Pole dancers, knitters and the eternal expat search for friends
I once put an ad in a local newspaper looking for friends. I’d moved from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast with a guy. We broke up. I was alone in a new town and desperate for company. So I put an ad in the paper: “Did you leave your best friend behind in the big smoke? Looking for new friends? I have recently moved to the Coast and would like to start up a friendship group”.
I can’t say the girls who replied to the ad were the kind of girls I’d usually spend time with (one was a little bit, well, how should I say, single-white-female)… but one of them helped me find a place to live after I moved out of my ex’s (I made her promise not to tell single-white-female where I lived) and another shared her own relationship troubles with me over cups of tea once a week which helped us both.
When I moved to Canada and needed to find something to do to pass the time I joined a knitting group. I walked into the small meeting room at the local community centre to see five white-haired ladies in homemade sweaters and vests sitting around a table covered in wool. They were shocked to see me. I sat down and pulled out my attempt at a half-made beanie.
“So how long have you ladies been meeting here? How long have you all been sewing? Are you all from the local area?”
I began asking a series of questions and telling them a bit about myself until one of the ladies interrupted, “You’re a journalist hey? Well that explains why you ask so many probing questions” I felt deflated and spent the rest of the hour keeping to myself while the others knitted in silence. At the end of the meeting one of the ladies came up to me and said, “Don’t mind Carole, she’s a grumpy old goat. I’m happy to answer your questions! I’ve been knitting for 50 years and at the moment I’m making my husband a whole new wardrobe because he’s lost 20 pounds and all his old sweaters no longer fit him!”
Sometimes, in a new place, you get lucky in the friendship lottery. Two years ago I moved to northern Laos to work as a volunteer for the Australian government. Four months into my assignment (until then my free time was spent mostly walking around town in the evenings on my own and dining alone. During that time I used to ask fellow solo-diners if they wanted to join me and I met a couple of very lovely people that way…but alas they were just passing through) I was having a meal in a Mexican restaurant and chatting to some expats who said, “Oh, you’re a musician? You have to meet Heather and Nick. They play the banjo and they’re sitting over there”. I walked up to their table, fearful of rejection and said, “Hey. I moved here a few months ago and I hear you guys play music. Maybe we can jam sometime?” They became my closest friends in town and our time together resulted in many sunset sing-alongs on a boat floating down the Mekong… as well as much laughter and meaning.
Making friends in new places is bloody hard. For every Heather-and-Nick story there is a complete-fail story. During my first month living in Thailand last year I went to a ‘Bangkok Expat Ladies’ Meetup group (the term ‘ladies’ should have been the giveaway) where the first twenty minutes were spent listening to ‘ladies’ squealing at each other’s designer label high heels and handbags:
“Oh my GOD, I LOVE your new hair style! Where did you go and who did it? Love!”
“Oh my godddd you look amazing! Doesn’t Susan look amazing? Like, that dress makes you look completely HOT”
“Oh my GOD, can we just tell you, Ange, that we have SO much fun together drinking way too much champagne and we take selfies and ha ha ha…remember that time we went to the Sky Bar and took like 100 selfies?”
Trying to make up for the fact I’d travelled two hours across town and spent a large amount of money on a tiny-portion meal to meet these girls, I did my best to attempt at connecting on a slightly deeper level.
Me: “So what do you love most about life in Bangkok?”
Meetup girl: “Well I guess back in America I can’t afford to do things socially, like go to exclusive bars or restaurants, but here I can be a QUEEN and get into any club I want”
Searching for your tribe can be tiring. I guess it’s a bit like dating. You can put yourself out there again and again…and come home with nothing to show for it. And, similar to finding a soul-mate, I have learnt that there’s no point wasting your time hanging out with people who are not like-minded (I much prefer my own company than that of those who make me want to stab myself in the face) but (and here’s the tiring part) in order to find one’s tribe, one has to keep advertising for friendship (I probably wouldn’t place my contact number in a local newspaper again, but you know what I mean).
It has been just over two weeks since I moved to England and I’ve been doing my best to join a few Facebook groups in the local area in the hope they may lead to some good connections.
A few days ago I found a ‘Creative Collective’ FB group that I was quite excited about. Creative people in my local area! Surely I will have something in common with a few of them! I clicked the ‘Request to join’ group button after listing my creative qualifications in their questionnaire. Yesterday FB told me I’d been “Accepted as a new member” to the group. I clicked the page and started to scroll down the comments:
“My name is Aimee and I’m a pole dancer! Keen to connect with other creatiVes!”
“Hey everyone! So great to connect with other creatives! My name is Kathy and I run a pole dancing studio! I’m offering a discount for anyone in this group!!!”
“It’s so cool having so many creative people in this group! Our next meet up for pole dancing is this weekend. Check the events tab!!”
I wonder what else is in store in my latest quest to find friends...