The ugly truth
Most probably, nobody ever warned you before you became an expat.
You will lose a lot of old friends.
I’m sure you promised to them – with tears in your eyes – that you would have called every day, sent emails, texts and photos.
I’m positive you did (for a while).
I bet you’ve stopped soon enough.
And it happened; you lost a lot of friends.
The beautiful truth
But don’t despair, oh young expat, expat-to-be or expat-wannabe.
You will also make new friends wherever you go.
It will be hard. It will take time and energy. You will meet a ton of new people and “test the waters”.
And a few will stick. The good few.
And then you’ll leave again, and you’ll lose some friends. But fewer than the last time.
The expat way of friendship
Because you see, expats have a different way of being friends. Expats know that some of them will eventually leave off to their new adventure. And they’re OK with it. They get it. We, as expats, are used to leaving behind and being left behind. It feels almost natural. It still sucks at first, but things settle very quickly.
Everyday vs. lifetime expat friends: the expat friendship cycle
There is an expat friendship cycle of sorts. When you arrive at your new host town, you will make tons of acquaintances. That’s easy (the degree of difficulty will vary depending on where you are – making acquaintances in Mexico is easier than in Japan – it is known).
You will find that you click with a few of those acquaintances and you will deepen your relationships. Maybe you’ll invite them over for a play date, or organise a mum’s night out. And some lovely everyday expat friendships will flourish.
But nothing lasts forever. So, at some point, someone will probably leave, and if your relationship was strong enough, they become your lifetime expat friends.
And it will be alright
Unlike your hometown friendships – which were fuelled by years on end of intimate contact and can’t seem to work without it very well (with maybe one or two exceptions) – expat lifetime relationships are immune to distance.
And after the shitty initial moments, things will settle again, you’ll make new everyday friends, you’ll discover which are your new lifetime friends.
You’ll talk to them maybe once a month, maybe once a year. And it’ll feel as if you spoke yesterday. It won’t feel weird or estranged. It will feel right.
But some of your everyday friends won’t last the test of time. They’ll fade away, although you’ll always remember them. But you’ll simply lose touch. And that’s OK too.
Part of being an expat
I believe this is a very important part of being an expat. It’s something you learn and hone. You become great at making new friends, but you also become great at saying goodbye (not a final goodbye filled with tears, but a “talk to you soon” kind of goodbye).
And whenever loneliness strikes, or you’re having a bad week with the baby, or you’re on a bad streak at work, you know that you’ll be able to talk about it with some of the lifetime friends you’ve made over time.
And it will be alright, you’ll be a true expat then.