The saying goes: ‘absence makes the heart grows fonder’ but this is only true up to a point. Certainly, absence makes you keenly aware of being apart from those you are fond of, and a return after a relatively short period away makes you appreciate those you have missed all the more intently. Although more often than not this heightened sense of appreciation is only of a limited duration.
However absence over a longer period of time, say for those that up sticks and move away from the job/area/country of those they care for can have a different effect entirely. In time fondness alone can fade away into an affectionate memory of a part of your life that no longer exists.
Just as some friendships will stand the test of time, and you will meet people you know will be there for you no matter how much of a plonker you are at times, some friendships won’t last and absence won’t do these any favours. There is nothing wrong with this. I believe that it’s perfectly natural that you may have bonds with certain people only at certain periods of your life. It takes a lot of time and energy to preserve relationships and for most people it just isn’t feasible to keep up every friendship that has been acquired.
But absence can also take fondness and transform this into something far more substantial. After university it was the very absence of one person I had known there, who went to work abroad for a couple of years, that really established our relationship. Before she left I liked her but didn’t know her very well, by the time she returned our friendship had transformed into something solid, which is still strong some eight years down the line.
Whilst she was away we took on the seemingly now old fashioned approach of communicating through letter writing. What sounds like a distant means of staying in touch was the most liberating correspondence I have ever had. Sitting down and taking the time to think about and write a letter but not worrying about the immediacy of a response, and with someone I knew but initially wasn’t emotionally invested in, meant that I felt free to really open up and expose a very honest side of myself. What could have taken years in a more naturally evolving friendship began to take shape in about six months. Absence in that instance took mere fondness and transformed it into a long-lasting friendship.
I haven’t been an expat long, only a few months to date, but knowing that this is a longer term move for me, likely to last a couple of years if not longer, has made me very aware of those that I have left behind. Facebook is great for being able to keep in touch with lots of people and share details of your life and take in aspects of theirs, but it can be too easy to rely on this and think that because you have kept up with a few snippets of people’s lives that this is the same meaningful connection that may have led you to add each other as Facebook friends in the first place.
Now that I know friends and family aren’t just a quick bus or train ride away, even if I didn’t actually make those journeys all that often, for the first time in years I’m consciously working on keeping these relationships going because I’ve realised I don’t just want them to fade away into distant memories.
I’m calling people far more frequently than I ever did in the UK and I’m making greater efforts to meet up with people in person in Switzerland, the UK or somewhere in between. Now that it has become harder to stay in touch, my efforts to do so have multiplied to meet the challenge.
If nothing else my little adventure in Switzerland has made my heart grow fonder and has energised me to realise that, like with so many other aspects of my life, my friendships are worth working at. If I want to keep relationships with friends strong (family too, but they kind of have to be there so it’s a bit different) I can’t just sit back and expect these to flourish all on their own. If I don’t keep them going, and my friends are similarly content to sit back and simply assume we’ll stay in touch, then we will drift apart due to the sorry excuse of just not making an effort.
My whole fear of the reaper philosophy has been great at motivating me to take on new challenges and to try things that scare me on a sliding scale from slightly intimidating to down-right terrifying. But I wouldn’t want this motivation to keep on moving forward to come at the cost of losing sight of the valuable things I have acquired in the past.
Just as what I achieve, or at least have a go at, each year is down to me so too is the art of maintaining bonds with those I care about. Obviously friendships do require an effort on the part of those I want to be friends with, or at least a weary resignation, but this doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibilities in this regard and nor would I want to.