Hello! Bonjour! Hola! Nǐ hǎo!
For those who’ve been following my journey, you know that I’ve spent the better part of the last year and 8 months making friends and building communities within our new host city/state/country of Singapore.
It was a lot trickier to navigate new friendships knowing that I didn’t just want friendships, but lifelines to help me through this very lonely existence of living in a new country.
All of a sudden, I went from a plethora of friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues and family members to starting over from scratch.
I slowly began to meet new people (with no help from all of the restrictions that were in place at the time). But then it started to get easier to meet people and it felt like by the end of our first 9 months here, we had a wide group of people to call on.
But once you get past the “I just need to meet people” stage and start to really spend time with each person, you can begin to more fully understand who is a person that is interested in finding out about you and you in them, to who is just a casual connection and who is simply “playing” the role of friend?
It’s the kind of thing that I may have been good at ascertaining when I was in high school or college, but I have long forgotten to put into practice since most of my friendships back home have been tried and tested long ago.
Finding Mom friends
One of the biggest struggles in life can also be the strongest connector. No one can really understand the visceral joys, pains and catch-22’s of motherhood than other moms. It’s a bond that can at times form with just one look of exhaustion, exasperation or elation.
In that instant, you can look at a group of moms and usually find one woman looking back at you with that nod or smile of assurance. That look says one important thing:
“No, you’re not crazy, this is hard and you are doing great just by staying afloat”.
Sometimes that’s all you need to know that you are not alone, this is not easy and you are seen.
When we first arrived, school campuses were completely closed off to parents, so it was hard to connect. My ever-so-resourceful kids decided to take matters into their own hands, asking me to provide them with handwritten notes with our contact info to their friends parents and then slipping those notes to each other at school, so we could set up playdates. It felt so stealth, like we were sharing state secrets instead of trying to get together for a Saturday afternoon.
But the thing about mom friends, is that there are so many ways to be a mom and so many personalities. We may both have kids, but that doesn’t mean we will have anything else in common including the way we think we should be raising, speaking or treating our children. That immediately cuts down your pool of “cool” moms to hang with, drastically.
We’re gonna need to meet more people…
Finding friends that are up for new experiences
By the time you get into your 40’s, you start to see that some people are slowing down instead of keeping up or speeding up. That’s not me. I’m always up for doing something new, learning something new, trying something new. It’s part of why I choose and gravitated towards a career in marketing & advertising.
There is always a new problem to solve or an old problem that needs a new solution. Figuring out different ways to make something work is my happy place.
So I looked for people who would also be up for new experiences. These are friends that are trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, offering a hand to others in the community, trying their hand at a new part of their career or even picking up a new skill. The idea of exploring and learning together can be really invigorating and an interesting place to meet.
The new experiences allow you to not just see something new but experience people that are willing to put themselves in new situations. It shows a willingness to learn, to be ok with not being the smartest person in the room and a desire to grow into a fuller life.
Finding friends that share passion for building
Friends that share a passion for their work (whatever that work may be) became such an important touchstone and then grew into some of my closest confidants. So many people kept telling me to enjoy this time when I was being restricted from doing the work that I loved. They said to think of it as a very well deserved vacation (um, did they forget that I have 2 children??)
But the friends that I met who are equally passionate about what they do, simply got it. They understood what it meant to have devoted so much of your life’s energy into your work, but also what innate benefits we each derive from it (and most of it has nothing to do with the paycheck)
They helped me to find other avenues of work, ways to contribute and encouragement to go in new directions when the old ways weren’t possible. They were willing to listen, to see me and not just dismiss my distress as silly.
The interesting thing to uncover was that even the most successful, most passionate and most driven among us are still searching for that next right thing.
In that search I’ve found a kinship with so many women and men who are figuring out how to reorder the pieces in their puzzle, to start something new, make a change, level up or completely change their lives.
Maybe it’s this level of life, where you’ve been in striving mode for a couple of decades now and then you start to think, “What is next?” Maybe everyone is searching, regardless of age or stage.
It’s hard not to assume that everyone else is on this very linear path and you are the weirdo who is stepping off to do something new. Meeting so many people all at once who are also walking an “unconventional path” leads you to believe that you might not be such an outlier after all.
I have had a strong kinship, especially with women, across different countries, nationalities and walks of life. And such an appreciation for those who strive and those who are in constant learning mode.
Growing closer to new friends
The incredible part of making all of these new friends has been the last 6 months where we’ve moved well past the niceties, past the initial stages of getting to know each other, through the stages of showing both the dysfunctional parts of us and the places where we shine. It’s been so gratifying to see these relationships flourish and feel a sense of acceptance that I had in my friendships before starting this chapter.
My latest read, “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life” talks about the vital importance of the communities that you are a part of and the tight group of friends that you have. It’s right up there with eating right, exercise, and finding a purpose in life.
