Let’s look at the people you likely have in your social circle before you move.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll put them into three groups that we’ll call neighbours, acquaintances, and friends.
Neighbours are the people you see a lot because you are in the same space. They don’t need to be literal neighbours, but they are people you come across in the course of day to day life. You may get together occasionally – for a spontaneous drink on a summer’s eve (in any country), for an apéro around Christmas (France) or the good old neighbourhood bbq (The Netherlands).
Acquaintances are the people you meet and like because they fit in your life. You might play sports with them, go out in the same places, or attend the same events.
Friends are the people that are truly important to you. You go to them with the good, the bad, and the ugly. You may not see them often, but when you do, you feel at home. You can count on them, and they on you. If they were to suddenly disappear, they would leave behind a them-shaped hole in your life.
In case you’re having difficulty separating these last two out, the difference between a friend and an acquaintance (again, just for the purpose of this exercise) is that you don’t call an acquaintance first to share big news, and you don’t expect them to call you first with their own big news.
And, of course, people can move between these groups – neighbours can become friends and a friendship may shift into acquaintanceship, and so on. But we’re looking at where you are now.
So, with these groups to hand, let’s look at how this is useful when you are moving countries.
To start, take it from me that the most important thing to do is to be realistic about how human relationships work: they take time to grow and most are highly dependent on the environment they exist in.
Neighbours and acquaintances fit into your life because of external structures. They live in the same place, they do some of the same things as you, and that’s the basis of your relationship. Ergo, if you step out of these structures by moving abroad, the foundation disappears… and it is likely they will drop out of your life (at least for the time being.) Hmmm… that doesn’t sound all that fabulous, you may think. But actually, I think it’s okay. Really. It leaves space to meet new neighbours and acquaintances in your new place. And they get to meet the you that you are now, not the you from before. And that is a great place to start, if you ask me.
My point is that if you’ve assumed that some of your acquaintances are friends, it can be disappointing when you lose touch, and this increases your misery if you feel a bit lonely already. If you have thought about the differences between these three groups before you move, you will see these changes more clearly and are less likely to be disappointed.
So what to do?
Cluster. Using the three social groups we’ve been talking about, firstly have an honest look at your social circle: Cluster them into friends, acquaintances, and neighbours.
Most people find they have a few people in the friends group and many more people in the acquaintances and neighbours group.
If you have 20 friends, you are either someone with a huge focus on friendships and amazing social skills who prioritises almost all of their time to them, or the people you class as friends may actually be acquaintances. Be honest when you’re thinking about this.
So now you know where you stand and you can make your move with clarity. You know who’s who in your circle and so you won’t be surprised if the relationship follows the general rules stated above when it comes to friends, acquaintances, and neighbours.
Celebrate. Before you leave, celebrate all your relationships. Have a big party or many small ones. Make sure you look after your friendships and appreciate your acquaintances. Tell them how great your time together has been and that you are open for new adventures together.
Then move… and see what happens.
Look after your friends and meet new people. Make the effort to look after your friendships you’ve moved away from, while spending time in your new place and developing new relationships.
Let your relationships with acquaintances you knew before develop organically. There will be some that surprise you, where people stay in touch more than you thought would happen, and they may turn into friends over time.
Meet your new neighbours and actively acquire acquaintances by doing things – activities where you meet people that share an interest. Things that might seem obvious or cliché are still great: join a club if you find one you like, do volunteer work, talk to people you meet, and get actively involved in your new surroundings.
And when you have a lonely moment, call one of your friends – taking care of yourself, and of that friendship.