Making friendship work in a new country is an acid test of fortitude. Each time zone crossed takes you further into unchartered territory. Different languages. Tweaked cultural and social mores. You’ve transplanted yourself into a world at the outer edges of your comfort zone. Where having a pair of pants pressed cries out for a smart phone, a minimum of two apps, and a container full of Tums.
In addition to concentrated focus on daily activities once handled with ease and muscle memory, it’s a new playing field. You’ll need to metaphorically reset your relationship table. From scratch. With self-reflection. A rethinking of the past. And a possible recalibration of the future. Because – at this age and in this new place – friendship opportunities should not be squandered.
I’m driven to distraction by articles using cringe-inducing buzz words that make the process sound easy. Proffering advice to network, volunteer, join a gym, take a photography class. As if the only thing missing from the art and science of meeting new friends is the venue. Rather than the mindset one brings to such a place.
Making friends may not be rocket science, but it does require nuanced thought in order to make it stick. Allow it to feel good to all parties involved. And most importantly, behave as if it’s predicated on who you are in the present. The person brave enough to have leap-frogged over an ocean to start a new life.
Chasing the Elusive Dream of Intimacy
A recent expat is a stranger in a strange land. Using your country-of-origin sense memory to get things done won’t cut it. What’s needed is a list. Yep. In writing. Ambitions, attributes, and expectations. A Friendship Agenda to keep you on course. Without it, feeling homesick, lonely, and at loose-ends – all predictable feelings in a new place – can lead to indiscretion. A lack of solid judgement. But a well-developed script can keep you confident and on track from moment one of the big meet.
Leave a first impression that infers:
I’m new here but I could be a trusted friend. I want to learn what you find meaningful, while sharing my own aspirations and dreams. Together, as friends, we could walk across new terrain.
What makes humans noteworthy is our ability to be vulnerable and courageous. At the same time. But how do you get there without feeling and sounding needy?
4 Critical Building Blocks to Make Friendship Work
Think of these next four categories as guiderails:
- Listen Deeply
- Talking with friends over cozy cafe tables wasn’t possible during Covid. Zoom and Face Time were lucky-to-have substitutes, but lacked intimacy. We worked harder to understand emotional cues. Listened with care for what might lie just beneath the surface of a friend’s words. The meaning behind an innocuous sigh. Frustrations articulated by changes in tone and tenor. Deep listening is deeply appreciated. It’s where the opportunity for intensified friendship lives. A skill that needs to be kept alive.
- Be Transparent
- Healthy relationships require mutual respect, solid communication, and sharing without judgement. Cautiousness is natural between new friends wanting to exchange confidences. Trust is earned over time. Start small to test the waters. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Exercise discretion so sharing does not overwhelm. Don’t walk away thinking, oops….overshared.
- Be Vulnerable
- Researcher and author, Brene Brown, believes vulnerability is defined as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Sound familiar? Building a friendship is an act of courage. A letting down of defenses. It’s about being seen for who you are. And wanting to see others for who they are. I don’t advocate jumping in to the deep end of vulnerability before trust is built, yet if one is listening, there are moments when a door opens for sharing. Start with an affirmative shake of the head that says, I get that.
- Be Consistent
- Deliver on promises as simple as being on-time, every time. Keep your word. Engage in regular, meaningful communication. Stay loyal to your belief system. Suggest ideas for shared experiences that demonstrate you’ve been listening. Offer even-handed advice when asked. Be emotionally and physically available when needed.
In short, treat potential friends the way you’d like to be treated.
There will be successes and failures. False starts and disappointments. You might score brilliantly on the four points above, then flare out for reasons no one could predict. Crossroads with confusing signs might appear. Perhaps one pointing to a dead-end after an initial reading of true north. The fact is, people don’t always pan out as advertised. Don’t stress. Ending a friendship might be awkward, but it’s not a cardinal sin. It’s a sign of discernment, courage, and self-confidence.
The list of building blocks above would, of course, work in the pursuit of friendship anywhere. However, now at the end of my first year in Spain, my adopted country, I can attest to their viability under what I would categorize as an extreme circumstance. A place where friendship starts from scratch.
Photo image provided by Joshua Sukoff at Unsplash
Article first appeared in Sixty and Me