You know that thing that happens when you start thinking about a topic and then you see it everywhere?
A Facebook friend recently posted this article from the New York Times. It’s about the “quotidian familiarity” possible in female friendships as compared to the expectations of a romantic relationship or marriage. A takeaway is the idea that it could be good practice to mark and celebrate our intimate female friendships and the roles we play for one another with anniversary-like regularity and intent.
Then this article from Relevant came up in my Twitter feed. It’s about five kinds of friendships to pursue. What I like most about it is Kristen Howerton’s writing and the emphasis on mutual openness with an eye towards growth, both personal and communal.
These articles aren’t written for cross-cultural workers, but I see qualities of vibrant friendships in them that for me were acquired overseas.
- Anyone is a potential friend
When I moved overseas, my world got bigger and smaller all at once, especially in terms of my friendships. Over the years, my friends have scattered over the globe, and I’m as likely to run into one at an open-air market in SE Asia as I am at my neighborhood grocery store. That’s the bigger part.
The smaller part is that before I learned the language, my pool of potential friends was tiny. So, fruitful and lasting friendships developed with people that I would never have elected before. Younger and older, married and single, more and less fashion-conscious than me, more and less theologically and politically conservative than me, and on and on. These markers became increasingly less important to me.
Back in my passport country, I resist the cultural prods that encourage friendships based on gender and season of life. That puts me in circles of moms with young children, and there are certainly women there with whom I want to cultivate intimate friendships. But I find myself craning up and over their heads and politely kicking against those prods because I know from experience my closest friends may not be of this flock.
- The discipline of small talk
I recently read this phrase, “the discipline of small talk,” and now can’t remember where. If you by chance have seen it too, comment please. Anyway, it resonated with me. One, because the language of discipline appeals to me, and two, because small talk can be nothing other than a discipline for me.
I’ve explored the function of small talk both as a language teacher and as a language and culture learner in China, and the truth is that it serves a vital purpose in building and maintaining relationships. Not just in a functional, “let’s get this over with so that we can get to the good stuff” kind of way, but also in its own right. The mundane things we talk about are filters through which we develop a sense of knowing someone. Way more happens during small talk than the exchange of pleasantries. It can be sacred space in which hearts turn towards one another or away.
- Distance doesn’t have to distance
I don’t mean that distance won’t alter your friendships. It will. It’s important to both acknowledge and grieve those shifts. Then jettison the guilt that plagues when it’s been too long since you caught up, since you made that Skype date, or returned that email, or missed that coffee date when you were in town.
Spontaneous, quick touches are enough. Like I said, the mundane details, both asking for and offering, are the stuff of continued connection. That connection could eventually see you back into heart-to-heart space. Or not. It’s okay.
There’s surprising potential here, too. I noticed that some friendships atrophied when I went overseas, and others bloomed. New ones even started. I did not expect that. For example, a team of people I’d never met came to help us for a week. One of those visitors became a friend I call up to invite myself over for brunch when I’m in town.
We have the best talks, and I always click on her Facebook links.
Where is the topic of friendship popping up for you? How has working internationally altered the way you make friends?
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