Expat life may test your friendships back home. Maybe that's not a bad thing.
One of the outcomes of living in two countries that might surprise you is how much your arrivals and the departures make you reflect upon your relationships. My greatest worry is that I won’t be there if my friends need me.
This is paradoxical because I’m more likely the one who will need the help. Picking up your life once a year to live in another country for an extended period is fraught with potential for mishaps.
For these four years now of living in Mexico single, friends haven’t been greatly inconvenienced by my unorthodox lifestyle (especially now that I’ve discovered Closet Box). They understand the economic factors as well as the spirit that drives it.
But living this way is ripe with potential. As Keith Richards put it in his autobiography, “The faster you go, the more you’re gonna crash into things”.
How well do you know your friends?
About five years ago, I was on the board of a suicide-prevention non-profit. On a particularly golden evening, I needed to attend a charity event in an area of Denver I wasn’t familiar with.
On the way back, I was driving on a road that seemed flat but actually rose deceptively.
You probably didn’t know that if you have an older car, even if you keep it washed, a film of oil often develops on the windshield that simple washing doesn’t remove. As I crested the hill right at the point of sunset, its light hit the windshield, and it went as fluorescent as a pair of ski racing goggles.
In the seconds it took to register what the light show meant, I had collided into the back of a huge black pick-up truck.
Fortunately, the other driver didn’t feel a thing, barely a scratch to the truck. My car was another story Once the police had done their job and the car was towed to a body shop, I started calling around for a ride home, at about 9:30 at night.
Several were out of town. After a few calls, I finally reached someone, a friend who was always quick with the small present or the offer to buy dinner. Not having a good feel for exactly where I was, I gave her the address of the body shop, located in a dark office park in suburbia.
She was not happy. As a chief financial officer in a demanding job with a long commute, making a drive to an unknown area of Denver at nine-thirty at night ranked pretty low on how she wanted to spend her evening.
I felt terrible. I know that panicky feeling you get when you are out too late and start thinking about the exigencies of your job the next morning. I’ve seen people look at their watches and run out of bars mid-sentence.
Anyone else, I thought, would have avoided that wreck. I should have called a cab or Uber. In my shock that didn’t even occur to me. I’d just totaled my car and needed a friend.
After months feeling guilty, I finally realized that these are tests of friendship that we do everything we can to avoid. Maybe we shouldn’t.
I’d known and socialized with her for almost five years before discovering that I didn’t rank above a perfect night sleep (after all, it wasn’t 2:00 a.m.). How many times have you moved along in a relationship for years thinking you meant something to someone before a relatively small test taught you otherwise?
The more in control we are of lives, the harder it is to tell who our friends really are. When things are running swimmingly, with everyone getting their needs met, you really can’t tell.
The further your boat goes out from shore, which it inevitably does when you’re an expat, the more vulnerable you are to unexpected storms. One benefit to taking the boat out is that you learn more quickly and convincingly where the ports are.
Most recent: Imagine my surprise when I found out you can go to a concert, buy a bottle of tequila while you are there, and take what's left home with you.
Kerry Baker is the author of two books, the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online", a curation of the best Spanish learning tools on the web, organized into lesson plans and "If Only I Had a Place" a guide for aspiring expats on how to rent luxuriously in Mexico for less.