For the past year, I stood (not so idly) by and lived a roller coaster of a first year abroad. I didn’t miss my hometown of Montreal much, not for a lack of meaningful relationships and love for the city I call home, but because I was busy living. Now that my time teaching in mainland China is up, I’ve taken some time to reflect. I’m excited to go home, but not without apprehension. Why? (You might be asking.) Short answer?
Friendships are at times a casualty of travel.
I’m excited to see my family. I miss my mom and her divine cooking (Caribbean moms do it better). I miss talking about any and everything with my siblings. I miss playing with my nieces (they really do grow up very fast), answering their questions about how the world works, seeing the joy and innocence in their eyes.
But they’re my family (not that I take them for granted), we share a bloodline. No amount of distance traveled can change those bonds, and for that reason, I don’t worry about my family. I’m infinitely thankful for them.
But what about my second family? My friends. I’m as excited to see them as I am to see my immediate family. I miss their energy, their laughter, their camaraderie. They’ll agree to meet me in quaint coffee shops or small restaurants. They’ll message me telling me how much has changed and all the catching up there is to do.
But here’s the truth: they won’t all followthrough.
We aren’t kids anymore. We don’t spend our waking moments together riding the bus to school or sitting in class whispering and playing jokes on other students (or teachers). We don’t ride our bikes through park trails or have water balloon fights on hot summer days. We don’t play for the same sports team. We don’t sneak into movies or spend holidays together.
Some of us have kids. Some of us have life partners. Some of us have devoted ourselves to our careers. I get that it can be tough to pen people into an already jam-packed schedule. It’s a part of being adults. But some of them, simply don’t care to maintain a friendship with a person who is always on the go. I know this, because they went missing the day I left. I have to face this fact, and if you’re a long-term traveler reading this, so do you.
I’m sure some of these soon-to-be used-to-be friends will think, “well, you’re going to pack up one day soon and leave again, so why bother?” And to that question, I say “it shouldn’t matter,” not if we’re truly friends.
As human beings, whenever we suffer a loss, of almost any kind, there’s a range of emotions we often experience: indifference, relief, rage, sadness, understanding, or some combination of the previously mentioned. We hurt. We feel guilt. We feel low. Recently, I’ve been asking myself “Is a friendship with you worth keeping if you can so easily leave what we built behind?” Maybe. But at times we need to adapt to survive. This is one of the many ways travel has rewarded me, with wisdom.
Some day, you’ll reflect on the friendship we once had. Perhaps you’ll wish you tried harder. Perhaps you’ll think to yourself “I made the right decision.” Perhaps it would have just been life running its natural course. I don’t have the answers to those scenarios.
I won’t waste time and energy harboring bad vibes on past friendships. Instead, I’ll use that same energy constructively, to strengthen the friendships that I’ve maintained. The ones that didn’t call it quits on me. The ones that missed me the way I did them. The ones that will make me feel like I never left as soon as we’re in the same room once again.
I’m going to tell my true friends how much I missed them and stories from my travels that reminded me of them. I’ll tell them how much I care. I’ll tell them I love them. Besides, I’ve certainly made new friends, and they understand my travel lifestyle a lot more than the ones I’ll lose.
I’ll put energy into growing and fostering these new friendships as well.