‘See you out in the world sometime.’ That’s what they say when they leave Australia.
It goes in waves. Within a month’s time, I’ll have said goodbye to six friends. They’re off around the globe – either back to their home countries, or off to try out a different one for a while. Then off once more – back here, to somewhere else, to their homeland. Some are boomerangs: they come back to Australia for visits, or perhaps decades from now to retire. Who’s to say where we will all go, when we will see each other again, or where.
Friend Replacement Policy
I’ve been almost four years here in Australia. It happens, and happens again: friends come, they go, they mingle into my friend group, they leave after a while. Months or years – either way, they’re off on adventures. I’ve done it myself a fair few times: first London, Chicago, later, Wellington. Some friends of mine, the ones who stay put, make threatening remarks about people leaving. ‘I have a friend replacement policy,’ said one Wellington denizen. ‘When you leave you have to find me a new friend to take your place.’ Others take a more dour view: ‘Let me know exactly when you’re leaving so I can start to distance myself,’ a pal says. After all, there’s only so many times you can say farewell before you wonder: why be friends with these people at all, if they’re just going to leave you behind?
Maybe I’m doing it to myself. After all, since I left the U.S. I’ve made a majority of friends through a travel website (CouchSurfing). Before that, you can trace a few Chicago buddies to an expat networking group (EuroCircle), or friends-of-friends from a university student organisation (International Illini). But it’s not just those on one-year working holiday visas. When I first moved to Melbourne, a closeknit friend group dissolved when everyone left, returning to France or the U.S. – even one of the Australians went off to Hong Kong. I was close to another Australian when I first arrived. She’s gone, too – back in Western Australia the last few years. Look at my high school friend group: I can count on one hand the friends still in Illinois; even less in their hometowns. Minnesota, California, Virginia, Colorado by way of Arizona. Is it our generation more mobile? Is it the American tendency to move counties or states? Everyone else’s to move countries? Perhaps it’s that we’re in our twenties and thirties, taking advantage of the time to be in many places.
Don’t Stop Believing…
I can never bring myself to stop making friends with someone just because I know they’re going to leave. For one thing, who knows if anyone will stay? The Australians leave Melbourne just as often. And eventually, I see everyone again: The American who moved to France (whom I met in New Zealand), well, we’ll be at the same friend’s wedding in Washington, DC. The Swede I met in Chicago? We saw each other when I was visiting Wellington and he was on his honeymoon. A Swiss guy I overlapped with in Illinois for a few months has become one of most frequent travel companions (we’re up to seven countries now). The Australians who left – to Perth and to Hong Kong – we always catch up when they’re in town. I spent the first six months of the year hanging out with an American I’d met in Wellington 3.5 years ago; we reconnected in Melbourne and became fast friends.
The benefit of having a wide range of acquaintances (and, surprise, being an colossal extrovert) means I never lack for friends. The American friend I just mentioned went home last month; shortly after I made a new Brazilian friend I see just as much. The Swede left Chicago? Fine – I made a new pal out of a Québécois guy. When friends leave, it opens you up to new ones. If my American and Australian girlfriends had stayed in Melbourne, would I have befriended my wonderful Israeli and Mexican ones — or would I not have had the chance? And as I said, you’ll see all your friends again someday. We met travelling, or one or the other of us went off to travel. Travellers are travellers.
But still: the bark has been cut. It might heal, but there’s a scar underneath. Never again will the friend group be intact; never again will you live in the same city simultaneously. Your friend group adjusts, shifts to fill the gap almost immediately. But every now and then, you’ll be struck. Where’s M.? Where’s R.? Where’s B. or O. or C. or D.? Or any of the J.s?
Just as you are to the friends you left before, and the friends you’ll leave in future.