Another friend gone.
It’s one of the worst components of expat life – the friend cycle. Firstly, we are forced to leave all our friends back home. These are people we have had sandpit brawls with, gossiped about our first kisses with, cried drunkenly with, stood at the alter next to, had holding our hands while we gave birth or received typhoid vaccinations. Friendships that have been built slowly and surely over our lifetimes. It’s not appropriate to complain though – the choice to leave was ours. And pointedly we must not complain in their presence because we forsook them in exchange for worldly experience – understandably they have no compassion. Fortunately for us, commonly they have loyalty.
When we arrive in the new world we do it alone. Some have partners and children, some are lucky enough to have a contact on the ground. Many have simply their employers and new colleagues. So the second part of the cycle begins. Those of us with offspring watch our children throw themselves into new schools with either loathing or desperation. Regardless, they make friends before we do. For the first-time expat, it’s hard making the first steps. Initially we keep to our home-clique’s rules, but that’s not the way to meet new people. Before long we realise that more intensity is required. It’s almost like dating, and soon we are nodding and smiling, commenting on clothing, and asking new acquaintances out for coffee. We talk the talk as much as we can, and talking and walking thus, eventually we have new friends.
The third cycle is where I find myself now. They leave. All that work, and they become another “friend” on Facebook that you can only have virtual dates with. they go back home into the warm waiting arms of their own lifelong friends and forget about their Dubai friend who suddenly has nobody to go to the movies with on a . And the witty banter and twitter quips don’t cut it. What is missed is the plain old ordinary chitchat, standing around in their kitchen sipping coffee while your children happily hurl at each other in the lounge, chewing the fat while burning the calories on side-by-side treadmills, gossiping while imbibing tremendously over weekend lunches. The kids cry openly, missing their buddies as they would a vital appendage, but we harden ourselves, saying inwardly “that’s how it goes…”. But as it happens time and time again, it becomes more wearying, and that inner voice starts to yell “how many bloody more!!!”
But a cycle by it’s very nature, repeats itself, and we do find new friends. Some even firmer than before. We hope that this time though the rollercoaster will slow on its ascent and linger at the peak before the next decline. Because too much of this alters the way we throw ourselves into friendship. We don’t want to fall too hard, so keep the package light. Some give up completely, but this is not healthy – we are communal beings in a foreign place. We need support and an outlet for ranting.
The only way to avoid all the ups and downs is to get off the ride, go home to our old loyal mates. And we hope that this time away has neither soured the long-standing bond we have shared, nor changed the way in which we treat our friends. But I’m not so scarred just yet, for the sake of my own selfish growth and my love of this crazy city, maybe just a few more times around…