13 Jan 2013

Expats and relationships: the curse of long distance

I have a complicated relationship with my front door.

On the one hand, the very fact I have a front door means I have a house, which is always appreciated for things like sleeping, making food, or just dancing in my pyjamas to the songs of Ed Sheeran. The people who open my front door are often my housemates coming home, or friends coming to visit, or the delivery guy with shoes/cookbooks/mystery parcels and I like all those things.

It's true that my front door is an absolute pain to open, but at least I'm assuming it'll discourage burglars from popping in to steal our stuff. Which is also good, because I like our stuff.

The problem I have with my front door is that I keep having to stand in its frame saying goodbye to people I love without knowing when I'll see them next.

Being an expat sucks.

I can already hear the 'Oi, you suck, you dirty ungrateful froggie,' so please bear with me. Yes, being an expat is all kinds of marvellous. Great experience, great fun, new things all the time—woohoo! Yes, being away from people is an almost compulsory aspect of my generation's lives. We are lucky enough to live in a globalised world, a world of networks, of high speed trains and cheap charter planes, an online world where relationships happen as much on screen as they do in the physical world.

Except sometimes it's just not the same.

I've argued before that friendship on the Internet is a real, true thing and that I believe most people who position themselves against it are people who have not experienced it. I stand by this idea, but I want to add something: although friendship on the Internet is a thing, a) it is made stronger by meeting up face-to-face and b) chatting to someone on Skype is but a sad consolation when you're used to seeing someone every day and hugging them whenever you feel like it.

My mum came to visit in December and I had to close the door on her leaving. Wasn't fun (especially since it was 6am.) But at least, in this instance, I knew I was going to see her again a couple weeks later. Except when I got on the train back to the UK after Christmas, I didn't know when I was going to see her or my family next (and I still don't.)

Front doors, trains—everything I used to love has been expat-cursed into evil.

This week, one of my best friends came to visit, and I had to watch her go having no idea when I'd see her next. She doesn't live in my hometown, and studies on the other side of France from where we went to high school. Meeting up is such a challenge we probably deserve gold stars for managing it every so often. When you live abroad, planning anything with people-from-back-home becomes an absolute nightmare (and more so when people-from-back-home are expats as well. Fun timez.)

Friendship takes on a new meaning and has to be adapted to everyone's new life. Once again, I guess this is an issue of our time. Relationships are evolving. It's good, it challenges you in a good way, it asks for effort. But relationships should be able to exist without being at risk of becoming chores. Distance turns some relationships in nothing more than the nostalgia of what it used to be. And it sucks.

This being said, those who know me know that I could be saying the opposite of this tomorrow. I love being an expat, but sometimes I really, really wish teleportation would finally be invented so that I could at last stop tearing up on my doorstep.


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