Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Thank you for being a friend"

I find it a little difficult to make friends. This might come as a surprise as I lay out little blips of my life on the internet for all to read, and I spend my professional life standing in front of groups of people and often share things about myself to make a point. But it’s hard for me to open up and invest in a real friendship.

I suspect there are many reasons for this, but primarily because I am quite private and it takes me a while to warm up to folk. Conversely, it also takes others time to warm to me. I’m actually pretty shy, particularly in one-on-ones, and sometimes this gives people the impression I am standoff-ish, so I know when I find a real friend that it isn’t something to take lightly.

And here in Norway, I have been lucky to find quite a few real friends.

Making friends as an expat is a little different than in ‘real life’. It’s like going on a camping trip and bonding with a complete stranger based on your mutual experience of hardship*. Friendships are approached quickly, and sometimes you find yourself friends with people you might never have back home.

This is a tricky thing as, after a while, you realize that mutual nationality or shared expat woe is not enough of a foundation for a real relationship. There has to be some meat on the bones to sustain things. Some of those friendships naturally wane, but sometimes you get past the surface and realize there’s a real connection. I have made a lot of friends that I never would have back home – not because they are not wonderful people with a lot to offer, but because we might never have had occasion to cross paths in other circumstances. And I am thankful for those friendships.

This week marks the departure of another dear friend. I say ‘another’ as this is the third person that I am really close to who is bidding Stavanger adieu. I also know that there are more goodbyes to come in the near future. Part of this is due to the economy (expats, lovely though they may be, are expensive) and part to do with other life decisions.

I visited the soon departing friend yesterday to take some stuff off her hands, and I am ashamed to say I almost had a little cry while I was there. Even though I have had to say goodbye to many friends over the years, either because I was moving on or they were, it never really gets easier. I didn’t think my tears would help an already difficult situation, so I sucked it up and smiled. I waited til I got home to have a little weep**.

I would like to say I was weeping for altruistic reasons, but the truth is I was weeping just as much for myself as anything else. It hurts to be left behind. I know my friendships don’t end when someone boards a plane, but things do change. And part of what makes being an expat enjoyable is the people with whom you experience it. I am sure I would be singing a different hymn about the joys of living abroad if I had not been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of so many amazing people.

I wish I had some poetry to throw at the situation, but the truth is, it just sucks.

So to the soon departing friend, the departures yet to come, those that have already left, and those that don't plan on going anywhere, thank you for being my friend. Thanks for bringing something to my life that wouldn’t have been there without you.

This is not goodbye, but merely ‘see you later’.
* I know not everyone would buy into my camping example as hardship, but my idea of camping is a hotel without room service. We all have different scales.
** I am a crier. This surprises a lot of folk as I might appear to be quite, well, be-atchy, but I am actually a big old softie. Anyone who has had to witness one of my birthday or Thanksgiving speeches (painfully teary but thankfully brief) can attest to this.