“Even though I’ve lived here a year, I don’t feel that close with the friends I’ve made.”
Fellow passengers hear our conversation but most likely understand very little. I listen to her vocalize the familiar feelings I’ve had for months making them real, making them exist, making them wait with us. I mumble some words of agreement. She continues her train of thought.
“We see each other almost every week or two. I like them, and it’s fun going out, but I don’t feel the closeness with them that I do with my friends from college.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I find myself thinking: ‘these aren’t my real friends. My real friends are in the States.’”
There’s always a lingering uneasiness that at any moment, someone close to you will leave, returning home or relocating elsewhere for a new job opportunity. That integral, “getting to know you” stage is quick – sand slipping through fingers.
You meet a string of people who are kind, outgoing and sociable. You share with them your musical interests, the excitement of discovering the best new TV shows, the enjoyment of trying new or “weird” foods and a list of many other things that friendships are cultivated from. They make you feel comfortable in this place that’s not home. Essentially, they are all you have here – a new kind of family. But no matter how close you feel with them, there’s always seems to be a distance that you can’t catch up to. You don’t learn much about their parents or siblings. You don’t learn much about their secrets. You can have long, two-hour conversations that don’t go any deeper than ankle-level water.
But then, you start to feel closer to one of them. This one is different, you think. You start to focus on that person more and everything begins to click. You begin to wonder if they feel the same about you. You open up to one another, touching upon the main points of why you are the way you are, why you think the way you do, how you became you. It starts to feel like it does when you’re with old friends. You have moments where you think, this is great, this person is awesome, we could be great.
Family, past relationships, death, hurt, dreams, passions, goals, life matters, personal matters. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll find someone who will open up to you about these things and vice versa. But for the more vulnerable topics, the talking may cease. It’s okay, you’re not meant to share everything. There’s not enough time, there’s not enough incentive, and frankly, there’s no real point. Sometimes, we’ll mention things to one another, to let the other person know, this happened, but we don’t actually want to talk about it. Ultimately, what we tell one another is just an apple without a core, a mere thesis statement for a longer essay that neither of us will bother to write.
Living abroad sets the stage for great opportunities to meet new people. Although making friends is easy, maintaining them is difficult. Is it because we’re too caught up in making comparisons with our other, longer-term friendships from the places we came from? Is it because the thought of going somewhere else is always floating around in our minds? Is it just the age and the fact that right now, we’re more focused on ourselves? Is this a reality of living abroad, or is it just a reality of living?