Thursday, 17 January 2013

Friendships vs moving on.

I've been thinking a lot about friendships recently, and was also prompted by two other bloggers to write about this subject. First, a post at The Potty Diaries about the difficulties of losing friends when you're an expat. And also, although she's not an expat, a post by Talk About York, in which she mentions a friendship ended because she moved from one part of the country to another.

I've also myself posted before about friends moving on, and, as a "Third Culture Kid",  I've always known it is one of the hardest things about expat life. But now, I find myself in the position of being the friend who is about to move on. I'm aware that I have only seven months left here and I'm wondering how much I'll see of the friends I've made in America in future.

When I left England, although I knew I would miss my friends, I knew it wasn't forever. Although I was aware that many of them would also move away (out of London, in many cases), I felt sure that I would resume my social life and friendships at a later date, and in the meantime stay in touch with them via email, Facebook and Skype. And I have done, in the main. Whilst a few people have dropped off the radar, most of my previous close friendships are very much still in place.

When I moved to the US, I met a lot of people very quickly (although it was a good nine months before I became "friends" with anyone on Facebook or knew them well enough to phone up at a moment's notice, other than my lovely German friend, my soul mate in 'not-being-American'). Now, however, I have a strong network of friends in the town. I've met them through school and preschool, through book groups, online and offline mums groups, community organisations and just by virtue of being neighbours.

The other night  I missed out on going to my monthly "International Moms" night out, which has been a great source of fun over the past year. There are fellow Brits as well as Europeans, Australians, Asians and a host of other nationalities with whom to quaff wine and swap stories about expat life and the experience of living in America as a non-American (both the postives and the negatives. It's not just bitching, I promise!) Although the reason was that I was too jet-lagged, and ready for bed at 8pm, perhaps there was also a part of me that wondered if it was really worth meeting anyone new or keeping up with vague acquaintances at this stage in the game.

But in a way, that seems lame. I don't want to withdraw from my social life just because I'm leaving. And I hate to think that people might start make less effort with our family because we are going - that would be terribly sad for the Littleboys and for me. I'd also like to think that there are several people here who will become lifelong friends, with whom I'll catch up in future either in London or out here. I certainly don't want to neglect those friendships.

However, at the same time, maybe it's time to start thinking about who really matters - both here and in England. Friends who are really there for me, and who I would be there for in return. In an age of hundreds of Facebook friends and contacts, it's sometimes easy to overlook.

It's a quandary, and I'd be interested to know how anyone else managed.


Melissa said...

It's hard. I turn 40 in just over a month and I will be having a party. But it's been a bit of a wake up call. I have a small group of friends who will be the kind of friends who will always be friends - but they are the wives of my husbands friends. They've become my friends as a result. Then there are the friends I had growing up in South Africa, most of whom I haven't really seen since high school. I'm actually managing to go away with three of them for a 40th birthday celebration, but they won't be at the party.

All the people I was friends with when I lived in the US, are now simply facebook friends. Nothing more.

What I should have is a bunch of friends made in the last 10 years I've lived in the UK. But I don't. I have two friends who were in my ante-natal group. We were friends because we had babies but we had nothing in common. Now we send each other Xmas cards. Then we moved again and I spent 6 years trying to make friends where I lived. I could write a million blog posts about this but suffice to say, while they were a social group, they never let the friendship move beyond superficial. Except for one friend.

And when we said we were moving, she knew why. And all of a sudden, instead of being understanding as she had been, she took offence and got really quite nasty. She has since unfriended me on Facebook.

So now I'm having a 40th party with a handful of people who've known me for more than 10 years and everyone else are brand new faces that we've only just met. I'm trying to see it as a good way to build new friendships. But it saddens me that I have so many 'friends on facebook' - i.e. people I've met over the years and travels, but so few that really know me and who I share a deep friendship with.

It is hard to continue long distance friendships, unless they are true friends. But it is worth staying in touch with them because they were a part of your life.

Sorry I can't be more positive about it - but I hope you manage to keep some of your US friends and that your UK friends welcome you back with open arms.

Expat mum said...

Wow - I'm just remembering my 40th (longer back than I care to remember really) and most of the people there I don't even see any more, and I haven't even moved. As an expat, it's hard to make true friends, but it's just as difficult to predict the people who will stay in your life.

I would say, don't try to be strategic. The ones you think you'll stay in touch with are often the ones you never hear from again; just let it play out.

Thank goodness for FB and the Internet. I have good friends I made at university, who are now living on different continents, but I feel like they are still in my life.

