Friends and ‘friending’ – social networks abroad

(This post is part of a series. See also: Then and Now, and Here and There – Apartment Hunting)

My life has its share of lost or dropped friendships. Reminders of some of the important ones fill my home. A pewter photo frame from Woolworths, with the engraving ‘friends forever’, holds a photo of me with my secondary school friends; my favourite coffee mug was a Christmas present from a boy I met on holiday about twenty years ago; and I just can’t throw away some now threadbare penguin socks, which were a birthday present from a much-loved college housemate. These objects remind me of how long it’s been since I properly caught up with all these old friends.

Luckily, in these days of the internet and social media, we rarely lose touch fully with people. I keep up with what my old friends are doing on Facebook, and what they’re reading on Goodreads, and sometimes we comment on one another’s posts. In my virtual world I have many friends and acquaintances who are all to some degree interested enough in what I’m doing/posting, or fond enough of me, to have not culled me from their contacts yet. It’s nice to know that these bonds, however loose, still exist. And this was an especially nice thing to bear in mind when I moved to another continent.

In my first few months living in DC I practically lived my life online. From the early morning till my UK friends and family went to bed in my late-afternoon I was getting updates on UK events from Twitter; catching up with family and colleagues via Skype, and constantly checking Facebook and my new blog for comments from friends. The internet really was a lifeline at this point.

But I knew that this ‘living virtually’ was a temporary fix – that soon I would have to make new friends in my new city. In fact, in some ways my clinging to old friendships was actively preventing me from integrating. For a while I resisted ‘friending’ American acquaintances on Facebook, in fear that they would be offended by my complaints as I struggled to adapt to life in DC (sorry about that guys!). And I was getting so used to interacting on a screen, in the quiet of my apartment, that socializing in bars was becoming an exhausting contrast.

Gradually, though, I loosened my grip on the old friendships. They’re still there – I know I can call on them when I need them and they’ll be happy to see me when I visit – but I don’t have to check in on them multiple times a day.

I began enjoying socializing in bars with R’s colleagues. Initially it took me a while to keep up with the speed and volume of Americans’ conversations, but now if I’m in the right frame of mood you’ll find me yammering away with the best of them.

And I embraced the different ways I found over here of making new friends. Sometimes it can seem absurdly formal, but someone I now have lunch with relatively regularly became a friend because she gave me her business card when I met her at a party for one of R’s colleagues; I contacted her a couple of days later. A mutual acquaintance became a friend after we were set up on a ‘date’ (this is a term used not only for romantic assignations – think ‘play-date’) to discuss her joining the choir I’d been a member of for a while.

People had told me that DC was a good city in which to make friends: because you continually get new arrivals, people are often in the same boat in terms of not having an established circle of friends. Using Meetup (http://www.meetup.com/), and finding an amateur choir that prided itself on its international nature (http://www.washingtoninternationalchorus.com/), enabled me to find a diverse range of these new arrivals to DC – as well as some more established residents whose social life has altered as friends have moved away or started new lives as parents. It helps at these times to be a ‘joiner’ as my family call it.

The other day I found myself drinking wine at 5pm with someone I met just before Christmas at a book group. It was happy hour and we had finished our work and we just sat and talked. We complained a bit about work, discussed her upcoming holiday, and planned restaurants we would go to with our husbands. It felt normal. And it made me realize that wherever I end up, it will always be possible to find people to be friends with. Especially if those people like wine.

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