The Curse of Friendship and Travel

by Sheryll on December 13, 2012

IMG 9014 001 The Curse of Friendship and Travel

I was reading an article in the NYT about how hard it is for people in their 30s and 40s to find “true” friendship. And then I happened upon this article on xojane about being “best friendless”. After reading both articles, I just sat and cried. Finally! I wasn’t alone. I totally felt like both articles applied to me, and especially now that I’m a traveling expat.

Both articles touched on the fact that friendship relies on such things as proximity, spontaneous meet ups, etc. In college, these things are incredibly easy, and that’s why most of us make our life long friends in college. Not work friends, but “real” friends. Friends you can call at 1am if your car breaks down. Friends you can call if you are out at happy hour. Friends that have seen you at your absolute best and worst. Friends you can talk to on FB chat, while texting and tweeting each other. The friends that will eventually be in your wedding party. But then what happens when you move away? And even bigger, what happens if you’re a traveler, or an expat? In my case, I never even lived in my college state to begin with, so my home was always somewhere else. And then I moved to LA. And then I started traveling. And then I moved to Korea.

“No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.” The NYT 

Most of the friendships I’ve made in high school and college are strained at best. Most have been reduced to the occasional FB comment or liked status. I’d say I have 5 great friends: My college roommate, one of my best friends since 7th grade, a friend from high school, and my 2 dear man friends from college. But even these friendships are hard to maintain without day to day contact. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve missed weddings, births, engagements, job promotions, house warming parties. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on all these important events in my friends lives. They send pictures or emails, but it’s just not the same as being there with them.

And if you’re a traveler, you’ve definitely experienced what it feels like to go home and some friends have completely moved on or changed, or you’ve changed and it just doesn’t work anymore. You think that the world just sort of stops when you’re away and you’ll come back to the same people, but life moves on. And some people have too.

“But unlike romantic relationships, friendships are often ranked according to age –- your oldest friend is usually your best friend. But since all my old best friends have moved on and replaced me with newer, shinier models, where does that leave me?” Sarah Brown

I’m preparing to stay in Korea another year, and most of the friends I have made here are leaving in March. As I keep traveling and living abroad, I feel that the few friendships I have back in the US are fading away. Time differences, jobs, and busy schedules are just a few of the things that makes it hard to maintain a friendship while abroad. Of course, we’ll always be amazing friends, but I’m not there and they aren’t here.

This whole friend thing is something I’ve struggled with since I graduated. When I moved back to So. California, I craved the type of friendships I made in college. But it just didn’t work out. Work friends are a different type. And working at an agency, I was really guarded about who I let in my life. Once most people found out what I did, they’d subtly try to slip their headshots to me, or ask me if I could get them an interview. No thanks.

In Korea, it’s been harder than ever for me to make friends. In the back of your mind, you know that everyone you meet is only here for a limited time, and eventually you won’t see them anymore. Plus, like I said earlier, without day to day contact, most of these friends are K.O.F’s, or kind of friends.

After we finish our time in Korea, Johnny and I are going to continue traveling like most people do, through S.E. Asia. And then we’re planning on going to Central and South America. I love traveling, I really do, but I can’t help but think what’s going to happen to the few friendships I do have as I continue to travel. Besides a few trips home, I’ll be away for the next 2 to 4 years.

I have Johnny, and he’s my ultimate best friend, but I just can’t help but feel terribly and incredibly lonely at times. I love my life, but I miss and crave authentic friendships and connections.  And not that I don’t have that in Korea, but, it’s just… different.

Have any of you experienced the curse of friendships and travel? What are your thoughts?

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. Sasu December 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Absolutely loved your post! It really hits home! I was an expat for 6 years, lived in Costa Rica. I just recently returned to Montreal, my hometown. I also have like you 4 friends from way back when… but life got in the way… I mean we are still very good friends but I missed a lot of things in their lives. I also made a really good friend in CR and I miss her tremendously now… so I would say… there still is hope to meet great friends while you are traveling or are in your thirties, however I won’t lie… It’s very hard and rare! Good luck and have fun traveling, you only have one life to live and you should do what you love most doing!

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Sheryll December 21, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Thank you!

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Michaela Chatman December 13, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Thanks for sharing your struggle with friendships. I understand completely. I’ve been living in Japan for over 6 years and I’ve had two really close friends. They both left and I have struggled to replace the easy comradery that we experienced. We stay in touch by email and skype.

If you think about your friendships back home, in some ways, they would eventually change. If people have children or get a different job then they would end up moving on or it would become difficult to continue to connect with them. On the other hand, the friends that we make now, even our KOF are close even when they are apart. They understand who we are as a traveler. They understand the call of the wild. It is sometimes hard to explain to someone from back home what it means to hop on a plane and experience a new culture.

