The Sweetest Sorrow

When I was about six months pregnant with my oldest son, I started dating again.

Before you shout Whore! and click away from my pages, let me explain: I started dating women. Other moms. Think: MBW ISO BFF.

Here's how the mom-dating scene in Paris goes: You meet someone through an online expat Anglophone mother’s forum. If you have enough in common online (usually that being children around the same age and living roughly in the same neighborhood), you agree to meet in real life. You describe yourselves in an email so that you'll recognize each other in whatever cafĂ© or park we chose. And then you meet, filling awkward silences with polite chat about your pregnancies and/or kids if it was a bad date, or laughing hysterically about life in France, books you've read, your husbands, swollen ankles or whatever, if it was a good date.

Just like in the pre-marriage dating world, most dates were just OK. You liked the other person well enough, but you’re pretty sure that you won’t be spending the rest of your lives together. In the pre-marriage dating world, depending on your age, you might stop the relationship right there (like a 20-something), or you might go on a couple more dates to make sure that you’re not missing something (a 30-something). When you’re an expat, you find yourself a lot less choosy about friendships, and so as long as you got along reasonably well, chances are you’ll have a couple more dates before the connection fizzles or you establish a comfortable, though not life-changing relationship.

And every now and then, you make a really great connection with someone. Your kids get along, your husbands like each other, and when you get together you can’t stop blabbing. Slowly, she begins to feel a hole that is created by your expat existence. A family-shaped hole.

And then, what often happens is, she moves away.

I hate this part of being an expat: saying goodbye to dear friends – or people who were on their way to being dear friends, but now you’ll never really know because although you have every intention of keeping in touch, you don’t know how you will because she’s moved somewhere in the world that you probably won’t visit because you already have so many other dear friends and family scattered all over the world and you only have so much time and money to visit everybody.

Since moving to Paris, I’ve lost dear friends to South Africa, Montreal, Barcelona, California, Hong Kong, and Rhode Island. Just two days ago, I just lost a second pair of dear friends to Rhode Island – but happily, they moved to the same city as the other friends (with whom we’ve managed to remain close) so that boosts the chance that we’ll visit there and won’t just be “Christmas Card” friends. People who aren’t expat say how lucky I am to have friends all over the world. But I don’t feel lucky. I want my friends here with me.

There’s not much that can be done about this dilemma, except to avoid short-timers and build friendships with locals. After suffering a string of losses just around the time of LK’s first birthday, for a long time whenever I met someone new, one of my first questions was: “So, how long will you be here?” If the answer was less than two years, even we had everything in common apart from our parents, I lost interest. Buh-bye.

As the good-bye I said on Sunday was my first goodbye in a long time, I think I’ve been pretty successful in recent years in avoiding relationships with Paris short-timers. But I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. The friends that just left really enriched my life here in multiple ways, even though our friendship only solidified in the last 2 years. I would never regret our friendship even though it means that now, for a long while, I will continue to look for them in places that they will not be.

So, what’s an expat to do? Keep going on dates, hoping to find The One and pray she doesn't leave me? Blow off relationships that could be great for the short-term but bittersweet in the long-term? Keep everyone at a distance? Or take friendship in whatever form it comes and resign myself to the inevitable sweet sorrow of saying goodbye?

What do you do?


dana said…
Hi! I found your blog on Twitter. I was an expat for 10 years. We repatriated 19 months ago to the Chicago area.
First of all, I love the dating metaphor. I'm steeped in "dating" potential "girlfriends" here in's been far more challenging than it was on the international front.
I guess I just wanted to say that I made a decision while living overseas to keep my heart open to all friendships with no regard to length of time. I met so many wonderful souls, friends, women who came into my life at different times, stages some for short periods, others for longer and I have no regrets. The memories of those women have carried me through this particular move that has felt like an uphill battle.
I had many farewell cycles because we stayed in Brazil for 8 years so we were well engrained locally and with expats. I loved every minute of our experience. The farewells and hello's were opportunities for my heart to expand and that is a beautiful gift.
I believe we are designed to experience the full range of emotions...and going to depths and heights allows us to be more compassionate beings.
I loved your post and I'm sending you a cyber hug. You are on an amazing, privileged journey.
peace and joy in abundance to you!
L.R. M-J said…
Bonjour! I too stumbled on you via Twitter...and talk about the 'wha?' that left my mouth when I saw your blog entry! My husband & I have joked for years about how finding friends here (we've been in Paris 11yrs & just bought a house 2yrs ago) was like dating. And Oh the tales we tell...agree with you in so many ways. For me it was all the goodbye parties I threw until there was no one left from our original group as we were staying forever...and no party for me. Boo. Great talking point...see ya in the Twitterverse :)
Barb said…
Dana - thanks for reading and for your insightful comments! You're a brave woman to open your heart so often to people you knew might be just "passing through" your life. I hope I can be as courageous!
Barb said…
L.R. M-J. - Ha! I'm glad you liked the post. I know what you mean...I don't think there's anyone left in my original group either! Thanks for reading and sharing.

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