Friday, 22 March 2013

A few thoughts on expat friendships




You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife

You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife
DAVID BYRNE


A long time ago a very close friend of mine hurt me. I was so shocked and upset it took me years to forgive her. But if I tried to explain to you now what had actually happened, it would sound very silly. You would think I must be overly sensitive to be upset about something so insignificant. Fine, I might be. But, after thinking it over and over again, I realized what it was that hurt me. It was not what she had said or done. It was the pain from having to admit to myself that, even though she was my best friend, it did not mean that I was the best friend to her.

Funnily enough, once I realized that, I found it quite easy to talk to her again. I would not want to never see her again, after years of friendship. Seemed a bit of a waste to me. So we sort of made up.  I just treated her as an acquaintance since then, not a good friend. And, looking at various girlfriend problems I might have had at various stages of my life, I am realizing that the times i got really upset were always for this very same reason: I thought we were closer friends than we really were.

And to be honest, I am just as bad at this as the people I am complaining about. I must sometimes send wrong messages to people I think I barely know, whereas they clearly expect me to be their good friend.

So I am just curious: Why, how does this happen? Is friendship basically the same as dating? Do we tend to send wrong or mixed signals to each other? Are there such concepts as exclusive friendship and a casual one? Are some people just trying to have some fun with us whereas we would like them to take things more seriously? Are they sometimes maybe looking for a weekend F*** buddy? Where F is for friend, not something else, yet you still feel as used and unworthy of a real relationship. And here is me thinking that I did not have to worry about all these things ever again, since I no longer am in the dating game.

Now, as an inexperienced expat, I had no idea how friendships develop when we are away from home. I thought I had. I already did this once, you know. I had to leave my home country and move somewhere completely different, and try to start all over again: building a circle of friends, and some sort of a social life for myself. And England was hard. England took time and effort to find good friends. In the end, I did pretty well.

But expat friendships are proving to be a completely different ballgame. A little while ago, a friend of mine got very upset as someone she thought was her good friend clearly decided to not see her again. For no apparent reason, whatsoever. (And not just her, in fact, but me, too! Difficult to imagine, right?)

And, after thinking of reasons why this girl decided to dump us, I realized that it must be something that just happens to some expat friendships.

To start with, we are all very different. We come from all sorts of bizarre countries and cultures. There are ways to avoid this complication. Some people, like the Irish guys I know in Doha, tend to stick together. It works for the Irish as I suspect, they like each other, and enjoy being Irish together.


Note: Now, that will definitely not work for me, since I don’t like many fellow Azeris and they generally don’t like me. Plus, I have a complication in the form of an English husband.

Then, there is a syndrome of the new arrival. We arrive feeling all enthusiastic, ready to make effort, extend our welcoming hands to new people who are all in the same boat…make wonderful friends, and be all happy together. Just like at university, as Husband pointed out, we spend the first few weeks making friends with anyone and everyone, only to then spend the following months trying to get rid of most of them.

Finally, we all know, deep in our hearts, that this, here is not our real life. These, here, are not our real friends. Tomorrow either we ourselves, or our fellow expat friends are going to go back home (to their real friends), or move on to another pretend life somewhere else where they will have to start all over again; and will maybe send us a few emails, but most probably will just Like our photos on Facebook- at the most.

And yet…In this imitation of the real life, with the substitute friends we surround ourselves with…I still tend to make the same mistake. It is like falling in love, you can’t help it. And, even knowing all of the above…I still treat people I like as real friends. Only to discover sometimes, that they don’t feel the same way.