Finding Home When All Your Friends Have Moved Away
I’m pretty sure the workers at my local post office think I’m Pitbull.
Not because I’m an American music star who’s sold 65 million albums, but because I’m sure they think I’m a global playboy—a Mr. Worldwide, if you will.
Every few weeks I walk down a windy country road with a letter or small parcel tucked under my arm, each going to a completely different part of the world.
In Cork where I live, I don’t think there’s one generation untouched by widespread emigration. In the 1980s my parents went to London in search of more opportunities, some of their siblings to the US or Canada. In the 1950s my grandfather moved to Manchester to find work and support his family—some of whom never came back. My great-grandparents were the generation that joined the army or the priesthood, fighting Britain’s battles or spreading the Catholic faith abroad.
I don’t know much about generations before that, but the mid-late 19th century is tainted by The Great Irish Famine, when scores of people fled an economically and politically desolate landscape. Being a child of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ financial boom, I presumed this pressure to leave was something purely from the past. Why would we leave, other than on a brief work visa?
The financial crisis of 2008 hit Ireland hard. As I made my way through education things seemed to improve… until they didn’t. Headlines in broadsheets say things like ‘State recovers from recession’ when thousands of people are still currently homeless.
Despite all this, I love my city. I was born here, I went to school and University here, I fell in love here, and I thought I would probably die here. That may read like the opposite of a mid-2000s pop-punk lyric, but I like living here, and I really mean it when I say I wouldn’t be too upset if I never left. And, as you do when you’re young, I presumed that everyone else felt the same.
But I noticed that more and more of my peers, people I went to school with, worked with on the college paper, had cans and talked with until the early hours of the morning, people who were my friends… started to move on.
At first they went to nearby countries to continue academic pursuits—Masters degrees in Edinburgh, London, Manchester. But when their degree programmes ended, those people just didn’t come back. Then you’d bump into someone from school and ask about common acquaintances, and discover they had moved to Beijing or Canada. You’d check social media and find out that friends of friends had uprooted their lives and relocated to Japan to teach English, or Africa to become a doctor.
I had decided, however informally or subconsciously, that emigration wouldn’t be my life the way it was for my parents and generations before them, but that wasn’t a decision for me to make alone, it seemed.
“It’s hard to move on with your life when it seems to scatter itself across the far-off continents of the world.”
A 2016 Royal Society study determined that 25 is a key age when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships. 25 is the point when the number of people we maintain active relationships with begins to drop. You can take that a few ways – that it’s harder to meet new people, or that we focus energy on the most meaningful relationships. Or maybe we just get too busy with careers or romance to maintain as many friendships.
At the time of writing this I am 25. I am on the precipice, apparently, of when you stop making friends. I’m no longer in full-time education, and I work from home as a carer and freelance writer; all in the town where I grew up, and never thought I’d leave for long. You don’t realise how hard it is to make new friends until you aren’t forced to be in a room with people for hours on end.
After you get out of school, get a real job, start looking at house prices, you think you have everything sussed, but life keeps surprising you. Earlier this year my partner was offered a five-month internship in Luxembourg, with the possibility of further work afterward. This was the closest emigration had come to darkening my door. We knew it would be tough for the five months, but the question of ‘life after Luxembourg’ lingered – would the relationship be able to survive long-term long-distance, or would I finally regret doing Latin instead of French or German in school?
I felt lost, and truly alone. It’s hard to move on with your life when it seems to scatter itself across the far-off continents of the world.
There’s a saying that only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. I think we can safely add emigration to that list. Ireland’s population levels still haven’t recovered from the effects of The Famine, and emigration is a huge part of that. I don’t know what I’m going to do, if I will ever follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and peers by moving abroad, but I’m really hoping that life doesn’t end at 25 regardless.