One of the questions I frequently get asked living in Mexico is if I get lonely.
It's probable that a lot of people are getting asked that question, even if they don't live in two countries
For the first time in the history of America, more people are living single than living in a family.
The typical American will spend more of his or her adult life unmarried than married, and for much of this time, he or she will live alone.
(Gee, I wasn’t feeling lonely before, but now that you mention it...)
I have moved to a dozen new cities in the U.S as an adult and making friends in Mexico has been easier than in any of them.
Expat life offers real advantages over plopping down in Oklahoma City or Cincinnati in your 50’s with the hope of establishing a new social circle. Being an expat gives you automatic membership in at least one tribe.
Social circles are affected by your language skills
But it is different. Rather than where you live, where you went to school or your income bracket, language skills will inform your social circles, which will fall along the lines of
- Expats who won’t learn Spanish
- Expats who are bilingual
- Expats who speak some Spanish
- Mexicans who are bilingual
- Mexicans who speak some English (You both are learning a second language. You speak to them in Spanish. They answer you in English. At some point you realize how funny this is.)
- Mexicans who speak no English (After all, it is their country.)
On a whole, I'd say I'm less lonely here because I notice in the U.S. how we allocate our time in parcels. There, my friends often inform me ahead of time how much time they will have and how I will I fit into their day.
I am not saying this is bad, just that it is and who we are. I do it too when I'm home. Let everyone know my schedule. We have schedules - an hour for this, two for that. How much can I cram into a day?
In Mexico, I have had people so enthusiastic to show me a particular place that they have abandoned their schedule altogether and taken me there on the spot, even as I struggled to tamp down my alarm at suddenly being whisked off without a week's notice.
I think Mexicans are more spontaneous no matter where they live.
Last time I was in Denver, the Lyft driver taking me to my Spanish practice group one morning was a young second-generation Mexican-American.
I invited him to sit down with us awhile. He did. Even socializing with a bunch of largely retirees struggling with conditional verbs was interesting enough to forfeit a fare or two.
Maybe I am over-romanticizing but I see in these circumstances a very Latin phenomenon that you are fortunate to have surrounding you in Mexico: an expansion of time. Somehow, I always feel like my Mexican friends have more time for me. Maybe they don't, but they sure make me feel like they do.
Expats are easy to meet too
For those who choose not to learn Spanish or haven’t reached conversational level yet, expat communities are small sandboxes where everyone is expected to play together in peace and harmony. It usually works out that way too for the most part. It's Mexico after all.
You run into each other wherever there are cheeseburgers being grilled or blues being played.
You develop a camaraderie that comes from knowing that you are all in this great expat experiment together.
While expat life can make for strange bedfellows, at least you always have something in common.
Most successful expats have a healthy relationship with solitude.
Given the likelihood we will all be spending at least some time alone no matter where we are, it makes sense to learn how to live it richly.
Avoiding loneliness in Mexico calls for developing a healthy relationship with others and with yourself. Most expats have an activity they can hole up with when things get quiet.
In summary, I would offer the following advice if loneliness is a concern holding you back from Mexico or expat life:
Network with people in your target cities on expat forums and Facebook groups before you move.
I didn’t do this and wish I had. This will take some organization to keep people and places straight so set up a system, Excel sheets if need be. Start developing those relationships online now. Even one anchor friend in a new city can change your entire experience.
Reach out - The better we get at productive solitude, the easier it is to pull in. As a guideline, mental health experts say we should make a goal of having at least three social interactions a week.
Discipline yourself to reach out enough to generate at least these few exchanges, regardless of how cozy you’ve gotten in your solitude. Otherwise, when you are ready to come out of your shell, everyone will have moved on without you.
Focus - If you meet someone with potential, you will need to be persistent. Don't expect too much too soon but do try to get together several times within a somewhat abbreviated time frame.
I learned this technique from a master at the full-court press of friendship building.When she met a potential friend, she tried to get together with that person every few weeks for at least a few months. She has more friends than anyone I know or will ever know.
Make the transition to Mexico slowly. Spend six months or so a year there at a time (up to 180 days on a tourist visa). People will be more interested in investing in you if you're going to be around awhile.
Take responsibility for maintaining your relationships at home. Your friends might be irritated that you left. You will have to be the one to cajole, threaten, wheedle and beg your friends to set up Skype, Google-hangouts or whatever other systems you are using to talk to your friends at home. Once everyone gets used to video calling, those calls will keep you connected.
Low-season can be a good time to find full-time residents. Many expat communities have low and high seasons. In high season the city will be loaded with snowbirds and tourists.
Low season provides the best time to make friends with the people who live there all year, both resident expats and Mexicans.
Their lives are different from snowbirds. Their perspectives are well-rounded from having experienced the highs and the lows of living in another country year round. They become your rock, the ones you know will always be there.
Develop your skills for pleasurable solitude before you even leave. Pay attention to yourself. Meditate, find a solo hobby, read more, cook, explore new music - whatever contributes to a greater sense of personal peace. A French philosopher once said, "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to be alone in a room."
Be generous - Americans and Canadians come to Mexico for a better quality of life and a lower cost of living. Sometimes I wonder what Mexicans get out it. They have to look past our abruptness, our loudness and our sloooooow Spanish. I think it's appropriate to acknowledge their extra effort with occasional small acts of gratitude; the bottle of wine, the dinner or the “regalito” (small gift).
Learn some of the language
Nothing is more disheartening that being invited to some colorful Mexican social occasion, like a wedding for example, and not being able to understand a word of what anyone is saying.
It doesn’t take that much Spanish to make native friends, especially if they have some interest in learning English. Even if they don’t, Mexicans are so appreciative of the effort you’re making by learning the language that the goodwill you generate will pay off a thousand times.
Experts estimate that it takes a 600 hours to learn a Romance language like Spanish. Take an hour or two a day on a regular schedule and get on with it. It will pay dividends in every aspect of your life here.
Take these steps and you will only be alone when you want to be.
There is one special technique that helps you make native friends while learning the language - Ventanas Mexico
If you are a potential full-time expat, you must visit any city you're considering off-season. The benefits are many. - Ventanas Mexico
Next up: Maybe you won't even care if you have friends in Mexico once you see how much healthcare costs are rising in the U.S. - Ventanas Mexico
Most recent: Concierges are not just for planning tours. Use rental concierges to do a fly-by before committing to any long-term rental. - Ventanas Mexico
Hola, I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico, which provides resources and insights to people considering retiring to Mexico.
Most recently published is "If Only I Had a Place" on renting luxuriously in Mexico for less.
I also wrote the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." The Interactive Guide takes you directly through interactive links, to the best free features for learning Spanish on the web, organized into lesson plans.