I have been a bit melancholy the last few days. I am not entirely sure why. I live in a beautiful place…have a loving and supportive partner…am in generally good health…and the resources to live comfortably. I am grateful for all these things…but miss being part of a community.
What Does it Mean?
Not certain what exactly I was missing, I used my “Google Machine” to find a definition of “community” that worked for me. I found one that immediately spoke to me:
A community is a group of people that care about the same goal
It spoke to me, not as it relates to today, but because I immediately remembered a point in my career when I managed a small division. The group was only 35-40 people, a very lean team including programmers, customer support, installation, and sales personnel. Of course, I had my hands in every part of the organization. I interfaced with customers on a daily basis, trying to make sure that we delivered the functionality they needed with the ease of use required to profitably support our growing customer base. I worked with the installation and support people to identify product enhancements and did the testing after the programmers thought they were done. As I had a background in sales, I was the one called in to “close” when the salesperson or their manager was not able to get the contract signed. And I was the one called when a customer and our group weren’t able to agree.
Each week the entire team met for one hour. There was no fluff…no boring Powerpoint presentation. We were 100% transparent on the business objectives the corporation had established, our budgets, everything! Together we identified the goals for the team…obstacles and achievements. I recall sharing with the manager of another division a particularly moving exchange that had occurred, and he looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you are all so honest with one another.” We were honest…and vulnerable…united in a shared goal.
I led other teams during my 30 years, but in no other was I able to inspire such passion. Even though the division was ultimately disbanded, and there was a day when one of our weekly meetings became a painful explanation to the team that everyone was going to need to find another job it was the best 4 years of my professional life. While we continued to support our customers through a transition to a new organization, we focused on a new goal…making sure everyone landed on their feet. Fortunately, I had worked with HR prior to the announcement and had at least 3 interviews prearranged for every employee. Over the next few weeks, everyone supported one another as they explored what was available inside the company and outside as well. All but one of the employees chose to move within the company and the other got a great job with a competitor. We had done our final task together because we were a community with a common goal.
But What is it Today?
I appreciate you allowing me to retell that story as it has nothing to do with Portugal, a new culture, or my life today. Once again…I digressed. The point is, as Denise and I walk Onix along the beach we have more and more often discussed where we should live. Perhaps it is only natural to want to put down roots. And thus I return to community…a better definition for this time in our lives:
Community is a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together
To me, this definition speaks to more than having dinner with our realtor, or an expat we met through Facebook. We had dinner last week with a group of three other expats…two of whom we had never met. I was excited about the prospect of meeting someone new. Perhaps we shared some common interests. But while they were lovely people and we might again share a meal, there wasn’t a connection. The only thing we seemed to have in common is that we no longer lived in the country in which we were born.
Since moving to Portugal we have met two people that we care about and know they care about us. We have tons of things in common. The conversation flows naturally…we laugh out loud and often. They are a lesbian couple currently living in Lisbon who is moving to Tavira. I don’t want to suggest that we don’t have deep, meaningful relationships with straight people. As the racist adage goes, “Some of my best friends are straight”. In fact, my longest, closest friendship is with a straight woman. But, for me, I need gay friends. I have never been straight. I realized I was gay in second grade when my teacher (on whom I had a massive crush) announced she was getting married. I was devastated. It was then I learned you could get out of school by placing the thermometer over a lightbulb and feigning illness. There I go again…I digress.
How Do You Find Your Tribe…
So the question remains, how do we find our community? Denise and I have made five major moves in the States before moving to Portugal. So finding new peeps is not new to us. Often, this has revolved around sport. There was a point in our lives when it involved the pickleball community…a sport which unfortunately doesn’t seem to exist in Portugal. We also always joined a golf club with an active golf/social program. We joined Óitavas hoping to find such a program, but alas it is a GOLF club…not a social one. And soon most of the women we play with once a week will leave for other parts of Europe.
We are aware of lots of expat groups we could join. I briefly joined one, which was solely online during the lockdown. After getting a dozen unsolicited emails from men commenting on my eyes and other physical features, I closed my profile! Yuck…so adults actually do that? I realize there are groups for women expats, but Denise is not interested and I am just not sure I am up to the task. Today I asked on an expat Facebook group if anyone was going to the Pride Parade later this month in Lisbon. There must be at least one other gay person in Cascais. Yes, I miss my tribe.
Sounds like you need to start a Rainbow Family & Friends Group there to find your “tribe” like we did here in The Villages. Be forewarned though, it could get very large!
When you and Denise left the desert and albeit we didn't get to see one another a lot, a small part of my community was lost, so even though we've managed to make new friends since we've moved full time to the desert from the beach ....there are folks that one has history with that cannot easily/ or may never be replaced. Also, as we age, we become more selective (biased) in the types of friends we are attracted to: mutual/diverse interests if that's your thing....be it political standing, sports interests, ability to laugh, etc. I hope you and Denise find your community, give it time, and time will tell!