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The topic of friendship and expat life is a difficult but important one.
Research shows the following:
“You have a 50% increased odds of survival if you have a solid social network.”
As expats it can be difficult to nurture and maintain friendships with people that are no longer in our time zone. This makes us err on the side of caution when creating new friendships, not wanting to keep losing good friends.
What You’ll Discover in this Episode:
- How we’ve been thinking about friendships in the wrong way
- An invitation to change the paradigm of your expat friendships
- The key question you need to ask about your friendships
- How to have guilt-free friendships
It is time to start thinking about our friendships in new ways so that we can live abroad with more love and friendship, and zero regret.
Listen to the Full Episode:
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Featured on the Show:
- Episode 64 “Love Your Friends And Family While They’re Alive.”
- Episode 53 “What Friends And Family Really Think About You Living Abroad.”
- Episode 110 “Grand Gestures.”
- Friendship Pyramid https://humans.media/stages-of-friendship
Don’t miss this opportunity to get coached by Sundae – for FREE.
Full Episode Transcript:
Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour, this is Sundae Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
“You have a 50% increased odds of survival if you have a solid social network.”
This is according to the research from Julianne Holt Lunstad, Professor of psychology and who is also the head of studies at Brigham Young University. Her research on the relationship between friendship and longevity explains, as she says not having a social support network can be a higher death risk, then obesity or leading a sedentary life without exercise.
What? If you don’t have your crew of friends, you might be at a higher risk of death than obesity or living a sedentary life.
Let that sink in, right?
Like what are we doing with our attention and energy? Are we spending more time on our fitness than nurturing our friendships?
It’s mind-boggling and these statistics are wild but they show us what we’ve known all along, that friends are good for us. And the topic of friendship and expat life can be a tough one. We’re either afraid to make new connections because we are not looking forward to getting our heart broken again everytime our bestie leaves. If you’re the one who’s at a location, you’re a stayer, you’re the one who is at the location permanently and everybody’s rotational. You’re like, “Is it worth putting my heart into it anymore?”
Maybe you’re in a bi-national relationship and you’re you know, one of these things are not like the other, you’re the only one like you and everybody else is of a different culture. So you feel like making friends is harder because there’s all these different cultural values and ways of being that aren’t like the people that you connect with back home.
I get it, friendships are hard, living an international life and nurturing these friendships really puts us to the test.
And that’s what I wanted to talk about today on Expat Happy Hour because it’s so important our longevity is at stake.
So in this episode, we’re going to talk about a few things: One, we’re going to take a deep dive into friendships. I’m going to share why we’ve been thinking about friends in the wrong way this whole time, i’m going to offer you a new way to look at expat friendships, and I’m going to help you get clear on how you can make sure you maintain your friendships near and far without regret.
Let’s start with something simple, like stop treating your expat friendships like non-mobile friendships. And what I mean by that is you’re the one living abroad, maybe it’s a rotational thing, maybe it’s because you live you know long-term in one place, but don’t treat your expat friendships like non-mobile ones. And this is, I mean from the research, when I look at research on friendship – most of the research that I see is about friendships that are sedentary so to speak. These are people who move into a community and then nurture relationships with the people there and those people aren’t going anywhere. So what about the research on globally mobile people? One of the things I feel like, we’re working with models and paradigms that are from our old lives before we started living abroad or from models of people who stay in one country and one culture and that’s unfair because we’re trying to see our friendships through a lens that doesn’t fit, it’s like putting on somebody else’s glasses, it just makes us uncomfortable.
So I was looking at models of friendship and one of them I came across was this friendship pyramid, and I can put the reference in the show notes, but it’s this pyramid where you start off as strangers and then you become an acquaintance like, you know, you might recognize them, maybe you’ve said hello, you might have sort of a general knowledge of each other. Then there’s casual friends where you might see each other at places and socialize. Then there’s close friends where you feel more vulnerable with them, you can share more about your life and you know more about who they are and you’re willing to hear more about their private life and likewise, you feel super connected. And then there’s this top of the pyramid which is intimate friends, and those are so special. Where you feel like you are invested in their growth and development as a person and you know that they’re invested in your growth and development as a person. And when we look at this pyramid model, it’s super solid. Like there’s this big base of strangers, you know, a little bit smaller base of acquaintance even smaller of casual friends, close friends, at the tiny tip of the top are intimate friends. And this idea of this pyramid gives us this sense and this is how we progress, okay bit by bit slowly, but slowly.
But expat life is not like that, seriously, we don’t operate on this slowly developing model. I know that when I rocked up to Ouagadougou Burkina Faso, I met a family, I had one email contact with them, I went over to their house, I went to their home and we had coffee and I think the next day I was like, “Um, I’ve got a form from the school, I need an emergency contact, will you make major life changing decisions for my children?” Seriously, we had spent maybe 30 minutes together and I’m asking them if they’ll be emergency contacts for my children. So we just we just fast tracked and blew past any of the other layers and did the things that close friends do for each other.
