Expat Loneliness – a taboo subject? - Anja Angeli

Expat Loneliness – a taboo subject?

Does this sound familiar to you? It is 9 o'clock in the morning. Your children are at school, your husband is at work or even worse, traveling the whole week. You look at the clock and wonder what you should do all day. 

Seven hours until your children are back from school. Actually you should clear the breakfast table, but you first  should do some sports. But somehow nothing pulls you to the running shoes. Outside is great weather, but the thought of a walk triggers only a yawn with you. Maybe meet with the other moms from school? All smiling and nobody honest about their situation - no, you don't have the strength for that. But  you could unpack a few more boxes from the move. After all, you have time now - or what did your husband say the other day? But you can't get your act together for that either. Well, then take a quick look at your mobile phone to see what's going on. Hours later you eat something and you notice that of course nothing exciting was going on in your Facebook feed, although you tried to scroll through to the end. It occurs to you that you actually still have to do the laundry, but that can wait. At least you sit down and see what you can do next holiday. Finally it is time to pick up the children and you are relieved that you have something to do again.

Do you know this situation? Maybe not that extreme, but at least a bit. The days can be long if you are at home as an expat partner. Boredom catches up with you and there are days when you don't even get to the smallest details. Most expat partners experience this - some more, some less. But hardly anyone talks about it, because somehow it's a bit embarrassing. People are often to blame themselves. 

If you ask other people, hardly anyone admits to being bored. It's better for everyone to tell you how much they have to do. A standard answer  to the question: "How are you?" nowadays is more and more "Busy", ouch, it feels like somebody is rubbing salt into that wound.

Nevertheless, after the first weeks of expat honeymoon where it is very exciting the newness wears off. You feel lonely, a sense of being cut off from others. Even if you have learned german to a certain level, you are managing your daily life - it takes time do develop real friendships and to overcome that loneliness.

A lonely society?

Apart from expat loneliness this seems to a a broader problem also in german society. At the beginning of last year Marcus Weinberg, spokesman of Christian democratic Party (CDU) suggested the installation of a government commissioner to follow the example of the UK in combating loneliness. And also on facebook a campaign against loneliness was launched this year.

The concept of friendship in Germany

An important factor for you to be aware of is that friendships in Germany just take longer than in your home country. People in Germany are more distant, when they don't know each other well they great each other by shaking hands instead of hugging or giving a kiss on the cheek. Smiling at each other is rare. Germans have friends and acquaintances - people you know but don't share private things with. And it takes time to come from acquaintance to friend. Once you have reached that stage - you will mostly have a friend for life - but real friendship in Germany also means that we can tell each other our honest opinion, and if your friends are thinking you are making a mistake, they may tell you so - this is what we call "real" friendship. 

What can I do?

It might also help to be honest and tell people that you are new, feel lonely and are looking for things to do with friends, but that takes courage and is not not for everyone. Join Network Clubs like InterNations or on MeetUP, also these  are often loose networks and  it takes time to get beyond Smalltalk. Get a routine, get out of the house, even though you are not making best friends in the beginning. And be gentle and compassionate with yourself.

Find a meaningful activity

Especially expat partners who have worked before or were firmly integrated into a large family or a circle of friends or another social structure feel the loss painfully. Suddenly you see no sense anymore in the things you do and think that you can let them be the same, because nobody cares anyway. The loss of a meaningful task that fulfills you and makes you happy usually leads to boredom.

Give life a meaning again. That is of course much easier said than done and it does not go from one day to the next. At least not on a large scale. But maybe you can find meaning in what you already do. So you could think about why it is important that you do certain things and what happens and means for others or your life if you don't do it. Which things do you think make sense? And which ones don't? Make yourself a list. You can also look at what is important to you in life in general. What are your values? Which organizations would you like to support? I'm not saying that you have to do that in concrete terms, but maybe you'll notice that you're always drawn towards nature conservation. Then you could look for small projects that go in this direction. Find a project in an area that interests you. Gladly a small, something that satisfies you. It doesn't have to take long. But once you have started to act and done something that you think makes sense, you will get more ideas. You may also get contacts who can give you more ideas or with whom you can do other projects. 

In his book "The Power of Moments" Chip and Dan Heath write: "Insight comes from action and rarely action from insight." This means that you first have to get into action. Then you get insights and can continue to act. 

So, as you can see, there is so much more to loneliness than just the fact that you have nothing to do. You can get out of the loneliness, but it takes some work on yourself. If you are willing to do that,  you will be happier and make your time in Germany a great experience.

As an expat coach I can help you with this and begin to move forward. Together we will find your purpose, rediscover your joy, and help you to make your expat life in Germany a success.

Listen to my webinar today: 5 steps to finding success and fulfillment from an expat life. Find out how I can help you to rediscover your identity and find in your new expat life in Germany today.

Do you agree? What are your experiences in beating loneliness?  Have you got any useful tips on finding a meaningful project or becoming a part of the local community? I would love to here your stories and experiences of life as an expat spouse. Add your comments below. 

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