In December we’ll celebrate our four-year anniversary here in Denmark. With that milestone, Denmark will officially become the place my children have lived the longest, pipping NYC at the post by two months. After four years here, it also means I’m now considered part of the Old Guard. There are expat families who have been here longer, but not too many.
In everyday terms staying put in a posting for this long simply means I’ve figured out most of the ins and outs, the quibbles and quirks. I know what to do with the crud that gets stuck in the cracks and the limescale that builds up in my kettle, when to shop the sales and how to piss off a Dane. In the larger sense, it means I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.
For the last few years I’ve had a fluid, yet core circle of friends. I’ve had a Mom tribe, the ones you can confess your parenting sins to without fear of judgement, the ones you can let your gut out in front of. More than that, however, we’ve had a solid group of couple friends. When you make a Mom friend and she has a husband who gets along with your husband, well, that’s pretty great. When you have a few of those combinations and you trade weekend dinners and have impromptu barbecues and celebrate birthdays together, it’s pretty darn nice.
Two Junes ago a good-sized chunk of our everyday social circle left for pastures greener, drier, colder or more distant. The dynamics shifted, but the ‘here’ was still bigger than the there or anywhere. That will change this year.
This is the year that a good number of families who have been here as long or longer than us are clipping their last Klipperkort here in CPH.
Some are friends; not just friends but good friends. Sunday dinner friends and godparent candidate kinds of friends. Friends that trust me with their children overnight and friends I wouldn’t hesitate to call in the wee hours of the morning if I needed help. Emergency contact kind of friends. Those kinds of friends.
When you’re the one leaving, it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of starting over again. But let me tell you, over here on the other side of the fence, it’s no picnic being the last man standing either. Despite all the rain we’ve had here in Denmark, the grass doesn’t seem any greener.
A few weeks ago my husband asked me why I was going out more than normal, why my acceptance vs. decline rate was higher than usual.
“I’m investing in our future,” I said.
It’s easy to become lazy and complacent in terms of friendships, relying on the easy relationships that come after spending a few years in the same place with the same people. Soon that will change and the very idea of it makes me tired. I am exhausted simply writing about it. It means I will have to be on my best behavior. I will have to hold in all my verbal farts for a while. I don’t do particularly well with best behavior for very long. If I go too long without swearing I get bloated.
But really, what choice do I have? I’ve got to fill the empty Sunday dinner spots. I’ve got to find a new emergency contact.
Of course we can never replace the friends who are leaving, even if new bodies fill their spots at the table. Even if the new bodies become friends. Even if the acquaintances we have now become more than that. It won’t be the same. It doesn’t mean it can’t be as good or even better, but it won’t be the same.
We expats talk a lot about the ones leaving, the difficulties of re-settling, of finding new friends in a new place. What we very rarely talk about is being left behind and making new friends in the old place.
It’s like the age-old question of the chicken and the egg. Is it better to be the one to go, or the last man standing?