Making friends. Not something you normally have to worry about too much, right?
But then, when you move overseas and haven’t got any, ‘friends’ can seem like a bad word. It’s lovely when you’ve got lots of them. But when you’re in a new place, and you don’t know anyone…well it’s a word more likely to be uttered with tears. As in ‘I haven’t got any!’ as you scroll through happy Facebook pics of all your ‘old’ friends.
These are the friends who have been your support system for years, the ones who know what makes you laugh, the ones who listened when things made you cry. These are the friends who share your history…and when they’re suddenly thousands of miles away, it hurts.
And the thing that’s almost as hard as missing all those friends is realising that you’re going to have to go about making friends all over again. New ones.
But when you’re a grown up, and you’ve moved to a new place and you don’t know ANYONE, how exactly do you go about making friends??
Making friends is not that easy…
When we made our first move, there was a little nagging fear in the back of my mind (squished in with assorted other little and not-so-little nagging fears) – what if I don’t make any friends? It’s a fear I dismissed in my daughters – Of course you’ll make friends! Why wouldn’t people want to be friends with you! – but that hit the nail on the head. I didn’t want to admit it but….what if no-one wanted to be my friend??!
…especially as an adult
When we got to Bangkok I was in a daze. We had moved mid-way through the school year, and I remember going to a school coffee morning and having no-one to speak to. Everyone was in their little groups chatting, and I hovered on the outskirts of the group, trying to find a way in and failing miserably. It felt like everyone was already in a clique and there was no room for me.
This turned out to be untrue, but I didn’t know that at the time. So I stood on my own, forcing myself to smile (with hindsight I probably looked like a simpleton – gripping my plastic coffee cup and grinning away to myself) biting the inside of my cheeks so I wouldn’t cry.
‘I’m a grown woman!’ I kept telling myself (anyone else have to constantly remind themselves that they are an adult??) but nevertheless I wanted the ground to literally swallow me up and deposit me back in England with my besties. They’d have laughed at my stupid grin and made me feel like a normal human being again.
I had sent my four-year-old off to school that week with a kiss and advice on making friends – smile at everyone and be kind. I just hoped this was working out better for her than for me…
It took a while to come out of that daze – because, honestly, in those first couple of weeks, I just didn’t have the energy to make friends. And then, when the jetlag had passed and I felt a bit more normal, I decided that if I wanted to be anything other than miserable, I just had to start saying ‘yes’ to things. Even things I wouldn’t normally do, or things that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with. Like more coffee mornings…
Treat making friends like dating
I started thinking about making friends like dating. You’ve got to put yourself out there, and be open to people. You have to take some risks.Let your inhibitions go.
In Bangkok I met a fellow Brit. She wasn’t in the group of girls that I was already connected to, but she was funny and kind and we had a shared passion for writing. So we met for coffee and in the end I said to her – ‘Shall we decide we’re going to be friends?’
And then I had a moment of panic – it would have been slightly awkward if she’d replied ‘No thanks, you’re just not my type…’ Luckily she didn’t (phew!) and not only was she someone who made me laugh as we navigated life in Bangkok, but she became a true friend, a see-you-through-the-shit-times friend. You know, one of those people you’re always going to be thankful for having had in your life, even if it was only a short time.
But what if you have nothing in common?
I’m just going to stretch that dating analogy a little further… When you’re dating, you meet some people with whom the only thing you have in common is the fact that you are both dating. When you move country, you’ll meet people and your only commonality will be the fact that you are both expats. And that’s fine, because sometimes you just need a familiar face, someone who understands what it’s like to not be able to buy Marmite or to laugh with you about how you’ve just embarrassed yourself again with your worse-than-kindergarten German.
Look for the people who ‘spark joy’
But you also need more than that. You need someone who, to quote the decluterring guru Marie Kondo, ‘sparks joy.’ She’s the woman who said any clothes you own that don’t ‘spark joy’ should be thrown out – to which a friend responded ‘I’d have to throw out my entire wardrobe…and the only sparks would come from setting it all on fire’. See, that’s the kind of friend I like…
And when you find this friend, the one who makes you laugh, who is emotionally available, and on your wavelength then, to quote my wise friend Becky, ‘Handcuff yourself to her! Don’t let her out of you sight!’
When I think of my closest friendships, they were all forged at periods of change – starting university, starting work, having babies. As with most of the friendships we have as adults, they were made over a long period of time. Moving to a new country is the same kind of situation, only we don’t have acres of time to get to know each other.
