When I moved abroad the first time around (Amsterdam 2004), it felt like a European adventure. I had only been to Europe once before and for a measly three weeks, not nine months. My U.S. friends were keen to hear about my adventures and when I moved back Stateside less than a year later, I picked up where I left off. My world view had shifted slightly through my European experience (not to mention the Dutch husband I acquired in the process), but I had the same circle of friends and I even managed to get a better position at the company where I used to work.
This time around I am in Europe indefinitely. My husband is half way through a Master’s program in Theology, my son is speaking fluent Dutch, and despite a clear goal of eventually moving back to the U.S., I’m getting used to European life. We all are. And not just us three, but my U.S. friends have also realized that we’re here for an unknown period of time.
And as time goes by, you lose touch. People back home know they won’t run into me at a concert, in the aisles of the supermarket or out on the beach during a sunset walk. Unless I Prine someone, or someone Prine’s me, the spontaneity has been removed from our relationships.
I have taken on a digital sheen in their lives. And although we live in a digital world and have a digital footprint–whether it is posting photos and thoughts on Facebook, sending e-mails, writing blog posts or even skyping–it’s just not the same as being there in the flesh. My U.S. friends can’t ring me up for a walk, or ask me to help them drown their sorrows from their latest break up over cosmopolitan or celebrate a recent life event over a creamy Chardonnay at that cafe downtown. I’m not there for them like I used to be. And vice versa.
And although I defend Facebook and social media on a regular basis as a worthwhile expenditure of my time, I’m beginning to wonder. Sometimes I just feel, well, detached. And yes, when I see a beautiful sunset from Santa Barbara, or someone sipping a gorgeous wine at a resort overlooking the Pacific, I experience feelings of envy, just like this WorldCrunch article suggests. I sometimes feel lonely when perusing Facebook, just as SLATE Magazine suggested I would.
Is there a threshold for which we no longer wish to invest in long distance friendships? I know this is the case for dating. Years ago I dated a guy in Los Angeles, but after a few months time, I felt that it just wasn’t doable; he was geographically unavailable. In general, I’m not one for G.U. relationships. Yet I feel a desire to hold onto my friendships in the U.S. Why? Because these people are my people; part of my life experience; they helped form who I am in a way. We informed each other. But social media interactions can only go so far in maintaining that bond.
And to top that off, I have friends here. In the flesh. Ones who call me up and invite me out; ones I run into in the super market or the park, women in my book club who relate to me through literature, friends from church who bond with me in another way. If I need something here, in this physical life, they are my go to people.
There is a Dutch expression that goes something like this: een goede buur is beter dan een verre vriend. In other words, a good neighbor is better than a far away friend. I understand this from the practical Dutch perspective because despite their penchant for world travel, their orientation is very locally based. But I’m fairly certain this expression was developed before the digital age wound it’s roots into our daily lives.
I’m not the only one facing this quandary. What are your thoughts on friendships that span continents? Is there a distance threshold? And does digital social media isolate you, or bring you closer to your friends and family?