Expat life is full of comings and goings, and right now I am feeling the goings much more than the comings. I am suffering the loss of some of my favourite people, and I find myself tempted to retreat to my magnificent new bedroom to while away the hours in comfortable solitude instead of mustering the energy to go out and intentionally cultivate new friendships.
Does anyone else out there understand how uncomfortable it is to watch others socialize freely and effortlessly, but to remain on the outside of their banter? Does anyone find the thought of trying to weasel your way into others’ already-established friendships borderline-terrifying? Does anyone find the thought of spending long, unstructured stretches of time with large groups of people absolutely excruciating?
If so, perhaps you can help me to remain accountable to my new Anti-Isolation, Starting-Over, I-Can-Do-This Social Policy – drawn up just this morning, with a mixture of dread and optimism:
- I will accept invitations to places, even if I’m not always in the mood.
- I will inquire about joining a language group in the area.
- I will go to at least one non-work event per month.
- I will take a course or find some other off-campus diversion.
- I will hang out in the living room instead of always defaulting to my bedroom.
- When people come over, I will not run and hide, because this is my apartment, too. I will join the conversation for a few minutes, and pretend no one minds.
- I will invite someone someplace, sometime.
- I will stand around outside sometimes when others are gathered, even if I am not invited, because the outdoors does not just belong to those whose children play together. If nothing else, I will ask one person how their day is going.
- When bored with superficial conversations, I will put on my interviewing hat, and try to figure out what makes people tick. Surely everyone has something interesting to find out.
- I will befriend the new people on Facebook, even if I don’t feel like we’re friends yet in real life. I will post things that allow people who don’t know me to see beyond my socially stunted exterior. I will pretend that someone other than my mother may be interested in what I have to say.
- I will knock on people’s classroom doors and introduce myself. I will ask how their year is going and how I can help.
- I will give the Lincolns a tub of chocolate ice cream to compensate them for watering my plants all summer. This will count as social interaction.
- I will be less intimidated by these self-contained units called “families,” who appear to have no need of an extra person invading their private space. I will consider the possibility that people with spouses and children may still find a spouseless, childless person worth knowing. I will consider the possibility that people absorbed in the demands of parenthood may still have other interests to share, and other depths to plumb.
- I will maintain contact with the friends who’ve left, so I feel distanced, but not abandoned. And I will maintain contact with those I left, who may feel abandoned themselves.
- If I do at least some of these things, some of the time, I will reward myself by cocooning in my magnificent bedroom for a while – but not forever. And then I will emerge, and start again.
Oh my goodness, I’m exhausted already, just reading over this list. Can I start with #15 and work backwards? I think I need a nap.