The best and worst of Shanghai–making friends and saying goodbye

This post originally appeared on Shanghai Mamas. You can find the article here:

Spring. The dreaded time of year in Shanghai when we tally up all the friends who have just told us they are leaving as soon as school lets out. And every year it seems like a bigger number than the year before. Friendships here are often much more intense than even our long-lasting friendships back home, because these are the people we share our daily lives with when family and childhood friends are an ocean away.

So, how does a person survive with all the transition? What happens when the person you connect with most in this city is the one telling you goodbye? This happened to me last June; the family we became closest with in Shanghai repatriated two weeks after my second son was born. We knew for months that it was coming, and we did all the goodbye trips and dinners that are required to help ease the pain. But our last goodbye was still incredibly sad and emotional. It felt like a spell has been broken; the security that friendship brings to this lifestyle cannot be overstated. And when the daily connection ends, the loss feels much worse than it should for the length of time you’ve known the person.

To compensate for the loss, we left Shanghai for nearly the entire summer—seven weeks in all. It felt good to leave after I was just left behind. It allowed me to focus on the exciting summer we had planned back in the States instead of wallowing in my apartment during a sweltering Shanghai heatwave.

The physical break also allowed me to reframe my social life when I returned in September. I was able to step back and realize that my life could still be full and fun here even without a best Shanghai friend. I vowed to make a better effort with other friends I had lost connection with, and to seek out new friendships that revolved around my second child. Nearly a year on, we are the ones who are now planning to say goodbye to this city and the friends we have here.

I am proud of the ways I’ve compensated for the loss of my closest Shanghai friend. I’ve grown closer to other women through my older son as well as my younger guy, and have developed friendships through the work I do with the Shanghai Expat Association. I would not have enjoyed my first two years here nearly as much without my best Shanghai friend, but I realized I was able to make it on my own just fine, too.

This expat life constantly asks us to challenge ourselves, and making and losing friends is just another piece of our life puzzle. Here are some of my tips for making the transition easier:  

  • Take some time to privately mourn the loss. It’s perfectly OK to be upset about a friend leaving.
  • Make as many fun plans as you can while the friend is still around. What better way to get through than by creating more memories?
  • Write out your feelings. A goodbye & thank you card to your friend can be a good way to crystallize your feelings and share what the person means to you.
  • Take pictures! No matter if you keep in touch for years or simply let the friendship fade, you’ll always look back fondly on the friendships you made here.
  • Make a goal for your new post-friend life. Whether you rush out to find the next bestie or go it alone for a while, resolve to move forward in your time here and seize the opportunity to meet someone else great!

Have you experienced the loss of a friend due to repatriation or relocation? What did you do to make the goodbye easier?

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