Someone in my network came into a new country and within, I don’t know 48 hours, had a major medical emergency and had to be medevaced leaving her kids behind with people she had met 48 hours earlier. That sort of emergency situation fast-tracks friendships. Even if you don’t have a lot in common, you do things that are extraordinary that create connection.
I know from one of my clients that she was in a country for maybe 10 days, and then one of our dear family members died, causing her to have to rely on the people she had been met just met for support, make arrangements for her to leave and then come back with that level of intimacy with these people that she’d only met a week ago.
So stop treating your expat friendships like non-mobile friendships. We skip levels for better or for worse. Sometimes we don’t have the option. And there is the risk that when things calm down, when things get less wild and you might not have those shared core values that you would have with other friends, but still you’re connected.
I mean I know going through some of the craziness that we went through in Burkina Faso really bonded us with people in ways that you don’t bond over a pizza on a Friday night. Like when you go through a political crisis together that creates closeness.
So, I believe we need a new paradigm. We need to stop seeing our expat friendships with the old model of non-mobile friendships. And I’ve got a suggestion on one way you can look at that.
Okay, so I have to confess something that’s kind of embarrassing but I turned 40 not long ago and part of being 40 was sort of getting my health up to speed and you know going to a doctor and taking vitamins and all of that. So my doctor gave me so many vitamins that I ended up going to the pharmacy and I bought one of those old lady pillboxes. You guys, i’m so embarrassed. I actually just went on a trip with my girlfriends and they saw my pillbox and they were like, “What are you 85? Like why? Why do you have that?”
And so the pillbox I think is a great metaphor for expat friendships.
So let me explain, what If instead of this stable progressive pyramid, we looked at our friendships like vitamins? Okay, even in Switzerland they have something called vitamin B, which is the relationship vitamin, it’s Beziehung and means relationship. What if our friends were like vitamins in that pillbox and that pillbox was in our hearts, right? So when I’ve got, you know mine is like Monday through Friday, some pill boxes are more elaborate, but let’s say you imagine those pillboxes and it’s in your heart and there are some of the days that are wide open and you’re ready for a friendship that will nourish you. What if our friends were like vitamins and when we enter into a new space, we’re like, “oh my God this friendship feels nourishing.”
What kind of friendships feel nourishing right now?
Right, and then you grab those people and you put them in your heart, and just like with a prescription that your doctor gives you, sometimes your doctor looks even says “Listen.” My doctor just did this to me, she’s like “You’ve been taking vitamin B for a while, you’ve got it.” I don’t know if it was vitamin B or vitamin D, doesn’t really matter, I just did what she tells me. But it’s like “You’ve been taking this vitamin for a while, your reserves are good, it’s now time to stop.” And I was like, “I’m happy with my vitamin D, why do I have to stop vitamin D?” And she’s like “No really your body has enough, so now we’re going to take that out of the pillbox.” And then like, okay that’s like our friendship sometimes when people move even though it was super nourishing, we don’t have a choice that they might go out of the pillbox as regularly as they were showing up before.
Maybe your doctor says, yeah, you just take those vitamins when you need a boost, same thing with our friendships, sometimes we have friendships that are everyday, like your multivitamin every single day and sometimes our friendships shift geographically or time zone or whatever where we don’t get the luxury of having that every day. Don’t you see that? Doesn’t that help see it with less judgment? Like no one looks at you and says, “Well you should feel really bad about yourself for not having vitamin C anymore.” Like when a friend that you were really close to moves away and you don’t talk as often as you used to, why do we put that judgment on us? I just feel like those ways of seeing our friendships are not helpful.
So my sort of encouragement or invitation to you is to stop seeing your friendships in this old model and start exploring, what if we saw our friendships like this pill box? What if we let go of this idea that our friendships need to grow slowly and over time and then stay there forever? And instead said “I’m going to look at what feels nourishing”. What feels nourishing now and just love the crap out of them while they are there with you now, right until the doctor, the organization says they have to go away.
Let’s take it in now, because another way to look at this, I mean the way I see expat friendships, I feel like it’s the lottery, you you want to win but there’s no guarantees, right? And you never know what numbers are going to pop up. So when you arrive in that City, at that time and that person that feels nourishing to you is there at that exact City and exact time? I mean think about all the things that had to come together to bring you two on the planet and that location at that same time. That is like hitting the jackpot in this expat friendship Lottery. Seriously, if you get a friendship that is nourishing in that City at that time that is something to cherish.
And again, I’m resisting this idea. Like it’s almost like entitlement, like I deserve to have nourishing friends wherever I go. It’s like no, I mean how lucky are we? Because when you live in a sort of a homogeneous place, you’re born and raised in the same place, you share same language, you see share the same values, same customs. Like the likelihood of you connecting is higher because there’s so much you have in common. You throw someone on a airplane across the world in a completely different context, completely out of their comfort zone, you cannot expect that there’s just going to be this wide buffet of potential friends at your fingertips.
