It’s been awhile since I’ve moved to Singapore. Nine months, to be exact. In that time, I’ve made one friend here.
Making friends in adulthood is hard, that’s something I’ve always heard from adults. Once the environment of school is gone, there’s less chance of becoming friends randomly with people. There are no more classes that force you to see the same people so often that you become friends. No classmates from the same major to complain with. Things become different.
There was a Wong Fu Lunch Break episode at some point that talked about making friends in adulthood. I tried looking for it but I have no idea where in their channel it is. It hit me hard at the time because I was graduating and thinking about the job world. Still, I had my friends in the US. The ones who would carry over from college.
Here? It’s completely different. 22 years away from Singapore means that I came back to zero friends. I was too young for them when I’d left, and it’s different now that I’m 24.
The first friend I actually made was through church. She remains the only person I actually consider a friend. Everyone else I know here is either extended family or an acquaintance.
We were introduced randomly by a couple that sat next to me and my dad. It became a group lunch and we exchanged numbers. Then we texted once. Twice. Thrice. And soon, we were friends. Particularly, we bonded over how hard it is to make friends at our church, something I’ll dive into more as I go.
Liyun is the only person in Singapore that I would actually call a friend because we’ve spent some time hanging out 1-on-1 and text at least once a week. She’s someone I shared the news about my new job with, something I still haven’t told other people at church. We talk about the fact that I got close contacted for the third time this year. We’re friends.
And somehow, after 9 months here, I don’t feel like my friend circle will be expanding any time soon.
The sense of not fitting
Going to church in person was supposed to open more doors for me to meet people my age. Joining the young adults’ group was meant to be a way for me to bond with them. I attended my first meeting with them back in February and have been going quite regularly since. I did skip this last week because I was tired and not feeling great.
I’ve appreciated having a designed time each week to see the same people, but if I’m going to be honest – I rarely feel like I fit.
Dynamics here are different. I find Singaporeans more cliquey than other cultures I’ve lived among. Even Americans, who tend to stick to their groups too, have made me feel more welcome. Here, I am stuck with the sense that I’m not going to be let into a friend group.
Perhaps that’s my misinterpretation. Perhaps that’s not true. Then explain to me why none of these “friends” greet me at church save for Liyun and maybe two other people?
Each time I walk into church, the chances of these “friends” greeting me is low. Even if we see each other, make direct eye contact, and I say hi. Somehow, they only nod or don’t acknowledge it. I get the sense that it would be really different if I had know them longer, if I was more local.
Once or twice, I can overlook that as them not having seen me. Weekly, that gets harder to ignore. It gets harder not to notice that they’ll band together quickly after service is over, going off to lunch plans that I don’t get invited to. That even when I’m standing right next to or in front of them, no one asks if I want to join.
There’s only so many times I can ask to tag along before it feels like all interactions are initiated solely by me.
At least with my co-worker, it’s easier to be friendly because we sit next to each other in the office, grab lunch together, and leave work in the same direction. Already, we been able to bond over both growing up as creative types and pursuing it as our career. Plus, she’s had cats and I currently have Tabby.
It’s early in our time working together and I don’t want to presume that we’ll become super close or anything. Having someone to sit with and talk to at work is nice, but it still leaves me with only one person I can actually call a friend.
Sometimes I wonder if that’s largely because I’m an introvert. From what I’ve observed, many people in my church group are more extroverted than I am. Even the introverted ones are louder than me.
I’ve never considered myself a soft spoken person before. Not even in settings where I don’t know anyone. If anything, I think people notice me because I tend to share my opinions strongly.
My time in youth group as a teen taught me how to get along with a lot of different people, to make conversation about random things, to socialize well even though people exhaust me. I had no trouble making friends at my youth group after the first few weeks.
Other kids took me in as a friend and my circle grew from there. Eventually, it solidified and settled, but I never stopped making friends with other people. That never prevented me from talking to someone new or different.
