatest fears was the difference, even among two countries without a language barrier. I had found New York chaotic and unfriendly; even the pace of life in London, a mere hour’s flight from Dublin, was much faster than what I knew.
In Fort Wayne, I found a certain familiarity that I hadn’t been expecting. Lush, green fields reminded me a lot of the Irish landscape, and the warmth and friendliness of Midwesterners felt like a hug. Fort Wayne is about the same physical size as Dublin, but with far fewer people – which means little to no traffic (except on those unfortunate occasions when you get stuck waiting for a freight train to cross in front of you).
Of course, the traffic isn’t the only differentiator – and some differences aren’t so welcome. The Midwestern winter, with heavy snowfall that doesn’t melt for weeks, has taken me a while to get used to. Rarely does an Irish snowman last the night; in Indiana, I could create an ice sculpture in my backyard in November that would watch over me until spring.
Nobody walks anywhere in Fort Wayne. I miss how you can stroll for hours around Dublin, from a residential area into the shops, passing by a theater and a gaggle of restaurants and myriad indie coffee shops along the way. Since there’s nowhere to walk in Fort Wayne that doesn’t meet a road too busy to cross or a path that disappears, we drive everywhere. Sometimes, it feels like I haven’t seen another human in days – at least not outside of a car, or a supermarket.
And those supermarkets! I didn’t know so many cereal varieties existed; I still don’t understand why they’re all necessary. Store sizes are just one symbol of all the space America has. In Ireland, I have learned, there are 186 people per square mile; in the US, it’s 90.
When my visa was finally granted, in February 2020, I felt fully committed to the move. I packed my things up in boxes, ready to be shipped. I said goodbye to friends and family – or rather “see you soon,” since I was planning a short return for a wedding that spring.
But 2020 had other ideas.
A pandemic-era life change
In a way, the pandemic made the move simpler for me. Without the choice of that quick visit back to Dublin – had I returned to Ireland, I would not have been allowed readmission to the US, thanks to Covid travel restrictions – I was forced to accept Fort Wayne as home.
And the longer I spent with my sister, the boys and Brandin, the more it began to feel like it.
In July 2020, I moved in with Brandin. Six months later, while I did a puzzle at our dining-room table, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It took me a few moments to register what was happening, because I thought he had found a missing puzzle piece that had been causing me great frustration. I said yes – but not without his having to push me for an answer.
Two weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant.
Weirdly, it wasn’t until we bought a house together – a $250,000, 2000-sq-ft, four-bedroom one 15 minutes from downtown, with a two-car garage and a back garden overlooking a big pond – that I realized I likely would never go back to Ireland. The marriage and the baby should have been enough of a hint, yet it took becoming a homeowner for it to truly sink in.
We know that none of it – life, love, friendship – is ever really predictable. And yet we trick ourselves into thinking we know what we’re getting ourselves into. We make plans as if we have some control over what the future will bring. We make definite statements; mine was, I’ll never move away from Ireland.
But every time we walk out our front doors – or drive out our garage doors – we offer the universe a chance to meddle, to throw a spanner in the works, to offer up a suggestion for an alternative future we hadn’t ever considered.
When I got on that plane in May 2019, I thought I knew where I was going. But I had no idea where I’d end up.
A Menmoir: This Is Not About You, by Rosemary McCabe is out now.