Life + Love, Life Stories

Making friends while abroad was harder than I thought

It's a quandary: do you make new friends that you'll probably never see again, or do you stay lonely?

Quandary: a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation

Maybe in some countries expats stick around for a few decades, but in the Arab Gulf, expats tend to have a pretty high turnover rate. Because everyone is here on work contracts, the chances of the both of you being in the same place for an extended period of time is pretty slim.

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I moved to Doha, Qatar in August 2013 for a two-year graduate program. While most of my friends turned out to be from my same graduating class, my closest friends weren’t people I met my first semester. The friendships that I made early on actually crashed and burned pretty quickly, almost one after the other. There’s a reason for that saying about candles that burn brightest burn fastest. But I learned a hard lesson about friendships and intimacy that semester.

Most of us who have lived in the same place our whole lives only make new friends sporadically, whenever we enter a new environment like a new school or a new job. Otherwise we tend to have the same friends for long periods of time with little change to the status quo.

I quickly learned to filter what came out of my mouth around new people. Click To Tweet

But when you move abroad to a new place without knowing a single soul, the impulse to befriend a new bestie can be overpowering the moment you meet a cool new person. Except you literally know nothing about them, and first impressions can be really deceiving.

So I quickly learned to filter what came out of my mouth around new people. To not impulsively tell them my entire life story within the first 24 hours of friendship. To not spill all my deepest, darkest secrets in one night of delirious bonding.

It’s too easy to see only the rainbows and butterflies in the first few days of friendship, because the dark sides of our personalities only come out later. When you’re tired, when you’re stressed out, when you’re having a bad day. By that point it’s too late to take back all your secrets. To detach emotionally without any lasting damage.

Most of us who've lived in the same place only make friends sporadically. Click To Tweet

Which brings us back to our quandary; whether or not it’s worthwhile to invest in new friendships that are inherently temporary.

So far, the best solution I’ve been able to come up with is to pace myself. I’m super, insanely sensitive and I really only give all the fucks or none at all. But living the expat life has forced me to give only a few fucks early on in a new friendship, to pace myself emotionally so I don’t become too invested in someone before really knowing their character. Because not having any social interaction outside of work is not just incredibly boring, but also very, very unhealthy.

Not having social interactions outside work is not just boring, but unhealthy. Click To Tweet

And, inevitably, once someone’s final exit arrives, you promise to stay in touch and visit. You know that most likely won’t happen, but you accept that the promises are empty, yet necessary rituals.

Then you let go, opening up that space in your heart for the next person.

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Alex bint Eisa

Alex bint Eisa

Alex bint Eisa is a renaissance woman. A Cuban-American living the expat life in the Arabian Gulf, with an MA in Gulf Studies from Qatar University. She specializes in the relationship between religion and government in the Arab Gulf states. She hopes to leave the world a better place for having been in it. She also enjoys binge watching sitcoms.

We're ready to shake things up, for the better.