My husband is my best friend but his friendship could never take the place of any of my good girlfriends nor vice versa. Both are amazingly beautiful but they couldn’t be any more different.
Living overseas makes cultivating friendships a challenge but at the same time the shared experiences deepen our bond in ways we can’t imagine. I’m not going to use the whole overseas thing as an excuse, the reality is I need girlfriends! I do!
You do! Yes, even you my introverted shy friend who would rather sit curled up on the couch reading then to go out with a group of women.
From the moment I started kindergarten and discovered the sweet joy of having a bestfriend I was smitten. I couldn’t imagine my life without having a a best friend ever again.
Until, well, I realized how vicious and manipulating that word “best friend” could be. In my innocence, it was used against me and quickly I learned “the way” and then I found myself using it against my little friends. Though I don’t use the word “best friend” anymore I’ve had plenty of amazing good girl friends in my life that have filled me with richness, encouragement, love and grace and I can’t imagine my life without having their imprint on it. These girlfriends who have showed up continuously in my life when things were hard and when the smallest of things needed to be celebrated, have made my life richer!
So the list below can apply to those in the expat world and non-expats. Since the past 9 years of my life has been that of an expat, I share from that experience. In that time, I have noticed a pattern in the people that have come and gone from our expat community. The expats who arrive and keep to themselves and make no efforts to connect–don’t make it past a year or two but sometimes not even past 6 months. I encourage any one and every one to find one person to connect with but for those who are expats I urge you to start putting yourself out there and begin making connections in your community.
Remember not everyone you cross paths with and seems like a cool person is meant to be your friend, so don’t take it too personal when it does’t work out. Friendship takes time but it’s well worth it. Don’t let a few friendship bumps along the way discourage you and keep you on your couch perusing through Facebook vicariously living your life through those who do have a social life. In the words of Lord Tennyson,
Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”
Yes, it is better to have pursued friendships and lost friendships than to never have a friend at all. The picture below was taken about 5 years ago of some good friends and only 2 of us expats are left from the chicas below. Yes, it hurts like crazy to say goodbye, but it’s better than to have never loved at all.
Sure Way to Spot Good Expat Friends
1. They reciprocate. Have you ever tried playing catch with someone who didn’t throw the ball back to you? You can’t! It’s impossible. The same goes for friendships, you can’t have a healthy friendship when you’re the only one throwing the ball. You give and give but eventually you get tired of doing all the pursuing and initiating, so when you stop, well the friendship dies. One of the boundaries I have set for myself is to show grace in the midst of this thing called friendship building, especially in the expat world but also to learn when to walk away. In the expat world, maybe the person you just met recently had her precious friend leave the country and she’s still not ready to start making new friends. Maybe they just arrived in country and she has too much to process to have the energy to invest in a friendship. So grace serves us well. But if someone doesn’t respond to my initiating whether it is emails, invites me over, ignores my invites and well stands me up then I choose to move on, not in anger or a “forget you” attitude, but simply realizing it’s not going to work and that’s okay. I try not to take it personal but sometimes it does sting and it saddens me.
2. They celebrate you instead of envy you. Oh what freedom there is when you find someone who lets you, be you. After a few comments like this one, “Ugh, not only can you do this …or that… you make me want to hate you.” said in the midst of laughter, I discovered there was truth behind those words. Never has a person said this to me or thought this about me and reciprocated my friendship offerings. So, I began to hide the parts of me that made people insecure until I realized I didn’t want to be in a friendship where I could only be a part of me. I need people in my life who want to celebrate the little things of life–together. People who call me up and say, “You can do this Mari!” Not people who are secretly wishing I fail. It’s sad because usually the people who say things like this to me are beautifully talented people who I want to get to know. Unfortunately, they let their insecurities keep us from developing a friendship. When we function as if there is a scarcity of talent or skills we miss out on life. The envy or jealousy takes over and we forfeit so many blessings. Life is too short to let envy keep us from celebrating others!
3. They are intentional with their offerings. Our offerings don’t have to be grand, expensive, time consuming or elaborate but both parties have to come with open hands, willing to be intentional with sharing ones story, a smile, a tear, laughter, an ear… we just have to be willing to share. I’m intentional about pursuing friendships and making time for the people I love but I also have limits, so I don’t end up feeling bitter towards those friends. Givers have to set limits because takers rarely ever do. Again “grace” comes in, sometimes we have nothing to offer because of the phase of life we are in and we’ll need patient friends who are understanding and willing to wait. But we must come to a point where we realize we can’t constantly be on the receiving end. We must realize that friendships are valuable and so we muster up the courage to make time to invest in it, even if our offerings are mere crumbs in the beginning.
4. They listen. Good friends listen not only because they are interested in what you’re saying but they realize that what is coming out of your mouth are small glimpses of who you are and what you care about. We’ve all had one of those days when we just need to vent and need a gracious expat friend to listen to us. So learn to be that for others not always talking or spouting out advice. I once had a friend who after every thing I shared she would always follow with a “Well, it could’ve been worse!” One day I walked away from our conversation completely flustered and I realized that this really bothered me. Most of the time when we talked I wasn’t complaining, but her “Well, it could’ve of been worse!” comment always made it seem like I was and that made me mad. I knew she didn’t mean any harm and she was just trying to sound understanding??? but it bothered me. Sometimes it’s better to not say anything at all, just listen. If we want to say something but don’t know what to say then just repeat back to them what they said and follow it with a comment that matches their feelings– “That’s exciting! or That’s so sad. or That’s hilarious!” We all love those people who listen enough to remember later to ask you about that sick child of yours, or that interview you had and were nervous about… Let’s try listening and following up.
I’ve had friends with these qualities who have come from all walks of life, all ages and who were completely opposite of me. Some who were only going to be around for a year and it was a rich year of laughter and bonding. So don’t walk away from people just because you like different things, or they are older or their only around for short period–it’s worth it!
I am so thankful for the good girlfriends God has given me! I wish I had a collage of pictures of all those sweet chicas. Friends who have the ability to celebrate others and not get caught up in the jealousy, territorial and selfish games girls can play.
I am thankful that we can celebrate each other and they know the value of not withholding a compliment (even though I often forget, sorry.).
The girlfriends God has put in my life have showed up time after time through out my journey, willing to pick me up when I couldn’t muster up the energy to do so and remind me of my strength.
When I get lost in the world of comparison they remind of who I am.
They remind me of who He is and they challenge me to be more like Him, our Savior. I hope I have done the same for them.
We have laughed hysterically and we have sobbed until our eyes were puffy from crying.
We’ve had many an intellectual debate and then ended our time with talking about the latest fashion.
These girlfriends have come in all sizes, shapes and colors. And I am thankful that I have never let their beauty, intellect and talent keep me from pursuing a friendship with them.
I encourage you to move aside those petty girl things we do and go make a friend, it is absolutely worth it!