Tuesday, June 22, 2010

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 café 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?