I carried that into my college years. My initial choice to focus on getting used to in-person classes after a lifetime of homeschooling meant that I put friendships on the back-burner. Still, I had people I knew from orientation and I was getting to know the people on my hall. It changed when Jemi decided to adopt me as her introverted friend, but I still didn’t struggle to make friends before or after her.
Being around people is generally quite tiring for me. I don’t know how I survived college, but it was probably 50% of the reason why I was perpetually tired back then. It takes me awhile to get used to seeing people for long periods of time, more so when I don’t know them well. That’s always how I’ve been.
There are times when socializing too much in one night makes me feel like I got hit by a truck the next morning. My recovery period requires more isolation to balance out how much time I’ve spent around other people. Consistently seeing people also affects how much and how quickly I can recover from each social situation.
I’ve tried to make the best of it. To say yes to spending time with people because I know it’ll mean getting to know them better. I’ve been more intentional about it since joining my church. But that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t always want to be around people or have the energy for that. I do my best when I can.
Now I feel like being introvert is the reason I’m not making friends. That despite me trying to be at LifeGroup meetings, trying to participate in conversation, it’s not working. No matter what, I get the feeling like they don’t want to be friends with me that much.
Yes, I’m quieter, especially compared to extroverts. That’s never stopped me from being friendly and it’s never negatively affected my ability to make friends. If anything, being quieter has helped because I get to observe other people and learn more about them first. It helps me navigate the ways in which I choose to connect with someone.
Finding common ground
I suppose that’s where this comes in.
9 months here and I have yet to find anyone who shares my interests. Well, I met one person, but she’s six years younger than me and I think it’s a little weird if I keep spending time with someone who hasn’t graduated from high school yet.
I think the things I like are varied enough that some kind of common ground can be found. At the very least, I can talk about enough hobbies and ask questions so that I learn something new about what someone else enjoys. I just haven’t found people who like what I like.
A conversation last month with some church acquaintances during lunch led to me talking about how I enjoy reading and how I post about it online. After a couple of questions of their end, the conversation completely died. Since then, none of them have brought it up and I haven’t felt like there was room to bring it up either.
My history of being a dancer has only led to the question “So are you good at TikTok dances then?” and nothing more.
Even discovering that some of them love Taylor Swift’s music has somehow not opened doors to conversation. Because I’ve learned that most of the people in my church group stopped listening after 1989 came out in 2014.
Not that I can’t talk about her earlier albums. Red was my favorite before folklore was released. Rather, it’s awkward when I bring up anything past 2014 and no one has heard it or knows what I’m talking about. There is one person who engages with me more when the topic of her music comes up, and that’s it.
The only two big interests I have left are Marvel and true crime. I get the feeling that the former would do better than the latter. Somehow, no one has brought up Marvel yet in any conversation. With Moon Knight coming out this week and Multiverse of Madness coming out in May, that might open doors to talk about it and see if anyone else is a big fan of the franchise.
A lot of them are sporty. I’ve been invited to go rock climbing with them a few times and I do plan to take them up on it one day. The reason I haven’t is largely because the last time I went, it was at the request of an emotionally abusive friend. And I have a hard time wanting to do things that remind me of him.
Not feeling like I have common ground with them is hard. I’m trying my best, but when conversation dies the moment my interests come up, it’s hard not to feel like it’s my fault. Adding in the fact that I’m rarely included in conversation in general and that makes me want to try less.
I get it. Friend groups are solidified over a period of time. It’s hard to break in when they’ve been friends for 3-10+ years. It’s even harder when they make you feel like they don’t want to let you in. Or that becoming part of the friend group requires so much effort and energy while they do very little to make it feel like a welcoming space.
And the reason I get to talk about this so openly is because none of them are friends with me on social media at all. There’s no chance of them coming across this.
Lastly, there’s local culture to get used to. Things are different here compared to the other places I’ve lived. Humor, interests, opinions, communication. None of it is what I’m used to. I don’t think I’ve ever been this aware of how much I’m culturally unaware of in a country that is supposed to be my home.
