on making new friends in far-off places

I’ve been trying to write this post for, like, ever, and it’s not truly complete – I’m sure I’ll circle back to this again – but this is part of the friends puzzle that I’ve been pondering in my peripatetic life.

I’ll start with the confession that sometimes it’s hard for me to stay motivated to make friends in Albania, knowing that we’re here for a relatively short time – but at the same time, two years is far too long NOT to make friends. I do have one good friend – our nanny, who is a lovely woman a few years older than me, with two teenaged sons. She has worked for missionaries for years and years (that’s how I found her – recommendation from another American woman she works for part-time) and so although she doesn’t speak English, she’s adept at speaking very simple Albanian and at deciphering what I’m trying to say in my broken attempts at her language. She is generous, compassionate, kind, caring, and funny. I love her, and I already know it’s going to be really, really hard to say goodbye to her when we leave. She loves my children without reservation and they love her.

But it is kind of weird that the best friend I have here is someone I pay to come to my house. Occasionally money has become a source of friction, but not very often – it’s just really, really awkward when it does.

So far, the other friend options I’ve found have been either through Gimli’s work, or through the church we attend (and there’s some overlap between the two, since one of his co-workers introduced us to the church to begin with). There are three American women in particular who have little children who have been friendly towards me. One lives very close, less than a block away (she just had a baby). My main reservation in building these friendships has to do with the persistent feeling of hypocrisy that haunts me – not theirs, mine! All mine. I feel like I’m living a lie in letting them think I believe the same things they do. I was raised in this tradition, but I no longer believe a lot of it – although I do consider myself a Christian, I don’t believe that Jesus is the only path to God, or that homosexuality is a sin, or that God answers prayer. And I vote Democrat. So I know that all those things would be points of contention – and I don’t know if they’d still want to be my friends if they knew that. (Ummm… I’m not assuming all my readers here agree with me on these points either, so I’m hesitant even here to disclose these facts about myself, but I probably won’t feel as rejected if some of you stop reading/commenting than if some of the women here started to give me the cold shoulder – not that they would, but that’s what I’m afraid of, I guess.) There’s really only one woman I feel enough affinity for here that I’d risk being open with her about these things anyway, I just haven’t pursued it, because, also, isn’t it kind of lame to only make friends with other expats??? I haven’t made overtures towards the Albanian women I’ve met at church because they all work outside the home, so our schedules don’t really mesh, and they’re even more conservative even than the Americans. Like I’ve been shocked and repulsed by some of the things I’ve heard them say.

I’ve been hesitant to make overtures towards any of my husband’s more liberal, intellectual Albanian coworkers in part due to shyness, and in part because of the same working-mom/SAHM dilemma (language is not an issue since they speak English quite well). But I did bite the bullet this week and e-mail two of them about getting together for coffee and now I have a “friend date” at 6 p.m. tonight, which is not typically what I’d be doing at 6 p.m. but heck, it’s Friday, and the kids will survive supper with the nanny for once in their lives. So… hopefully I’ll be able to develop some kind of a social life here before we leave… just in time to cut ties and move again. But we’ll process that later, I guess.

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6 Responses to “on making new friends in far-off places”

  1. coffeegrljp Says:

    I have zero insight in this matter. I find getting to know Japanese women to be much harder overall than other women. I’m constantly worried about offending someone or saying the wrong thing as there are so very many social mores and rules to abide by there. I generally find it’s easier to make friends with Korean and Chinese women living in Japan, as well as other English speaking ex pats. Having said that, there’s one Japanese mom in my daughter’s preschool who has been very kind and welcoming to me and I’m committed to asking her for a “friend date” when we return in December (social niceties be damned!).

    Although I’m an introvert (according to the Myers-Briggs I’m an ISFJ) and like my personal time in order to recharge, I’m also very adept at being with others and socializing. I’m not great at big parties where I’m anonymous, but I like to make friends and have a circle of women to have coffee dates with etc. I’m very lonely when I’m in Japan and I’m very aware that making Japanese friends is the best way to combat this. But the pressure to get everything *just so* when I’m there is more than a bit crippling!

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Knowing just a little bit about sociality in Japan – my aunt, who is half-Japanese, moved there for university and ended up getting married and having three girls, the oldest of whom just had her first child – and they all had a hard time finding social acceptance. For my cousins, being 1/4 non-Japanese made them foreign in the eyes of others. So I can imagine the delicate dances you have to engage in. And “the pressure to get everything ‘just so'” – yes, I know what you are talking about!

      Albanians in general – at least in the capital city where we live – are very accepting of Americans and other foreigners, extremely hospitable in a rough-and-ready sort of way, but I still get really anxious about making social gaffes or misunderstanding nonverbal cues.

      Go “friend date”! Yeah!

  2. coffeegrljp Says:

    I hope your friend date went well! It might give me the courage I need to move forward!

  3. Wordgirl Says:

    Oof — the friend question!

    I’m introverted as well — mostly — but I do like being social in small groups, dinner parties — thrived when I was in school — loved engaging in discussions — large social venues were okay but I never felt particularly at ease — but I never considered myself someone who had a hard time making friends until I moved back to the place where I was raised — a place that is relatively closed — people don’t seem to move very far from home and so the friendships they have are old and deeply rooted — and if you’re like me and moved away at a young age — you may as well be a stranger returning.

    I’ve found that mothering young children and friendships to be really challenging — I just haven’t carved out any time for myself in that way. My closest confidante is often W’s mother, my husband’s ex-wife — and that’s weird on so many levels (and isn’t really a true friendship anyway.)

    I keep thinking that I will meet another mother, a friend…just around the corner.

    I really miss those friendships from earlier points in my life. It’s a lonely time currently.

    I hope your coffee date was fun and has the promise of friendship there!

    • Elizabeth Says:

      I truly admire the relationship you have built with X, considering the immense challenge I can only imagine it to have been. And I imagine the money part of it just adds this whole other crazy layer to the mix.

      What happened to the somewhat promising person you met at – was it the library? Some activity for moms and little ones that involved music or books or something like that – sorry I forget the details, but it sounded, well, promising anyway!

  4. Rachel Says:

    I have found that when I over think things I get in the way of great friendships. One example is my sister, my polar opposite. Another is one of my very best friends who is a liberal atheist. I’m about as conservative as they come and Christian. We still have plenty in common and just don’t talk about our faith without being respectful of the other’s views. Had I known before our friendship began that she was an atheist, I probably never would have pursued the relationship. I’m glad I did though because I would have missed out on a wonderful friend. I hope you are able to make some friends, now I’m off to read about your friend date.

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