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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Why a goodbye in the UAE can be particularly bittersweet

The UAE goodbye is a hard art to master. Each time, it feels a little bit like you are being left behind.

The UAE is often described as a transient place. Antonie Robertson / The National
The UAE is often described as a transient place. Antonie Robertson / The National

Transient is a word often used to describe the UAE. Certainly, when I moved here nearly a decade ago, it was common for people to spend just a couple of years in the country before moving on to (supposedly) greener pastures.

New to Dubai, far from family and friends, and feeling like university freshers all over again, people made frantic efforts to expand their networks, but were also wary of investing too much time and emotion in people who might move to the other side of the world within a matter of months. So, instead, you approached friendships with a measure of caution – and steeled yourself for a constant stream of goodbyes.

The UAE goodbye is a hard art to master. Each time, it feels a little bit like you are being left behind. Each time, it makes you question how long you yourself intend to stay in this country and how (or indeed, if) you will know when it’s your time to move on.

In many cases, while you genuinely care for someone and really do hope that you will see them again, deep down you know you probably won’t. Which makes that final farewell all the more bittersweet.

Each time you say goodbye, you imagine that your life will never be quite the same again. In some cases, that’s true. One of my closest friends moved away exactly a year ago and left a very specific-shaped gap in my life. She was, among many other things, my workout buddy – the person who would meet me for early morning paddle-boarding sessions or push me to try out a new exercise class or healthy recipe. While it took a while for it to sink in, when she left I experienced a genuine sense of grief (not to mention a visible thickening of the waistline).

I have had to say goodbye to countless friends and colleagues in the past decade, and the longer you stay, the more difficult it gets.

The word may still be thrown around with abandon, but the UAE is far less transient than it used to be. People spend much longer here these days – they lay down roots, invest in homes, have families, build careers and form far deeper bonds.

Many of my closest friends have now been in Dubai as long as I have. We arrived here in our late twenties and have borne witness to key events in each others’ lives – engagements, weddings, pregnancies, miscarriages and the breakdown of marriages, to name a few.

My friends in Dubai are now as close, if not closer, to me than my friends from home, because the longer you live here, the more you view your circle of friends as your adopted family.

As you get older, it gets infinitely harder to meet new people and form those same kinds of bonds. Everyone becomes so wrapped up in their own daily lives that they have scant time to look outwards. So you treasure your existing connections all the more – and saying farewell becomes a heartbreaking act.

Living in this country has taught me countless lessons – but saying goodbye has been one of the hardest lessons to learn.

The saddest thing to accept, perhaps, is that however much you miss those who have departed, life invariably goes on. Gaps that you thought were unfillable are slowly filled. Eventually, you find a new paddle-boarding partner.

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Read more from Selina:

Four lessons learnt as a dog owner in Dubai

Writing Dubai off as one-dimensional only shows your own blinkered view

Why ageing in Dubai is a particularly painful process

Maybe the sisterhood does exist, after all

After years of ridicule, my Facebook-free status is now a source of envy – like it or not

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