The season of heart wrenching goodbyes are upon us. At this time of the year, the transient nature of Hong Kong is clearly evident. As the summer is fast approaching and the school year is coming to a close, many people are starting up afresh moving to a new country. If you are impacted by friends relocating, remember that you’re not alone in experiencing feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Forming meaningful and close friendship bonds in later life can prove harder to establish compared to the educational years, when you’re naturally forming social groups in rather structured environments. In fact, English and Carstensen (2014) found that social networks increased in size in young adulthood and declined steadily throughout later life.
Building intimate long lasting friendship relations can play an important role for your mental health. Especially in the absence of close or extended family support networks as is frequently the case within the expat community. Due to the closeness of the relationships, it can be extremely painful when your friend relocates. However, there are ways of staying close despite the physical distance. Below are some suggestions on how to best cope during this challenging time.
Explain your intentions
Before you both part ways, tell your friend explicitly that you want to continue the friendship and remind them that you would like to stay close. Gerst (2020) explains; “Chances are if you’re feeling uneasy about this upheaval, your friend is, too. But it can’t hurt to remind them that you want to stay close and maintain your friendship in spite of the geographic divide.” If your friend is on the same page as you, identify and agree on different ways to keep the relationship going strong.
Keep in touch through various means
A good way of continuing building the relationship is to not communicate strictly through texting or via Social Media. As you are busy going about your life it’s tempting to retort to quick messages. According to Rollo (2020) relationships need phone calls to keep the connection going. Some people find regular scheduled zoom calls supportive in order to continue the relationship after the move. Plan future trips to strengthen the bond and provide hope.
Create memories to keep
Expressing the importance the friendship has played in your life can bring you a sense of closure. Further process your emotions through creating new memories such as a socially distanced leaving party, dinner, junk, hike, drinks or another activity you love doing together. Relive and capture the special experiences you’ve shared together through editing your favourite movie clips or picking out photos of favourite moments to include in a keepsake book.
Engage in self-compassion
Practise speaking to yourself in a kind and compassionate manner. It might sound fluffy, but research has demonstrated that self-compassion is strongly linked to our mental health and well-being (CCI, 2021). Remind yourself that it’s fine to not feel excited and happy about your friends move. It’s only human to feel sadness about the changing nature of the relationship. Acknowledge any feelings without judgment and slowly let them go. Set the intention that you will adopt a supportive stance towards your friend and their new start in life.
Avoid isolation and reach out
It can hurt to feel like you’ve been left behind and others are going off on their new adventures, but try to still maintain connection with others. We humans were evolved to stay in small social groups to protect us against dangers and this sense of belonging is still vital in today’s society. Build relationships with other likeminded individuals, remember that many people are in the same situation as you.
Be patient and show vulnerability
In order to develop a deeper friendship with someone, research shows it takes on average five longer conversations to connect and it is important to share something personable to create a bond (Hendriksen, 2018). Relax and let your personality shine through. Be vulnerable as well as open and friendly. Thankfully, in general people find it hard to relate to individuals perceived as perfect. Kindness is a trait rated highly in a future friend. Stay attentive and share something personable, as it will make you more relatable.
Living in a busy city like Hong Kong, it’s common to develop feelings of anonymity and loneliness. If you’re struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. They can provide support and collaboratively identify a strategy to guide you through a difficult time.
Centre for Clinical Interventions, Government of Western Australia (2021), https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/CCI/Consumer-Modules/Building-Self-Compassion/Building-Self-Compassion—01—Understanding-Self-Compassion.pdf
English, T., & Carstensen, L. L., (2014) Selective narrowing of social networks across adulthood is associated with improved emotional experience in daily life. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38(2), 195-202. doi: 10.1177/0165025413515404
Gerst, E. (2020) in Wong B., (2020) “How to maintain friendships when your friends move away.” Huffpost https://www.huffpost.com/entry/friends-long-distance_l_5e5d698ec5b63aaf8f5b89ce
Hendriksen, E., (2018), “How to Be Yourself”, episode 131, The Psychology Podcast.
Rollo A. (2020) in Wong B., (2020) “How to maintain friendships when your friends move away.” Huffpost https://www.huffpost.com/entry/friends-long-distance_l_5e5d698ec5b63aaf8f5b89ce