It’s funny how we gravitate to people just like us. It’s a fact that I learned in social psychology–people are attracted to people like them, whether in friendship, work or relationships–but it’s still shocking to think about its application in real life.
My friends at home are all remarkably similar to me: while there might be some variation in race or religion or political leanings, we are all college-educated, (upper) middle class, from supportive (although often not traditional nuclear) families. Most are within two or three years of my age. We went to high school or college together, played on the same sports team or were in the same sorority, worked in the same field or lived in the same city.
One of the joys of traveling has meant that my friend group is suddenly not quite so “just like me.” I have more male friends. I have more friends who are older or younger, more friends who never went to university or ones who went to more exclusive schools than I could ever dream of. My flatmate is an Australian carpenter, a “tradie” who is 10 years older than me and who is the most Aussie bloke possible-and we actually get on better than when I lived with girls whose closet I shared and whose background was identical to mine.
However, I’m struck by how many of my closest friendships have fallen into place because of similarities. In France, I quickly fell into place with the English-speaking expat crowd. We bonded over the “us verses them” mentality of living in France, the act of accepting but not understanding cultural differences in customer service, in food, in relationships. In Australia, many of closest friends are Americans. Even though we are from small towns and big cities scattered across the States, we all miss cheap Mexican food, we don’t miss the politics and we can commiserate over being the only one out of our friends with a passport.
After living in France, I thought making friends in Australia would be a breeze–no language barrier, fewer cultural differences, added value of being from California (the thought of palm trees and the Beach Boys always wowed the French). But it was a challenge–just as my friend group in American doesn’t “need” any new people, neither do established friend groups here. By virtue of time, persistence and a few too many ciders at a regular Sunday sesh, I’ve made some incredible Australian friends.
Are they just like me? In some ways. We chat about boy problems, we get pedicures, we like to spend a Friday night in watching a chick flick and drinking a bottle of white wine. But in other ways, it’s a constant learning curve. The slang is different, expectations are different. Dating here is a whole different ball game–I’m constantly in an internal debate over whether something “means” something or if it’s simply a normal Australian move.
Making new friends is never easy. Of course, when you’re forced to do it every few months, it gets easier–you get more used to taking risks, saying hello, being willing to put yourself in a potentially awkward situation. You can’t rely on friendships formed in university ice breakers or sorority pledge classes. You have to put yourself out there, and hope that you attract someone just as cool as you.
In university, my friends and I joked that I wasn’t friendly–but I was a good friend. I like to think that travel has been the singular force in making me friendly, simply because it forced me to put a smile on my face, go for a drink and hope that someone would find my sarcasm endearing.
Do you find yourself making friends with “similar” people across the globe?