What I learnt about friendships after moving abroad

 It is in the very nature of adulthood that one’s most important relationships undergo intense changes. The relationship with your parents changes significantly once you move out of their house and once more when you become financially independent. It continues to evolve based on other major milestone decisions you take in your life.

The relationship with your closest friends continues to change all throughout as well. Some friends would still be there. Some won’t. Five years ago, it would have been hard for me to predict which friends would last the ride and which wouldn’t, given all the changes happening in all of our lives post high-school. I’ve come to realize the strength of some of my friendships and the weaknesses of many others. None of these are mutually exclusive and often one or more may overlap with another at any given point in time.

Friendships with almost no contact

Many people seem to be of the opinion that if we communicate only when we must or when we’re somewhere in the neighborhood, we can still start where we left off. Sometimes this works. Most times it doesn’t. In my case, I think this process becomes futile after a few years. I’m not the person I was five years ago or even two years ago for that matter. And neither is my friend. If we only choose to communicate around birthdays and supposed visits, we don’t necessarily know what made the person who they are today. We could still be “friends” by a loose definition, but we’d certainly not be close.

As I get older, I value my relationships where people have known how I have evolved and vice-versa. Not just the over-arching platonic details. As humans, our  very basic needs include being loved and understood by the people we hold dearest in our lives. Having no or very little communication, especially when you live across the world is certainly going to put a dent in your friendship at one point or another. In today’s world of Skype, Facebook, Facetime, Viber, cheap international calling plans and plain old simple letters or postcards(call me old-fashioned but I love those), it is really not that hard to find a way to stay in touch. If you can’t make the effort of really being there, perhaps the friendship is not really worth treasuring in the first place.

Friendships of convenience

After moving often and undergoing other intense circumstances as most of us in our early adult years do, I realized how many of my friendships were just formed out of sheer convenience. Maybe you both live in the same city, go to the same class, have the same hobbies, study/work together. That people bond over similar experiences is common knowledge but should the strength of your friendship be determined only by how convenient it is for you to meet your friend? I think not.

In a way friendships of convenience have a way of dissolving very fast. Once you’re abroad for a significant period of time, friends that you formed for the sheer ease of contact will be out the window the fastest. There ain’t much you could do to save these friendships if the base was just convenience to begin with.

Friendships from shared drunk adventures

Being drunk together lets say 50 times can give one the false sense that there’s more to the friendship than there really is. It is possible yes, but what do you and your friend do or talk about when you’re not primarily drinking together? Do you still manage to have heart-to-heart and sometimes embarrassing conversations or are you just looking to make fun of everyone, get loud, laugh, dance and then go home? While alcohol can be one the best ways to bond with your friends and share special memories, it is also very clear at some point which friends form your “drinking buddies group only”. This happens most at universities but some strong friendships would manage to move beyond into facing adult life together. Those are the ones you really should invest in. If I think of a friend today that I cannot call to discuss my feelings, a real problem or an exciting new prospect, then that is not really a true friend in the first place. During my early university days, I would believe all of these friendships were the same. They’re most certainly not.

Friendships that pull through

Last but definitely not the least are friends who really are with you through the deep shit that life throws at you every now and then. Life is not full of amazing beautiful perfect days and I can sympathize with the idea of being optimistic but there are days when you just don’t want to get out of bed. (The Germans even have an equivalent saying: Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof!) When you live abroad, things can get incredibly lonely every now and then. A lot of your loved ones are a 1000$ flight away, not to mention time zone differences which restrict your ability to talk or stay in touch often.

The friends that do last are the ones you know you will have for the rest of your life. I always valued my strongest friendships a lot, but after moving abroad I value them even more. When I see the same friends after a year, we don’t feel like we have no idea what was going on in the other’s life. These are the friends worth fighting for. And these are the only ones that can survive the stress of moving to an entirely different continent.

I’m aware that this process of weeding out friends seems stern and perhaps even too rational, but I’m certain it has stemmed from the trust, respect and close bonds I share with some of them across continents and that I would protect and cherish for as long as I can.

What else gives you greater pleasure than investing in your loved ones anyway?

 

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