Expat Friendships: A Different World

Over the last year I’ve been struggling to maintain a number of friendships, both here in Belgium and further afield and I’ve been finding it very tough. Rationally I understand it is a question of acceptance and letting go but it has been eye-opening and painful too. Mostly it has underlined a sense of loneliness I’ve not really shaken since we moved back to Belgium.

Partly this is a reflection of where we are in life. I’ve spoken before about how 99% of our social circle are in the throes of adjusting to life with young children who rightly take their time and attention and energy. They no longer have the money to travel or need to spend leave introducing their kids to grandparents in different time zones and have to up-end schedules to spend time with us. We knew it would be like this when we discussed remaining child-free.

Along with the negatives, there have been positives, socialising with people up to a decade younger or older has made us more flexible, more open-minded but being an introvert when you’re an expat is not ideal. I don’t make new friends easily.

What I’m learning is that there are two kinds of friendships when you’re an expat: those that transcend time and space and those that can’t. The ones I’m still struggling with are those I’d like to be the former but I’m afraid are the latter. Those you’ve often spent intense time with but who don’t reply to calls or emails, perhaps distracted by new things or who simply didn’t view the friendship in the same way I did.

I’m lucky enough to have a number of ‘deep’ friendships that have stood the test of time. People I love to spend time with, people who have often seen me at my worst and pulled me through the other side, whether they realised it or not. These are the people I may not be able to speak with let alone see more than a couple of times a year, with a few emails in between but we pick up when we left off and spending time together energises me (and I hope them).

Spending a few days in Athens this weekend with my dear friend A to visit a fellow friend and expat J was just what the doctor ordered. We don’t see each other nearly as often as I’d like but I respect the fact they have other things going on in their lives that take priority just as work and Mr B are mine. And somehow ancient Athens is the best metaphor for what I’m still working through. Some columns stand the test of time, other monuments fall but their rubble remains an important reminder, a marker for the journey we’re on.

2 responses

  1. As a parent of three, introvert, and a long-time Korea expat, I can relate to the difficulties of negotiating the challenges you talk about here. I can say from experience that some new expat friendships do stand the test of time, though most don’t. Still, if you have one or two close friends, you’re doing OK I think. Good luck!

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