I met a fabulous woman several years ago at the FIGT (Families in Global Transition). Apple Gidley. (Google her - she has a great new book out.) She is the archetypal TCK, having lived in more than a dozen countries during her life and moved about 26 times. One thing she said in a talk I attended was "Never regret the friends you make".

Expat mum said...

*FIGT conference*

Iota said...

I would be intentional about spending time with people who really matter to you (and not trying to guess whether they'll be on your "keepers" list, because you don't have a crystal ball). But also just be open to anyone else who crosses your path. I've sometimes found a good friend just as I'm leaving a place. Something to do with usual barriers being down, perhaps.

Also, don't be surprised if things take a while to settle down with old friends, once you're back. Everyone will have moved on, including you - even if you have kept up by social networking.

Circles in the Sand said...

I really wrestle with this too. If only a Tardis could be invented to make ladies' nights with close friends far and wide possible. But then my DH would be out of a job!

Jacqueline said...

Hopefully the opposite will happen. Where we live we have an international stucy centre and familys are often there for a year or two before moving on. I know when any of them are about to leave the invite rate goes up because we all want to make the most of the time left.

Tjose that are in mportant to you will stay in touch even if it is not the same as it is now.

Muddling Along said...

It is so hard - one of the things I'm glad of having now that friends have scattered is the internet and Skype etc - at least we can keep in touch easier

That said, I think there are current friends, friends you can not see for years and then take up with as if there had been no gap and people who come in and out of your life for whatever reason

Take care and enjoy these last few months over there xxx

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

A friend of mine moved on a couple of years ago and I thought the friendship would just fade, but through Facebook especially it's almost more alive (but different, obviously) than before! As someone else said, thank goodness for Facebook.

This must be a difficult time for you. I wish I had wise words to share. x

Harrovian Mama said...

Just found your blog and I can relate to so many things. I am a London mummy to two littles and I find that each stage of life you gain/lose friends. Marriage/parenthood/moving house. The true friends move with you and the people that don't, you can live without. Look forward to reading about your move!

Check me out at

MsCaroline said...

Oh, I do feel for you so much... We are deciding now whether or not to renew our contract here in Korea, and many of these same thoughts have been going through my head. I will say, though, that if you are both keen to keep the relationship alive - it will happen! FaceBook has been especially helpful for me - so much nicer to be able to stay in touch with everyone on a regular basis and feel a little bit like I know what's going on in their daily lives. Part of it, of course, is that you know you are leaving and you feel like you don't want to set yourself up for any more hurt - it's going to be hard enough as it is. On the other hand, you never know when that next new person is going to turn out to be a kindred spirit - and I would hate to think I missed out on meeting her! In my case, I'll probably soldier on til the bitter end and continue to put myself out there - I think when it's all said and done, I'd rather leave crying because I'll miss my friends rather than the alternative. I know this has been a rough year for you and the thought of coping with another emotional upheaval might be almost too much to contemplate, but try to leave the door open - at least a little bit.
Hoping these last months will be filled with friends (old and new) and happiness for you.

Wylye Girl said...

There is definitely an urge to take a step back when you know you are leaving somewhere. I've moved more times than I care to remember from the Middle East to Europe, but one of my best friends, whose friendship I value most, is someone I met literally months before leaving France. With the benefit of Facebook (a necessary evil for the expat) and Skype we keep in touch. It's such a shame I didn't meet her sooner... well, actually I did but didn't think we would get on. How wrong I was. I would stay don't start withdrawing, keep out there and keep an open mind to anyone you meet. You never know...

nappy valley girl said...

Melissa - I am also turning 40 soon - does make you re-evaluate things for sure. I don't think I'll have a party though...

Expat Mum - good advice. And yes, people do move on anyway, even if you don't.

Iota - I know, I think it will be hard going back, as everyone else has moved on with new friends....

M - yes, a virtual ladies night would be fabulous.

Jacqueline - I think that will happen with the international group...but not so much with the Americans.

Muddling Along - yes, thank goodness for Skype! I've just Skyped with one of my closest friends and it was lovely.

Michelloui - Facebook is great, but there are some friends who are refuseniks, and I DO feel I have lost touch with them. Maybe the subject of my next post??

Harrovian Mama - thanks for visiting! I'll be over to take a look at your blog.

MsCaroline - you're right, it has been a rough few months and is still rough, so I'm even less likely to be out having a massive social time. Still, I'm trying...

Wylye Girl - I'll bear your words in mind! I can't really imagine meeting anyone new now who would become a good friend, but I suppose you never know.

ashle glass said...
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