The Curse of Friendship and Travel

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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?

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