I’ve mentioned this before, but living on an island where tourism and travelers dominate the scene teaches you a thing or two about relationships. The transience of this little island still astounds me – people come for vacation, sure, but the people who move here even seem to do so temporarily. When someone tells you they’ve been here for five years you applaud their longevity. Ten years or more? They must have discovered some long-lost secret of Roatan!
Most people stay here for six months or less. They come here, you become friends, and then it’s time for them to leave again. I can’t count the number of people we’ve had over for BBQs at our house, or shared drinks with on a celebratory night out, or just walked down the street with chatting away as though we’d known each other all our lives. What I can count is the number of my friends who are still here. It is a much smaller group.
It’s hard to actually develop intimate relationships knowing that one or both of you will be leaving at some point. Yet it’s all too easy to talk with strangers and share your secrets. So where’s the in-between for those of us who live here? We can’t keep telling everyone on the island all of our secrets, can we?
Yep, we can. And we do. Why? Because why not. What’s the point in keeping all of that to yourself? While back home the general norm is to hide your emotions and guard yourself from the judgement of others, island living requires vulnerability. We don’t have doors to close and hide behind. We don’t shut out our neighbors, our coworkers, nor the strangers who come and go so frequently.
We don’t bother keeping secrets because we don’t bother hiding: not our skin, not our smiles, not our salty knotted hair, not our un-manicured nails, not our beer bellies, not our scars, not our tattoos, not our issues. We all have things we carry with us but on the island we don’t wear enough clothing to hide that baggage. We let it all hang loose and in doing so make fast and easy friends. And we are the type of people who will actually meet up with these friends in another part of the world on a whim.
You’re moving to South Africa for a few months? Awesome, I’ll be there to crash on your couch!
You’re traveling through Southeast Asia for a few months? Let’s meet up to dive Indonesia!
Oh, you’re moving back home to the frigid north to make some more money? Cool, don’t worry, you can sleep in my hammock when you get back before you find an apartment because you sure as hell know I’m not coming to visit anywhere cold!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve known someone for five minutes or five months – the connection is there and the ease of maintaining it in our social media-based world is incredibly simple. We all know that the traveling will continue and our networks will remain strong wherever we go.
The coming and going never ends, which means the celebrations and gatherings never end either. We are continuously saying, “Welcome back,” “See you later,” and “Keep in touch.” We face each parting with a smile and a nod, a show of appreciation for the time we’ve spent together, and an acknowledgement of the nature of travelers. We don’t sit still for too long, it’s just not part of who we are.
You can’t live on a touristy island if this isn’t your style – you have to be the type of person who never actually says, “Goodbye,” knowing that someday – perhaps – your paths will cross again somewhere. The world is huge with many wondrous things to see, but our lives are small and the connections we have with others draw us together again and again.