Ask Colin: Missed Connections

For us, meeting people we liked and had a good time with and then losing track of them has been the hardest part of travel.

How have you dealt with the loss of all the great relationships garnered in your travels?


Hey Pat-

I feel the same about the relationships one makes along the way.

One of my absolute favorite aspects of travel is being able to see the world from a different angle for a time, and that almost always involves meeting new people, building new relationships, and sharing experiences with new friends.

The short answer to your question about how I’ve dealt with losing those relationships I’ve made along the way, though, is that I generally don’t. Not the most vital ones, at least.

Not all relationships are going to look the same, and some will take place over vast distances and long timeframes, which can make them seem a lot different from the friendships you have with the people living next door, or your colleagues from work.

The key to maintaining friendships over time, from anywhere in the world, is to ensure that you tailor the relationship to fit the relevant people and circumstances, rather than the other way around.

If you decide that all friendships must be a certain way, then valuable relationships that fall outside that circle might be ignored or left untended, despite being potentially wonderful, were they judged for what they are rather than by some other standard.

If you can allow yourself to perceive someone with whom you only speak a few times a year, or someone you only see once every few years, as a friend, then you’ve given yourself permission to perceive and enjoy a much broader possible spectrum of friendships.

As a consequence, you’ll be able maintain more of them, across space and time, without burning yourself out or needing to mourn their passage. Because they’ll be diverse and interspersed, and not all will require the same investment of time, energy, and resources.

There’s nothing at all wrong with having in-person friendships, people you see every day, or every week: there are certain types of shared experiences you’re unlikely to have within any other friendship category.

But there are also benefits to allowing yourself pockets of shared time, followed by periods in which you go your own way. Giving yourself the chance to miss the other person, and to look forward to catching up with each other the next time you’re in the same region.

It’s possible to have rich, meaningful relationships that take place entirely on Skype or via email, that are primarily video or audio or written word-based; typed, digitized, or handwritten.

It’s also absolutely okay to fall out of touch, to have relationships with a beginning and an end.

Some of my most valuable interactions have been with people I hung out with for a period of days or a sampling of hours in some far-flung place. Because of circumstance we lost track of each other as soon as we left our shared hostel or bus, but that loss of contact doesn’t make those moments, those conversations and experiences, those memories any less valuable to the people involved.

It’s important to remember that we all have a finite amount of time, and finite energy we can spend on the other people in our lives.

It often makes sense to think of our relationships as existing in different orbits around us: some are closer in, given a great deal of our time and attention, while some are further out and absolutely worthwhile, but perhaps not tended to daily, or weekly, or even yearly.

These further-flung relationships are still there, ready to be rekindled if the situation warrants. And there’s a good chance that with each rekindling, you and the other person will have changed, grown, and will have all the more to share with each other as a consequence of your separation in the interim. It’s also possible to change orbits when you reconnect with a friend from the past, circumstances or personalities having evolved so that it now makes sense to invest more in that connection.

So while I do miss the friends I’ve made when I leave one home for another, I try to keep in mind that there’s no wrong shape for relationships to take, that friendships can be valuable even if they don’t all fit within the same template, and that it’s okay to find value in the temporary: to learn from and fondly remember moments in time spent with other people, even if those moments eventually came to an end.

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