Most of my friends are in their twenties, some early and some late pushing into their thirties.
In Taiwan I have Taiwanese and western friends, but most of my friends have western sensibilities because of their interest in English speakers and their culture. Therefore I only meet the cross-section of Taiwanese society that is willing to endure my stinted Chinese or speak with me in English. Everyone has a limit to their reach into all venues of society, as a woman I will never be welcomed into the men’s bathhouse.
My Taiwanese associates are more frequently in serious relationships, or pursuing one earlier in their lives than their western counterparts. I think part of this has to do with the innate communalism of their culture, “I can never do anything alone” mentality. Also Taiwan parents encourage children to settle down by the end of their twenties, the partying and ‘finding yourself’ era prevalent in the west is unacceptable.
Relationships, friendships and otherwise are a keystone to being twenty-somethings. Despite our ages and backgrounds the nesting instinct hits hard in the twenties and for those expats attempting to flee responsibilities it can create a conflict. I want to be part of something, but I also want to be free.
I have a short list of couples in which I respect both parties. One American couple in particular has become my standard for a functional traveler relationship. They coexist well as a unit and as individuals; they have shared interests and independent interests. One of them might be at one party, while the other is in another country. Solid.
With that exception acknowledged I have to admit most relationships I witness feel forced. They want it to work so badly, and they don’t want to be alone. Relationships can be formed out of necessity, a need for intimacy and comfort. Creature comfort is important to all of us. Compromises can be expected.
I classic case is my Taiwanese girl biking friend. I spent most of spring and summer going on night bike rides with her, seeing her at many social events. Boom – enter vague Australian boyfriend. I haven’t seen her on purpose in six months, maybe because she seems dumber and I can’t respect her anymore because so much of her self worth is tied up in her relationship.
Nothing remains in her for me to relate to, she doesn’t bike anymore, she no longer goes on solo adventures, and I have ceased to invite her to parties because I know she will bring him. I will say she is still one of the sweetest girls you can find, and she is making an effort despite my radio silence. Too little, too late I’m afraid because when I don’t communicate with people frequently I lose belief in their existence. Especially, in the cases that I feel disappointed and want to forget people. Why dwell on past disappointments?
My third example is a tragic non-couple, forgive me for waxing poetic in my ambiguities. These two individuals are veteran travelers, friends, but with one-sided romantic love in the case of the man.
He told me about going from loving her at home, and then reuniting and loving her abroad. “Sometimes she wants to give me all I want,” and so it continues, strung along over decades of friendship. The free spirit and loving friend, both are independent, but incapable of the collaborative effort required in relationships. He sees someone else, his placeholder girlfriend and she parties on in a different city with other men. Then they are drawn back together magnetically by their shared history and friendship.
This is the mess we navigate in our twenties, abroad or at home. My hope is not that everything is perfect, but that I can learn something and be left with a lasting impression. This works, and this doesn’t. Try on the next shoe.