(Written November 2011) Living overseas is an amazing opportunity. There are so many perks and benefits; social, financial, emotional, spiritual. And for the most part I am so excited to be living this life and I do my best to keep in mind on a daily basis just how lucky we are. But there are days when the distance and the loneliness and the missings catch up. Sometimes they’re triggered by a phone call from a friend who could use a hug, or from missing an important family event, or even from just wanting to hang with friends who’ve known you long enough that you can truly be yourself, bloody warts and all. But with each new job, and with every new country, there’s always a stretch of time where you force yourself to get out and meet folks, all in the hope of finding your new BFF.
For whatever reason, despite all attempts to repress it, I remember with heightened clarity that feeling of standing in a new lunchroom, in a new school, with my bright white sneakers on, holding a red plastic lunch tray with my chocolate milk and ice cream sandwich (lunch of every seventh grader I knew), and hoping with all my might that someone, anyone, would look up and ask me to sit with them. And twenty-five years later, that feeling of being an outsider resurfaces constantly in the expat life, though the chocolate milk and ice cream sandwich has been replaced with a Pinot Grigio (or iced tea) and a questionable canapé.
I’ve been attending some of the organized-socializing-for-the-expat-in-Kuwait events lately, from the Halloween volunteering, to Pampered Chef parties, to even a 3-year-old’s birthday party. And they’ve all been lovely and entertaining and the people have been very nice. But therein lies part of the problem. Everyone’s so damn nice. And in turn, I feel I have to be nice, smile a lot, try to pull off some sweetness, stay on “safe” topics, and do my best to keep my snarky, sometimes outright rude, comments to a minimum (though some do leak out despite my containment attempts). So I leave every event thoroughly soaked in niceness and completely exhausted. It’s not like I’m dying for a nice brawl with some hair-pulling and black-eyes. Nor am I dying to sit next to someone who winges and moans or starts mud-slinging. And luckily as I’ve aged I’ve lost the desperate desire to be liked by everyone (sometimes anyone). But there’s definitely a BFF void in my expat life.
I guess I’m just used to deep, bare-your-soul, keep-my-secrets, help-me-hide-the-bodies, type of friendships. And while those don’t dissipate with distance, staying in regular contact can be difficult without some math-like time zone equations. And equally so, they also don’t instantly materialize over a guacamole demonstration at a Pampered Chef party.
I hadn’t really realized the depth of this void until I was chatting with some women one night at some forced-socialization event and one casually mentioned, “I’d really like to go check out the fabric souk this weekend,” and without fully realizing that she was making a comment, versus extending an invitation, my hand shot up and I said with a little too much gusto, “Yes, yes, yes!! I’d love to go!” Luckily she’s been overseas for a while, so she has the niceness down pat and she smiled sweetly at me and said, “Oh, that’d be great.” I actually felt a flutter of excitement at the possibility of finding someone to “do” things with – which in Kuwait, primarily means shopping, but I’ll take anything. She did follow up with me, being nice, but unfortunately our times didn’t work out so I wasn’t able to go. Maybe next country.
So while I forge on in my quest to find a new BFF, I will just continue to rely on those cultivated back home. Because, like a good Pinot Grigio, they all just get better with time. And believe me, I know my Pinot Grigios!