Going to Canada, making friends wasn’t something high up on my list of things to do. Our plan was to go for only one year as per our visa, and who can make friends in a year?!
Something that stands out about cities like Vancouver is that there’s often a very transient population – people coming and going for jobs and study and the experience of living there. It sadly leads to a large proportion of people being very lonely. In fact, that was one thing I read over and over again about people’s experience of moving to and living in Vancouver.
What’s interesting is over the years just how many people have settled in the city. This includes people of many generations. In the three years that we lived there, I could count on both hands how many people we befriended were actually born there. Compare that to my nine years in Preston, I could almost count how many people weren’t born in the local area on the same number of fingers!
The UK has much less of a movement mindset than other parts of the world I am aware of. Everyone but myself and one other couple left Preston after graduation to return to where they were from…
When we arrived in Vancouver, we quickly settled into our church. They held a young adults lunch after every Sunday service where everyone there took it in turns to cook. Most people attending were around our age and we very quickly met and connected with lots of them.
With what seems like the majority of people in Vancouver having moved to the city at some point it gives everyone something in common, and there are instant conversation starters with people you encounter, which all lead to genuinely interesting connection – How long have you lived in Van? What brought you here? Where in the city do you live? What do you do with your time? And numerous questions about home culture, life, family, favourite things, etc. (NB: When you do meet someone who was actually born and raised there, it’s an entirely different feast of a conversation to have!)
A quick aside – Something I love about people in Vancouver is there’s never shame telling someone you can’t remember their name. It’s again a result of people coming and going so much – if you meet someone for a second or even third time and their name slips your mind, you can just say as much. In the UK, I would rather just never admit to it and do all the avoiding their name whilst they’re there and then later, do at-home sleuthing to recover the name in my mind.
Before we knew it we had made some really good friends in Vancouver. Between church, the young adults group, a Meet Up Settlers of Catan night, and in our third year me studying at Regent, led us to establish great friendships. Little did I know, that at the end of our first year in Vancouver, the thing that made us want to stay more than any other was the friends we had in the city. So my thoughts of “who can make friends in a year” had a very clear answer – us! The initial concern of Vancouver being a lonely city was obliterated by the kindness of those around us, which we in turn, shared with those around us. An honourable mention must be shared here about our apartment building too – we met so many kind people in the lift/elevator and lobby of our building – a cold shoulder or silent ride to your floor was non-existent.
Even through the pandemic we kept meeting with certain friends (we zoomed in the lockdown times, and bubbled with them when we could). I was astonished to see that the pandemic actually strengthened some relationships, and a few friendships even began and blossomed in those times.
When we decided to return to England, I was apprehensive about friends. Leaving the ones we had in Vancouver and returning to ones here in England. What I learned from a Christmas visit pre-pandemic was that life goes on even when you’re not around – people move, get married, start new jobs, have babies. Life no longer looks the same and you can’t expect to slot back into the hole you created when you left. So my apprehension was pretty much – will I have any friends to return to?! Both returning to England in the short-term and hopefully returning once again to Vancouver in the long-term.
It has to be said at this point, outside of chit-chat on instagram I am pretty rubbish long-distance friend. I am as much a Quality Time person as you can get, so for me, if I’m not physically in a room with a friend, I struggle to maintain the relationship. Not good in either this day and age, or in the state of life we currently uphold. I am horrible at returning messages, and hate phone calls. So, that’s that.
My first month or so after coming back were filled with reunion meetings with friends, and it was great to catch up with folks from different walks of life gone by. As time went on, the meetings dwindled down. There’s a couple of people I catch up with every now and then, but other relationships seem to have run their course.
Looking back on friendships in my past, the best ones seem to have been unexpected ones. In the UK prior to leaving for Canada, they were the people I lived with at uni, who I was randomly placed with in first year, but got on great with so carried on living together for the whole time; and the sister of a friend from church who I went on to become really close with – we also lived together. In Canada, we connected quickly with my co-worker and her husband; we started doing a weekly Bible study with a couple who lived a couple blocks from us – their kids were closer to our age than they were, but we shared so much life, love, food and wisdom together that we became very close; friends we played D&D with throughout the pandemic became instant buddies; people I went to for pregnancy advice and support became very important friends; and I met new friends at Regent, one in particular who I spent many hours with on walks, park benches and coffee shop couches chatting to. Now that we’ve returned to Southport we’ve instigated a weekly dinner with a couple and their son who is four months older than Maisie and it has been the most life-giving relationship, if we have to miss a week we really feel it – but before we left, we actually weren’t that close at all!
So I wonder… Is it something about the unassuming characteristic of the relationship that makes it good perhaps? The fact that they’re unlikely friendships maybe puts less pressure on them to be something, and then they naturally flourish?
Looking closely at each of the described relationships above, I do see one thread that closely links them all – regularity. It’s the people who are knee-deep in the dirt of life with you that you become close to. When you share hardships and celebrations with someone consistently, the bond automatically becomes stronger. It seems that spending time with people is what counts.
Is that going to make me an expert moving forward in beginning and maintaining relationships? Definitely not. Is that rule going to apply to everyone? I’m not sure. Maybe it works so well for me because I am such a Quality Time freak.
Who knows what it really is that makes a friendship work, but whatever it is, I sure am glad for the friends I have picked up along the way.