One of the most motivating aspects of doing the fieldwork for this project is that there is loads of public interest, despite it being Phd research which can be quite dry and off-putting. The comments which I get about this being interesting and worthwhile research from the people I meet continually validates my reasons for doing the research in the first place; namely that while economics, politics, and transport links are factors in people’s decisions to move (or not), those factors are almost always weighed up in conjunction with the outcomes they will have on personal relationships. Transport links take you somewhere and who or what is at the other end of the line is key to deciding whether those links qualify as good or not to you.
The project appeals to a wide array of people and one reason for that is there are a multitude of different understandings of love. There are numerous kinds of relationships which involve love – parents and children, friendship, siblings – they are just a few examples of relationships which can involve love and loving (and annoyance, and jealousy, and tedium etc.). No matter how I define love in the academic context, and there is a rather convoluted definition in the official outline of the project which tries to pin it down to the sort of thing we might call ‘couple’ love (though that is too short a definition for academics).
This was brought home to me the other day when I was talking to an Italian man who moved to Brussels because his wife was coming here to work. When I suggested that he was a love migrant, he was surprised, and, pointing to his wedding ring, told me that ‘this’ (meaning his marriage) was not the same as love. He felt that once married, obligation and duty become more salient and that his case was not romantic enough for the way he understood the Love Migration Project (though I beg to differ).
I was talking to another man who had found a job in Europe and his wife and young children had come with him to live here. This fits in to research which often terms this ‘trailing spouse’, where one partner (often the wife) follows the other. But what he said was that he had looked for this job in the first place because his wife was unhappy in the US. As he saw it, he left his old job and moved continents so that she and his children could also do that. In other words love could be seen as a ‘push’ factor in his migration.
One woman I spoke to explained in great detail how she had followed her partner to several different countries, as he had to move around so much for his job. She has been doing this for over twenty years. The couple have lived together at some points in their relationship, and at other times they have lived separately in the the same country, and in different countries. Despite upping and leaving several times to be near(er) to her partner, she did not see herself as a love migrant because she found work in the places she moved to.
The ways which people identify (or not) with the project are endlessly fascinating and hearing how people understand what I’m doing is hugely valuable. As these people’s stories indicate that there is more to it than categorising migrants in terms of ‘trailing spouse’ or ‘labour migrant’ and shows how important personal life is in people’s decisions to migrate.