Have you made any friends?
It’s the oft-asked question, in a thousand variations:
How hard is it to meet people? What kind of friends have you made? Where do you go to find friends? What is it like to make new friends?
Or, as Ashley put it so poignantly in the comments of my last post: “Will there be people to sit and pull weeds with, to share pickup duty with, to sit and drink tea with?”
It’s a question that feels especially urgent when you’re contemplating uprooting everything and starting your life over again in a whole new country, far across the ocean.
But I asked myself the same questions 20-odd years ago when Marido and I detached ourselves from Chicago and started fresh in San Francisco.
I asked myself the same question in fifth grade when my best friend Deanna left me behind as her family moved from Sterling, Illinois to Pekin, 92 miles south. At 11 years of age, 92 miles feels as wide as an ocean.
All friendships are not created equal, and this is why the friends question is so difficult to answer.
Friendship is like the concentric rings of a tree. Or planetary orbits. Or some other circular metaphor. There are levels and layers, and those levels and layers change and move as you yourself change and move.
The tightest circle, the one closest to your heart, is the smallest. It can contain only a treasured few. The circles grow in circumference as they spiral out, encompassing more and more people.
The number of friends I am lucky to call my own in real life is quite small compared to the number of people I know or have known. And that number looks minute in comparison to my virtual friends on Facebook, which in turn looks cute held up against my connections on LinkedIn or side-by-side with the subscribers of this blog.
There is a vast chasm between meeting people and making friends. Especially friends of the heart. The kind of people you want to sit around and pull weeds with.
The problem of making friends when you start over someplace new is not meeting people, it is finding your people.
Which brings me back to what Ashley asked:
“I keep coming back to the question of community… Have you found people in real life that are kindred spirits there in Portugal? Even if they don’t live an arm’s length away and can’t share pick-up duty? Whenever I find some lovely quinta that I could afford somewhere in a place I don’t recognize and fantasize about holing up and pulling weeds and creating a space for loved ones to come stay, I wonder if other gentle souls who are progressive would be nearby to become community with.”
Have I found real life people in Portugal who are kindred spirits?
«insert a significantly long pause here. and maybe a belly-deep sigh.»
Here’s what I can tell you: I am getting there.
Finding your people takes patience. I haven’t even been here two years yet. At that point in time after moving to San Francisco, I had maybe four friends—and they were in different concentric circles.
Before it sounded its siren call to tech bros and bitcoin fanatics, San Francisco was the kind of place that attracted artists and weirdos—misfits who didn’t belong anywhere else.
I was one of those misfits, and I was on the lookout for others whose weirdness resonated with mine. I found one, my friend Michelle, after my first six months. By the end of year 2, I had Misha. In year 3, I met Sarah. Year 4: Kathy. I didn’t collect Melissa until year 6 or 7, and didn’t meet Alison until year 10. (The truth there is that I met Alison in year 10 but I didn’t allow her into the inner circles for at least another year after that.)
Once Filha arrived, we opened up some of those smaller circles to a few fellow parents. And after year 14 I was still welcoming really good friends that I met at different workplaces: Hannah, Tiffani, Kelly, MM.
By the time we left San Francisco in 2021, 20 years after I made my first real friend there, I had a pretty good roster of kindred spirits to call on.
But the point is: It took awhile.
When we moved to Portugal, Marido and I promised each other that we were going to be outgoing. We were going to be uncomfortable. We were going to Get Out There & Meet People. This was a pretty significant commitment for two solid introverts.
But we did. We got out there. It really wasn’t that hard. Within a few months we met several fellow Americans and a couple of Canadians and quite a few Portuguese people and a Dutch guy named Larry. We were having Tuesday teas and 5’o clock drinks and walks by the river and queijadas de laranja at Cafe Beri with all kinds of people—old pros and recent arrivals and people who were still dreaming about arriving.
Our first nine months in Portugal were a whirlwind of encounters. It helped that we lived right in the middle of it all, an easy walk to bakeries and parks and the riverfront and Praça Bocage and any kind of meeting place you could possibly desire.
Once we moved out of town (only by 6 miles, but still), our flurry of extroverted activities dialed itself down. There are lots of reason for that—convenience is, of course, a significant factor. We can’t just walk over to the baixa in 5 minutes anymore. But also, priorities have shifted. We moved out of the “OMG we just got here we don’t even know who we are anymore let’s do all the things with all the people all the time” phase. We settled down and in. We crafted new routines. Our circles—the inner ones—got smaller.
