How moving abroad saved my old friendships – and capitalism affected my new ones

I have to be honest. Not so long ago I was that snotty student at a party who happily neglected her past over a gin tonic while believing in a somehow glittering future elsewhere. I grew up in the Viennese suburbs, surrounded by nature and beautiful fields. My family lived close enough to the city center I could reach within a 40-minutes bus slash u-bahn drive and still so far outside that we could easily visit farmers markets on weekends if we wanted to, me usually complaining about it afterwards. As most citykids I’ve gone to school in that exact area, spending my free time between homework, shopping malls and volleyball halls with my team. I had a lot of friends. I went to a lot of parties. I was fancied. I took every interpersonal benefit for granted, which was handed to me naturally. At least that is what I thought. 

By the time I moved abroad for good I was nearly 24 years old and eagerly willing to leave my so thought “basic life” in Vienna behind. I wanted to meet interesting people I imagined myself with at gallery openings, bingedrinking sparkling wine for free. I wanted to get high in Berlin with a girl I’d call Trixy. Get some new tattoos (well, I did). I was not hating Vienna with the same passion people from the countryside often abandon their hometowns, still I thought there would be more to life than what I had known for the past two decades. 

The first year abroad was especially challenging, since I was hired at one of the biggest media companies in Germany and had to work my ass off most of the week, and sometimes on weekends too. I wanted to go home, but even more than that I wanted to hold on. It was hard to catch up with my old friends all the time. They were busy too, figuring life out in their own ways. We stayed in touch, as often as we could and saw each other occasionally every once in a while when I headed back home.

In Germany, I met tons of new people in the beginning, and I was truly willing to make friends. I went to dinners. I went to parties. Still, what I had not learned at that time is that it’s weird making friends after you have turned 25 – or at least started your energy-sapping first full time job. I clumsily stumbled into my co-workers as if they were my friends from highschool, knowing little boundaries and expecting the best to happen. I was curious enough to make myself an idiot in front of the others just to know more about stranger’s lifes and perspectives who didn't quite care in the end. 

Don’t get me wrong: I met a couple of loving and caring friends as well, who I admire and who I would have certainly not met if I stayed within my comfort zone. I have broadened my horizon. I met people who founded companies, run their own feminist medium, worked as editors or cooks in chief. Still, I was also faced with a lot of ego-graveness and career-focusing on a day to day level I have not known from home. Maybe it is Germany, maybe it is growing up. Berlin is a great place. But it is also a place filled with parents sponsored so called artists who use you as a mirror to reflect their own magnificence, lacking interest of really getting to know you. You could be anyone who fits the stereotype of a fashionable potential admirer.  

I talked about this to a friend lately, and we basically agreed on one thing: as soon as your studies are over, you become a piece of meat on the labor market. And being on that labor market, my dear, it changed a lot. Nowadays it is never quite clear if someone wants to hang out with you because you are a great person, or because you are a great possible hire. The line between being private and being business got so fine, I started limiting myself in conversations in a way I have not observed before. I laughed when I didn’t want to. I nodded when I disagreed. Conversations felt like walking over a minefield, waiting for something to blow off. 

I obsessed about these thoughts so often it made me cringe. I was insecure about whether or not I will “make it” abroad (whatever that means), if I was able to manage and keep a safety net of +-15 friends and caring co-workers, I could call in the middle of the night so I could actually imagine to stay in Berlin or Hamburg or München for the rest of my Twenties and early Thirties. I was insecure about the future as a whole. 

It must sound pretty obvious, doesn’t it. I moved to Germany for a job and to seek adventures, and exchanged that for safety, family, old friends and also a little bit of pride being a local who knows how to get to that fucking bar around the corner. And here I am, whining about it. It is no surprise that I have been struggling with moving on or moving away (again) for a while already, without blaming Berlin for it. Mostly, because I like the place where I am in my life. I like my flat. I like how I’ve developed into a better version of myself. I like some of the people I’ve met too. I like having the freedom of being a freelancer, earning money by writing essays and columns and keeping my independency the best I can. Nonetheless I am missing some security and belonging too, which mostly appears to me when I am back in my beloved and transgressed hometown again. 

Only yesterday I realized that my “shortest” friendship in Vienna already lasts since four, and my oldest since unbelievable thirteen years. I was never the one who went to class reunions, the one who thought it would be important to stay close to your old mates, because how hard could it actually be to make new ones? Wouldn’t it be better to just reach out to the people who I thought were exactly like me: ambitious

The thing is: it might not be hard to make new friends, if you study abroad in your late twenties or if you work in a non-competitive environment. But the pressure to make it as an artist, as a writer, as an actress, as a painter or as a musician is so omnipresent, it is covering most of my current relationships (with a few exceptions, this one goes out to Laura, Franz, Tamara, Caren and Christina) that I really don’t feel like pressuring any new ones. I rather stay in bed, watching the new season of LOVE, or writing an essay. Calling my best friend in London. 

I'm not alone with these worries. The career-driven people who are so eager to write hilarious essays about being alone are just as unhappy with the situation itself, without realizing that they are partly responsible for it. If you run away from the feedback of your closest peers because you’re too obsessed with your own narcissism, do me a favor and don’t call it friendship – buy a fanclub or a few more likes on Instagram. Illusiveness is not friendship. That's hypocrisy. The older I get, the more I crave for the good old times where it wasn’t so much about who is the smartest and the most successful. It was not about who landed the biggest deal. 

So, if there is one thing that I have learned about moving abroad, it’s that I want to pursue my oldest friendships and protect them like my signed copy of Laurie Pennys Bitch Doctrin, because those people have known me before all that happened. They have known me when I was pure. When I meet up with them, I never feel the pressure to perform and I don't have to think about whether I am being “too much”. 

I do not want to measure the importance of a friendship solely according to its duration or shuffle all encounters. Just because a friendship lasts long, doesn’t mean it’s automatically better and just because we are strangers does not mean we can not form a bonding connection. But there are tendencies. There is disappointment.

The media industry is certainly blamed to an extent, and triggering me when it comes to personal relationships. An industry, which relies on interpersonal relationships more than outsiders imagine and only grants entrance to those who behave and speak and listen in a certain way. An industry, which often tells their own employees (who are, isn’t it ironic, journalists) to shut their mouths to prohibit bad PR. 

I never quite fit in and I probably never will. And as time continues, I am getting very good at accepting that, simultaneously being grateful for what I have – and if it’s just an exit-ticket outta there and being able to live a pretty normal life surrounded by pretty normal people. People who have met my parents, seen the house I’ve grown up at. Who’ve seen and known a me that does not really exist anymore, and whose remains can’t be transferred to the present. 

I am thankful (OK here I said it!) for the people who I have known so long we took pictures as teenagers together. People I can text “FUCKING HELL I’m waiting 15 minutes at Aspernstrasse, when is that fucking bus finally arriving, it’s 5 pm jesus” to without explaining where I’m heading to. People who I went to highschool-parties with and got shitfaced in our neighbours garden. The ones I can be really honest with, without fearing judgment or social exclusion from a group. 

Being home feels better with every encounter, every lesson I’ve learned, because what I thought I missed was actually having a little bit of distance and a little bit of time for myself to figure it out in the end, not necessarily the opportunity to cut off my whole security net. I am not as adventurous as I thought – and definitely more of a family person than I imagined. 

That Easter weekend I had a walk through the fields where I grew up. I saw bales of straw, the alleys I've passed thousands of times before. It was the first day of spring, the sun nearly sunken and as I headed back I felt this deep sense of belonging I have never felt based anywhere else than right here, at home.  

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