Moving away and leaving all my friends was hard ( well…‘hard’ doesn’t even come close to expressing it, but… shrug, I don’t wanna sound too dramatic! Hah) . The fact that It’s hard to leave friends is pretty obvious, I mean, leaving people we care about shouldn’t be an easy thing after all, right? But, now that some time has gone by since I’ve left all my friends, and I’m coming up on my three year anniversary of living here in Panama , I’m noticing more and more that there’s a distance that’s slowly beginning to develop with my friends from California. Not because of anything they’re doing, or not doing and certainly not because of any lack of caring for each other. I believe it’s simply an unavoidable change in the dynamic of a long distance connection that naturally happens when friends move away. Am I surprised by this? No. Why do I write about it now? Well, Its something I’ve been quietly observing as time is going by, relationships that are separated by so much distance are bound to develop a feeling of disconnect eventually. Even though I knew there was no way to avoid it, somehow It still makes me sorta sad and nostalgic for what I’ve walked away from. I’ve had many friends move away in my lifetime, but being the one who has done the leaving is proving to be an entirely different feeling….gulp.
In the early days of my new life living here in Boquete my friends from California and I would connect via Skype or FaceTime quite regularly. Oftentimes these conversations were a little awkward, for me. I had the feeling, as I was trying to describe this new life, that I was unintentionally bragging. My friends know me well and they very likely knew this wasn’t the case, but I couldn’t help but feel this way. I found my contribution to the conversation was about things like this… ” The house we found to rent is sooooo beautiful! The walks and hikes we’re doing everyday are sooooooo full of beauty and just right outside our front door! Oh my gosh, not working is sooooooooo great! The weather is perfect here! The plants and flowers all over this place are just incredible! We’ve met so many cool people here! “. (eye roll!). All the news about our new home and about this huge new experience we were having was something I so badly wanted my friends to somehow experience with me. And in the early stages of living here I know we were ultra focused on all that was new.. I remember back then when finishing a Face Time call I always felt like I’d said too much about me and about all the amazing new things in my life. What could my friends share with me? I mean, nothing much had really changed from their end of the conversation. They still got up everyday and went to work and they were still living a life that I had decided I was done living. So I felt like I had monopolized an entire conversation talking about me, me, me! Ugh! I remember getting off a phone call and feeling somehow, “not quite right”. A shift was beginning to take place in these friendships, a shift that was unavoidable and that was changing the dynamic of the connections. I didn’t know how to feel about this or how to avoid letting it happen. Even though its totally unrealistic, I wanted so badly to believe I could hold onto these friendships and keep them from changing or from becoming distant. My decision to move to Panama had permanently altered the reality of how these connections would function. It was up to me to find a way to not lose all these friends who no longer lived nearby and no longer shared a life that we could all relate to.
Making the decision to relocate and to begin anew in a different country was of course not a decision I made lightly. Deciding to abandon a life, shut it all down, sell everything and leave so much behind was maybe one of the single most painful and yet at the same time liberating decisions of my lifetime. And I wouldn’t change having made this move for anything. But…that being said, the subject of friendships has eaten at my heart in a big way, especially lately as time is passing so quickly and I’m really beginning to feel the effects that this time away is having on those connections. You think you know that you’ll miss people when you move or relocate to a new place. I’ve indeed felt many pangs of sadness as I realize how much of their lives I’ve missed as a result of my decision to live here. Life does indeed ‘go on’ after all! I try to maintain connections by occasionally sending long emails about my life here, and asking about what’s going on in their lives, in hopes that sharing in this way might keep us connected. I send little text messages to people, just a little holiday greeting or a quick text letting them know I’m thinking of them. I get responses most of the time from people I reach out to, not from everyone, but I understand that everyone’s really busy with life. With busy jobs that take up tons of time and energy, families, friends who are still in their day to day lives, its not easy to find time to maintain a connection with someone who has moved on. Its the way it goes and I accept this reality without blame, but I’ll continue to attempt to hold onto these friends who will forever be important to me.
Throughout our lifetimes there are some true friendships that will withstand the passing of time apart. We all have those people from our past who we’ve become separated with just by the passing of time and the reality that adult lives often grow in different directions. While these friendships will never go away , they always remain important parts of who we are. For many different reasons this is a truth that I’ve experienced many times in my life, ( haven’t we all). Friendships from different periods of my life have taken on very different and diverse meanings as the years go by. The friendships from my childhood are ones I still, to this day hold onto and will forever consider them connections that contribute to my vast collection of fond memories, that make me smile and warm my heart. The memories we have of that period of time growing up with those friends created a shared history. To me, this shared history has forever bound us to each other in a way that’s different and unique to the adult relationships we develop through the years. I know that in the same way my more recent adult friendships with people who have traveled with me through so many seasons of my adult life hold very meaningful connections for me and will always be a huge part of who I am today.
As I consider the changes that I’m experiencing in the dynamics of my friendships that are now” long distance friendships”, I feel a mixture of emotions. The top of that list of emotions is most certainly sadness because change is hard and missing them makes my heart ache. But then there’s also gratitude, a bunch of gratitude, for having such incredible friends to miss! This feeling of gratitude is mixed in with lots of great reminiscences of good times and bad. This is all topped off with the knowledge that although all of these friends who I miss so very much may not be in my day to day life anymore and its okay. Even though its impossible for our connections to be the same as they once were, they’ll forever remain very real and very special connections in some way! I’ve found that my nearest and dearest bosom friends will occasionally pop back into my life in the form of a text or an email just to say, “hey”. With much heartfelt joy I learn that he or she never really went away. We’ve just all been living this busy life and just because we’re not sharing each and every moment living in the same place, we’ll always be a part of each others lives in the form of that shared history. We knew each other, “when”…. And this is the glue that will forever hold us in each others lives!
This post is me processing one difficult aspect of my expat experience. Deciding to move to Central America has opened up a whole new world of experiences. As with most experiences in life, I’ve found that there’s almost always good and bad. Working through my feelings about the evolution of changing relationships has really made me take an honest look at my feelings about so many friendships that I miss as a result of making a move to another country. The changing dynamic between me and all the friends I left in the states has been a hard one for me. As a ‘people person’ I’ve alway found that having meaningful connections is something that really feeds my soul. I love having close friends to share experiences with, to offer and receive support from, to laugh together, cry together if necessary, and most of all to share with like minded people all the joys and challenges this crazy life has to offer. The truth I’m trying to genuinely embrace is that, close friends doesn’t necessarily have to mean, close in proximity. I can still remain close to friends who aren’t right here in Panama with me. This evolution of the changing dynamics between myself and all those dear friends who I miss so much is something I’m still coming to terms with. It’s one of many unavoidable aspects of adapting to having left so much in a life that was familiar and comfortable and choosing to embrace a totally and completely new and vastly different life abroad. This Adventure just continues to provide unending opportunities to grow and learn in ways that have really stretched the boundaries of what was my ‘comfort zone’. Learning to process and sometimes readjust how I think about many different things isnt always the easiest thing to do, but man, oh man…. I’m learning so much about myself and about just how much richer my life is when I expand what I previously believed to be my ‘comfort zone’. When I step out of my own box and just open myself up to change, often involving huge challenges, good things always happen.