So far I’ve taken on many challenges in Santiago: driving down one-way streets in the wrong direction, driving into the ‘out’ in shopping centres, not being able to communicate to anyone, living out of a suitcase for 3 months, getting lost, not understanding the money, and the list goes on. Despite all that, hands down the toughest part of uprooting your life and moving abroad is the lonliness you feel from leaving your friends and family behind. What I wouldn’t give right now to call up, say, Matt, and have him drop by with a bottle of Pinot to lounge on the couch, or discuss random TV-shows with Andy over coffee, or meet up with my mother’s group in Australia for a Thursday night cocktail or a daytime playdate. Life is just easier when people know you.
Friend-making is like dating. You see someone from far away and get a first impression: could this person be my new best friend? Hmmmm, not sure I could befriend someone who would wear those pants in public (haha…). You make it through an initial meeting, think they’re decent, so you have to decide whether to take the ‘next step’ and have a second ‘date’. Eventually after you see them a bunch of times the friendship sticks. Think about how often you meet new people, and how many of those actually make the ‘conversion’ to being a real friend. Not bloody many. In my opinion, here are the categories of friends you have:
- Fake friends: People you don’t really like that much but have to be nice to, to keep the peace. Like that person at work that is evil (as they say, keep your enemies close).
- Acquaintance friends: The kind of friends you have on Facebook, or in social groups you know, who you’d do a coffee with, but you definitely wouldn’t call if you were at home with stomach flu and needed someone to hold your hair while you wretch.
- Friend by default: The friends that you wouldn’t necessarily pick out of a crowd in the first place, but circumstance turns you into friends. Like a person you end up sitting beside at work. Eventually they know more about you than your family.
- Friends in progress: Friends that you’re seeing, who may or may not make the conversion. You like them, and you’re hopeful that it could be the start of a beautiful relationship. They (or you!) might do something shady which makes you have to awkwardly stop seeing eachother, so you’re always keeping your guard up a bit.
- Friends: Friends are friends. You do dinner dates, you do activities together, you call to bitch about your day, or the weather (in the case of Melbourne). Your kids know each other. You’re comfortable camping together, or wearing your PJs on the couch and watching chick-flicks.
- The friend-at-first sight: That person you connect with immediately, and are from first sight inseparable. Rare but awesome.
- Lifers: These are the friends that you’ve had for years. Maybe they were only friends by default at one point, or maybe they were friends-at-first-sight, but since you’ve known them forever they’re like family. And they’ll always be around, even if you live far away. You can not make contact with a lifer for months, and when you do, everything is like normal.
When you’re an expat, it’s relatively easy to make ‘acquaintance’ friends. Everyone here has uprooted their life, and left their Lifers behind. So many are on the lookout for a new BFF, and new playmates for their kids. That makes it easy, and nice (it’s much harder in a country with not as many expats, as everyone has their friends already). But it’s also exhausting because you’re meeting lots of people and having the same kind of get-to-know-you conversations…only after you’ve seen them a few times (and shared a few drinks?) can you really start to drop the guard. Everyone is in the ‘acquaintance’ or ‘friend in progress’ stage, so you don’t have anyone to call when you’re in tears because you tripped in public, dropped your coffee, and tore your pants (note: that may or may not have happened to me). Friends come with time, but sometimes you just want to skip over the dating and find the relationship. Sigh.
Here’s a few ways to make new friends as an expat. I’m open to – and looking for – any other ideas as well!
- Social media: You’d be surprised how easy it is to find friends through things like Facebook. For instance, there is a facebook group called “english speaking mothers in santiago”. Here loads of moms ask questions about things like “where can I find breast pumps” through to “I’m bored and isolated, does anyone want to drag the kids to a park”. Definitely an easy way to connect in, in English. yay! There are loads of other groups based on interests, so if you’re new to a city it’s a simple way to get out of the house.
- Through work: If you’re the ‘trailing spouse’ you can always get together with other wives from your husband’s company. You’ve got something in common immediately (e.g. does your husband travel as much as mine??). And if you’re working, you’ve always got your colleagues. You wonder though, if there is some ‘distance’ you should have from work-friends…? (brings back IMD memories, no distance there – whoops!)
- Friends of friends: I’ve had some great friends of mine introduce me to friends of theirs in Chile. Again, you’ve got something in common and normally if you both like the same mutual friend, it’s for a reason. This is my favourite way to make friends.
- Random friend meetings: Nothing like seeing someone who looks cool at a cafe and walking up to introduce yourself. I haven’t done that, but sometimes I’d like to. What would you say though, really…something like “I like your shoes and the book you’re reading, would you like to be my friend?”. A bit creepy and rejection prone.
- Social activity friends: I may take up a dance class, or pilates class or something. That’s a good way to make friends-by-default. Eventually you end up being friends…it might just take 10 painful pilates classes to get there.
So there you have it, eventually I wont be such a loner, it just requires a bit of effort. 🙂