• When I was invited to join a book group, I sat on my hands, trying not to contribute as much as I wanted to, conscious that I was hopeful to return. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
It’s hard because you dilute who you are, or at least who you feel safe to be with older friends.
By
Fernanda Fain-Binda

15 Sep 2020 - 9:14 AM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2020 - 9:14 AM

An old friend leaves me a voice message on WhatsApp. She’s thinking of moving countries.

I listen to her voice as I walk my dog. I remember seeing her, the different ages that I’ve known her flickering in my memory. Her voice was always adult-like, even as a child. I think, walk, and reply.

"Migrating is hard," I say. "Not just the process, because there are rules. It’s everything else. It’s lonely."

And that’s the truth. You don’t truly know what it is like to start from scratch, until you do. 

Friends from your previous life support your journey. Their love is there in considered messages and parcels from home. It’s there in the quickness that they respond to you, or when they say, "Are you actually OK?"

When you first move, you must always be upbeat. No one likes a grump. You don’t know how the local system works, what’s an acceptable outlet for frustration or how your words will be interpreted. Even with native English, meaning is different here.

Two years after moving to Melbourne, I gave birth to our second child. The experience was a great validation of me and my partner’s decision to migrate. Our local hospital and post-natal experience were supportive, attentive, kind. Nothing was too minor when dealing with our precious new-born.

Two years after moving to Melbourne, I gave birth to our second child. The experience was a great validation of me and my partner’s decision to migrate.

I was less anxious as a new mum in Australia. Second time around, perhaps. But also, because I knew my child had access to medical support and a good local education in a way that we hadn’t in London. He and his sister were better off growing up here.

"How are you finding it?" Asked another mum in the park one day.

"Oh, I’m tired!" I laughed. My son woke a lot, my back pain was an issue, and I was trying to find those extra hours in a day to let my husband and my daughter know how much I loved them.

"Is there anything you’re enjoying about this at all?" She asked in response and there the conversation ended.

I had always enjoyed bumping into her, walking the same path with our similar aged babies, and I thought I could be honest. Not complaining, just truthful. I was tired and I loved my baby.

It is just hard making friends when you are always on your best behaviour. It’s hard because you dilute who you are, or at least who you feel safe to be with older friends.

It is just hard making friends when you are always on your best behaviour. It’s hard because you dilute who you are, or at least who you feel safe to be with older friends. I am an opinionated person, I make jokes, I talk a lot. These are difficult characteristics in a newcomer.

I tried keeping this under wraps. When I was invited to join a book group, I sat on my hands, trying not to contribute as much as I wanted to, conscious that I was hopeful to return. Instead of being passionate, I was polite. I reined myself in and it made me unhappy. I couldn’t be that person. Eventually I left the group, sensing disapproval and holding back tears.

My partner told me to stop trying to be what I was not, and he was right. Before and after babyhood, I focused on my career, another sector of unwritten norms. In working hard, I missed my closest friend here, the one I lived with.

Together, we talk about friendship a lot. What we miss and what we don’t want to compromise on.

Moving countries is going from a forest, populated by trees of all ages, to a field where you plant the seeds. Some grow, some fail to take root. You watch for green shoots, and sometimes you miss them.

On voice messages I hear birdsong from New York, and street sounds from Zurich. Friends who lived through 2020’s main events before we did, telling me how they’re doing. The messages run long, without interruptions, minutes full of emotional honesty.

I replay these messages when I can. They are mini podcasts of patience, and I can reply with how I am doing, actually. It feels good to say, "I am finding this really hard."

There are women in Melbourne that I can have that conversation with, now. These are friendships that in themselves give me joy, where both sides are watering the new life. I look forward to watching them grow.

There are women in Melbourne that I can have that conversation with, now. These are friendships that in themselves give me joy, where both sides are watering the new life. I look forward to watching them grow.

Yes, I miss old friends and I miss going on dates with my husband. These have to exist in different forms right now. I also hope that one day my old friends can meet my new ones, and that I can go for a long walk with the man I love the best.

Four years into living in Melbourne, I try to be myself in my relationships. Sometimes I am tired, or I complain, or I talk too much, or I rant about the world. I also love to read, talk about fashion, riff passionately on anything that breezes past in this one amazing life.

It is as true and as contradictory as feeling lonely, but not always.

Fernanda Fain-Binda is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. She donates a portion of each fee to charity.

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