That’s much more important than I thought it was, until I didn’t have it. I can fully appreciate each relationship so much more. Knowing that we may be so close now but then flung to opposite corners of the earth, makes the time spent feel fleeting and therefore you find yourself holding on that much tighter.
It’s so hard to say goodbye…
Part of making new friends far from home is the crushing reality that you will also have to say goodbye to most of them. Sometimes their time table for being in one place is well known, sometimes its completely unknown (even to them) and for others the experience of having to leave can come on suddenly and within a month, they are gone.
I was warned that this was very much the experience of an expat. Within our first year abroad, we were mostly spared from this experience. The lock-downs, travel restrictions of different nations and general desire for stability, after years of nothing but massive change, made for far fewer departures. So we have had almost 2 years with the same friend group around us, helping to form a new community and solid friendships.
This month, that consistency has begun to come undone as quite a few of our friends and neighbors are moving to new places (most continuing their expat journeys, with a small minority going back “home”)
Friends that leave unexpectedly
Some friends seem to be solidly planted in their lives in Singapore with absolutely no plans to leave in the next 10 years. I was always in awe of this approach as it seemed to be so far from everything that they knew. But after hearing their emphatic love for Asia, they convinced me of their convictions and how much they wanted to stay here indefinitely. These are also the same friends that sent me for a loop, when they suddenly announced their plans to move.
Life plans are always just a general direction of where you hope to go and yet feel so much less solid when your home address, kid’s school and the languages you need to know, all rely on your work visa.
But the funny thing is, although most people are living here because a particular job sponsored them to come, the thing that is mostly pulling people away, remains the family back home. For most, there is no stronger force in one’s life than family obligations. And although you form a “friend family” while you are far from home, the gravitational pull from family members in need is something that is hard to ignore.
Friends with expiration dates stamped on
Some people are very sure of their in country deadlines. Sometimes that’s driven by a contract, sometimes a particular age of the children, or other obligations. These friends usually announce this right upfront. Kind of like “don’t get too used to seeing me around!” But we know that those are pretty arbitrary plans and life has other ideas for us.
I used to walk around with an expiration date myself, especially when we first arrived, but most of that was just to help me get through the more difficult days. If I told myself I only had to get through x amount of time, then none of the hurdles would feel as high or as daunting.
While there really isn’t much sense to focusing on these expiration dates too much, I personally found that once we stopped talking about our “move out” date and just enjoyed the present, we were able to really enjoy the experience & people without holding back.
Friends that fade away (or ghost- what’s up with that?!)
In the past, I had so much trouble understanding friends that would just fade away (God help the ones that would ghost). But I’ve come to realize that we aren’t meant to be in everyone’s lives always. Of course there are some people who are going to be life long friends, but that is actually the exception, not the rule.
Life circumstances, proximity and stages, require different kinds of connections and different people within those times. That doesn’t make those relationships any less special or life affirming, but some of those relationships were never meant to go past a certain point.
Although we have more ways to “stay connected” and some lost relationships can be found once again, I think that appreciating what you have and letting it go is a far healthier way to move through life. (Just remember to say goodbye - I find ghosting to be beyond weak)
Friends that are touchstones regardless of time
There are a handful of golden, sparkly friends that weave in and out of my life, but when we sync up, it’s like no time has past since our last connection. We simply pick right back up, without guilt, regret or shame.
We remember the wild curves of each other’s past, the textured fabric of the other person’s humor and the jagged edges of their insecurities.
There is a comfort in these relationships that is almost impossible to replace. A knowing that can’t be unknown.
Yet that doesn’t mean that we still fit into each other’s day to day lives and most times do not. Whether it’s a job, a life circumstance or a period of your life that is way in the past, these relationships aren’t proximity or stage bound but instead bound by your bond alone. This makes them extremely hard to upkeep, unless you have invisibly signed the unwritten social contract that you will be there when it counts, when you are able to make the time or in a place where you can connect.
I look forward to seeing some of these friends soon and yet there is an ongoing comfort knowing that those friendships have gone through the hard work of knowing, testing, faltering, getting back up and moving forward already. They are there for the long haul.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to add some of the new friends to that list of “touchstone” friends, but only time will tell.
One last thought…
As I close out this post, I am buoyed by the amazing people I’ve been so fortunate to meet, the things I’ve learned from them and the consistent flow of great energy that can be found from people just like you as well as those who couldn’t be more different. There is an appreciation for real connections that can’t be replicated by anything but that human connection (I see you coming A.I. buddies)
A few questions to end with:
Who’s in your circle of friends?
Who are your latest friends that you’ve added to your circle?
Are you closed off to new relationships or continuing to fill your life with new friends?
Have you connected with you touchstone friends lately? Why not? Maybe today is the day.
Here’s to the ability to earnestly appreciate a sincere hello and gracious goodbye.