Because I haven’t grown up here, even language is a barrier. I don’t speak Malay or Hokkien, so slang goes over my head. Jokes that incorporate those languages make no sense to me either. Unless a conversation is purely in English, Mandarin, or Cantonese, I don’t understand what’s going on.
It’s hard to talk to other people my age who grew up here because of that. Speaking to me is the equivalent of speaking to a foreigner, except I’m Singaporean by birth and citizenship. I don’t want to keep asking what things mean or reminding them that I don’t understand what’s going on.
The humor is what strikes me the most. So far, I haven’t found anyone else with the same sense of humor. My attempts at making jokes have fallen so flat that I had to ask Jemi if I’m funny. It’s so awkward when I make a joke related to the conversation at hand and no one reacts.
This is something I’m not sure how to adapt to. Do I continue making jokes awkwardly and painfully until someone gets it? Is it better to stop making jokes? Am I supposed to pick up a 4th and 5th language to understand what everyone else is joking about or saying?
Coming back, I knew I was going to struggle with the culture. It didn’t occur to me how much that would affect my ability to make friends.
Thankfully, I have made friends through my Bookstagram account. People I talk to at least once or twice a week through comments and DMs. I’ve met people whose taste matches mine, people who enjoy talking about representation in literature, and people to buddy read with. There are great people that I’ve met there.
None of them are people I could meet in person unless I find the money to travel. At least right now, I have to be satisfied with talking to them online.
Some of these people have become trusted sources for whether I would like a book or not. Some of them share my diasporic experiences from living in Western culture. Others are people I’ve known in real life who ended up having Bookstagram accounts and that’s how we keep up with each other.
Interestingly, these people I know from Instagram probably know me better than the people from my LifeGroup. I’m no different in person than I am online, at least, I try very hard to keep things consistent. What you see is what you get, and I do my best to make sure that’s the case no matter where or how you meet me.
Perhaps the difference here lies in how often I post online and the little glimpses people get to see into my life. That parasocial relationship creates real bonds in some cases and turn into real friendships. All because we choose to talk about books in a shared space and commented on each other’s posts often enough to become friends.
I suppose that in some ways, writing this was me needing to express something that I find difficult to put into words. A lot of it can be subject to interpretation, I’m well aware of that.
This isn’t me trying to dismiss my side of things. I know I can be incredibly abrasive when people first meet me. That’s something I generally try to tone down here, though it’s hard sometimes because I keep getting asked if I’ve moved back here for good.
I do have a part in this. I can make more effort, be more extroverted, go rock climbing just to see if I can get off the ground.
Still, it’d be nice if it felt like there was room for me in their circle. It’d be nice if it felt like people were interested in me and my interests, rather than me being the one to ask questions all the time. It’d be nice to sit with them during a meal and not be excluded from the conversation because no one turns to me to see what I have to say.
I want to have friends here. Having friends would give me a better sense of attachment to this country, to the place I’m living in. It would be good for me to know people here for as long as I’m here. As much as I’m fine being by myself, imagine what it’s like to say that I’ve lived here for nine months and have one friend to show for it.
Friendships take time. It’s only been a few months of me being part of my church and slowly meeting people. But I think it says something when I can walk into a space and no one greets or talks to me because they’re too busy talking to their other friends in the same group.
I don’t know what good it does me or anyone else to put this online. Some might say that it’s unnecessary and overly dramatic. Others can read this as me complaining and not trying hard enough. A few might understand what it feels like. I don’t even know why I’m putting this out here except that talking to my parents about it and writing in my journal isn’t enough anymore.
If I could be honest with my LifeGroup and tell them this, I would. Right now, it doesn’t feel like that would go over well. I’m not close enough to the clique to say such things.
Time will tell if things change. For now, I have to accept that making friends here is a slow-going process that may or may not pay off.