I’ll be there for you, cause you’re there for me too (Theme song from Friends)
The bells are tolling where I am, a coastal town in Italy, a weekly morning ritual calling people together, to church. They remind me of a dear friend whose favourite line was – ‘we all like to be a little naughty’. He died of brain cancer, I was grateful he saw fit to include me in his last big ‘party’, as he termed his departure from the here and now. He was a soother of broken hearts, lover of cats, prone to giving away his last dollar to some cause or other.
The bells are also tolling in Singapore, even though we don’t allow that kind of noise here. Some people dear to me are moving on in the next few months, and they will leave a hole in my life. It’s probably happening to you too, right now.
“Losing old and building new friendships seems to be an integral part of the expat life”
Just like the weekly bells, friendships come and go in Singapore. Losing friendships unsettle us, our friends are both a part of our life and a reflection of it. When loss happens as regularly as it does here, we have a conscious opportunity – how do we continue to build friendships, with whom and why?
One of the biggest beefs in Singapore is how hard it is to meet genuine people. Other than psychopaths, and they can’t all be relocating to Singapore, most of us are genuine. But the stories of ‘friends’ disappearing when the going gets rough seem to happen here more frequently than back at home. Some of these ‘friends’ might even be us. Why is this so?
We can misstep in Singapore when we first arrive, so at sea and desparate for connection and meaning. We can become something we have never been – Buddha called them the ‘four enemies’ of friendship: the taker, the talker, the flatterer, and the reckless companion.
We only take, asking for a lot while giving little, performing duty out of fear, and offering service in order to gain something.
Or we talk rubbish – reminding others of our past generosity in other countries, promising future generosity, mouthing empty words of kindness, protesting personal misfortune when called on to help;
Or we flatter others – supporting both bad and good behaviour indiscriminately, praising people to their face, putting them down behind their back;
Or we become reckless: drinking, roaming around at night, partying, and gambling.
Not surprising really, to bemoan the lack of genuineness, when we wander from the path as well?
“….. it’s like you’re stuck in 2nd gear, it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even year….” (Theme song from Friends)
I have been at least one or two of these types of fake friends over my lifetime – thankfully, it was temporary and I was wise enough to see the light before it was too late. I have lost good people as friends, and made some poor choices too, because I could not see how disconnected and desperate I was.
“The greatest gift from losing friends (however it happens) is the personal opportunity to assess which parts of me are stellar and those which need a major overhaul.”
Being a good friend to yourself and others
A good friend brings out the best in you. A good friend discourages what is worst in you, perhaps declining to follow an unwise lead, and sometimes telling you directly when she thinks something is off. By his actions and words, out of genuine concern for your well-being, a good friend will support your wholesome actions and discourage your unwholesome actions. Is this you? And is this you as you treat yourself?
And are there people in your current environment that you would consider potential good friends and not reckless companions?
At home, you might have friends from your primary or high school years. You have friends because your kids go to the same school, and have done so for years (you’ve weeded out the ones you don’t want to be with). At home, you had your family (in all its glory), that broad interconnected group of blood and emotional ties that ground us and drive us mad. And your work, and those all important after work drinks on Friday night, celebrations on jobs well done, all with people you connect with (also selected carefully over years). For many expat spouses, this last loss is often felt the most keenly. We lose much of this when we become expats.
“The traditional spaces for immediate personal connection, work, kids, sports, assume greater importance here, and we often change character, in an effort to connect.”
You can use your time in Singapore differently. Or in any other city away from your own home country, for that matter. Make a conscious choice in how you are, and why you have the friends you do. Widen the spaces to meet people who you like and will like you. Recreate a ‘family’ you may be missing.
And a free plug for ANZA Singapore – which provides loads of options for more conscious friendship choices, including community work with meaning, cos being in the service of others is a really really great way to meet beautiful people here. Trust me.
An edited version of this article appears in the 2017 September edition of ANZA Magazine, Singapore.