There’s plenty of blogs written by expat spouses that touch on the subject of loneliness. Many of us struggle with finding new friends and developing supportive communities in our adopted countries.
Sometimes a language barrier is to blame, so don’t skip your language classes! Other times it’s complex cultural differences that prevent us from forming bonds with new people. Whatever your personal challenge, I’ve identified a universal deterrent of making/retaining new friendships …drumroll… it’s time.
Time? Why? What do you mean? It’s simple. It requires effort to upgrade acquaintances to friends and a significant investment in time. Research suggests that it takes roughly 50 hours to make a new friend. That’s a pretty big ask. Which is why it’s not hard to understand why most people aren’t interested in expanding their social circle. It takes work. And we all live busy lives. So, who has the time?
Find people who have time for you
Are you currently looking for new friends? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! It’s possible to overcome the time barrier by seeking out people who have availability in their schedules. It also helps if they’re active in looking to broaden their friend group.
So who/where are these people? Your mind gravitated towards other expat spouses, didn’t it? Alright, yes, most of them fit the criteria. But before you sign up to exclusive expat-only meet ups, consider how much of your commonality ends at “geography”.
Think back to your friend group in your home country. What keeps you connected? Are you friends because you live within close proximity of each other? Or do you share common interests? Exactly. And when you’re an expat or expat spouse, your time in a foreign location is temporary. And that means these types of location-based friendships likely will be too.
Life outside the expat bubble
My suggestion is to engage with the expat spouse community, but also lean more into your personal interests and hobbies. I like yoga, going to museums and eating doughnuts.
When I lived in Paris, I asked Google for a list of affordable yoga programs in my neighbourhood. That led me to register for a weekly Ashtanga class with a convenient location near a doughnut shop. For the next month I prioritized attendance to these classes and planned the rest of my schedule around them.
Remember, consistency is key!
Eventually, many of the attendee’s faces became familiar. Soon I felt comfortable talking with instructors and fellow yogi’s about the class, the weather and life in Paris. And after a few short weeks, the planets aligned and I found myself talking to a special stranger. Lucky for me, she was also in the market for new friends. She’d recently ended a relationship and wanted to meet some new people, ones who like yoga, museums and doughnuts. Perfect!
After a few get-to-know-each-other coffee’s we struck up a wonderful friendship. Both of us committed to 50 investment hours and chose to transition from acquaintances into friends. That was almost four years ago. And although I no longer live in Paris (she still does) our connection remains strong. And no, she wasn’t an expat spouse!
Keep positive and keep at it
To wrap it up, I wish I had better news …but there isn’t a magical recipe for making friends. All you can do is put yourself in situations where you meet new people on the regular and stay positive. And don’t be afraid to branch out from the expat community.