It’s been 3 months since I moved to the Netherlands. Even though I’ve visited here several times before, my primary social network is through my partner, who is Dutch. Now, granted, I’m much luckier than many other expats who complain that they never talk to Dutch people EVER, but getting to know people here has been, and is, a difficult journey for me as well. My partner’s friends are her friends, and I love hanging out with them, but they’re never going to be **MY** friends.
But for this reason, I am in a unique position to experience what it’s like making friends in the US and compare it to what it’s like making friends here. I moved around a lot in the US, and I am NOT one of those people who’s had the same set of friends growing up. So not the case. I’ve had to make new friends every few years. In the school or college years, this was fine. As an adult SO NOT FINE. Can we talk about how different it is to make friends in our day and age, when quantity overrules quality?
So, on to the observations. In the US, I’ve felt and experienced that people in their 20s and 30s either already have their friends or are not very good with new friends. I’ve often met people who would say, “hey, let’s hang out!” and then I would never hear from them again. Sometimes that person is me, obviously, I’m very human and faaarr from perfect. But it’s often them too. And it’s not just that they find me super annoying so they never want to see me again. I’ve seen this happen to others I know as well. The only time there’s ever any success is when there’s a lot (not a little) of drinking involved, and people actually open up a bit and lose their inhibitions. That’s it though. The next time you’re sober, you won’t see them again. What surprises me is not that people prefer old friends over new ones, it’s that these people who are extremely vocal about forming new friendships are either not willing to put in the time or the effort to maintain relationships. Doesn’t stop them from complaining about it. YOU GUYS, you have to spend more than one evening with someone to actually form a meaningful friendship. Did. You. Know? So… that’s the US. I was lucky to have a good group of friends, and I am normally good about inviting people to hang out regularly, but I know that wasn’t the same for everyone. And sometimes me. I’ve been lonely too, and that’s those are the times when I discovered that yes, it is possible to watch over 90% of the movies on Netflix.
In the Netherlands… I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised by how things are turning out. Before I go into this, full disclaimer, the ending of this post isn’t that I’ve made life long friends in the 5 minutes that I’ve been here. Absolutely not. But I’m surprised by how I’ve not felt lonely too often yet. I have a few different channels that I’m currently exploring for socialization: expat groups, people at work I like, queer groups (I have to mention that I’m gay at least once per post, otherwise what’s the point?), and my girlfriend’s network. Let’s start with the last one because I’m cool and I like to shake things up. I was SURPRISED by how good they have been in reaching out to me to make sure that I’m having a good time here while my girlfriend is back in the US. She’s away for a month and a half before she’s back to spend sometime back here. I am shocked, if I’m being honest, at how they’ve reached out to me without her saying anything. All these nice people… what’s going on? Each week, someone new has messaged me asking whether I would like to hang out. Oh, and some repeats as well! In the 3 weeks that my girlfriend has been away now, I’ve seen friends of hers at least once a week, if not twice. This does not happen in the US. My friends are lovely, but they have not done this. It’s just not part of how they think. I understand that this is an expat privilege here in the Netherlands. Dutch people do not befriend expats unless you’re dating one of them. That’s just a fact. Because you see, the US is huge, but the Netherlands is tiny, tiny. Regardless of where you move in the country, you can stay in touch. So Dutch people already have their friends by the time you’ve graduated college. They do not want to hang out with another non-Dutch-speaking, potentially-non-bicycle-riding-expat. So I’ve had it good there. But why don’t Americans do what these Dutchies have been doing for me? Not sure I know the answer to this one yet.
The other sources of contact I’ve mentioned have to do with moving in general, naturally. But this is where I realized that it is SO IMPORTANT to have colleagues that you like. When I come home most days, I feel happy because I’ve had several pleasant and fun interactions throughout the day. Especially in a new place, this has been a huge source of comfort for me. As for the expat and the queer groups, one of these has been way more meaningful than the other. To no one’s surprise, it’s the queer group! While hanging out with expats in general has been fun, there is less that we naturally have in common other than the fact that we all moved to this tiny country and we all think that Dutch is so guttural, but man those Dutch women, eh? SO hot! Yeah, so, it’s the same kind of conversation each time. Which I don’t necessarily mind, but when I compare it to the conversations I had in the queer group, the latter is simply more meaningful because we have this strong common ground that we share. I think that would be something I suggest to those moving abroad, find the thing that stands out for you, a hobby, or a cause, and then seek others who have that in common.
All in all, the experience in the Netherlands so far as not been as bad as I expected without my girlfriend here. And to my fellow expats who aren’t dating a Dutchie, if you learn Dutch, your chances of befriending a local will increase exponentially. Plus, you get to do some throat exercises for free.