Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Being an Expat is lonely

Green Corridor in Singapore

It's lonely being overseas when friends and family are at home. People told me this before I left for Singapore but I didn't really believe it would bother me. Making friends has always been easy for me and I am kind of a loner anyway, enjoying a lot of solo time or time just with my husband. But once work has been removed from my day and I am not interacting with colleagues, I realize how little interaction with friends I had prior to moving. Mostly because of both our jobs we didn't see each other all that often. And so I am in the habit of not planning activities to make friends and meet the friends I have made for additional activities. It makes me realize how little I did plan with friends at home and that other than the occasional dinner plan we didn't spend as much time together as I would probably have liked and that I will do better when I return home. I feel the loneliness when those that I've known for years are only accessible during a certain window of my day and only for a brief text or planned 

Social Media only helps a little with the feeling of isolation. Facebook is good for sharing pictures that you want everyone to see but because we all know most people share only the good stuff on Facebook or stuff they only want the whole world to see, it's not all that personal. It's pretty well documented that Facebook makes people feel lonely because our friends on Facebook are not all that close and that it provides a false sense of friendship. And while I am seeing what my friends are doing it's only a portion of those same people that I am having other meaningful exchanges with other than viewing their posts and exchanging comments. Besides, Girls called out Facebook messaging as being the lowest form of communication it's hard to get meaningful and personal via Facebook. I know I have a hierarchy of sharing information that starts with Instagram and being the most public, to Facebook friends, to an iPhoto stream that is invite only. This is me sharing my adventures and allows people to view and then comment, so the interaction is somewhat one sided and not conversational.

The 21 century apps only do so much. I have some ongoing dialogs via WhatsApp but it's still not the same as seeing people in person and being able to chat in real time or even scheduling lunch or a movie with those same connections. Also the time factor makes the WhatsApp message less urgent if I am sending a message while someone is sleeping.  

Skype is no substitute for a dinner party. We can't share a meal and a glass of wine and the spottiness that sometimes occurs do to bandwidth issues means we lose parts of the conversation. In Singapore we are sixteen hours ahead of California where my friends and family live so if I want to talk to them I need to plan a Skype date in advance, which entails figuring out what time they can do talk after their work day or coordinating an evening and afternoon time for them on the weekend that corresponds to our morning, which is usually 5 pm for them and 9 am for us. So right after drinking my coffee I am swapping out the grey tee that I wore to bed for something blue or pink that looks better on camera and putting on lip gloss, then practicing with the Photobooth app to make sure the angle of my Mac is so that nobody is looking up my nose or that the angle is so distorted it looks like I have a double chin.  

Emails help a little but they're not ongoing. I take time to send emails to people about what I am doing because I get so few emails that aren't marketing newsletters that when they reply with their own news it's enjoyable to read. A three or four paragraph email that someone has taken the time to craft is an enjoyable oasis when I find it in my inbox. If you write people emails they really do write back! It's an investment that is well worth the time it takes to write an email. 

Making connections is difficult. I have met a few very nice women with whom I enjoy having coffee and I have joined some meetups so that I can attend book clubs or walks around the island. Although having coffee and meeting for book clubs is a nice treat it doesn't add up to the volume of connections I am used to such as running into neighbors in my neighborhood or making plans to have dinner with friends. Friendships through meetup groups tend to flourish during weekday afternoons when our spouses are occupied with work making coffee and short outings a welcome distraction for a few hours. 

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