Let’s cherish the fact that we land on the planet at that time and that place and find someone who we connect with. This is a privilege not an entitlement that we get. And every time we find someone that’s nourishing we hit the jackpot. Right so celebrate that. Celebrate that when you have friendships that feel nourishing, and I think what we do is that we mourn that they can’t go on forever, that we can’t have wine face-to-face forever and I get that believe me, I’ve lived abroad for 20 years and there are friends that I have in my life or I’m just like “I want to see you face to face so hard right now.” I get that and there’s nothing wrong with that and nothing I’m saying right now is meant to shame you for feeling that way. My point is, is that we set an unrealistic expectation that that should be that way. Again jackpot like we got so lucky. So instead let’s celebrate the fact that we are able to come together in that moment of time and that place and nourish each other.
And mourn the loss when that vitamin gets pulled out of your pill box on a daily basis, but be damn sure that you are going to nurture that relationship in a way that feels good going forward. And it’s really up to you, there’s no judgment. You know, what is the way that you want to stay connected with that one person that feels nourishing? Maybe that person is someone you want to fly across the world and see face-to-face, or maybe you just want to meet on FaceTime, you know, every once in a while or maybe just like saying hi on Facebook is enough. There’s no judgment. The measure is a minor issue in this relationship. Does this relationship feel nourishing? And be grateful for what you have shared.
So, let’s look what we talked about, please let’s stop treating our expat friendships like non-mobile friendships.
I invite you to consider this new paradigm, a pillbox where we’ve got these spaces in our hearts that are open and when it feels nourishing we slap the lid on top and we keep that in our hearts.
And this celebration of this expat lottery of friendship, when we hit the jackpot ,that we get to have a connection with that person in that space at that time and this commitment to what feels nourishing and how can we nourish and nurture that friendship going forward without obligation, without stress without feeling heavy.
Right, and I’m going to go back to what I always go back to, that to live abroad without regret you’ve got to love a crap out of your people.
So get really clear on who are your people. Who are the people that you want to keep an ongoing relationship with? Who are the daily prescription of vitamin friendships that you want to keep trapped in your heart?
How will you nourish and nurture those friendships and who are the ones that you want to nurture you?
And this is an ongoing question. I think it’s about, some people call it your forever friends. The people that you want to focus your limited time and attention on and that might shift depending on what you need what feels nourishing at the time. But for me, I think it’s important in all the instability when close friends are leaving, right now one of my good girlfriends is leaving in June and that breaks my heart, it breaks my heart and I’m curious how we’ll nourish that friendship when we’re not face-to-face anymore. And what keeps me solid is that I have the stability of friends that I’ve known for a long time, and I know no matter where they are in the world are not going to go away.
So who are those people that you want to focus on in times of instability of leaving when others have to go, where’s your foundation? Where do you have security? Who remains in your network? And those are the people you want to make sure that you love the crap out of, those are the people you want to think about how you can make a grand gesture for.
I’ll mention that podcast I did on grand gestures a little bit more detail later, but those are the people that you want to show up for and make sure they are trapped in that pill box in your heart.
And I have a something that I don’t even know if I want to share because it’s so like in your face, but if you want something to create crystal clarity in who are your people? This is a guiding question, who would drive you to chemo? Who would you drive to chemo? If shit hit the fan and you were down, who would you want to be there? And who would you want to be there for? We have limited time and attention and this question is like a paralyzing slap in the face to help you get clarity on who your people are. Those are the people want to make sure that we’re loving the crap out of, because when push comes to shove they’re going to love the crap out of you.
So there you have it, stop treating your expat friendships like non-mobile friendships. Embrace this pill box as a new paradigm and work to see your existing friendships like winning the friendship Lottery. Ask yourself when you look around at who’s in your life, what feels nourishing? Who are the people that feel nourishing and do more to love the crap out of them.
If you want more you can check out these episodes: Episode 64 “Love Your Friends And Family While They’re Alive.” Episode 53 “What Friends And Family Really Think About You Living Abroad.” And Episode 110 “Grand Gestures.”
This is a big topic folks, I know we’ve just touched the surface but it’s something that can make the difference in your entire experience. So my invitation to you is just play with this metaphor. Look at how you have been seeing your friendships and explore what it would look like if you stop treating your expat friendships like non-mobile ones and start thinking about your friendships in terms of what is nourishing.
Friendships are so important and we know this intuitively, but the reality is they’re actually critical for our health and well-being. So it’s really worth some extra thought.
We need to find ways to live and to love our friends in ways that are guilt free, pressure free and full of love
You’ve been listening to the Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Bean. Thank you for being here.
I’ll leave you with the words of Steve Maraboli, author and behavioral scientist, “Friends are medicine for a wounded heart and vitamins for a hopeful soul.”