This summer, I spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family. I did one of those grand tours expats do on home leave, arranging to see as many people I care about in the limited time that I had. I flitted from bar to restaurant, getting off a train to meet someone, then getting on a bus the next morning headed to the next house to visit.
I made new friends, too, brilliant people who I connected with deeply, even though our lives are so different. I found myself wishing I could spend more time with them, and sad because I wasn’t sure how much our friendships would grow when we were apart.
Some die-hard expats will say it doesn’t matter how often they see their friends, “It’s just like no time has passed.” I know this because I used to say that too, before this summer. The truth is, you can tell that time has passed: people get married, move countries, have babies, and I miss it. Then I try to cram years of life and growth and changes into a lunch in a loud New York cafe. It feels impossible.
You can’t deny it. Physical proximity inspires intimacy, and although I could Skype and email, the truth is I don’t keep in touch with the people I love half as much as I’d like to. We grow further apart when we don’t connect, and I don’t see them often.
I noticed, during my summer, that I would return hospitality by extending an invitation. “Come see me in Senegal,” I’d say, “We’ll show you around. You’ll love Africa.” I grew up here, so I forget that coming to Africa is not most people’s idea of a vacation, and not something most of them are likely to take me up on. I wish it was, though. I really want to show them my world, but probably, we’ll just have to wait until I’m next in their neighborhood to see each other again.
When I do have a friend visit, or my husband has a friend visit, we get excited like children waiting for Father Christmas. We stock the freezer with good things to eat. We plan our favorite activities. We travel and experience a sampling of the best of what this beautiful country has to offer. And then, we drive this person, who we now love more than ever, back to the airport. We hug. We thank each other for the pleasure of our company, and we say goodbye.
It hurts, physically, when I drive away. I turn and watch them struggle with their bags and show their documents to a policeman. There is an ache in my belly and a deep clenching in my chest. I think it might be my heart breaking.
I’m telling you this because, to live out here, so transient, doing the work we’re doing, we can’t ignore that we’re giving up physical proximity to the ones we love. That hurts.
So, in the interest of easing my suffering, and yours, I’m going the share the 4 Things To Do When You Miss Your Friends.
Here’s my list of what works for me:
1. Get in touch with them the moment you think of them, however you can.
Whenever I think of a friends, I’ve started to text them a little note of appreciating, saying hi and nothing much. Sometimes, I’ll try a phone call on Viber, Google Hangouts, or Skype and leave a message. Other times, I’ll email instead.
I try to take the opportunity having thoughts about the people I love and transform it into connection. This way, I’m less likely to feel sad and disconnected — and it’s really nice to get a message back.
2. Go do something that gets you outside.
A little bit of sunshine is good for the system, but wear a hat. I just finished taking skin medication for my white African sun spots, and I’m never going out in the sun without a hat again.
That said, this is an age-old cure for melancholy. Get your energy moving by getting outside, ideally in nature. I have the Atlantic Ocean right at my doorstep. Go find your own little spot in nature, even if it’s next to a flower pot on your terrace.
3. Make time to build the relationships you really care about.
At the risk of sounding mean, I’m going to say it. Some people you keep caring about, and some people…you don’t. It’s up to you to decide tactically who fits within your own friendship value system. I met some women this summer who I’ll be friends with for my lifetime. At the same time, I didn’t see an old friend from Cairo, and I had to let that be. I tried not to let it get me down.
As much as we’d like to plan this, it comes up to what you choose to do with your resources. How much time for visiting friends do you have, if it means you can’t do other things? How far out of your way do you go to visit? We all make these choices, whether we do it consciously or not.
4. Stop moping.
It’s good to identify where your strongest friendships are, and where you want to build on them. If you find that missing your friends from faraway is interfering with your social life, get out. Go have a drink on a terrace or in some local spot with loud music. Shake up the stagnant energy of sadness and let it out with some good old-fashioned dancing and celebration. Come on, there’s always a party somewhere, right?
Next time your best friend tells you she’s leaving at the end of the year, or your sister gets pregnant and you won’t see her for a while, put one or all of these tactics into practice. And if you’re feeling upset, try some EFT. I find it really soothing.
Thanks for reading, and if you know an expat who could use some support like this, sharing is caring.