And it’s not that I’ve been trying super hard, because I haven’t and admittedly I could have tried harder. At first I went to expat meet-ups and, as fun as they were, it’s easy to chat to people in a bar and make small talk. I’m just kind of over that. It’s getting past the acquaintances stage which is the hardest part and the bit which involves effort, putting yourself out there and perseverance. Which I’m totally willing to do but then finding people you actually click with is another roll of the dice. It’s not that I’m shy in the slightest, but I’m also not super out there. I also have a husband who has come on this adventure with me so perhaps that has meant I haven’t thrown myself into finding my Dubai besties as I’ve already got one with me. But I’m not the kind of person whose partner is enough – I need a solid bunch of friends I can ask for a drink when I’ve had a rough day at work and they’ll be there. When I wanted one-on-one girl time in London, I knew who to call.
Back in the UK I didn’t have millions of friends, don’t get me wrong. Some people manage to maintain friendships throughout school, university, job after job and end up with hundreds. I’ve never been that kind of person and maybe it’s just because I can’t manage that many relationships at one time. I can count on one hand the friends I still have from school, and the same for university. Which maybe sounds sad when you think about it but the friendships that I do make and maintain are solid. I’ve known my best friend from school for over 18 years and although I haven’t seen her in over 6-7 months I know if she walked in the room now it would be exactly the same as it’s always been. My friends I’ve left in London are the same – we all lead such busy lives but it didn’t matter because when we did meet up nothing had changed. They say you really only end up with about 10 really, really good friends and that definitely rings true for me.
So maybe that’s why I’ve been a little slow on the friends-front here – because it takes time to find people you genuinely want to be friends with. Am I being picky? I don’t think so, I’ve just not met the right people yet. But I’ve also never really HAD to meet people and try to be friends with them. You go through school and university and friends just kind of happen without really thinking about it. Here, making friends is literally like dating! And dating sucks! It’s like, OK, we seemed to get on well, I wonder if she thinks the same? Shall I ask for her number? Should I text her first? Will it be awkward when we meet up, what if we have nothing to say to each other? It’s so artificial and so very un-British that you don’t want to put yourself through it!
When I got a job back in January I thought the problem would solve itself – in my previous job I used to instigate after-work drinks all the time because I genuinely loved hanging out with work people and letting off steam. I found myself hanging out with work people more than my actual friends which was worrying! But it’s just not really worked out that way here. I’ve come into a role where I don’t have much in common with my team, and I’m also the manager of that team so as much as I love them, there’s that line there between boss and employee which is very prominent. The rest of my company are mostly real estate agents (I run the customer service team so I don’t get to interact much with them) which is great as a new person to Dubai IF you are joining them. Working in sales is always massively sociable and I’m pretty envious of how easy it is to settle in for the new agents coming in as the work hard, play hard mentality is great and they’re ‘all in this together’. But I’m kind of an outsider in comparison – I’m one of the people in head office who you don’t really ever see in a large company! There are others in the office who I do get on with in various roles and I’ve been out on a couple of ladies nights with them which has been really fun but they’re not new to Dubai like me, so they’re super settled in their lives and, being so very British, I feel awkward trying to squeeze myself into their already socially sussed-out lives.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! I meet up regularly with a girl I met at the end of last year at a meet-up group and yesterday we went to brunch with her, her boyfriend and a couple of their friends, followed by more drinks, followed by a trip back to theirs to meet their puppy, before ending up in the pool and finally tumbling into a cab home. We’ve also gone to Oman together, and ladies nights – so I’m not totally incapable of making friends! We also go to a pub quiz every Monday night with some of my husband’s work mates and we have racked up so many brunch vouchers from coming first, second or third that we have organised a brunch in the next few weeks. It just takes time to build the kind of friendships which I’ve left back in the UK and I guess I just need to come to terms with that.
Yes I get a bit jealous when I see people from work hanging out together at the weekend – why wasn’t I invited? How does she have so many friends? Am I just really socially incapable?? No! Moving to a new country is a fantastic experience but with the immediacy of finding a place to live, starting a new job, exploring, hosting visitors etc, and the total awkwardness of having to make friends from scratch, it ends up taking longer than anticipated.
You may not trust me on the matter after reading this, but my tips for making friends are as follows:
Say yes to everything! We still do this now and it just helps build those layers of friendship which help the transition between acquaintance and friend. Even if it’s not something you want to do, just go anyway, and hey, you’ll be glad you went out your comfort zone.
Join groups – the first thing I did in Dubai was join lots of meet up groups. Yoga, expat meet-ups (and then women’s meet-ups when I realised the normal ones were basically just a meat market) – whatever hobbies you’re into. I never met anyone at yoga but it was a good way to discover a new area I’d never been to!
Be ballsy – this one I haven’t been good at and that’s maybe why my progress has been slow, but if you hear people at work talking about a new club opening, ask if you can come along. Text the girl you met at yoga yesterday and ask her if she wants to go to a ladies night. The comfort zone must be broken out of! Yes, it’s hard, and sometimes you’d rather just be lonely and watch Netflix but for the sake of your sanity, just give it a go.