I moan alot about my lack of friends in Dubai, but it would be a little churlish of me not to mention that I do actually have the odd one or two. I have just enjoyed a fabulous evening with a girlfriend who I met here six years ago as part of a speed friend-ing program set up by my first, very sociable friend in Dubai (codename O). O was a mum, and therefore unlike me had access to a veritable mass of potential friends. She was also way, way more outgoing and friendly than I could ever aspire to being. With that in mind, she and I used to meet for a drink every Wednesday and she would invite unsuspecting school mums to join us for a road test. The rule of thumb was that if we agreed they were still fun after a few glasses of wine, we’d invite them again. Not many made the cut for both of us: rather she ended up with the most amazing social life and I sat on the edges wondering what I could possibly have in common with so many 30-somethings with children. The answer was not a lot, most of the time – as a newly-wed barely out of my 20s they just all seemed terribly grown up and slightly irrelevant. But meeting my friend was a different case, because she, like O, made me feel like I’d found someone to be ‘me’ with. I remember meeting her for the first time, a tall slim blonde waiting on a bench for myself and O outside the Mina A’Salam hotel, looking incredibly stylish and cool. Of course in reality she wasn’t any cooler than me – what she was was a wicked funny Aussie who reminds me more of Bree from Desperate Housewives than anyone else I’ve ever met. The three of us spent a very amusing evening together – and have had many, many more during the relative lifetime we have spent here.
Long term friends in Dubai are hard to come by and harder still to keep hold of as life propels us ever forward. I have been lucky enough to have kept a few close ones for the entire duration of my time here. I don’t see them too often, but like good friends anywhere in the world, I can just pick up where I left off a few months back. Problem is there is always the prospect of them(and maybe one day, me) leaving hanging over our heads, unlike at home. It’s taken me a long, long time to accept that in the expat world, close friends and longevity don’t necessarily go hand in hand. The conclusion I have come to lately, however, is that being an expat is a bit like being single: the longer you go without a long term relationship the more attractive one-night stands start to become. One of the mums from school (because I am now that irrelevant 30-something with kids) and I have recently ‘hooked up’ and get on really well. She is leaving in six months. The old me would have thought ‘what’s the point?’ and not bothered making plans for playdates with the kids or nights out. The new one thinks ‘what the hell’ and I have resolved to simply enjoy her company until she goes.
Another aspect to making friends in an expat community is that you don’t have to know each other very long in order to consider yourself close. A couple who we have known for just over a year recently left Dubai, and we were devastated because we had really enjoyed our time with them and genuinely considered them to be some of our best friends, despite the fact that actually we really don’t know an awful lot about eachother. The shared experience of simply living here plus a shared sense of humour seems to be what counts, and you make good friends in the strangest of circumstances as a result. I met someone at a soft play area about 18 months ago and whilst our kids never play together (in fact they don’t even know each other!) and we don’t have a single thing in common, we really enjoy going out for the occasional glass (read bottle) of wine and having a laugh to ease the day to day grind.
The pressure of course is to be friends, really good friends, with every person you meet. It is a relatively small pool and because you are thrown into it without any form of raft, the instinct is to find as many people as you can and grab onto them with all your might. But now I realise the best way to make friends here is the same as anywhere really – to just let it happen, and like buses, the really good ones will come along when you least expect it. Most will stay long enough to get you from A to B and some will stick around for a longer journey, but long or short-lived, really it’s the companionship along the way that matters. And if you can get to the end and have collected a few that will withstand the long distance friendships they will inevitably become, well then all the better.