See, The Thing About Living Abroad Is…

If you’re not careful, this life will crack you wide open. While you are traveling to the latest country. While you are laughing at the latest miscommunication that resulted in your being in a completely different place than you thought you told the driver. While you are reveling at all the money that still remains in your savings account. If you don’t pay attention, your adventurous life laced with privilege will reveal ruptures. Not in your life itself. (No, that will still be pretty privileged and awesome) But in you. They will look like tiny abrasions at first. As if you got off the moto just a bit too quickly before checking to see if your leg was far enough away from the tail pipe. Those tiny abrasions. Barely noticeable burns. If you are not looking closely, carefully, you will be scooting around your new city with all your insides hanging out, leaving a trail of truths behind for these latest foreigners to assess in a language you do not understand.

I watched it happen in Kigali. So many sets of friends because…

So many relationships – from casual hook ups to married child rearing – that began and continued because…

The other person was just there.

About four months into my first international post, I realized I was friends with a woman who I did not like very much. It was not that I greatly disliked her, either. She had not done anything cruel to me nor was she a bad person at all. I just didn’t connect with her. And yet, here I was accepting invitations to go places with her. Grudgingly coming up with things for us to do so we could become even closer “friends.” Feeling bad for making up excuses for why I had to reschedule those things I did not want to do in the first place. I watched other acquaintances do this as well. Ex Pats determined to recreate the social networks they lost once they left their home countries gravitating to other English-speaking foreigners. Or paying off the locals with rounds of beer and subsidized trips to neighboring countries because “we are friends and if they could afford to return the favor, I am sure they would.”

Loneliness is not an emotion only the international globe trotter feels. It is one that every human will feel at points throughout their lives, regardless of who is or is not in that life when the emotion happens to surface. There is something that loneliness experienced abroad reveals, though. For me, I have seen it reveal how deeply delusional you can become about WHY you continue to nurture a friendship with a woman when the only common trait shared between you is you both speak English. There is a great amount of farce involved in continuing to respond to messages from a man who you only vaguely liked when you accepted a date from him and quickly decided on that date was an asshole and not a very cute one at that. There is a dogged decision to believe you are just trying to be more open. “Let me give this a chance. Isn’t that why I moved? For new experiences.”

You tell yourself that you are sitting through awkward conversations with this woman who consistently irritates you because you don’t want to rush to judgment. She is probably just as in need of friendship as you are.

In fact, she is just there. That is why you still talk to her. She is just there.

Just like the average-looking asshole. You are not still returning his messages because you are trying to figure out if the assholey things he says are just cultural idiosyncrasies that your western mind doesn’t quite understand. No, he is an asshole. An asshole who is just there. And this is why you have not told him, “Stop contacting me. I will never have time to go out with you again.” He is there. And his being there offers you comfort if you choose to take it. If offers you an out. If you choose to take it.

What Ex Pat loneliness can also reveal is that you are a damn good liar. You could easily release these people from your life. But, the lie you tell yourself is that it is nicer to lead people on, continuing to pretend you are interested in a connection, than to allow them the time to nurture a connection with someone who truly does value them in ways you do not. If Holden is a terrific liar, then you are an exceptional one. You convince yourself the lie is about the fake friend and the asshole dude. It is to spare their hurt feelings. But, see…it is really about you, Hun. You would feel kindda bad having to admit you are collecting people you don’t really want to keep anyway.

Before I left Kigali, I had strengthened my spiritual practice so Shanghai would not crack me open. If Kigali almost did, I knew this place definitely would.

I am looking around me now at the people who I encounter and observing the newbies start the delusion. Forced conversations that don’t have to become anything more than just small talk, but what if these are entry points into for real friendship? Flirtatious looks that are thought to be more significant than simply you are cute and his fiancée is still far away in London and he misses her so.

The realization that you have uprooted yourself and now have to recreate a life that had run almost by itself can cause a sense of isolation that is deeper than the loneliness one feels when she is in an unsatisfactory relationship in a country and culture that she understands. Or the loneliness felt when one has gone a long period of time without the intimacy that even a dysfunctional partnership can bring. The rebuilding of a support network can be more unclear in its design and architecture. I understand oh so well why people choose the delusion. The superficial and strained connections make them feel safe.

The unfortunate truth is, though, they are not any safer than if they just stopped lying. At some point, they will have to face the reality of what they have done. They have left their families. They have left their friends. They have left their good jobs. They have left all the distractions those families and friends and good jobs mercifully provided.

The rush to find replacements for those distractions will likely be the catalyst for their being cracked open more so than it will be the magic elixir to stop it from happening in the first place.

6 Responses

  1. Excellent. Now get out of my head lol.

  2. Reality just hit! Boom! Pow!

  3. Reality just hit… Boom! Pow!

  4. Beautiful writing about hard truths!

  5. You are so right. I can believe how many distractions you actually have in your life, which keeps insignificant people in your life. The really bad thing about that is it leaves no room for positive people become a part of your world. Or we may not recognize them.

  6. And the church said “Amen.” Thank you for posting this. It is a lesson for all of us to learn and pay close attention to.

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