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The Expat Experience; When Friends Leave…

by Dhyan Summers

Dhyan Summers
Dhyan Summers
Almost all expats have had the experience of good friends leaving, unless of course, we leave first. Many times I see clients in my practice who have had one or several good friends leave and they express sentiments such as “what’s the point to even making friends?” They may feel like they don’t want to open up and make new friends if they’re just going to leave. This brings up many interesting issues and is near and dear to my heart, as it is something that I’ve also had to deal with during my years as an expat.

As I am now an expat ‘old-timer’ in New Delhi, (I’ve been here 3 ½ years) I have had to deal with the loss of several good friends in the last year. One friend in particular had become a kind of soul sister to me very quickly. I knew she was leaving shortly when we first became friends, but decided to allow our friendship to deepen because it was giving me so much, and to break off our friendship made no sense. So I went into it with my eyes wide open which didn’t help a bit when she left. I felt her loss profoundly and was deeply saddened by her departure.

Yet I knew then (and still know now) that I wouldn’t have traded the experience of our friendship in order not to feel the pain and loss. For one thing, I was a better person for the experience of knowing this friend. But more importantly, it would have gone against one of my basic beliefs which is to experience life as fully as possible.

If I were to turn away from every experience that involved an element of risk or loss, my life would be very shallow indeed. Athletes and adventure sports enthusiasts know that there is always a risk involved in what they do, but the joy of the experience weighs in heavier than the thought of losing, or the element of danger involved.

So to answer my client’s question, “what’s the point of making new friends when they might leave?” My answer is that it’s about the quality of life you want to have. If you want a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” kind of life that’s risk adverse, than it might be better not to make new friends. You won’t have to deal with the sadness and loss of friends leaving, but you will also miss out on the joy and fun of having good friends.

I believe that everything that is of any value has a price. We might have worked hard on a particular project that we threw ourselves into completely and really enjoyed. Yet when it’s over we feel exhausted and let down. Does this mean that we don’t get actively involved in new projects? For me the answer is of course not.

And while there is a greater emotional risk to making friends with people who will leave than investing time in a project, I believe the issue is the same. For me, to experience life as fully as I can is worth the pain of losing a friend (or loved one for that matter).

At the same time, sadness and the wish to protect ourselves from feeling sad in the future is perfectly natural and understandable. We all want to enhance pleasure and minimize pain in our lives. Many have argued that these are core ingredients of our human-ness. And for a period of time, it might make sense to retreat and nurse your wounds. Just remember to be very kind and gentle toward yourself during this time. You are in all likelihood preparing the ground for new friendships to arise.

Dhyan Summers, MA, LMFT is the Clinical Director and lead therapist at Expat Counseling and Coaching Services. Visit at

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