6 Reasons Short-Term Friendships Are Worth Your Time
A few years ago my husband and I joined a small group, and at the group's first meeting they asked us to introduce ourselves. As my husband and I spoke, we saw the leaders exchanging glances during our quick introduction: new to the area, expecting a baby, completing grad school, military family. As soon as we finished, they asked, "So how long will you all be staying here?" We answered, honestly, that we'd be moving overseas again in about 18 months. This time the couple leading clearly shot each other a concerned look. "It's just that we were hoping to start a group that would be together for a long time. Our last small group ended when two of the families moved away, and it was so painful for us that we haven't started another group for a few years," one of the leaders said. This time my husband and I were the ones to look at each other uncomfortably. "You're welcome to continue with us, of course," he continued. "We just had a bad experience before, and we don't want to repeat that."
We ended up staying with the group, which I'm sorry to say fizzled after a couple of months anyway (nothing to do with moving). That experience was the closest I've come to someone saying right out they don't want to be friends because I'll be moving again soon, but it wasn't the first time I'd felt that sentiment. To be honest, making friends can be exhausting, and I'd wondered whether it wouldn't be easier not to invest in new ones each time we moved.
When you're an expat, it seems like all your friendships start with a timer. How long until one of you moves? Is it really worth putting the time into building a friendship when there's already an expiration date on the horizon? Wouldn't it be easier to just keep acquaintances casual, so it's easier to say goodbye?Having experienced times of short but good friendships, and also times where I eschewed making new friends in favor of a simpler or quieter life, I can give you the answers up front: Yes, investing in a friendship for a short season is worth it. And no, it isn't easier to spend a year or two without friends, preparing for the day you'll move again.
Here are just a few reasons why putting in the effort to form friendships is valuable:
Different life experiences: When you know you'll only be living nearby for a short time, you aren't as concerned about finding friends in the exact same life stage you're in. You aren't planning for your kids to grow up together. So you become closer with women who are older or younger than you, married or single, with kids or without, working or staying home. You get to hear their experiences and learn from them without trying to find someone with whom your life matches perfectly.
Finding people who understand your life: Let's be honest, sometimes the friends back at home don't want to hear about what country you visited this spring break or the UNESCO heritage site you're touring next weekend. They may have a hard time connecting as you describe your toddler eating an entire bowl of spicy local noodles as they struggle to get theirs to eat anything other than applesauce. Connecting with others who move and travel as frequently as you do gives you an outlet for telling your stories without the fear of feeling judged for showing off.
Knowing you're moving eventually helps you bond more quickly: Sometimes, the "settling in" process of moving can take a long time—even years. When you don't have that kind of time in one spot, you get settled quickly and you're willing to reach out sooner before you are completely ready, which means you're ready to be genuine about not having it all together.
More urgency to schedule get-togethers: When we're back in the States, it always seems like getting together is a huge process. Everyone has so many activities, family events, and commitments, you have to get things on the calendar a month or more in advance. Overseas, it seems that people are more willing to prioritize time together.
You don't feel bad asking for help: If you need help, it's much easier to call someone you've spent some time getting to know, rather than an acquaintance you say hello to quickly and hurry off. And as we expats know, you're going to need help sooner or later. Since you don't have family nearby for those emergency situations, it's a relief to have a friend to step in and help out.
Friendships make life richer, even for a short time: The best memories I have of places we've lived are not necessarily the houses we've been in the longest or were in the most exotic locations. They're the ones where we've genuinely connected with others, even for a brief time. Those are the places I look back on with fondness. We've lived in a couple of homes where I really didn't feel like I made any friends, and those are the places that fade most from my memories.
A year can be a significant period in your life if you're living it fully, and that includes making friends.
Are you tempted not to invest in friendships when you know you're moving soon? Have you ever chosen not to make friends for a season?