I have this friend, a long time expat, who has the funniest theory, which we decided over a conversation to call The roast beef theory. What´s it about? His grandmother had this recipe for roast beef that she used to make throughout his childhood, almost every Sunday, and to this day he calls it the best in the world. He spent years trying to recreate it on his own, or having a taste at various restaurants in many places he’s travelled, without being able to find the same taste his memory recalls from childhood.
Naturally, I was tempted to transfer his roast beef theory for the sake of my own reflections. And since I am not that picky with food, the best way I could think of to make use of it was with regards to friendship. Many of us consider that friendships developed in the earlier stages of life, let’s say the college years, in many cases end up lasting a lifetime. Maybe because this is when you learn to step into adulthood together with your friends, or simply because you have not yet encountered the hardships and challenges that life throws in your way, or just because you have the time to cultivate that specific friendship.
In my case at least, it has turned out to be a valid theory so far. And now, we’re getting to the question, only this time it isn´t a rhetorical one. As we all know (oh, how we know); when you move you leave behind many things, but most importantly people – relatives and friends. You leave them with sadness, with a warm hug and the promise to visit soon. That soon sometimes turns into months or even years. The phone calls, on a daily basis at first, become weekly, then maybe monthly, and after that maybe 2 – 3 lines written with the glorious help of modern technology.
Meet me halfway
There´s an old saying, popular in many cultures including my own, that goes like this: Out of sight, out of mind. I was curious enough to look it up in more languages, and the Spanish equivalent slightly differs: What the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t feel. Only sometimes the heart has a mind of its own. And the mind wanders relentlessly. What you may be able to forget with your heart, you cannot be able to forget with your mind, if I may put it that way. You go on, wandering away from your roots and friends, but I don’t think you ever stop looking for that perfect friendship. Your mind is set to compare every new potential friend that you meet in your new life with the ones you left behind.
We hear sometimes (and surely, it goes for any kind of relationship): I love having him/her as a friend/partner because he/she gets me. Well, I don´t think this is enough. As I like to say : Like me, don’t make me. The truest friend you can ever have is the one that accepts you as you are, without asking you to change. For an expat, that would consequently mean that in order to make a new true friend, you both have to meet halfway; halfway between languages, cultures, cuisines… and that takes patience and the belief that it is worth it.
Many expats spend years in search of this. Sometimes you get lucky and find a new true friend, sometimes you don’t. But then, you will always have you. Is it enough?
Question raised by Sorana Popescu, October 2015