But I do miss calling someone up and saying, “gurllll……”

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Sheryll December 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm

EXACTLY! There are SO many things that happen to me that I wish I could just call up one of my best friends and say “HEY GURRRLLL OMG!” but…with the time difference and work and all that, it’s just not really possible. I stay in touch with my friends via skype and email, but it’s just not the same. Although the friends I’ve made here definitely understand the ways of a long term traveler…

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Laura S. December 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I share your sentiments, Sheryll! Unfortunately for me, I feel like I already have more “K.O.F’s” instead of genuine friends and I’m only in my early 20s. I’m currently studying abroad for a nursing degree and it feels like there is no time to make friends. Most of my peers have children/ are in their late 30s or 40s and aren’t interested in making any new friends. It’s also hard to join clubs when you’re a poor student with no car in a small city. All my good friends are having a blast in California and sometimes it feels quite lonely…A bunch of my good friends in nursing dropped out in the first year and aren’t moving on to the second year with me. I hope I can still make friends next year!

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Sheryll December 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Hi Laura! Thank you so much for your comment. I totally, 100% know how you feel. Where are you studying? Have you looked into Facebook or Meetup.com groups? Or even a group of people on Tumblr? That’s where I’ve met a few of the people I know in Korea. How much longer until you are finished with your program?

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Ruby December 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm
Sheryll December 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm

SO true! Thank you so much for sharing!!

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n.harv December 30, 2012 at 8:02 am

i enjoyed reading “the curse of the traveler”…very informative!

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Mary.M December 14, 2012 at 3:45 am

I thought I was the only one who was going through this, I just moved back home after 2 years in Korea and its been really hard. My friends have become distant but I guess it happens when you miss out on so much and when your friends get married. I remember my life before I started travelling and got on a plane for the first time, I was the girl who everyone wanted to hang with, I was always out and about and loved spending time with my friends now its as if everything has dramatically changed and today I am the one who doesn’t fit in anymore because I am not married or because I love traveling instead of settling down and living a simpler life. I also changed when I traveled and my I grew so much and my mind opened up so now I find it more difficult to relate to some of my old friends. I came to realize that everything happens for a reason and life is continuously full of change that you can only embrace instead of wasting time being upset about it. I hope in good time both of us will find other new close friends. Either way I am grateful for all the great people I have met on my journey thus far that have enriched my experiences and have helped me become who I am today. In life people come and go, its what you do with the time that you get to spend with them that is most important.

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Sheryll December 23, 2012 at 11:42 am

Hi Mary! Thank you so much for your comment. This is definitely the story of my life. Even though I have a long term partner, everyone asks us ALL THE TIME when we’re getting married and “settling down”. A) I don’t know why once I get married I can’t do anything with my life, and B) NO. I totally agree with you about becoming open minded while traveling. And it makes me sad that a lot of the people I know don’t feel the same way.

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Edna December 14, 2012 at 4:43 am

What a thoughtful post — it really made me think about how I’ve went about making friends abroad; I’m quite the social butterfly and people always wonder why I’m constantly meeting up with so many people, especially if no one stays around very long.

I’m 23 and living in my fourth city as an expat and I’ve realized my approach to friends has always remained the same: ignore the time constraints. Even if I know I (or the other person) only have a month left in the country, I still treat the friendship as if we had all the time in the world.

I figure that in this day and age, you can always remain friends over email, text, skype, etc. And the friends that are true, that you get on with anywhere — they’ll stick around regardless. You may talk less than you did when you lived in the same city, but they’re still true-blue and you’ll eventually see them again somewhere in the world (even just this year in Paris, I’ve caught up with so many friends from my China and Singapore days)! And even if you never see them again, it’s better to skype or text than not have that friendship at all.

I hate to think of the amazing friendships I might have missed out on just because I thought, “Oh they’re not sticking around very long. I might as well not even try.”

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Sheryll December 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm

totally agree. I do believe that while Skype, texting, emailing, facebooking, etc. are great tools to maintaining a friendship, nothing beats the real thing of actually being *with* the people you care about. I especially miss having spontaneous dinner/lunch dates with friends, calling someone to meet up for shopping, going to the beach, or just hanging out and watching movies or playing video games at someone’s house. To me, nothing beats that!

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Chloe M December 17, 2012 at 5:20 am

I love your blog and your honesty. This post is no exception! I’m glad to hear you’re planning on staying in Korea for another year. I should be coming to Yongin in Feb and would love to meet up!

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Sheryll December 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm

yay! Where will you be working? Unfortunately, my job with GEPIK was cut, so I won’t be renewing my contract with my awesome middle school :( :(. Looking for other jobs now. I hope I’ll be staying close to the Yongin area, as that’s where my partner lives.