We’ve lived in Portugal for 19 months now, and we are beginning to find our people. Or maybe it’s better to say that we’re beginning to discover which of the people we have met are people with whom we fit.
There’s no magic formula, although I do believe some of it is luck—or kismet. Some of it is choice: being intentional about when and how we give up chunks of our time and ourselves. Some of it is just doing the things we love to do and meeting likeminded folks who are doing the same sorts of things. Some of it is about depth of exposure—you meet someone, get to know them a little bit and then a bit more and a bit more and suddenly you’re in deep enough to know they really are your kind of people. And, no less importantly, you are theirs.
A couple of weeks ago, we had tea and chocolates with our neighbors to the north, Arthur and Martelle. They’ve lived on their quinta for 27 years, and we’ve lived on ours for 10 months, but we didn’t meet until Filha and I hung a Christmas card from their gate last month.
“We didn’t even know you were there!” Arthur exclaimed as he enthusiastically wrung our hands. “You’ve been so quiet! We thought Senhor Alexandre still lived there!”
“We are so sorry,” Martelle said, taking our coats. “If we had known you were there we would have stopped by sooner! Brought you some wine and some cake.”
When they found out Marido was going to be out of town for a bit, they were quick to offer their help. “If you need anything, anything at all,” Arthur said. "
“Even if you get lonely,” Martelle said, “just call. We are neighbors, after all!”
Who knows? Maybe by this summer, we’ll be pulling weeds together.
Right on LaDonna: "There is a vast chasm between meeting people and making friends. Especially friends of the heart. The kind of people you want to sit around and pull weeds with."
My husband and I moved to Portugal (in the Algarve – Lagos specifically) 6 months ago and are just settling in; I've been thinking of ways to meet people who I can pull weeds with (thank you Ashley for the heartfelt metaphor!).
To that end, I recently posted an invitation on a few local Algarve FB pages, which I'll share here (perhaps if it resonates for anyone in the Algarve reading this – if that's ok?):
"An Invitation ... I finally have our Lagos apartment in a comfortable and cozy state – and am reaching out to see if you'd be interested in creating a circle of regular gatherings at my place for community and connection? Creating a life in another country, like so many of us have, can bring on Big Feelings of loneliness – often interlaced with bouts of self-doubt, anxiety, depression and the like. I think it's fair to say we've all been there?
But I find with mood challenges, a regular intentional group gathering can be very reassuring, healing, and inspiring. And it'd be my pleasure to host something like this – as I'm both a group faciliator and a woman who would love to meet others drawn to exploring whatever is knocking loudest on our head so we can release these emotions for more calm, centered clarity.
So I'm thinking a regular little group gathering in a comfortable warm space can allow us to let our hair down with enjoyable like-minded heart-centered others. No obligation and I'll supply the hot herbal tea:) As I say, I'm in Lagos in the Algarve – so anyone who has an accessible drive and is up for meeting regularly at my place please DM and I'll be in touch!" -30-
Several people have responded and I'm eagerly looking at dates to meet!
LaDonna thank you always for your precious insights channeled through the gifted writer you are!
I think that as you age and know yourself better, you can be more realistic.
I realise that I have never made friends easily. I generally get on better with men than women which makes people suspicious.
My only genuine long-standing friends are former work colleagues with whom I shared my personal and professional life in Liverpool for 25 years. When we meet up we can cut to the chase. No need to be polite or discuss trivia.
I didn't get married until I was 41. We decided to move south to Plymouth. We have two couples there who now count as firm friends. We had many acquaintances, but moving to Portugal left them behind, apart from Christmas emails.
We have been in for over seven years now, but only have one couple who are the kind of friends on whom you can rely. They are Portuguese and help us greatly with our language skills with the added bonus of speaking fluent French like me. My neighbours are also good friends. We meet up for lunch with other people but there isn't that feeling that we are really connected. I'm quite outspoken and once we get over the introductions and begin to relax I try to discuss more 'important ' issues and often find that they support Russia or gun ownership, which means that I could never really get along with them.
Fortunately both my husband and I are reasonably self-reliant and are finally relaxing into a simple life of small pleasures. Good friends are a bonus, but one that we could live without.