When I was 23 years old and living in North Carolina, I dated a guy who was 38. We differed in fundamental ways, some cultural, some related to our distinct stages of life and how rooted he was, among other issues. I was unmoored and struggling with living without my family around for the first time, caught between a conservative upbringing and the desire for freedom in every sense – and that included a gnawing travel bug. He wasn’t a traveler and had no intention of ever moving from that particular city, the latter due to his deep attachment to his group of friends, who were like family.
I couldn’t understand his relationship with his friends because I’d never had something like that; plus, I resented having to give up at least one day pretty much every weekend to sitting around always with the same people.
During the off periods of our very on-and-off relationship, I managed to start consolidating my own separate relationships with friends.
I’d been moving every other year since I was a baby because of my parents’ itchy feet, and had become good at starting over, unsurprisingly sucking at building any foundation with anybody. While my romantic connections continued to tank, those few years in North Carolina gave me what felt like my first community of friends and I’d truly begun to appreciate it. I also sought therapy – call it “quarter-life crisis” or whatever – and was managing to face some bitter truths for the very first time.
And then, during my happiest period thus far, the email I’d been waiting for since I first visited Europe five years earlier finally came: my chance to move there – on a scholarship, no less.
The timing couldn’t be better careerwise, since I’d grown to profoundly dislike my newspaper job, but it couldn’t be worse in terms of personal life. I had to sacrifice so many amazing relationships to follow, across the ocean, what had become my only aspiration. I had no plans other than to abandon the daily grind in the US and embrace study and café culture.
My first several years in Europe were mostly magic and discovery, a blur of evenings and colors and sparks and landscapes through the windows of planes and buses and trains – and yes, plenty of cafés.
There were always a lot of people around then, though never for long. I spent most of the money I’d saved up since I started working as a teenager and didn’t think anything of it.
But later I went as far as I possibly could in my studies and found myself in Leipzig without a base on which to build my life as an adult, both personally and professionally. The going gets tough when you try to settle down here and it took me years to secure a decent job in my field.
At the same time, friends don’t come as easy as they did in the early years in Leipzig. While I did find somebody to love, neither of us eventually felt like we had a community here (although he is German), and that’s at least as important as a romantic partnership. Most of the friends we managed to make have been itinerant like us or otherwise too busy with their own lives and growing families. Also, many of my relationships with people in Leipzig were linked to the LeipGlo project somehow and once we stopped sharing that connection, we stopped hanging out altogether.
For my part, I think I’ve defaulted to my “starting over” mode since the pandemic rocked all our foundations and maybe I’ve unlearned how to keep friends (those who are like family), if I ever really learned.
Whenever a crisis rears its head, I’m not sure who to turn to outside my two-person household. We don’t talk with our neighbors other than the strictly necessary and there’s no such thing as dropping by unannounced on people you know since smartphones became the primary mode of communication. We don’t have children, or family members closeby, either. I seek solace in playing simulation games and binge-watching series and instead end up feeling worse, like I’m wasting all my free time with fruitless endeavors.
My mind inevitably goes back to North Carolina and sitting with the same people almost every weekend. Having reached the age of my boyfriend back then, while having lived in five countries, I can finally understand the pricelessness of being able to count on what feels like an unmoveable harbor. Now I wish I had one and think he’s truly lucky for his.