Life in Sweden, Thoughts

The Loneliness of Being an Immigrant

One of the things I didn’t take into account when moving to a new country was loneliness.

Looking back, I think it had always been in my peripheral view. I saw posts on Facebook and articles about it, but I only skimmed them and never gave it much thought. It wasn’t something that was relatable to me.

When I did my master’s degree in the UK, my social life was colorful. I was hungry for experience, and so was everyone, it seemed. Meeting new people and forging friendships were not a problem; I have met and become very close friends with some people from this time, with friendships that I deeply cherish. That’s how loneliness escaped my dictionary.

I should’ve known that everything is much different when you’re a student.

Now here I am, a working woman in her late 20s, living a life in a completely new country. Loneliness has never been this loud.

I’ve been to countless meetups and events, met friendly people and hung out with them many times; but none of them I’d call close friends. Familiarity, which usually comes naturally after some time, is completely absent. Conversations are often stilted, and meetups feel like work where I have to put a great effort to feel a semblance of friendliness. I become more and more reluctant to go out, preferring to stay home with a book instead. But then I’d think, ‘Well, you’re not gonna make friends this way,’ and force myself to go out. And so the cycle continues.

Is it just because I’m getting old, or because people here are particularly reserved? I don’t know.

One thing I realize is how much harder it is to be close friends with people when they already have a solid circle of friends, either from school, college, or somewhere in their early 20s. If many people are worried about finding a soulmate when they’re approaching 30, I’m worried about having close friends. How am I going to find them when they’ve settled comfortably with their longtime friends who have been through life’s highs and lows with them?

Meanwhile, I’ve grown apart with my close friends in Indonesia, and those I met in the UK during my master’s. As much as I fight to keep the friendships the same, I guess it’s just natural that it’s not as close as it used to be, especially when we live thousands of miles apart and don’t talk (let alone see) each other that often. I recently read Dolly Alderton’s book, Everything I Know About Love, and the passages about friendships in adulthood ring truer than anything.

“… But little did I know how much work it takes to sustain that kind of intimacy with a friend as you get older — it doesn’t just stick around incidentally.’

And one that I found so profound and gut-wrenching it made me cry:

‘The love is still there, but the familiarity is not.’

So here I am, with a distance between me and old friends, and a much bigger distance between me and the people here.

I wonder if I’ll ever have close friends in Sweden, and if I’ll ever find the sense of camaraderie that I haven’t felt for so long. I wonder if I’ll ever find home in the people here; or if I don’t, if I’ll be fine with the crippling loneliness that will forever follow me, an immigrant, around.

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  • Reply Bama

    I once read about this particular trait that seems to be shared by many Scandinavians: they have a really high wall around their personal life, but once you manage to go through that wall they’ll be very warm toward you, quite the opposite as to how they’re generally perceived. I don’t know any Scandinavians to confirm this, but from your story it sounds like that’s how they’re really like. Breaking through that wall may take months, years, or even decades, but I believe it’s an effort worth doing.

    Speaking about old friends, I found out that the older we get, the less people we keep in touch with. This is mainly because of practical reasons — people have kids, demanding jobs, parents to take care, and so on. But I also found out that along the way, we’ll meet new people who unexpectedly become really close with us.

    June 23, 2019 at 12:21 pm
    • Reply Dixiezetha

      I don’t know about that particular trait, but I hope it’s true.

      It’s also true about old friends, practical things get in the way and it seems harder and harder to find time for each other. I think that’s the thing that makes me sad the most. I’ve met new people but none has become close, hopefully it will happen someday. I’m glad you found it’s happened to you 🙂

      June 25, 2019 at 7:04 pm
  • Reply ohdearria

    I feel you Dixie. All you write above was what I had felt thru my almost 20 years living overseas. Exactly what I felt many many years ago. Funnily I found it was much easier and quicker to make friends with the English people rather than Australians. I found English people were more friendly than Australians. It took me almost 10 years perhaps to build friendships with people where I live now. It’s so true what you wrote, it’s hard to make friends when they already have solid circles either from school, university, etc. I mostly made my friendships thru my children, mother’s group, swimming lesson, and play date. I have few close friends now which is just enough for me. I’m lucky enough that I’m still maintaining my friendships with some of my high school friends and work colleagues back in Jakarta.

    Eventually you’ll have ones, trust me. It just takes time. For some people it’s so easy to make friends but for some, like myself, well it took almost a decade!🤪 Hopefully it won’t take that long for you🥰

    June 23, 2019 at 2:16 pm
    • Reply Dixiezetha

      TThank you Mbak Ria. It seems like this problem is more common than I thought. Reading your experience makes me feel a bit hopeful. Maybe it’s still possible, it just takes time. Seems like I just need to be patient. Thank you very much for sharing your experience Mbak, glad that you have close friends now 🙂

      June 25, 2019 at 7:08 pm
      • Reply ohdearria

        My pleasure and trust me, eventually you’ll have one or two or three🥰

        June 26, 2019 at 1:40 pm
  • Reply Aiko

    Aduh sister kita sama bangettt wish you were here closer and we could overcome that instantly!!! Semangat ya dix, kalo gw ada rencana kesana pasti gw kabarin! How are you btw?

    June 23, 2019 at 4:54 pm
    • Reply Dixiezetha

      Hi Mandaaa, gw baik (this problem aside haha). Makasih ya Manda, semangat jg buat lo 🙂

      June 25, 2019 at 7:09 pm
  • Reply denaldd

    Semoga bisa menemukan cara termudah untuk mengatasi kesepian di tanah rantau ya Dixie. Jadi perantau memang ga mudah. Sejak aku di Belanda, aku ga berharap lebih dengan yg namanya pertemanan. Karena aku tahu diri, juga ga gampang berteman. Apalagi kalau status sudah berubah, sudah makin menyempit circle pertemanannya. Lama2 kubikin santai saja, ga terlalu ngoyo musti punya teman apalagi yg orang lokal. Karena kalau kubikin ngoyo, takutnya ga sehat buat kesehatan mentalku.
    Semangat Dixie!

    June 26, 2019 at 10:02 pm
    • Reply Dixiezetha

      Makasih Mbak Deny. Walaupun aku juga ngga ngoyo, tapi ga bisa memungkiri kalo kadang2 kangen banget ngumpul2 santai atau cerita2 sama temen yang bener2 deket, yang belum aku dapetin di sini. Memang harus dibawa santai ya karena ga gampang & butuh waktu 😀

      June 30, 2019 at 7:58 pm
  • Reply aggy87

    Building friendships in your late 20s is definitely a lot harder than when we were teenagers (or in our early 20s). I really hope that you will find some close friends you can depend and rely on over there. You are a wonderful person with so many beautiful experiences and you deserve people who can truly see you as you are. The journey to get to that point may be long but I know you will somehow find “your people”.

    June 30, 2019 at 3:23 am
    • Reply Dixiezetha

      Thank you for your words Gy. It really is hard to build friendships in the late 20s in general, and even more so when you do it in a new place/country. I’m just clinging to the hope that I’ll find them after a while, and bracing myself for the time it will take.

      June 30, 2019 at 8:00 pm
  • Reply Christa

    I feel you Dix, and just like what Aggy said I know you’ll find “your people” again, hopefully sooner than ever. Btw, because of this post I just bought the book, it seems interesting!

    June 30, 2019 at 3:52 am
    • Reply Dixiezetha

      Thank you Christa! Curious to know what you think about the book once you’ve read it. I found a lot of things really resonated with me.

      June 30, 2019 at 8:02 pm

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