The story of my experiences making friends in a new country, continued from Part 3.
If you missed it, you can start here at Part 1.
Along the way of meeting people and making friends in a new country, I’ve encountered situations where differences have shown themselves: differences between types of social activities and ways people like to socialize; differences in the ways people relate to the local culture and the effort they make to be aware of, respect and adapt to it; differences in the ways people treat their own intimate relationships; and differences in the ways people wish to see the world, the degree to which they want to try new things or not, the degree to which they are okay being at the edge of their comfort zone.
Certainly, you say, differences are to be expected because, after all, we are all unique, right?
This is true, but for me it is a new set of experiences. I wonder if, when you are making friends with people in school or through work, you tend to not notice the differences so easily simply because you start out with so much in common.
Maybe seeing the differences more clearly from the start makes building friends from scratch more of a challenge. Maybe this challenge ensures that once those friendships are cast, they are more lasting.
For example, you can compare friends made in school with bricks made from clay. A freshly made brick can still easily disintegrate. It can also easily be reformed and even disintegrate again. But the effects of heat, time and pressure harden the bricks into a foundation for your life that weathers the decades well. So it is with friends we make in school and work and, in general, our childhood.
Compare friends made from scratch in a new country to blocks carved from stone. Initially, it is difficult to see the shape of the block within the stone. The process of learning about the things you have in common with the person is akin to the labor needed to chisel the block to size. This additional effort in initial construction creates something that is a good fit for the ages, just as the stones in the Great Pyramids lock together so smoothly.
In the end, I wonder when the point is that I will see these people that I’ve met here in the same way that I view the friends I left behind. Will there be a point where I realize that I’m just as close to them as I am with my friends of old? Will it just happen gradually? Will there be some people for whom that point never comes?
Maybe it is simply a matter of not letting go. Perhaps in some recess of my mind I don’t see this as my new home (although I think I do) and am hesitant to see these new people in the same way as I see my old friends for fear that it means that I’ll have to let go of my old friends.
As I said at the beginning, this is a new experience for me. The first time in my life having to do this totally from scratch and as such, it gives me an opportunity to look at myself more closely, an opportunity to be observant of my thoughts and feelings rather than to let them happen without reflection.
Ultimately, maybe I am worrying too much about a process that will manage to sort itself out as all things in nature do. Perhaps I should adopt a Buddhist mindset: treat others with compassion and kindness and don’t worry about who is a friend and who isn’t, right? After all, the Thais say that the problem with farang is that we think too much.
I hope you enjoyed this series and I invite your thoughts and comments.
That is a component of many western cultures (USA/ Europe) that we are ruled by brains and not hearts. It shows itself in the approach to religion – as a westerner I want logic, proofs, documentation instead of listening to my heart and feeling what is good and right in the universe. Like the anology of brick vs. stone. I’d go one further, keeping friends is like building a house and caring for it or just walking away once it is finished. I’m guilty of “abandoning” friendships due to distance.
I enjoyed your essay. You have a keen eye for observation similar to a sociologist. Maybe because friendships formed during adulthood is so different, we have to work harder at this. In your case, you also have to deal with the cultural aspect too. For most, if not all gay men, we also have the sexual orientation aspect as well. So what’s your next essay gonna be on?
The older we are, the more difficult it is for us to make new friends and build a lasting friendship. Cross-culture friendship is even more difficult to build.
I’m not sure about your carving stone and friendship analogy. It assumes that things are very one sided, that one person will influence the other when in reality, it’s often a reciprocal process and often in subtle, nuanced, or very unexpected ways. Maybe you didn’t mean it that way or maybe I’m reading too much into it.If friendship is an ongoing dialogue about things you have in common, whether it be common interests, physical environment, work, etc., then it has to be viewed as something that occurs within a specific time, place, and/or space (like our virtual friendship now although we went to HS together). Well, that’s also a very Western cultural concept but we are often limited by the words of the culture in which we are socialized. These words often seem trite or cliche in describing the expectations of other cultures.I’ve moved several times (within the U.S.) and I do feel that sense of difficulty in forging deep and meaningful relationships every time I get to a new place. I think it is because that I am always referencing what a lasting friendship *looks like* from my own experiences in the past. Although I understand that every friendship has its own qualities and people *click* in different ways, I think it is inevitable. It may be good or bad, depending on how it shapes your expectations of what a meaningful friendship looks like.Anyways, Chris, I like your introspection on things and admire the guts you have to put it out there.
wow. I love the analogy of the disintegrating brick and the carved stone to the friendships that we make. You are such a great writer Chris. If there is reciprocity of emotions, distance, and length of time of when we are silent, shouldn’t make a difference. Even after a couple of years of silence, true friendships blossom at the touch and sound of our voice.This has been a great read for me.
Only time will tell! I like your brick analogy; it makes a lot of sense!
