“You’re my best friend,” he says to me in a drunken slur on New Year’s Eve. “Really, you are.”
I stand there, with the red brick stupa glowing gold in the night. What do I say?
“Really? I don’t think so.”
Never an easy thing to admit to someone whom you thought was one of your closest friends. And, certainly never the thing to admit to the person who is saying how they feel about you.
But, the truth is this — I’m no one’s best friend here. I don’t have a best friend here. I’m lucky to have a small core of people whom I love and adore, but if you took me out of the equation in their lives, it would be a minimal loss.
Because that is the way friendships as an expat in Chiang Mai go.
People come. People go. People swear up and down they will be friends with you forever. Then, they pack their bags and head to a far off land and you have fleeting conversations courtesy of Facebook Messenger. Moments of seeing their faces thanks to Skype or FaceTime or whatever-the-app-of-the-day is.
It used to really bother me. Like, devastate me, when people left. People I had grown so accustomed to having in my life. People I thought I could not not have in my life.
But, you know what? I can. I do. Sure, it takes a few days to get over the initial sting of changing a routine, of knowing I can’t pick up the phone and call them because their SIM card is now a different country code, but I move on. And, so do they.
Friendships here are odd. There is a community I have found here. A community of people of all ages, with all different desires, doing all different things. I used to love it. I used to relish nights spent having cheap beer in the sticky night air. And then, I fell out of love with it.
It’s a rat race of a different sort. Expats in Chiang Mai (and yes, I am being quite sweeping and general) are clawing for something. They just don’t know what. Some come here to teach. Some come here to be digital nomads. Some come here because their lives were shit where they used to live and they need something — anything — to give their lives some sort of meaning. To fill some sort of void, even though they aren’t sure what that void is.
Up until now, I have rolled over. I have played the part of a submissive dog and let anyone come and scratch my belly because it felt better than curling up alone. I’ve sacrificed what I have wanted because others did not want it. In a city that is as charming as it is toxic, I have skipped moments, things I have desired, because others did not feel the same pulse, the same electricity, the same things calling to them that were calling to me.
I have been taken advantage of. I have been used. I was that shitty tattered doormat, that person in an abusive relationship that kept coming back for more. And, it is all my fault.
“D, I don’t like it when friends take advantage of you,” my friend says to me across the bar.
I stop sipping my Leo and look at him.
“What do you mean?” I ask, because I am blind.
“We are all friends, and to treat you like that, to blow you off … that isn’t the way you treat people.”
When he says I am being taken advantage of and I don’t deserve it, it hurts more than I imagine.
Friends don’t do that. Friends … real friends … no matter where in the world they are … don’t treat you like you don’t matter. That you are expendable. And yet, here I am, sitting in Chiang Mai, thinking I have so many close friends, and they aren’t really. We are all in this together, only it is every man/woman for his or herself.
So, today starts something new. Today starts boundaries. To not just rolling over and letting people treat me like I don’t matter. That what I want isn’t as important as what they want.
It isn’t easy, but it is about not being complacent. It’s about getting out of my comfort zone. And, that is totally ok with me.
Disclaimer: To my expat friends reading this, this is not an attack on you. If you are reading this, then you know me well enough to know I love you with all of my heart.