Friday, October 06, 2006

The hardest part

I received an email from one of my closest friends this week with a subject line that read "are you ready to come home yet?". She meant the question to be tongue in cheek, I'm sure, but I considered it carefully before replying. It has been an exhausting, overwhelming whirlwind of a month. Would I really be happier if I could just go home now?

Finally, I sent her a reply. "I'm not ready to come home just yet," I told her, "but if I could ship you over to hold my hand through this adventure, I'd do that in a second."

I've been blessed over the past few years with an amazingly large and diverse group of friends. I hear people talk frequently about how hard it is to make friends in adulthood and how isolating staying at home with small children can be, but I have always found the opposite to be the case. Between the friends I had before my kids came along and those I've been lucky enough to hook up with since I became a mom, there are quite a few wonderful people in my life. In many cases, I've done nothing special, or at least nothing that I can concretely identify, to seek out these friendships. I've just come across interesting, interested individuals and clicked with them; it's as simple (and yet as intangibly complex) as that.

I guess I just assumed that the same would happen here in the U.K. And maybe it will. But it's obviously not going to happen overnight. It takes time to identify places and opportunities where like-minded people can be found. It takes time to recognize kindred spirits, especially in a place where they may not necessarily look or sound anything like me or my other friends. The British way of communicating, so much more reserved than the over-the-top American style I'm accustomed to, is bound to make things even more difficult, as striking up a conversation with someone you don't know well seems less appropriate here. I have the sense that I'll be feeling my way for a while, going it on my own for a while. I knew that would happen before I got here, of course; that's the reality of moving anyplace new. I thought that I was prepared for it. And yet, the actuality of the situation, rather than the contemplated hypothetical, has left me feeling both impatient and isolated. I just don't do well without other people around me.

This morning, I attended a mums' coffee organized by one of the parents from Julia's class. After two weeks of dropping Julia off at school and picking her up without a welcome or even nod of recognition from anyone, I was both excited and nervous about the opportunity to actually meet and talk to a few of the other parents. Would I be welcomed, I wondered, or would I walk away from the event dreading the next year of school-related activities with these people? The school community might not be my only chance at local friendships, I knew, but it was an easy start, and I sensed that this coffee might be a preview of the reception I could expect here as an American expat.

I did not make any instant friends this morning, and I did not walk away with any playdates or lunch dates scheduled. I didn't truly expect those things, of course, though it would have been wonderful to solve my loneliness problem so easily. But what I found was more than I'd hoped for nonetheless. For 2 hours after school drop off, I laughed and talked with some lovely, interesting women. I heard stories about their children and the school community, got advice and information about the area we've settled in, chatted comfortably about nothing in particular and was genuinely made to feel a part of the group. Some of the women I met today are people whom I will simply smile at during drop off and pick up, but there were a few I'd like to stop and chat with and even one or two I might hope to pursue a friendship with over time. At the very least, I will not dread -- and may even downright enjoy -- future opportunities to interact with this group.

"It's only a year or two, so if you don't make any friends over there, it won't be the end of the world," a friend said to me back when we were first considering making this move. "I don't know," I replied. "I need people in my life. Without at least some friendly acquaintances, I'm not sure I'd make it for too long." The possibility of not making friends here has been my biggest fear about this move, one of the only factors I knew I would be unable to solve with research and careful planning, and the thing I've worried most about over the past few lonely weeks. But today, I made my first friendly acquaintances. I'd still far prefer to ship all of my American friends over to share this experience with me. But I think -- I hope -- that I'm on the right track to make it on my own.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing how short "a year or two" can be, and how very, very long it can be at the same time. Without friends, it would be longer still. You will make them, soon enough. I can believe that for sure. And they'll be the ones missing you at the end of all this ...

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Kristy - I can't imagine you, of all people, not making friends. I hope someone realizes, and quickly, what a dear friend you can be.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Rosemary said...

I can't imagine you not making friends very quickly -- and those friends being good and true and forever friends!

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So fast forward and here you are 2 years later. October 2008.. I can't wait to hear what you said next. I am so excited to have found your blog. It's exactly what I needed as I have been considering this for years and am finally ready to make the jump. I've applied for the work visa and made contact with my company on that side of the pond. I think my daughter will fit in educationally.. but am worried about my 9 year old son and how he will fare. Thank you for writting this.

4:06 AM  

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