Expat relations: where have my old friends gone?

24 Feb

Over coffee this morning, I told my husband about a weird dream about an old friend. Long story behind the crazy dream (they rarely make sense to the waking mind, do they?), but more importantly, I started thinking of my old friendships and how the expat experience not only changes you, but also how your old friends relate to you as well.

To give you a bit of background first, back in my hometown (Memphis), I was part of a small but tight group of friends that worked together and played together. We looked forward to our lunches and then to our weekends plans with one another. As time went by, our lives changed with the advent of children, job promotions and losses and other family circumstances. However, we were still able to survive all those life events for 15 years. Friends forever! We toasted to it and declared it on many occasions, that no matter what happens, we will always remain friends.

At the time, I know we all believed it and wished it to be true. But after moving to Charlotte, NC, I began to feel the distance when I would go back home to visit. They all had lots of laughs, private jokes and experiences that they shared, that now had to be explained to me. I felt myself swallow hard with the realization that time and distance were starting to take their toll. My ‘tier one friendship circle,’ as I call it, was starting to deteriorate. It reminded me of the Millennium episode of  Seinfeld  when Jerry fell from the top 10 on the speed dial.

It was a year later, that I moved to France. After living in France for almost another year, I returned home again for another visit. What little familiarity that existed two years ago was now completely gone. The once comfortable ramblings had been replaced with deliberate and calculated chatter that only takes place between friends of friends desperately trying to find common ground. The magical connection was gone; Camelot had ended. My friends were vanishing before my eyes between uncomfortable pauses. There were even some friends that were no-shows. I’m not sure which was worse, the trite conversations with the living ghosts of my past or the absence of the ideal friendship that no longer existed. Maybe it was both; maybe they are one in the same.

In speaking with another friend about my angst over the apparent transition with my tier one circle, he told of how the same thing happened in his and his wife’s lives. He told me that you are the one who changes, it’s your friends who have stayed the same. I protested and said, “But, I’m the same person I’ve always been. I don’t understand why…” and in that moment, he stopped me and said, “no, you’re not the same.” Looking even more bewildered than before, I asked him what he meant. He proceeded to tell me that once you’ve experienced certain life events, you change and often without you noticing. It is inherent and inevitable.

Courtesy of Google Images

Funny how you don’t feel it happening, but it’s like a bowl of candy that starts out half full. With each day and each experience that challenges you, stretches your mind and touches your soul, you add another piece of candy to the bowl. Before long, you realize how much sweeter your life has become and how much you want to share this bowl of candy with all you meet.

There are things that can steal candy from you bowl, such as becoming sour on friendships that change or disappear all together or having one foot into a new culture but not yet fitting in; but if you can push past these feelings and understand that it is part of the process, you can live the sweet life! I would be a liar if I said that letting go (of old friends) has been easy, but I now understand that I was the one who left them. I changed. Although we’ve not discussed it and may never have the chance after all that has happened, I know that they are probably mourning the death of our former friendship too.

We all know that the old dies to make way for the new, both literally and figuratively speaking, but it still hurts when we loose a loved one in any capacity. Sometimes they are still living when we lose them and that can be what hurts most, the seemingly unfinished business of it all in wondering, why? So as an expat, your relationships will inevitably change but in the process, try to enjoy the ride. Enjoy your friends and family while you can and stay open to the new friendships that will inevitably replace some of the old ones. The process will be painful but it’s still worth the ride. ‘Profite de la vie’ (enjoy your life) y’all!


Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Daily life in France


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20 responses to “Expat relations: where have my old friends gone?

  1. godblesstheschnoodles

    February 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    May your life become a little sweeter everyday!

    • expatriotgames

      February 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Jamie, thank you! The same to you my dear 😀

      • Amanda

        February 25, 2011 at 4:32 am

        I’ve had the same thing happen to me as well. Although I’m not the one that moved, but instead they did. It becomes very unsettling the difference between the two (or ever how many) of you have that you once thought were bonding points. Kind of like a agree to disagree type thing. I have found it hard to converse with friends that I once considered family because I haven’t seen them in so long. I, too, have lost a few of them down the road, and you’re completely right. It is extremely hard to lose the friends you once were the closest with. I wish you the best of luck in finding new ones, but remember to never replace the ones you’ve lost or you are the one losing out.

      • expatriotgames

        February 25, 2011 at 7:48 am

        Thank you Amanda…I will take your comments to heart. I could only assume that something was going on with the friends I left behind, since we’ve not actually talked about it. One day, I hope we will, but for now, it appears there is too much hurt. I don’t think they understand the lifestyle/mindset of an expat, but I’m sure I don’t fully grasp the feelings they may have about me disappointing them or abandoning them. Thanks for helping me see the other side more clearly and to help me “to never replace the ones you’ve (I’ve) lost,” by giving up on them. I promise, I will do what you say. 🙂

