Have you ever had to end a friendship? I have.
I’ve always wanted to live overseas. That was my childhood dream; to live in a foreign country. I have done that and I can now check that off my to-do list. Living overseas is the best thing I have ever done and I have no regrets. If I had the chance to live in another country besides China I’d do it.
But I was never prepared to return home. I was not prepared for change in my hometown and I certainly was not prepared to face people’s expectations of me.
I know I have changed. I’m no longer the goody-two-shoed high school girl I was in high school. I do drop f-bombs from time to time. I enjoy have a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I’m no longer a tea-totaler. Yet people expect me to behave like I did in high school.
Some people forget that I spent fourteen years in China. Case in point. I had to restrict my contact with someone I grew up with. This cousin of mine seems to have a memory lapse. She once told me that she is so thankful for me being there when her marriage ended.
There’s just one problem.
I have no memory of what happened between her and her ex-husband. I was out of the country. This cousin also seems to believe that I have kept in touch with other relatives in our family when, in fact, I have not done so since college. I was rebuked in a nasty e-mail by this cousin for not wanting to “help” family. Even if I had contact information I was not at liberty to give that to anyone else unless I was given permission. I promptly blocked her e-mail address and deleted her contact info off my phone.
However, I have left one number open and that is my land line number. If she needs to call me she can use that number.
I’ve also had to end another friendship.
I left China on Sept. 12th, 2012 which means it was Sept. 11th back in the States. I flew on the eleventh anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers. That was my way of sticking it to the terrorists.
Every year since my return I remember this personal event in my life. I have no children and I have no wedding anniversary to celebrate. I only have my books as well as events such as this one. I remember this personal milestone by posting a status update on my Facebook page commemorating this occasion. It is important for me to do this as a way to help me mentally. It is also my way of not forgetting the country I left behind.
This past 9-11 however was extraordinary. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma slammed into Texas and Florida respectively. I’ve seen the news reports like everyone else on television. As a community emergency response team(CERT) member I pay attention to those reports to learn what I can to do in case Hawaii gets hit by a disaster.
Having said that our team motto is doing the most good for the greatest amount of people. But we also have another motto and that is to take care of you and your family first. That meant remembering my re-entry anniversary. So on that date I posted the following:
All the news is about Irma and 9-11. But for me I choose to reflect on my own personal journey. It’s been five years since I’ve been back in this country. I am fortunate to return to my home. But there are others who are not as fortunate.
My now so called friend replied in the comments, “That seems so selfish. Just saying.”
He crossed a major line. I have friends and colleagues on Facebook who are also going through re-entry issues like me and who read my posts. I still hear from them about their struggles back in this country. If they can read my posts then they can certainly read his criticism. I did not find this helpful at all either to me or my fellow reverse culture shockers so I deleted the comment.
When you mess with someone’s way of healing mentally you have crossed an irreconcilable line.
I wrote to this so called friend privately telling him that he crossed the line with his comment and that I’m ending this friendship. I explained my reasons for posting what I wrote. He wrote back. But from the first few lines in the message it didn’t sound apologetic. I refused to read the rest of his reply. As a result sadly I had to “unfriend” him.
Matthew 18:15 says “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother.”
But some relations are unhealthy. That is when I have to make new friends to replace the ones I’ve lost. I have to find other hobbies to get my mind off those people and the differences that separate us. I have done that through seeking online support groups that cater to expats who have lived abroad for as long as I have. I also write about it on my blog so that those like me will feel encouraged.
I end this note with an experience that is forever etched in my mind. This happened before I moved to China and was very young and naïve. I had a college friend from Hong Kong who was very home sick.
“I know how you feel,” I said trying to make her feel better.
She gave me this quizzical look. “Really?” she asked. “Have you ever lived overseas?”
“Then you will never understand how I feel until you yourself have been overseas.”
Those words stung. I have never forgotten them.
Years later after I moved to China I met this friend for lunch in Hong Kong while on vacation. I brought up that conversation we had while in college.
“Do you remember saying that to me?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” she smiled.
“I have to thank you for saying that,” I said. “Now that I have lived overseas I know what it’s like. So thank you for saying that to me because those words actually made me want to live overseas even more. Your words may have surprised me at first. But in the end they changed my life.”