F is for Friends

Let’s talk honestly about moving for a quick minute. When I was a kid, my family uprooted twice (and once before I was born) and moved to a completely new corner of the United States. My sisters and I always knew something “big” was going to happen, because word would spread through the house of a “family meeting” in the living room that night. Family meetings never led to good news… So mom and dad would try to break the news to us as gently as possible, as the room slowly diminished into a pile of questions and tears. There were always tears. Moving wasn’t fun. We knew from experience. So yes, my sisters and I would be devastated for a few weeks, thinking all hope was lost for our friendships and sports teams, and then the move would happen and we’d be fine. Because we’re human. We adapt and we survive. And most of all, we’re incredibly resilient.

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First New york apartment

Life was good

Fast forward to being an 18 year-old moving to New York, and suddenly moving boxes are a lot more exciting. No tears, just pure excitement. Thanks to social media, I’d made more friends than I could fit in my dorm room, before I even made the bed. No need to harness the resilience from childhood moves. I was on cloud nine in New York, living the life I’d only dreamed of. It was magic.

Eight years later the city wasn’t sparkling for me anymore, so the boxes were brought out again, and I began the familiar routine of packing. (I’m really bad at packing, by the way. Have not gotten better with experience.) This moving experience had a certain energy to it, as it was full of “firsts.” First time living abroad. First time moving somewhere without knowing the language. First time moving in with a boyfriend. But most of all, first time moving to a place where I’d established no sense of community. When you move as a child, you’re immediately thrown into classrooms where making friends is no issue. In college, I moved into a program of 25 highly talented, like-minded theater kids, so every day was like a giant Christmas present full of friends. So here I am, now, at 26 years-old, learning how to make friends.

 When friends come to visit Portugal, it’s a very good day. Also, this picture is proof I have friends. Or, a friend.

When friends come to visit Portugal, it’s a very good day. Also, this picture is proof I have friends. Or, a friend.

I’m highly dramatic by nature, so let me clarify. I have friends. There are a small handful of people around the world I feel so very lucky to call my friends. It’s a tiny, concentrated cluster of wonderful humans who know me at my lowest, highest, and most vulnerable, and for these people, the word “friend” seems too small. Work, life and love have led us all to different places, so having coffee on Friday morning isn’t really a possibility with these friends. (I didn’t realize until approximately four days ago how often I used to go for coffee with friends.)

So here I am. Friendless in Portugal. Thrilled to have moved here, but feeling like my social circle, which felt so important in New York, doesn’t exist. For those of you that know me, I’m a very driven person. I like to be busy, productive, and accomplish things. But how do you efficiently accomplish a task like “make friends” on your to-do list? Well it seems I’ve learned a big life lesson in an unusual way. The “Golden Rule” of friend-making, if you will. Drum roll please…

Just be nice.

At the moment, being nice to people has had a 100% success rate in regards to having lovely conversations and *gasp * maybe even a coffee date. Be nice, and most of all, be open. For me, the being “open” is the hardest part, as I like to have all of the information before committing to anything. I ask a million questions about everything because I like to be informed, and most of all, I like to be sure. But I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, and there’s definitely a reason life shoved me out on this friendless ledge, completely exposed. Every day is a new test of saying “Absolutely yes, I am free, have zero plans, and will attend” to as many things as possible. I yoga-d my butt off in the first few weeks, and invited one of the yoga girls for a drink, because she seemed like-minded and kind, and guess what? She wanted friends too! Then she left for Berlin, but hey, we were friends for a day. It was a good day. I joined a language course, and stumbled into a post-lesson tradition of coffee and conversation with my new pals, Mark and Dave. Dave is a retiree from the states who moved to Ericeira with his wife, and speaks about his life with a certainty that I admire. I got to hear about it all on the way home from class, because he offered me a ride. Two Americans on the Portuguese back roads, united on the quest to understand a language, and separated by a few generations.

In my quest for friends, I also lit a fire under my own rear, to organize the people who’ve been so kind to me, around a dinner table.

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Dinner Club Members. Surf Lesson Comic Relief. And Friends.

Hark! Two friends

I started a dinner club.

Because WHY NOT? Did I feel like a mid-western housewife who should start hauling out the casserole recipes after soccer pick-up? Yes. But did it work? Also yes. Food brings people together. And as you can see by the little “Yummy” link at the top of the page (your belly will be happy if you click it), I really enjoy cooking. Our first “dinner” was a beautiful mix of friends from all over the world, many of whom didn’t know each other, despite living in the same little surf village. The Italian hosts whipped up risotto made with fresh pumpkin from their garden, and the table was the perfect mix of laughs, love and fresh vegan pesto. I will ask our host Lavinia for her pesto recipe. It needs to be shared.

I understand I’m not exactly moving mountains with my actions, but it’s these small accomplishments that put my mind in the right place to build a community that I can call home. For any improv actors out there, this is my “Yes And” in life. It’s led to seeing friends at the beach and making an impromptu surf lesson, unexpected pizza dates, and even a few coffee meetings (be still, my somewhat New Yorker heart).

Forming connections with people isn’t as simple as a task on my to-do list, but it’s more important than most things on there, like buying jeans. (Yes that’s on my to do list. Love me some Levis.) Moving somewhere new is hard. I’ve broken down into tears four times now (averaging once a week, if you’re curious), and God bless my do-or-die Kris, for being there to build me back up. Some days I really question why-oh-why I decided to move to Portugal. Funny enough, every time I crack jokes about my moving insecurities, I’m met with an “Oh GIRL, me too” or “It took me four months to be ok” or “I’ve never felt more alone than when I first moved here.” What’s refreshing to me, is these remarks, full of honesty and authenticity, are coming from people I now call my friends. Turns out we’re all on a journey. And we all adjust at our own pace. But just like 8 year-old Emily, crying as she said goodbye to her fairy garden in Minnesota, 26 year-old Emily, and everyone else on a quest to find friends, will be fine. Because we are human. We adapt and we survive. And most of all, we are incredibly resilient.