Fifteen years ago I wrote an article on friendship for PWs. (That link will take you back there.) But this seems like a good time to rethink the issues and take a fresh look at how we make and keep friends while living and working outside our home culture.
We might think that friendship is simple and automatic, but we soon find out that it’s more complex than we thought. Then add the pressures of our work and the quirks of our host culture. All of that makes friendship a challenge.
Many of us have watched the effect of social media on friendships. It is not uncommon to see a group of people sitting at a café table, all looking at their phones and clicking away. They seem totally unaware of their companions at the table.
On the other hand, there are others who would dearly love to have any kind of relationship with peers, but there are none within a 500 mile radius.
Kimberly Todd, writing for VelvetAshes.com, has some helpful insights about finding and developing friendships. Let’s look at a few of her ideas:
Anyone is a potential friend. When we first arrive on our host culture, we may look desperately for someone ‘like us’ to befriend. If we hold onto that measure of friendship, we will find ourselves very lonely indeed. But when we look at everyone as a potential friend, we will be surprised with the great variety of friends we can have. Not everyone will become a close personal friend, but each can fill some part of our need for friends. And, we help them stretch their friendship boundaries too.
Distance doesn’t have to distance. Distance does not have to hinder friendships like it did in the past. With all the social media available to us, we can visit with our friends at a distance much more easily. The time difference may mean we have to plan our visits more than when we lived next door, but with a little thoughtfulness we can keep up those long-distance friendships.
Don’t be afraid to schedule time for friends, whether near or far. Spontaneous is nice, but scheduling shows how important those friendships really are.
The discipline of small talk. Kimberly wrote, “I’ve explored the function of small talk both as a language teacher and as a language and culture learner in China. 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.”
How Many Kinds of Friends Do We Need?
Kirsten Howerton, writing for RelevantMagazine.com, mentions types of friends we should all have in our lives.
- Someone who is older, and wiser, than you.
- Someone who is younger than you.
- Someone who has a different home culture than you.
- Someone who holds a different worldview.
- Someone just next door.
I agree with her. Mike and I have all of those. Well, almost all. At our age there are few that are older than us. That makes us the older friends to many others- a special joy.
As women living and working outside our home culture, a couple of those are very easy to come by. We live among those from a different home culture than us and most of the people we mingle with hold a different worldview. But we still need to get from casual acquaintance to friendship with other women.
Kirsten points out what it takes to get from shared interests to real friendship:
“. . . shared interests can only take a friendship so far. They can even stop short at companionships of convenience that mask a lack of true intimacy. For intimacy, in fact, has less to do with shared interests and more to do with shared vulnerability, and above all, a commitment to growth. The best friendships are birthed from a desire to engage at a deeper level … to challenge one another, to grow individually and collectively, and to be willing to learn from one another.”
Tod Bolsinger describes the process of developing lasting friendships this way:
“Simple, short, caring conversations that slowly and appropriately go deeper and deeper, with increasing but not sudden or forced depth in intimacy, develop the kinds of lasting friendships that truly enrich our lives. We need to grow closer slowly, over time.”
Because of the situation some PWs find themselves in, developing deep friendships on the field looks like a mirage. It is something they want, but every time they think they may be starting one, it evaporates due to a move or cultural barriers. Don’t stop praying for a good friend. God knows your need and will help you. Keep reaching out to others and stay open, even to surprising friendships, to different kinds of friends.
Let’s look at our current friendship potential
- Are we still in touch with long-time friends in meaningful ways? Is there someone we should reach out to soon?
- Do we have a well-rounded group of people we call friends? Have we been limiting our friendships to people like us and forgetting the pleasure we can give and receive by spending time and energy with some people quite different from ourselves?
- Are we learning to get from small talk and casual acquaintances to deeper friendships? Are we willing to be vulnerable and to be confidential so that some of these relationships can deepen and stand through tough times?
Why not let someone know today how much they mean to you as your friend? Start with your spouse and work outward and backward. Who knows? The friend you need might be waiting for you to be the friend they need.
Here are some articles about friendship that you might like to read:
Articles on Peter’s Wife:
· TCK Friendships
Articles referenced in this post:
· Friendship – Kimberly Todd
· In Praise of Small Talk – Tod Bosinger