You’re the first one, when things turn out bad
You know I’ll never be lonely, you’re my only one
And I love the things, I really love the things that you do
Ooh you’re my best friend
Queen – You’re My Best Friend, 1976
Living abroad has it’s share of excitement, joys, adventures and plenty of reason for gratitude and reflection; as with most busy lives, each morning brings something new. With the lingering idea that time in a current city could be cut short at any moment, it definitely encourages those living away from their native country, as well as those who frequently travel, to fulfill the adage and seize the day.
A recent blog post by travel expert and author Matthew Kepnes, also known as Nomadic Matt, titled Travel and the Art of Losing Friends, caused reflections over the past three years about what makes friendship real. A second article from Matt’s website on How to Deal With Unsupportive Friends and Family, made it seem like, finally, someone else understands what my life is like most days; thanks, Matt, for this and more.
Family and Friends
Fortunately, nearly everyone in my family has been tremendously supportive of my life in Colombia. With frequent visits to the US, fantastic advances in technology – like video chat and instant messaging – and their excitement of receiving beautiful, unique gifts from Colombia, my family has given me unconditional love and support; for this I am very grateful. Additionally, I thank God for the people of Colombia who have accepted me as their friend.
Colombians who invite me to their homes, email me funny memes (some, admittedly, I don’t understand), and, when I was recently quite ill and home from school, send daily text messages and phone calls of prayers for a fast recovery. Some friends, however, leave many thoughts awash in the sea of wonder about what friendship really means.
Since taking the leap to live far from my roots, some lifelong friends have become more distant than is easy to admit. Of course, there are many loyal allies with whom to share stories, ask opinions, and divulge secrets. Real friends will forever be there, stepping in to recall where you left off, and continue on with the greatness we call friendship. Anytime you and a friend can pick up on your relationship without missing a beat, even if you have spent years away from each other, that is true friendship.
When returning to the US, I nearly always try to contact people and make time to meet with them. On some occasions, this is limited to a phone call, but the effort is there and the intention is sincere. As Matt mentions in his article, the traveler’s return to a past city, reaching out to others, trying to get together for lunch or to just catch up, often begins to get more and more difficult to achieve. It’s disheartening to see friends rolls their eyes each time you start a sentence with “where I live…”, or blatantly change the subject when you (once again) mention the wonderful food/music/people/culture of the place you currently call home.
Friendship Sets Sail
People who once laughed over dumb facts with you, or couldn’t wait to tell you about their crazy day, slowly stop replying to emails, or forward neutral bits of news that isn’t relative. They read your instant messages and respond with obligatory, one-word answers. Suddenly, the people who once wanted you to “crash on their couch” or jokingly begged you to “commandeer the guest quarters” are now “overwhelmed with work” or “redecorating the spare room,” ironically on the same days you have to catch up during your brief stay in town.
Regardless of the size of their home, a true friend will make room for you to stay. Born in the summer, my astrological sign is one of “a loyal and faithful friend, a person able to use their mind to solve even the most difficult problems and take the initiative in solving various complicated situations.” While there is also a list of more unappealing traits, the ones that remain precise are those of friendship and loyalty, which may also explain why we sometimes stay too long in a situation that has gone wrong, hoping it will change.
Sadly, not many friends have wanted to come and visit Colombia. In fact, of the ones that still keep in touch, most are busy, working hard, with a standard vacation of about two weeks, during which time they want to visit their family over friends. Who could blame them, if their family is like mine? (Supportive, happy, loving.)
Friends Float Away
The opening song to the classic television show The Golden Girls, starts out:
Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true your a pal and a confidant.
However, most people don’t know the way the song ends, which is grim but also bittersweet.
And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear even though it’s hard to hear
I will stand real close and say
Thank you for being a friend
And when we die, and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You’ll hear me call, as we ascend
I’ll say your name, then once again
Sung by the talented Andrew Gold, who had a flourishing career as a singer-songwriter of such hits as Lonely Boy (another song with lyrics that skim the soul’s surface), the part about “and when we die” is sung with an ethereal echo and eerie reverberation of Gold’s voice, as if he knows how deep true friendship goes, or perhaps what happens when someone moves across the ocean in search of a different life… only to wonder what happened to all those friends.
As the topic of friendship continues to simmer on the back burner of a tiny apartment stove with new thoughts, including the fade out of communication, sometimes referred to as “ghosting,” I am beginning to ask myself the same questions Nomadic Matt has about living abroad: does it end the bond between you and your friends, or does it simply show who your true friends are?