I remember when I was a little kid, and my parents would throw me into a room with other little kids and say, “Go play.”
And I did, often coming away with a new best friend in under 30 minutes, despite my shyness. Ah, those were the days of zero filters and instant camaraderie. Then social media took over my life and Facebook became the go-to vehicle to “reach out and touch someone.”
It’s been 17 months since I drove over 7,000 kilometres to my new home in Mexico, and I’m finally feeling less like a stranger in a strange land and more like an explorer who, poco a poco, has found acceptance by the local tribes.
An old friend recently asked me, “What’s it like to make new friends at this stage of your life?” It was a good question. I’ve never lived far from family and friends, I’m an introvert to her extrovert, and I live in a country where English is not the first language. My friend confessed to being a bit set in her own ways, secure with the known peaks and valleys of her longstanding friendships. And even though she admitted to a mild, midlife complacency, she couldn’t imagine leaving all those friendships behind to start over.
When I decided in my mid 50s to move to another country, I was more focused on where I was headed than what I was leaving behind. I assumed my old friends would all come to visit, given my tropical locale and that new friends, like everything else, would fall into place. I thought Facebook, Skype and Facetime would be just like the real thing.
Ignorance was bliss for a time, until I noticed that isolation and longing had become unwanted bedfellows. In leaping into the unknown, I’d re-connected with my adventurous self which was great, but I’d lost connection with people who mattered—people who really “knew” me and didn’t require a Coles Notes summary of my life. People who loved me despite the fact that there were points in time when they didn’t very much.
But here’s the thing I’ve discovered about friendship and the unknown. It isn’t called the “fair-to-middling” unknown, or the “garden-variety” unknown—it’s called the “great” unknown.
It’s great because it challenges me to dig deep, to step out of my comfort zone, to discover talents and strengths I never knew I had. It tests long-held perceptions and hands me new ones. It shatters my belief that I can control my own life or the lives of others. And by relinquishing control, I have no choice but to live more in the moment.
What does that look like for me?
Small things really—things an extrovert would roll their eyes at, like sitting at a table next to someone I don’t know instead of clinging to the person I do. It means asking someone I’ve just met at the dog park if we can meet up again for coffee, or saying “Yes!” to an impromptu road trip with a person I’ve known less than 1/50 of my life. It means striking up a conversation at a café with someone because they’re reading Murakami, and believing that love at first site is not exclusive to romantic relationships. Living in the moment has meant opening myself up a little more quickly, judging a little less harshly, taking chances and letting my heart be my guide instead of my head.
It’s true that friendships come and go, but the ones that never leave, the ones that have become a part of who we are—well those are the ones that can’t be replaced by technology. Those are the friendships that are deep and rich and just seem to get better with age. They’re the ones that sit at the edge of the bed when I feel like death and look even worse, and the ones I miss in my new life.
Some friendships do take years to deepen, but now that I’ve leapt into that great unknown, I’ve found it’s also true that they can be birthed in an instant and flourish like a newborn babe.
For me that means getting off Facebook and trusting that vulnerability begets vulnerability, which in turn begets the best kind of friendship. The real kind.
Author: Alison Wattie
Apprentice Editor: Keeley Milne / Editor: Catherine Monkman