I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fickleness of time and space. For every month that I’ve been in Germany, I have had several scheduled calls with my friends abroad. It’s to the point where I unconsciously keep my Saturday mornings free because I usually reserve them for catch-ups. Sometimes I have to worry about a 7 or 8-hour time difference, other times I only need to worry about 1 hour. Sometimes I have to worry about looking presentable for a video chat, other times I only need to worry about my battery life and audio quality.
My friends and I are all in different time zones, and figuring out how to be with each other again is usually a comedic affair. We’re millennials, you see, so not even something as straightforward as setting an appointment comes easy for us. We have things to do, and people to see in real life. But the idea of maintaining the connection we enjoyed while we lived close to each other is too enticing to pass up.
So that’s why I’ve been thinking about the fickleness of time and space. The other day my niece (she’s 3 and a half now and asks all the “Why?” questions) asked where I was. My sister and I jumped at the chance to explain what it meant to hop on a plane and go far, far away to be in another place, another country, with other people. Then my niece asked if that’s where my mom went. The silence after this question wasn’t awkward as much as it was tense. Maybe I am where my mom went. How can I be sure? It’s this question that has sent me into an introspective tailspin about these relationships I have with people all over the world and they’ve left me with one question for you all: When will I see you again?
Corona has made the possibility of never being able to seeing your people again once they’re abroad, a very real and scary reality. It’s hectic when you think about it in terms of family too. But at least now that we’ve lived through 2 years of varying lockdown regulations, we have more assurance that the governments are not so cruel as to keep us away from our familes in desperate times. So the question becomes: When will I see my friends again? It’s beautiful to hear about each other’s new adventures; our challenges; and our growth, but all I want to know is when we’ll be able to eat chicken nuggets as we watch the sunset together again.
I grew up moving from place to place in my early life, so leaving friends behind to make new ones in a new place stopped being scary a long time ago. When my best friend moved to Wales when I was 14, I was really sad, but at least I had that childish hope that we would meet again one day (and we did at her wedding!). Now I’m older and more cynical, and I’m asking what sounds like childish questions about slightly stressful adult versions of the same topic.
Somehow it’s always been easier with childhood friends though. After high school, none of us had much expectation of living in the same neighbourhood or raising our kids together because we’d already planned out such different paths for ourselves. So every time we have been able to meet again has felt like a bonus. But the friends we’ve made on those chosen paths? Well, one would expect to see people they’ve worked with through industry circles at some point, or through common friends. But going abroad takes those possibilities away. Don’t get me wrong, being abroad and making new friends is easy 60% of the time. A lot of the basic needs I couldn’t meet back home are not a concern anymore. I am free to go out and be part of more stuff, enjoy more experiences and meet new people in ways that money and transport used to restrict me. I’ve finally climbed past the first two tiers in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but now I’m wrestling with the last 3.
I haven’t figured out the answers to overcoming these yet. I have thought about a few possible solutions though like maybe planning my trips according to where my friends live. Or maybe getting a bigger place so I can host people. I could do all these things but without hope, they are kind of empty actions. At this point, I just need to reignite that childlike faith that I will indeed see my friends again. I feel like a Victorian-era poet writing about the longing to see my loved ones again. Not the look I thought I would don in my 30s, but here we are.
I went to Berlin recently for a concert. It’s funny that it took me more than a year of living in Germany to finally go. I’ve been planning to visit Berlin since before I even imagined I would work and live here. I remember I even used to tell my students this when they asked where I wanted to travel next. Why? Well, because I have friends there. And even pre covid, I had ambitions to keep in touch and see them again. But this wasn’t my first planned meet-up with an old friend post covid. Before this, I went all the way to Rotterdam to meet up with another friend I hadn’t seen in 3 years. Why? Because when you are a Victorian-era poet and you get a chance to catch a train to the Netherlands to see a familiar face while they are vacationing, that’s what you do.
And was it everything I had hoped for? A big fear of mine that goes unmentioned when I ask about when I will see people again is the fear of a lost connection. What if it’s not the same as it was? What if after all these years apart we’ve grown so much that we’ve grown in different directions? What if in all these years apart we’ve realised that our friendship wasn’t that great in the first place? What if we realised that we didn’t want to be friends anymore? What if in all these years apart we’ve just stopped caring? These questions are my anxiety. I know that, but as a wise YouTuber once said, anxiety doesn’t care if something is real or not, it’ll still make you feel the weight of that false reality at full force (D’angello Wallace, a smart youngen).
So how was it? And how will it be? It was great and if these two trips are any indication, I think the future meet-ups will be the same. I think as people of the millennium; we forget that our ancestors, the ones from just 50 years ago, used to have less contact and communication with their loved ones. People used to go away for work or other reasons for years at a time and come back to continue with their people as if no time had passed. I guess this is a side effect of this super-connected world we have built and are still building. There’s a sense of urgency that we have placed on time and proximity that we don’t know how to be apart peacefully anymore.
But maybe that’s just me. Therapy is teaching me that a part of me has a problem with being apart. Who knew there could be such a thing? Anyway, I’m working on it. In the meantime, I’ll probably continue to think about the next time we can meet again.