Dancing in the Fountain: Losing friends when moving abroad

Dancing in the Fountain: Losing friends when moving abroad

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Karen McCann recounts how many of her friends were surprised and even angry when she made the decision to move abroad.

I was surprised — stunned, even — at how people reacted to the news that we were going to live abroad for 12 months. When I walked two doors down the street to tell my friend Nancy, she exploded. “Oh my God, no, I can’t believe it. That’s terrible news. You’re leaving? I can’t believe you would do this!” I was shocked by the vehemence of her response. “But Nancy—” She took a deep breath and threw up her hands. “Okay. I can see this thing is going to happen whether I want it to or not. I just had to get that out. How can I help?” And from then on, she could not have been more supportive.

It was a good thing I talked with Nancy early on, because her reaction helped me understand, at least a little, why some of my closest long-time friends essentially stopped speaking to me the moment they heard I was leaving. It seemed they could not get past their anger and were making a pre-emptive strike, abandoning me before I could abandon them.

Unlike San Franciscans, who accept the transient nature of the community as the price for living in one of the world’s most desirable locations, Clevelanders expect the people they love to stay in their lives for the duration. And they can get pretty bitter if they don’t. Figuring this out made their reaction less bewildering, but it didn’t make my heart hurt any less. At a time when I most wanted to feel supported, when I really needed to draw my community around me like a warm and comforting shawl one more time, some of the people I loved most were looking at me as if I had just announced I was moving to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda.

Rich, whose friends tended to fall more into the bewildered-to-attaboy range, was less emotionally bruised and more than excited about the real estate action he would get from house hunting in Spain.

I kept trying to reconnect, taking these friends out for coffee (if they would even agree to meet) and talking about how I’d be back in a year, and in the meantime we would stay in touch by email. One woman coolly declared, “When it comes to friends, I tend to be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ I don’t keep up with people I don’t see on a regular basis.”

Others promised to keep in touch, but didn’t. As I was to learn over the next months, they’d respond belatedly to my chatty emails with stilted little replies they obviously took no pleasure in writing, like a thank-you note to a relative you can’t stand for a gift you didn’t like. With deep regret, I let these old friends slip out of my life.

Other people, including many of our relatives, were frankly bewildered. Visiting abroad was one thing, but living there? Among all those foreigners? Why would we want to? What was wrong with the good old US of A? What was wrong with us? And then there were the friends and relatives who entered into the true spirit of the enterprise, saying, “What an adventure! You’ll have to write and tell me all about it!” or, “Great, I’ve always wanted to visit Spain. What’s the best time of year to come?”

In some cases, our move enabled us to rekindle old friendships with people who lived in other parts of the country but shared our penchant for travel. People we’d kept up with only sporadically would become frequent visitors and closer friends than they’d ever been in the past.

The bottom line is, people’s reactions will really, really surprise you. You never know who will stick by you, who will fall away, and who may come into your life in a whole new way.

Karen McCann / Expatica

Karen McCannKaren McCann moved to Seville in 2004 and writes about her expat experiences in her new book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. "I loved this book,” wrote Lonely Planet. “I must have laughed aloud at least once in every chapter... The advice in the book is terrific." Wanderlust has taken her to more than thirty countries, including many developing or post-war nations where she and her husband volunteer as consultants to struggling microenterprises. Today, she spends her time writing, blogging, painting, exploring Seville, and travelling the world.


Photo credit: Emily792872 (thumbnail). 

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Bev Doliber Brandes posted:

    on 17th October 2014, 20:57:13 - Reply

    Does this article ever hit home for us! 9 years ago we also left the U.S. for Spain. It's funny thinking back on comments and reactions we received about our plans. We are now living back in the U.S. again after 9 incredibly amazing years abroad. Truthfully, we received much the same reaction when we moved to Spain as we did when we moved back to the U.S., that being "Are you crazy, aren't you going to miss it?"
  • Kris posted:

    on 15th October 2014, 14:54:27 - Reply

    I left England to go to California, my best friend is still my best friend. She came to visit then married and moved abroad. After many years in California we decided to retire to France, many of our friends there were horrified, asking how we could possibly go and live amongst foreigners, forgetting that I was already living amongst foreigners.
    We have had one couple come from California to visit, but the majority of our visitors have been old school friends of mine. One came from Australia to visit. It depends where you choose to live I think, if you don't want too many visitors go somewhere that isn't on the Tourist Route, if you can afford an endless stream of people wanting a free holiday then choose a spot that is where they want to go. It also depends on how friendly they were to begin with.
    I think when someone says they want to move abroad people see it as a betrayal and find it hard to understand. Especially Americans and even more those who have never been out of the USA. These days most Britons have been out of the UK at some point in their lives even if only on a day trip, but America being so vast doesn't encourage people to leave to see different places. They don't feel the need.
    Philip I would pick my destination very carefully, and decide before you move how many visitors you want to entertain.
  • Philip Hurd-Wood posted:

    on 15th October 2014, 14:14:37 - Reply

    Hi there

    While I live in the south of England now it is my ambition to live in SW France as soon as I can. The journey from the UK to France is a great deal easier that the west coast of the USA to Europe. So, I wonder how my planned move will affect friendships. Anecdotal evidence from friends and others from the UK living in France would suggest that there is a pretty steady stream of people visiting and holidaying there!