What you miss the most… and what this tells you

After joining her partner in his home country, Renata Harper found herself experiencing a new kind of missing that surprised her – one that has since led to profound change in her life. Now back in her home country of South Africa, she gives thanks for the opportunity she had “to miss”… and suggests that what we miss most can offer great insights into who we are and what we need.


All of us know the feeling of missing: a best friend who moves to another country; a favourite book or memento forever lost during a relocation; a former love who has moved on; a beloved person or animal companion who has passed away.   

For expats, missing is a particularly familiar experience. Sometimes we carry it lightly, other times it keeps us weighted down to the ground.

Missing comes in a range of sensations, much like the seasons…

There is the deep nostalgia, which leads us to pause and tends to pass in its own time.

There is the cold and brittle ache, which inner work and the love of those around us can help to soften.

There is the gentle tug at the heartstrings, which can be cured by a moment of play or a phone call to a close friend.

And there is the wild and throaty call – or calling – that must be answered. 

What I missed during my two years in the Netherlands was of the latter kind – and it took me by surprise. During work breaks, I’d switch on “Animal Planet” or “National Geographic” and find myself enraptured, then in ridiculous floods of tears. I was longing for wildness, wild creatures, and the sense of belonging and perspective they give me.

What missing meant for me

It was only by leaving home that I could find myself missing something I hadn’t even known was essential to who I am. And in moving away from it, I was able to then move – consciously and mindfully – back towards it.

How did I do this?

First, while still in the Netherlands, I volunteered at a cat sanctuary that was in cycling distance from our tiny apartment in Amsterdam, so I could be around and give back to animals. Then, two years later, I returned home, where I’m able to spend more time in wild places and where I am slowly changing the direction of my career to reflect my passion for the natural world.

Becoming aware of the key role wilderness plays in my life has also helped me to accept my need to return home. It has helped me understand that I didn’t “fail” in my international experience.

And, of course, there are things I miss about my former host country too, like transparent governance, high levels of personal safety, better animal welfare laws, and seeing my partner (now my husband, in case you were wondering) immersed in his “first life”.

Global nomads will both gain and miss something from wherever we’ve been… Might it be that all the “missings”, however painful, are clues to what our fullest selves look and feel like? I think so.


What do you miss the most? What does this show you about yourself – and your needs? We would love to hear your story. And feel free to share this article with someone you miss!

PHOTO: Pexels/Harvey Sapir