Making friends the expat way.

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If you have lived in a small town for a long time, or maybe in the same neighborhood in a bigger city, you might have the same experience as I have when it comes to making friends as an adult. It takes a long time – sometimes years – before you ask that nice mom at your child’s school or that good college of yours to come home for dinner or go to the theater together. Making friends is an investment for life and you want to be absolutely sure that you like this person and that you can be sure that he or she likes you too, before you expose yourself.

It is also a risk. What if it turns out that the person wasn’t that nice after all? Now that you have invited that person or that family into your social life, they have to return the treat and so it goes on forever!

Living an expat life requires quite another way of making friends. You know that you have a limited amount of time, maybe two or three years, before you will leave this place. And that goes for everyone else too. You’re living in the moment. You have to be active yourself or you will be invisible! You have to grab that nice mom and immediately ask her out for lunch, you have to ask the new neighbor if she wants to join you to the vegetable market and you have to throw yourself out and ask those three ladies at your language course if you can join them on that interesting day trip they are talking about.

You might see pictures on Facebook of the ones you thought were your friends doing things together – without you. Or you will realize that the nice mom always has a good reason not to be able to plan that lunch you’ve been talking about. But you mustn’t give in and lose your self-esteem. This is the way it is. And after a few years you will be a professional when it comes to mingling around and daring to ask people to join you for the most different kinds of excursions. And you will get friends from different cultures, religions, political opinions, child raising philosophies and different backgrounds. You will grow and develop and enjoy being with all these wonderful, funny and fascinating people whom you’ve met in the middle of your life! Some will be closer than others, but they will all share some part of this adventure of yours – with all the ups and downs – and you will never forget them.

But one day your new soul sister tells you that her husband has been relocated and she will move in some months. Your lovely neighbor tells you the next day that they will leave too. June comes and every day you give someone the last hug and farewell. Maybe you will meet, in your home country or in another country, maybe you will never see each other again. Those are heart breaking days. But the sadness you feel is the proof that you’ve managed well in your “expat friendship education”. Go celebrate!

 

PS: All the examples above are fictional and not about any of my friends.

Love will not make your marriage last forever

photo-1458413111252-87446cbff277The other day I met the priest who officiated the marriage between me and my husband 17 years ago and baptized our daughter some years later. It was so strange to meet him here in Shanghai! Last time we met we were in that old, beautiful church in Kalmar Castle. Of course he didn’t remember me, but I had to tell him that what he told us about the key to keeping a marriage together, has stayed with me all these years. So what did he say?

He said that it’s so easy to think that it’s the love that will carry you through all ups and downs in a long marriage. But it’s not that easy, because there might be days when you are so angry or sad that you can’t feel that love inside of you. Or days when your spouse is having health or job problems and you don’t feel as loved as you would like. Those days it has to be the will to be married to that other person that shall make you do the necessary work to find each other again.

Now I’m happy to have a very good marriage and I can’t really say that I’ve been that much out of love for my husband, but still what the priest said has made an impact on me. It’s not only the love to a partner that needs some will some days. It can be the love or good feelings for a friend, a job or an education. Nowadays we often get the message from media that we should only do what pleases us and turn away from difficult or boring activities or people. I think it’s good, once in a while, to reflect on what we want to keep in our lives even when the feeling isn’t the best. If I feel that I really want this relationship or job to continue, but in another form, then that will give me the strength to start thinking of solutions instead of getting stuck in negativity.

So the will to find new solutions or turning on a more positive perspective could be the bridge from the bad days, when love is not so present, to the good days where love can prosper again. I like that!