When it comes to friendships in Dubai, mine were going spectacularly badly. My new acquaintances could be counted on less than one hand; the friend of a friend who met me on my first night in town when I sobbed into a pizza, the man on reception at my new apartment building who’d kindly, yet sinisterly, offered to ‘show me a good time’, and the woman in Waitrose who - after asking me where the tomatoes were - I’d proceeded to stalk around the store, forcing my phone number onto her in the vague hope that we could hang out together because it’s amazing - I like tomatoes too!
I’d arrived alone in the Middle East three weeks previously and damn it, I felt lonely. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have anyone to share things with. I knew that when I met people I was coming across as desperate to bond, but that’s because, well, I was.
So, it’s a wonder that my best Dubai friend and I ever got things off the ground because by the time we met I was positively hacked off with smiling at strangers and making small talk with potential pals – so much so that I’d lost my voice. Maybe it was stress, maybe it was the sand-filled air, but my feminine tones had been replaced with a husky whisper that made me sound like Rod Stewart.
As if this wasn’t proving a personal challenge enough, we were at the Oil Baron’s Ball – a magnificent event enveloped underneath a haze of Elnett hairspray, twinkling stars and cigars. If I hadn’t been speechless already, this would have rendered me into a similar state.
Vinny and I hit it off the moment I croaked to him to “pass me the butter”. With the help of exaggerated pointing, the Utterly Butterly eventually came my way...and that was that. We became inseparable. That evening I discovered that he worked in the same building as I did, he’d arrived in the UAE six months previously and, like me, he was finding it tough.
Being practically an old-timer in Dubai terms, Vinny knew all the best places to go and soon we were frequenting fabulous bars and restaurants while bonding over a mutual wobbliness of being catapulted into a strange new world. At last, my new life felt do-able.
Our friendship developed faster than they tend to back home. Without familiarity and our families, we quickly became one another’s support system. When I had a bad day he was the first person I’d rant with, when something amazing happened it was him I wanted to tell, when the taxi dropped us off at our prospective homes after an evening out, his was the text I’d get checking I was back okay. He was my obvious plus one for parties, the person in the seat next to me, and it’s Vinny’s name who is stated as my ‘emergency contact’ on all my medical records here.
Which is a little worrying now, should there ever be a medical emergency, as last month he returned to the UK. Of course, I knew that things wouldn’t last forever and that Dubai is transient, but it has still been an almighty shock. Is it okay to feel a little lost again and like I’ve been dumped? According to Susan Macaulay, managing director of coaching and training consultancy, unleashamazingyou.com, this is perfectly natural. “Human beings are social animals. We want and need friends because it’s in our nature to be connected. Some of us need more support, and when we become expats, friends take on more responsibility and meaning - I like to call them ‘framily’.”
Macaulay adds that I shouldn’t dwell on my sadness at Vinny’s departure but rather, I need to celebrate the good times we shared and remember that “ just because someone leaves, it doesn’t mean they’re gone.”
Of course, Vinny and I are still in touch. I miss him enormously, but I know the memories of our Dubai days will be some of the best in my life. In the meantime, if anyone likes tomatoes and is free on Thursday, do drop me a line…
How to beat the goodbye
Susan Macaulay reveals her top coping tips
1. Go beyond location
You don’t need to lose friendship just because you’re not in the same country, especially as we now have the technology available to connect virtually everywhere. Today’s Skype, chat, SMS and mobile phones make the process easy.
Celebrate the fun you’ve had and the memories you’ve created during your time together. Choose to focus on the joys of friendship rather than the sadness of being apart.
3. Reach out
Make an extra effort to reach out to others and to form new friendships. You will find you’re not alone in ‘losing’ a friend, and you may discover solace in knowing that others face similar challenges, joys and sorrows.
4. Make space
Create space for new friends to come in. While it may be hard to say goodbye, doing so offers the possibility of saying hello to someone new and interesting.
5. Take a break
Give yourself time to reflect on your friendship and to grieve the loss. It’s okay to feel sad, just don’t let sadness and loneliness consume you – life’s too short to despair. for too long!
Susan is also the creator of amazingwomenrock.com and shequotes.com.