All nomads come from a more settled life, and they bring with them the close friends they’ve made through work, school, and community. How is it possible to sustain and grow these friendships while continuing to migrate every few months or years?
I’ve dealt with this challenge for a decade—mostly successfully, I believe—and here’s what I’ve observed. Much of it pertains to family relationships, too.
Deep friendships are hard to sustain no matter where you are. I spent a recent summer living in the heart of San Francisco, surrounded by long-time friends and my extended college network—and they were all so busy that I hardly saw them. The plain fact is that as people get older, friendships take a back seat to work and romantic relationships. Lots of people become desperately lonely even when living in the same place with the same friends year-round. And there’s no telling when a good friend might pick up and move across the country. The challenge of sustaining friendships affects everyone today, not just nomads.
When you do live in the same place as your friends—and they’re available—it’s fantastic. Having the privilege to meet your close friends (or family) for spontaneous walks, talks, meals, drinks, and group activities is truly wonderful. Such brief, ongoing, day-to-day interactions lead to deep connections. This is why college, workplaces, and local communities can hold such significance in our lives. When a long-term nomad finds herself in a particularly rich social scene, she should definitely consider sticking around longer to reap the benefits. There’s no shame in shaping your nomadism to make room for high-quality connections.
But quality can matter more than quantity. Nomads might only see certain friends once or twice a year, but when they do, they have the incentive to make these interactions more intense and memorable (think: a big dinner, road trip, or outdoor adventure). In my experience, such rare but high-quality experiences can do just as good a job of maintaining friendships as less intense but more frequent day-to-day interactions. The worst-case scenario, of course, is infrequent and low-quality, unmemorable experiences. That’s what leads to the dissolution of once-strong connections.
You need to be the initiator. Whenever you’re going to be in the same area as your friends, reach out and let them know ahead of time. Suggest a meeting and then follow up a few days before to confirm. You’re the one who’s moving all the time and hard to track, therefore it’s your responsibility to initiate communication and meet-ups with your friends.
If you decide to live somewhere for a while, choose a place that your friends will want to visit. I spent a recent summer living in South Lake Tahoe, California, which is a world-class outdoor destination. Despite the fact that Tahoe is three hours away from San Francisco, I had way more Bay Area friends visit me than I did when I lived in San Francisco itself. (It gave my non-Californian friends a big incentive to visit, too.) Choose the right location and your friends will come to you.