Until now, I have greatly underestimated the importance of estrogen in my tribe, an underestimate I’ll never make again. I have always been the girl who preferred friendships with men. Thinking back, I’ve only ever had a few girlfriends because I preferred the simplicity of hanging with the guys. I clearly didn’t know that I was missing out on a type of comradery that I would come to value more than anything in Geneva.
I am pushing girl squads hard, and I know it. At every opportunity, I talk about how I could never have made it through my time in Geneva up to this point without my own group of powerhouse women to guide and support me through all the changes to come.
Perhaps you’re wondering why these relationships are of the utmost importance to me?
Let’s begin with the fact that moving to a new country is hard on anyone. It was really difficult for me because moving abroad was also my first experience traveling to Europe. I’d never been so far away from my home or my family before and to be perfectly honest, the experience was traumatic. Culture shock is not an arbitrary term that therapists throw out there for their own enjoyment; it’s real and it can shake you to your core, as it had shaken me.
There have been so many days that I’ve looked in the mirror, unable to recognize the person staring back at me. It was in those moments that I needed gentle reminders of my own strength and my will to survive the hardships that come with living abroad.
My friends are the reflection of who I want to be.
Those reminders came to me in the form of a Lebanese independent researcher, wife and mother with a heart of gold and strong sense of self; a witty French traveler who has lived in more countries than I’ve visited and has an extremely keen interest in people, whose radiant smile is always from her heart; a Swiss firecracker who loves learning and teaching, who will give you shit or the shirt off her back depending on your approach (but always with a smile because she’s so sweet); a Venezuelan/Bolivian/Swiss adventurer, who dares to follow her dreams and happiness, wherever it takes her, making sure to leave each person and place she sees a little better than before; a Londoner of Jamaican heritage who possesses an incredible capacity to create and a drive to find success like none other, who dared to follow her husband to live a more rural life than ever before; a French woman of Cameroonian descent, who is a professional blogger, businesswoman extraordinaire, new wife, soon-to-be mother and fierce confidence coach who does it all with impeccable style; and a French-Moroccan newlywed whose experiences are similar to mine: she doesn’t speak the same first language as her husband, followed him to Geneva, and is bravely establishing her life while looking for work in the male-dominated tech industry.
Let’s also not forget that a partner cannot fulfill every single need. Not only is that the makings of an unhealthy situation but it’s just too much pressure for anyone.
Girlfriends are something special. In Geneva, I have found my friendships with men often lack the type of support that I need at this point in my life. Not because they are unkind, but because I just can’t relate to them the way I can relate to the women in my life. Not really being able to lend a sympathetic ear in discussions about periods and pregnancy is the least of my concerns.
I’m more sensitive to their often very direct approach to sensitive subjects for me, where they many times lack the gentility I need. For example, most of the times I’ve felt discouraged about speaking French, men were mainly the ones who caused it in their attempts to be humorous. When asked if I am currently enrolled in lessons, I explain that I amnot and men often quickly retort with something sarcastic along the lines of, “That’s a great way to learn: don’t take classes”, while women tend to inquire about why I have such troubles with learning, always following with words of encouragement, suggestions and offers to help. In fairness, I’m hypersensitive as a result of all the changes I’ve been through and am still accepting, but I just love the way we nurture.
I also acknowledge that sometimes other women can be unsupportive or personalities just don’t mesh well, which is why a specific tribe of one’s own is so important.
My particular group of girlfriends is comprised of some of the most supportive women I’ve ever met. In times of sadness and homesickness, they rally around me, reminding me that family doesn’t always equate to blood relations. Sometimes family is a group of people who have found each other in times when they needed each other most.
My girlfriends have all moved to Geneva from elsewhere, and they are really diverse, which lends to stimulating conversation, many different types of fun and a supportive network of people who have successfully done what I’m trying to do now: integrate. It is through them that I am able to feel safe, less afraid of the unknown and certainly more daring. They allow me to feel all the feelings and say all the words, always free of judgment and the callousness that I’ve experienced. Sometimes I just need solidarity and my friends never fail to show up and stand with me.
I greatly appreciate my friends, but when I look around at them all, having an apéro, discussing politics, technology, motherhood, a new DIY project or the next music festival we should attend in Croatia, I am often reminded of how much they inspire me. This is a group of women, which wants our friends to succeed just as much as we want success for ourselves. We uplift each other and are there for each other when we need it most, in ways that men sometimes just can’t.
This post was originally published by Modern Classic Daily on September 8, 2016.