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Natalie T. December 21, 2012 at 4:50 am

Oh, this post really hit home. Even if you’re not traveling, the friendships fade, change or disappear. I actually have lost two pretty good friends in the past month. I’m not really sure why –they’ve moved on; they’re in relationships and it’s different when they’re settling down and I’m single and ready to move away. I don’t really know what to tell you. I think you just have to try to keep in contact with those far away as much as possible and try to make friends where you are –which you are. Maybe try to find Korean friends that speak English or expats who will be in Korea for a longer period? The other thing and some of the best advice I’ve read is to be your own best friend. If you’re okay with being alone, by yourself and with yourself, that shift in attitude makes a world of a difference. It’s something I’ve adopted after the friend fights of November. And you know what? Yeah, it gets lonely but it’s a bit better now that I’ve changed my thinking! Sending hugs your way!

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Sheryll December 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I love love love the advice about being your own best friend. I’m so glad that being alone is something that I don’t mind at all, and sometimes, I prefer it. And HUGS back to you too, love!

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Erika December 21, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Wow, Sheryll! I am so glad I stumbled across your blog! I read your about page and it really resonated with me — though our stories are different, they also have some pretty big similarities (wanderlust, interracial relationships (also thinking of moving abroad with my boyfriend eventually), born in California, out-of-state college experience, love London, etc).

I had already bookmarked your blog, but then I read this post and I knew I had to comment! THIIIIIIIISSSSSSS is something I struggle with and have struggled with since college! I want to be a good friend to my friends, I want to be there for major life events, but I am a nomad in my heart and that’s what I realized this year! In 2011, I actually stopped traveling because I wanted to focus on my friends, but now into my second-year of moving to the Midwest for my friends alone (I thought I would settle there), I realize that it’s just in my blood to keep moving. I also realized that most of my closest friends don’t live that close anyway… even if there is a higher concentration where I am at… (but they are at least an hour away from me, so it’s not like I get to see them that often; I am thankful for the time we do get together though.)

Anyway, I guess… I am just trying to say that I am navigating through this too. This is one of the things that makes this lifestyle difficult.

What I am finding is that there will always be those friends who transcend the restrictions of proximity and then there will be the others who were meant for a season and that’s it. I am trying to get over those friendships and be thankful for what they were and focus on the ones that have long-term potential. There are certain friends who just accept that I’m the type of friend who comes and goes, but our bond can remain strong. And I guess the good thing about the 30s and 40s is people tend to have more money — so maybe it means more trips with those friends? I hope so!

Anyway, I plan on reading some more of this blog! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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Sheryll December 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Hi Erika!

First things first, I am LOVING your blog! We have so much in common! I am so interested in your experience as a teacher in France. My boyfriend and I were looking into the program after our 2 years here in Korea. Would you mind if I sent you an email?

And second, I totally agree that there are friends that transcend restrictions of proximity…all of my best friends are the people I can call whenever and it’s like I never left. But it’s just really hard to not be with my friends. And it hits harder as the holidays are here. I’ve been seeing all of my friends having get togethers, dinners, etc., and it just makes me so sad. My life in Korea with my partner is amazing, and I love spending my holidays with him, but..yeah. I also miss my friends!

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Erika January 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Sorry that I missed this reply! Thank you so much for your kind comments and OF COURSE you can send me an e-mail about France! Oh, I had the time of my life that year and I miss it very much! :)

And I totally understand the not-actually-being with the friends part. I like catching up, but I like being around them more. And part of me is “lazy” and doesn’t feel like putting in the effort to make new friends when I have old friends who get me, love me, and I wish I could be around. But even though I am much closer to many of my friends than I used to be (about an hour), I am still finding that it’s difficult. I think part of it is just being an adult but I’m trying to figure it out. I want to have a group of friends like on “Friends” or “How I Met Your Mother.” Dream come true! Haha :)

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Erica December 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Oh my God lady.

I have cried and cried and cried over this. I just can’t find friends like I had at one time. I need my girl time. I need someone to confide in… and they just aren’t there. Either they are flaky or have their own BFFs that have been there for years. I feel like I hopped in too late.

…and don’t even get me started how hard it is to keep people when we travel so much. *sigh*

It is a great and horrible life we live. <3

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Ceri January 28, 2013 at 11:00 am

Hun, I’m going to tell you something – this post made me cry because I understood it SO much. I’m actually going to respond to this with a blog post. I’ll send you the link when I’ve written it. xxx

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Angela May 19, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I have yet to come across anyone else who felt this way, you’re the first to write out everything I’ve been feeling for the past 6+ years I’ve been here in Korea. After leaving the States and moving to Korea, I felt like my relationships with friends back home had also been lost. Sure there was email and Facebook, however, I also missed out on engagements and weddings…people move on and sometimes friendships are lost.

You couldn’t have worded it any better.

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