You never forget your first time...

>> Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A good friend of mine is hurting.  She arrived in Moscow only a few months ago, a first time expat, and fit right in.  She is outgoing, bright, fun to be around.  She's an asset to any group, ready to get her hands dirty, and a joiner.  Not surprisingly, those of us who have been here a little longer found her a breath of fresh air and sucked her right in - and she loved it, throwing herself into expat life with vigour and making new friends in the way that some expats do; whole-heartedly.

She made one new friend in particular, a 'newbie' (her phrase, not mine) much like herself, and they clicked.  They set themselves the goal of making the most of their time here and experienced Moscow to the full, getting under the skin of the city, travelling by metro and joining groups, not allowing themselves to be phased by anything (or not for long, anyway), because they were together, and stronger for it.

And now, in the expat way of things, my friend's buddy has been whisked away to another continent out of the blue.  Contracts change, agreements alter, everything is fluid in the bubble that we inhabit as expats.  You can't count on anyone being here next month let alone next term or next year.  It's part of what keeps this community vibrant and moving, but it's also something that - when you first experience it - knocks the breath from you with the loss that you feel once that person has moved on.

Sure, you can - and will - keep in touch, by email, by skype, on holidays.  The good friends that you make will probably continue to be a part of your life.  But they won't be there with you, giggling at the extreme bad temper of the babushkas shouting at you for letting your child outside without a hat on a +18degC April day in the sunshine.  They won't be there to nod knowingly and say "T-I-R"* as you recount your latest experience in the supermarket when you tried to pack your own shopping and the woman on the till ignored you and stowed all your purchases into flimsy plastic 'packyets' that will split the moment a third can of coke is added to it.  They won't be there to hold your hand when the intensity of life here gets that bit too much.

I was a first-time expat when I arrived in Moscow, and clearly remember the first time this happened to me.

I wish I could tell my friend that it gets easier, that you learn to be a little more restrained in the amount you give your friendships, that you start to lean more heavily on your nuclear family because they are the ones that you can be sure will still be there with you when the new school year starts.

But I still view the end of each school year - and the good-bye's that they bring - with trepidation and an anticipation of forthcoming regret that people who have been a part of my day-to-day life and local support structure will no longer be around the corner.  It's the flip side of being an expat, you see.  These people with interesting lives, entertaining points of view, and engaging stories?  They didn't get that way by staying put.  They don't consciously look to leave (my friend's friend certainly wasn't expecting to), but more often than not, they do.

So, what to do?  Close yourself off?  Not bother to go out and find new playmates once your old ones have left town?  Withdraw to your sofa and stick to the same old routine - school, shops, supermarket, holidays back 'home' in the summer, repeat to fade - for fear of having to go through the process of making new friends year in, year out? It's certainly tempting.

Or, do you get out of the house, put yourself out there, and start over?

I know my friend will do the latter.  But I also know how much it hurts to say good-bye, that first time.

*'T-I-R' = This is Russia.  In case you were wondering.


MsCaroline 15 January 2013 at 06:59  

I've already had this happen twice since I moved to Seoul just 18 months ago. I said 'good-bye' to the 2nd good friend just a few days before Christmas. I suppose after spending most of my childhood and much of my marriage 'on the move' I should be used to it by now, but it really never does get easier.

Iota 15 January 2013 at 09:06  

Or do you start a blog... Though actually, blogging friends come and go too. But a lot seem to go on... and on... and on... (speaking personally)

Clare Taylor 15 January 2013 at 09:09  

MsC, so true.

Iota - funny enough, she has one (which is how we met!)

Tattie Weasle 15 January 2013 at 11:43  

As a camp follower (Dad was in the Army on Loan Service) we were always saying hello/goodbye and it does hurt and it is hard. But my Mum is/was a prolific letter writer and we strangely enough kept in touch with people all over the world. That is the upside and as a Gap year student it was BRILLIANT!

nappy valley girl 15 January 2013 at 14:59  

I've had exactly this experience recently with a good friend leaving. And now I'm preparing to leave myself, the temptation is very much to withdraw and not bother to make new friends. I feel that the ones I've already made I'll stay in touch with, and the ones I'm not that bothered about, I can't be bothered with making social arrangements with. But at the same time, you can't totally withdraw from a social life. It's such an interesting topic, this part of expat life.

Lou McG,  15 January 2013 at 19:40  

This is all ahead of me. I'm moving to Moscow in June, hubby has just gone! I'm a first timer at the whole expat thing. These blogs are a fantastic introduction to the good and bad sides of it!

nappy valley girl 17 January 2013 at 19:51  

PS was inspired by this to write a post on a similar subject and have linked to you.

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