  2. Pys72

    February 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Friends and moving about…
    That’s a topic! For me it started with my Erasmus exchange.
    – For more information for the non-European readers try and watch the movie l’auberge Espagnole by French film director, Cedric Klapisch.- I used to hang around with a few people during my first two years at University and we had a good relationship going but in my third year, I went on an Erasmus exchange Program in the UK. When I came back all seemed to have changed but I also knew that my vision of the world had changed. On the one hand I felt sad that I lost touch of what was happening with them and felt left out. On the other hand, I saw something else than the bubble I was living comfortably in and it was exciting.
    I believe it was Erasmus that changed me to the point that I want to see more, live in different places, become an expat.
    You’ll probably rediscover some of your friends later on. Once you and they have moved on and start again from a “clean” sheet and rediscover the attraction/reason why you were friends in the first place. You will also have someday this question coming up to the surface: why did I ever do this life changing experience? I was so fine in that bubble!
    Most of all you will create some new friendships. Some of them will vanish, some will last, but in the end you’ll experience the world and see more than that glimpse that started the whole process. In Belgium we have a saying that you can count your true friends on your fingers. After about 18 years since my first glimpse, I’m not filling up my two hands yet but the ones who are represented by these fingers are the ones whom I haven’t seen for years at a time but pick up again where we left off all that time ago… Keep writing, keep being who you are and you’ll do just fine!

    • expatriotgames

      February 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm

      Wow, thank you Pys…as always, you are able to look down the road I’ve travelled and offer your perspective, while telling me what lies ahead. I can’t thank you enough for your input. I’ll keep writing as you say and you keep commenting ;D, merci!

  3. Amanda

    February 25, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I’m glad I could help. 🙂 I felt the abandonment and all of that myself, so I understand where you are coming from on that, but I, myself, haven’t taken the full time that I should to understand some of their points of view. I have some of them, of course, but not all. Some of them are still too recent for there to be any kind of sorting out of emotions and words. Just remember to leave the hurt, and anger out of it and you will come to terms a lot faster and easier.

    • expatriotgames

      February 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

      THANK YOU, Ms. Amanda, I will do my best!!!! I’m popping over to read you now… ;D

      • Amanda

        February 25, 2011 at 8:05 am

        Thank you so much! That made me feel acomplished. 🙂 You are very welcome hun. I didn’t know you were from Memphis. I’m only an hour and half from Memphis. I don’t know if you know where it is, but I’m just south of Jonesboro, Arkansas.

      • expatriotgames

        February 25, 2011 at 8:29 am

        OF COURSE, I know Jonesboro!!! How about that?! No wonder we relate so well. My, you are up late…even Jonesboroians need their sleep ;0)

  4. Amanda

    February 25, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I know right! We’re from about the same area! I have my days and nights just about mixed up. I’ll probably be crashing out right about sunrise and sleeping half the day. I’m working on it though. 🙂

    • expatriotgames

      February 25, 2011 at 8:37 am

      lol…well, have a good night/day Ms. Amanda!

      • Amanda

        February 25, 2011 at 8:38 am

        You too! Thank you

  5. saksh29

    February 27, 2011 at 8:51 am

    great post- i really enjoy your writing!
    i have been living the expat life too for nearly 5 years and i often wonder how things would be with my best friends back home when i see them next. Facebook and the telephone keep us in touch with each other and enables a forum for all sorts of madcap/deep conversations yet we do wonder aloud sometimes if there will be awkwardness when we meet in person next.
    for now, i’m going to share this post with my girlfriends -both the ones back home and those in my ‘new’ home:)

    • expatriotgames

      February 27, 2011 at 10:02 am

      Wow Sakshi, thank you. I’m glad it touched you enough to want to share the post with your friends. Hopefully, the same will not happen to you. Sounds like you’ve done it the right way. I wish you all the luck in the world with your friendships. Thanks so much for reading and please let us know of any discussions that follow :D!

  6. wherewander

    February 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I don´t know if it´s of any consolation to know that we all have been through the same. Now that I say “all” I´m not 100% sure, since the “all” I´m thinking about are the ones that evolved and are continuously evolving. Your friend is right, the changes are so subtle for you that you don´t notice till you come to think about what has happened to your surrounding world. You have changed and you finally notice how much.

    It´s even clearer when it comes to people you met at work. You have a job and make friends at work. You think that with some of them you are having a real friendship, that your bonds are legit. Then you quit and start working somewhere else and you see them from time to time and share the same table you used to share but you are left out somehow, because you don´t share the every day life that was precisely what bonded you. As the daily proximity is gone, the bond is gone.

    But when the bond is real, I have to agree with your other friend. You pick up the frienship where you left it. Because what bonded you two was your very escense, not a taste for the movies, or traveling, or windowshopping. Your real you, feelings, the way you understand life from your guts.

    And I learnt to enjoy those friendships that are not meant to last. Today I´m here and it´s now and here where I enjoy what I have. And I happy to know that there is at least one other person in the world that I know will be there for our terrenal forever. Because I can count those friends with just one hand.

    • expatriotgames

      March 1, 2011 at 7:39 am

      Once again, Ellen, very well put. You really do have it nailed: enjoy the ‘now’ friends and know there will be only a few real friends that you can count on one hand that you are bound by more than just shared experience. I will try not to guess which group my future friends will end up in ;0). Thanks once again for your excellent insight and as always, thanks for reading!

  7. baidanbi

    March 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Well said. I especially like the candy bowl analogy.
    The experiences that make your life rich and sweet can also be the ones that estrange you from the people you were once so close to. Relationships are often based on shared experiences and when you choose a different path you can end up on an amazing journey with few friends to share it with.
    I admire your courage and self-reflection. Keep writing and know that there others who get it. The journey is totally worth it!

    • expatriotgames

      March 1, 2011 at 11:45 am

      Thank you, CIT! Nice to know that you ‘get it’. Glad your journey has been worth it too and merci for reading!


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