When you are a kid you pretty much look at someone, throw them the ball and you are friends. Its a done deal. Another little person has entered your life who you can laugh with, play with and cry with. The process of forming relationships is simple and easy. As we grow up with these same people at our side, and become overthinking adults, we start to take the ease with which we communicate between each other for granted. Additional friends do come and go over the years, but having a core group who don’t just laugh but actually get your jokes, know when to give you space or to keep calling when you don’t answer, is something you really only truly appreciate when you don’t have it.
Moving to a city across the other side of the world, where we didn’t know one single person has really illustrated how different it is trying to start the friend list from scratch, in another country, in another language, as an adult. As a kid, I grew up, moving around every couple of years, going to different schools, living in different houses and making new friends. So the whole arriving-in-a-new-place-as-a-stranger thing didn’t scare me. I went on exchange to France during university and have travelled for months (and years) at a time. But over the hill of 30, working and being married changes the dynamics of striking up new relationships. I mean creating the bonds beyond smiling at work, talking about the weather and being seen as a novelty addition from Australia.
As an adult, in everyday life the people you generally come into contact with are settled, established and adding people to their circle takes effort. They have routine, they have stability and are more than often not looking to disrupt their bubble. When you are on the outside, there is much more push to get in than pull. Perhaps it is because you don’t have an abundant selection of good quality friends to choose from so the bar is not so high. But for the outsider, the new friends just need potential, and for the established one, there needs to be something amazing about this new person.
It is not that people aren’t friendly. They definitely are. Mexicans in general are warm, inviting… and friendly. But that does not mean you are friends. The story of creating solid friendships during adult hood is tough. It takes time and effort and is almost like dating. You pretty much need to go online, whether signing up for meetup events, conversation exchange or facebook groups. You really want someone to like you, you hope they message you back and maybe invite you over for dinner or to a party. So the relationship goes from online to offline and becomes something real. And maybe you will start to talk about things beyond the fact that we have kangaroos in Australia, it takes a really long time to fly there and yes you do like that all Mexican food is spicy.
After almost a year of living here in Mexico City, we can probably count the true friends we have on one hand. Those are the people who will pick you up at 1am in the morning when you have a crisis, or who you share a bunk room with and hangout in your pyjamas drinking tea. It is funny that when you have no common history to hang onto, the people you connect with are those in similar circumstances. Upon moving here, we really wanted to make Mexican friends and not be part of the expat, English speaking circle. Although we have partially succeeded, all of these new friends are in a slight state of disruption themselves. They are not settled, established and stable. They have moved around, have a partner of a different nationality or are just establishing a life here in Mexico City also. They understand what it is like to arrive in a new place and build relationships with people from a different culture.
But this is not the norm. Compared to when we are kids and everyone is open to making new friends and meeting new people, as working adults in relationships we put up barriers to building new and real friendships. We have a happy established network that does not need disrupting. We want to be good friends to the ones we already have and this takes time and effort. There is no room for more. So when you arrive to established communities on the outside of the circle it is tough. Just like a first date, you have to be you, but perhaps your best version. Which does get tiring. So taking advice from kids is often the best way to go. Don’t over think it. Throw someone a ball, smile and offer them some of your lunch (or take them for coffee).
Great post. A couple years ago, as our kids started to become a little less moment-to-moment reliant on us, my wife and I decided to start branching out and seeking some new adult friendships. It was a fascinating experience. I joined an adult rock climbing course. For the first few weeks, i found it a little awkward… as if adults don;t know how to open themselves to new relationships. After about month, though, I found it interesting how barriers came down and we all got really close.
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