“We can count on so few people to go that hard way with us,” ~Adrienne Rich
If you are living abroad, how many true friends do you have? Finding true human relationships is an art that I have yet to master, especially as an expat. I have oodles of acquaintances, expat and local, yet very few that I consider true friends, those that we can count on to go that hard way with us. I guess that is normal, right?
Truth be told, it has been a learning process for me. I have had a difficult time cutting ties with negative, dishonorable people, whether they be expats or locals. Why is that? Because we all want to belong, to be a part of something…kind of like our tribe?
Perspective is necessary for me to understand the depth and breath of true friendship. The illusion of friendship is a frame, a shallow arrangement of shapes on a flat surface..two dimensional. True friendship is the lava deep beneath the crust of daily life…and it takes a lot of digging and peeling the layers back to find it.
Here is the bottom line from the article; “You cannot expect that just because you meet other expats in your new country that you’re going to like them or that you’re going to have anything in common with them.”
How do we choose our friends and admit them into our inner circle? What are our expectations for true friendship? And on what values are they based? It is fun and exciting to connect with other expats. Every expat has a story, and some stories are unbelievably creative, intriguing, and entertaining.
Yet, I realize that I am not going to click with every expat for a variety of reasons…language, different values and different backgrounds, and the difficulty of connecting on a regular basis because they are business owners and very busy, or they live on the other side on my island or in another city in Nicaragua.
Those I embrace with my open heart are those whom I would embrace in my home country, although the pool is much smaller here. Digging deeper into the lava, I believe we are driven by our values. Our values are learned in a national culture, and many times we are not conscious of our values until we are plopped in a different culture and confronted with someone very different from ourselves. We have a tendency to judge other’s behavior based on our own cultural norms, the “lens” we see through.
As a result, we can easily have personal conflicts in developing true friendships because of misunderstandings and miscommunication. Miscommunication is a big problem, especially for those who do not understand the language. Different values lead to different behavior, behavior you may not understand. It is important that we try to learn and appreciate these differences in order to work effectively with people from other cultures, expats included.
I read in BrainPickings today, “Mitchell resolves to have more balanced relationships and reflects on how unwise it is to turn a single person into the center of gravity in one’s emotional universe. Instead, one’s attachments should be distributed among many people, each fulfilling a different need — one providing intellectual stimulation, another rendering us “more elastic and buoyant, more happy and radiating more happiness, because we know him,” another inspiring in us such “warmth of affection” that “our hearts grow as if in a summer feeling.” (Maria Mitchell: A Life in Journals and Letters)
I like that concept of true friendship…spread the love around by embracing people who meet one specific need.
The majority of my local friends are true friends, those with whom we can reciprocate going the hard way with each other. Although our lives and values are very different, and I realize I will never be Nicaraguan ( nor do I want to be), we can meet each other’s needs and share a common humanity…a sharing, giving, and loving emotional economy.
True friendship is an art. An art that defies nationality, language, race, and gender, yet always exposes our values like a sparkling mirror reflecting who we really are. I will probably always be digging deeper into the layers of true friendship, but I am beginning to understand that we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us. Yet, that is what makes true friendship so special, right?
What does true friendship mean to you?