Relationships of an Ex-Pat

Relationships change – it’s a given.  Over time they evolve.  People come into your life and at the same time others are leaving.  We all grow and sometimes our friends grow in the same direction and sometimes they don’t – for those that don’t, sometimes the relationship still works, sometimes it doesn’t. 

Various events have changed those relationships over time.  In high school we all moved on to various colleges.  Some of us stayed in touch, some haven’t.  In some ways, leaving for college was a good way to reinvent one’s self and define what characteristics make a good friend.  With the advent of Facebook I’ve certainly reconnected with many old friends (and some who weren’t friends) from high school but I can count on one hand how many really good friends I have from my childhood – Josh would say quite the opposite as he has many friends still from high school.

In college we forged friendships based on our common interests or who lived in our dorm or shared classes with.  Josh and I both went Greek so in addition to our college friends we had another subgroup that consisted of our fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, many of which are still close friends.  When we graduated from college, many of us stayed close to the Boston area, living in the MetroWest.  But even those relationships have changed – many of us got married, some had kids, some haven’t… we’ve all moved to the burbs or even to different states (and for us, different countries).  We went from seeing each other weekly to if we are lucky, yearly, some even longer.  But we’ve stayed in touch better than I can say I did with my high school friends.

And from there our relationships became those we forged in the town we live in, more specifically our neighborhood.  These are people that came from all walks of life, worked in various occupations and had all different interests.  Some of these friendships started off because a bunch of us had dogs and we’d do dog playdates (oh how far we’ve come), then we started having kids all at the same time.  And after 10 years in the same house, some of our kids play together and some do not, some go to the same schools, etc etc – our friendships for the most part have remained solid.  And then we moved…

I was really worried about leaving my neighborhood friends when we moved to Spain and how that would affect our friendships.  After 10 years of living so close to one another, we were a bit like the Stepford Wives at times I’m sure… and as one of my friends here calls it, “Julie-ville” where everyone knows your name:)  As our high school and college relationships had evolved, it was time for our neighborhood ones to as well.  They were all so supportive (and still are) of our move and this chance in life that we needed to take. However, one of the things I’ve learned about my relationships is that it doesn’t matter how often you see someone to be close to them.  Some of my best friends I haven’t actually laid eyes on in two or more years based on our locations (and this is before we moved abroad).

So that takes me to my ex-pat friends.  How are these relationships any different from those I’ve forged my entire life.  Well for one, we all know that someday we are leaving.  It’s funny because there was no guarantee I’d stay in my house in Attleboro forever, but at the same time, it was never a consideration in my mind about how much time and effort I put into a friendship because someday they might leave me.  But here, I actually think about that.

When we moved here I realized that I had to create friendships from scratch.  I didn’t have my regular circle of friends here in the flesh to support me and so it was like starting all over again.  How much time did I want to invest for what was then a 2 year journey?  Would these people stay my friends forever or were they just temporary?  And knowing that some of them were already partway thru their own journeys would they want to invest their remaining time with me or see it as a waste since they are leaving in 6 months, a year, etc?

It was the first time in my life that I felt I based my relationships off needs rather than wants, at least initially.  What did I need from a friend here?  Could I survive without my support system of friends here?  Sure they were supporting me from abroad but would they be able to help me here?  And how would I meet these people?  In the end, I’ve met a lovely group of women – some spouses of Josh’s co-workers, some that I’ve met thru school, some that I’ve met just thru common interests. And in my 13 months here, those relationships didn’t happen instantaneously.  They started off as friendly acquaintences and have slowly evolved over the last year where I think I can truly call some of them my friends which makes me feel good since to be honest in the beginning, I was unsure of broadening my horizons beyond my friends at home.  These are people that I believe I will actually stay in touch with when the time comes to move on from Barcelona (and no, Josh, not to Australia).
But eventually I knew I would have to be faced with my first friend leaving.  And it’s happened within the last few weeks.  It hit me harder than I expected because not only have I invested myself into this relationship but I am truly going to miss having her around and being able to go for lunch, dinner or just a coffee.  But I’ve come to the realization that with a true friend, no matter how long you have been friends, you can keep in touch and stay friends forever… or so I hope!

And this is where the relationships of an ex-pat gets put to the test.  We come in and out of people’s lives like a revolving door and what it comes down to is these friendships are different than my other friendships.  It doesn’t make them better / worse, just different.  We have a common interest unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  Moving to a new country can be traumatic and no matter what your friends at home say or do, they just can’t understand what you are going thru like someone who has actually gone thru the same things.  And so I’m thankful to have my friends here AND my friends from home – without all of you, I wouldn’t be where I am today – content, happy and warm (it’s 65 here today – sorry to rub that in Boston friends!) and missing each and everyone one of my peeps at home but enjoying the time I have here before it’s time for us to move along too.

Next up… Spanish class starts on Monday. Stay tuned!

Julie

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