Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Today I'm mulling on the complications of friendship and travel. There are certain moments in my life when I feel like I have the best friends in the world. There are others when I feel utterly alone. I'm learning this year about the importance of having a shared culture and language, how much easier that makes friendship. Most of my good friends this year are English speakers. And in some ways, it's easy, because we always understand each other. Even when our perspectives are different, our language and our culture are pretty much the same. It's easier to see where the other person is coming from. And we're going through a difficult experience studying and working together, which usually serves to either unite or divide people quite clearly. And that unification seems more natural when you have something in common in your background.

Of course, on the other hand, I've had some of the strongest friendships of my life with people whose culture and language had nothing to do with mine. Some of my best friends in the world are Spanish, German, Mexican...and I don't feel like those friendships are less worthy or valid just because there are occasionally moments of misunderstanding or culture shock. I've gone through different difficult moments with those friends, and felt similarly united with them. The problem, of course, is our geographical location.

Actually, that's the theme of my life so far, location making everything more difficult. Particularly friendships, or relationships in general. I was talking to a friend here the other day about how I have a difficult time keeping in contact with my old friends. How the only people in the world I skype with regularly are my parents, how with others I only write sporadically. And I could sense their shock. I guess I'm different, I suppose other people keep in better contact with their old friends. I don't know how, or to what extent, but I sense that I'm different.

In all honesty, I have a hard time believing that I'm such a bad friend. Maybe it's true, and if that's the case I would love it if my old friends would say something! But I really have to blame geography on this one, I think. The thing is, my friends never even know where I am! In the past 8 years, I've moved 6 times, not counting going back to my parents' house in the summers. I've lived in 6 different cities in 3 different countries, not including my hometown. I have never, as an adult, lived in one location for longer than 18 months at a time.

Considering all that, it's not surprising that I don't keep in great contact with a lot of my old friends. The ones I grew up with, I do try to see when I go back to Illinois in the summers, but some of them I haven't seen in years and years, and the ones I do see...well, they've moved on. I think that's normal, as our lives have taken very different directions and we simply don't have as much in common anymore. And when I'm not there...we don't have that much to talk about, I guess. It's been a long time since those days when we saw each other every single day. We've all changed a lot.

And all my newer friends, I never really had the time to get to know properly. I mean, generally we spent a lot of time together in the year or couple of years that we were in the same place. But a few years isn't that much, in a whole lifetime. And after that? We're worlds away from each other, in different countries and many hours apart, also living very different lives. Most of them have gone back to the lives they left behind when they were abroad with me.

A lot of the time it feels like I'm the only one who continues on wandering, still searching for that place to settle down and call home. I've had many temporary homes in the meantime, and I've loved them all in their different ways, but changing between them has given me a different life than nearly all my friends. It has made it more challenging to keep in contact with those friends, as well.

I guess I've been floating along these past few years, not really seeing the patterns and connections between these two things, moving constantly and relationships. But this has been a year of introspection for me. After a really difficult summer where I felt utterly alone and friendless a lot of the time, and now having new friends and wondering if it will be the exact same story with them a  year from now as it with my BFFs from last year, just seeing them on Facebook and commenting on their posts sometimes, I'm not sure what to do. I guess I can see that the only solution to my friend problems (actually a lot of my problems) is to stop moving and settle down. But ah, the eternal questions... Where? How? I'm still waiting to see, I guess is the only answer I have for the moment. I can only hope things will work themselves out, and do what I can to make that happen.

Am I the only expat out there with troubles keeping up to date with old friends? Do others lament the constant flow of people in and out of their life? Or is that just how life is and I need to get over it? 

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