This winter, on my early morning dog walks, I made a discovery. If I looked up at the sign at the end of our street just when the sun was starting to nudge the night away I could see the most amazing spider web. It was strung from the top of the pole to the edge of the sign and from the edge of the sign halfway down the pole. With the first rays of light it became invisible unless you were looking for it. I loved knowing it was there.
I am independent and self-sufficient. I have 13 international moves under my belt, have adjusted and thrived on four continents, and so on…
Except – I’m not alone.
This life, this confidence and the identity I have formed are only possible because I am held and supported by other people. At the top of the list is my husband and partner in all adventures of course, as well as an incredibly supportive family but it also includes a – sometimes invisible – web of friends.
This post is in honor of these loyal supporters, cheerleaders, and shapers of who I am – because having these friends has definitely also shaped my identity.
Two kinds of deep friendships
I am very fortunate to have two kinds of friends that have stuck around – “old” friends that knew me growing up at school/university and expat friends I’ve met on our assignments.
What they have in common is that I feel comfortable with them. Understood and at ease. There is acceptance and respect for each other and trust built over time or shared experiences.
Friends that stay put
I may be a TCK but I spent a large chunk of my childhood in one place. This allowed me to form close friendships with people that weren’t living a mobile life, that I could find again in familiar places over the years. The same applied to my time at university. These connections form a stable base, a sort of foundation of reliability. Not only can I count on the people, but I can count on them being in a fixed place. There is joy in that knowledge and a feeling of coming home when I visit them.
Support and stability
It’s a small group but whenever, wherever I’ve gone “away” to I could always come back to them. They accepted my (and later our) decisions without trying to change them. By being there, by being stable, they helped ground me and let me fly to form my identity. Over time it has been incredible to know people that don’t move every few years. Unbeknownst to them they’ve helped us decide what we wanted by showing us an alternative. But their lives have also been mirrors, a place to check and reflect if we what we were experiencing (ourselves and with our children) was “normal” or perhaps an effect of moving that we should address.
Friends on the move
Expat friends understand me on a different level. These friendships are often formed quickly because we know we may not have much time together. The slow and steady building of trust over time is replaced by an “all in” deep dive with the expat experience being the glue that binds.
In my experience some of these friendships don’t outlast the farewell party – and that’s ok. They weren’t meant to. But others do. These are friends that I bonded with not only over frustrations about finding school shoes or while watching stunning African sunsets but at a more elemental level. People I could rely on when the $h!t hit the fan far from home, that love our children like family and aren’t shy to tell me when I misstep.
Staying in touch
We’ve stayed in touch in many ways over the years. By post, social media, postcards and video calls. Each person is different, each connection valuable and cherished.
Life gets busy, wherever we are. When we’re buzzing around the world, readjusting to life and newness every few years our resources become depleted. We are overwhelmed with what is right in front of us and have no capacity for anything else. At least that’s how I feel.
I know my friends are there, sometimes wondering how we are, what it’s like to be in XYZ. It’s WONDERFUL knowing I’m crossing their mind. But I often have no energy left to connect. And then it feels like its been too long. Or we don’t want to be perceived as bragging or complaining. Expat life can look very glamorous from the outside but it rarely is.
Then comes the guilt
So then I feel guilty and torn. Undecided what to do and too tired to take action. Then an email arrives. A quick text message bings on my phone. Someone comments on a memory on Facebook and just like that I feel connected and understood. I am reminded that there are people out there that get me and that care without me having to explain. People that are also busy with their lives and happy for a quick update, a momentary connection. So we just pick up where we are right now and continue from there.
This is possible because we have a shared history (outside of social media), a shared understanding and a shared hope that the day will come when we can sit down again together for a face to face, a glass of wine and maybe another stunning sunset, somewhere in the world.
Dear friends – you know who you are – thank you for accepting me as I am. For your support from afar, for welcoming us when we came closer. For sharing post to boost visibility, for remaining curious and connected even when I didn’t appear to be. For caring about me and my family, for giving me a place to be authentically, unapologetically myself – warts, moods, confusion, cultural faux pas and all.