I think it comes back to something very powerful that Tawn said to me before I left Bangkok, sometimes you have to let go of those old friendships. They were something powerful for you then, but we grow and change and need new things. As a person who has moved a fair amount internationally, my experience has been to hope to make friends, but never to expect they will be life long ones. I cherish the memories of friendships I had in different places, from one day interactions and guides, to friends who were there for me for years. I think it’s about holding loosely to those you care about. I’ve started to value my friends, not on the years I have known them, but on how well they can understand and accept me. The “Italian” who I could call in October and cancel our trip in December and to KNOW she would understand and support me. You and Tawn, who encouraged me to follow my heart even if it was rash and sudden. I morn the loss of friends, of those I knew for years and years and we have grown apart. But I see it as proof that I have changed, that I have seen more and become more than what I was, and that has always been a goal I’ve had. Apologies for my long ramble. Happy to see you are still the Chris I know and adore! 🙂
I read the whole series and very nicely written. I really don’t know what to say about “friendships”- iI guess it is too complicated and in many ways extremely difficult to define.
Chris, thanks for sharing your thoughts and story. You’ve made a very lucid examination of a difficult subject to wrap one’s head around. I think a great deal about friendship, partly because I miss people from former lives. I’m grateful to be in touch with one or two people from each of my. . . should I call them stages of growth, career changes, or geographic moves? In any case, I am still close friends with a number of people, including a college friend, a Junior Year in France friend, an ex-hippie friend, a working-in-DC friend, a research-on-aging-project friend, two Polish Culture friends, two Arts Center friends, a Bach Group friend (yes, as you can see, I’ve had lots of geographic, general-interest, and career moves), two Ph.D. program/teaching friends, a jewelry-making friend, and so on. They live all over the country, but when I see or just talk on the phone/email with them, it’s as if we’d never parted. I LOVE that, but I also miss their actual presence. I have newer friends here in Tucson, but we don’t have the same kind of shared history. There is something about those longtime, well forged friendships that helps keep me anchored.On the other hand, it’s SO much fun to find a new friend. I love to notice a seemingly kindred spirit. Even if it’s just an exchanged smile over something two people find funny, those moments of mutual recognition are great, and you never know when someone like that will become a friend. Thanks for prompting my own thoughts.
indeed very interesting to read, just like what choyshinglin has said..our age also plays a factor in to this, even within the same race….
@murisopsis – Very interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing. There are plenty of westerners, though, who embrace religious faith without the desire to be shown proof and logic, right? I like your extended analogy of friendships being like a house and requiring ongoing maintenance to take care of.@ElusiveWords – Thanks for the kind words, Matt. I don’t know if I’d qualify to be a sociologist but I’m trying to cultivate a sense of awareness. Talk less, observe more. As for the next essay, I don’t know what it will be about but I’ve been wanting to write about the culture of fear in America.@choyshinglin – @agmhkg – You guys both make a good point, especially about how age makes it harder to build new friendships. Thanks for adding that to the discussion.@tdaojensen – I think you’re extending my “friendship as bricks or stones” analogy a bit further than was intended, Thuy! =) You make a really interesting point about how comparing a new friendship with a past one isn’t necessarily fair as each friendship is unique. Thanks for makign that point.@ZSA_MD – Thanks for your kind words, Zakiah. I imagine you have many wonderful stories of life as a new arrival in the US. You’ve shared some of them already but I’m sure that well of memories is barely tapped.@TheCheshireGrins – Thank you. The brick analogy is passing at a 6:1 margin.@Aussiegirl – Tawn gives some very sound advice. I think your measure of friendship – on how much they know and accept us versus how long we’ve known them – is a very valid one to use. Glad you enjoyed the series and thanks for sharing your thoughts, Roka.@Dezinerdreams – Thanks for the comments, Vivek. You’re right about how complicated a subject friendship is. Reviewing what I’ve written, I can think of a dozen tangents in which to continue, none of which would do anything more than scratch the surface of the subject!@jojobaDESIGNS – Barbara, I’m glad you enjoyed the series. It sounds like you’ve been able to build a patchwork quilt of friends, from different areas and common experiences. It must be very rewarding to have such a variety of friendships! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
making friends is not an easy job…. you need to break the wall and be more socialized… once you have made it… you need to know that some friends just can be friends or even downgrade to strangers, only those deserve you to consider them as friends will remain =p i am taking it very easy already… i have been meeting tonnes of people(different background + language + culture, etc) i am glad we still keep in touch 🙂 thanks chris
@lcfu – As much as you travel, I suspect you have a very diverse network of friends spanning all corners of the globe!
I am not sure if you considered this as a factor as well: age.At different age, friendships are formed for different reasons.Maybe culture and lack of things in common is compounded by what people desire in friendships at that age.Good metaphor about different types of friendships formed at a different time though.
@Wangium – Yes, age is a factor, too. Although I think that the reasons for forming friendships vary much more for factors other than age, especially when it comes to expats.Glad you like the metaphor.
Friends here… There…. Everywhere!!!