So this means expat friendships can be intense. You’re all in the same boat together – away from home, away from family, away from the familiar – so grab onto these friends because they will be your life vest and keep you afloat when things get rough. And you will do the same for them. And then you realise that they are the real deal, these are your new ‘old’ friends…and you thank your lucky stars that your paths crossed.
Dropping the F-Bomb
We arrived in Germany last summer and I was enjoying the ‘honeymoon’ period, you know, when you’re still acting like a tourist, the sun’s shining and everything’s new. And then, when I realised the kids were about to go back to school, the shine started to fade. I had no mates. This had to be rectified.
So I went to all the school events and made an effort to speak to the other new parents. And on the first day I met another Mum, and we connected. And I knew we’d be friends, because she dropped the F-bomb in our first conversation (and I don’t mean ‘friends’). Funnily enough, I had just read an article not long after moving to Germany (which I now can’t find so not sure if I made it up to reassure myself…) which said that people who swear make the best friends.
Apparently, swearers are more honest, loyal and upfront. A year later and we are ‘real’ friends (so surely that means the article was based on fact?!) and I know that, when it’s time for us to move on, I’ll miss her loads. But the friendship will last.
So, when you’re in a new place…
Remember that we are all friends-free when we first arrive somewhere. But although your old friends may not be psychically present, they are still there for you. And these new acquaintances you are making? Well some of them will become your closest friends.
My advice? Drop the F-Bomb, don’t be shy! By that I mean talk about friendship – swearing optional. Its only by putting yourself out there that you’ll find your future ‘old’ friends. Just make sure you have some handcuffs at the ready…
16 Replies to “Making Friends When You Move Overseas: The F Bomb”
This touch my heart so much and is the single biggest difficulty I find in living this life. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your heart.
Thank you Jill for taking the time to read and comment. I think this something everyone finds hard but on the outside it seems like everyone else is doing just fine…
You’ll never struggle to find your fellow freaks because you’re ‘f’ing’ amazing! ❤️
Thanks my love, right back at ya! xx
One thing I’d add to the saying ‘yes’ strategy is don’t be afraid to have in-depth, controversial conversations. When you are making friends fast because you have months, not years, to get to know each other, talk about the hard stuff. This helps you find your true friends faster than small talk. Maybe that’s similar to dropping the f-bomb in letting your guard down and taking risks.
I agree and your point about letting your guard down is so true…it’s hard, but if we have our defences up it’s so much harder to let people in. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, it is so appreciated
This is definitely the hardest thing about starting a new location. I never thought at 30 something I would be asking people to be friends! I agree making friends as an adult is far harder but like you say sometimes the strongest ones come out of transitional or life changing moments. Great post tapping into what I think most of us nomads feel
Thank you! I think most of us can relate to this, but it’s not always the easiest thing to talk about. Thanks for the comment and I hope you have found some new ‘old’ friends in the desert
I’m so glad that we become f-bombing friends!!! Love reading your wise thoughts!
You and me both! And thank you, I’m glad you liked it 🙂
Great piece on the struggles of expat life. My biggest fear was not being able to find people to connect with. People that didn’t understand British humour or life. It was some I experienced growing up in Canada as an expat kid. I laughed when you mentioned you made a friend out of a Brit. I’ve noticed the people I bond with first are those that understand my home. Very true about the ‘yes’ rule. You’ve always got to drag yourself out and most of the time to end up having a good time. So glad you can drop f bombs more often now xx
I’m glad it struck a chord with you! My friends here are from all over the place, but it’s always good to have someone from ‘home’ who gets your cultural references…and knows how to make a good cup of tea 😉
Thank you for reading and I really appreciate you taking the time to comment x
This is all too familiar and I love how you put into words exactly how I’m feeling! Never knew it would be so hard to make new friends as an adult in a new country! At first I thought that I had just somehow become socially awkward or that the culture differences were just to great, but as you say, you need to get out of your comfort zone and drop that F bomb ? Thank you for this well written article
Thanks so much for your comment Jennie! I hope you have found some people on your wave length x
I still fucking miss you and meeting in our cafe, I don’t go in there anymore. Moving again soon and have resigned myself to having no mates at all, maybe I’ll find a diamond when I’m not looking, like I did you. Remain your wonderful self.
Ah love! I miss you too, happy memories of that café and you! You were my lucky find in Bangkok…and you’re so brilliant, you’ll make friends. It just takes time doesn’t it? Sending you loads of love. ?