Millions of people now judge their friends and themselves by the number of Twitter or Instagram ‘followers’ they have, or Facebook ‘friends.’ And yet the vast majority have never even read each other’s profiles, let alone ever spoken or met. So do friendships really matter anymore?
Living abroad has many benefits, good weather, clean air and a healthier – less stressful lifestyle; but it can also feel pretty lonely at times, especially in the wintertime, when there are less people around and even fewer friends. As a writer – being alone is a natural part of the choice you make, that bargain you made with yourself, when you picked such an unforgiving and rarely lucrative activity to fill those countless hours we all ultimately devote, when all along we could be enjoying lazy days, watching trash TV or just using the time to meet new friends.
When I was young, making friends felt effortless. You fell quite easily into deeply intimate friendships with the girl you sat next to in class, the boys you played football with in the park or those workmates at your first job. Back then it seemed you rarely had to try too hard, because there was usually someone around with a common interests, eager to be your new best friend. But if you are anything like me, that feels quite some time ago.
When was the last time you made a new friend? I mean a really true friend, who withstood the test of time and the complications life throws at us? Someone who you really trusted, loved even, no matter what their gender? I don’t just mean someone you can share a joke with in the bar or perhaps bitch and moan with at work, but someone who will be there for you in a heartbeat, who you can call at anytime? A person who will, no matter what, always be there for you, as you will be there for them?
For me, this has been a year of changing relationships, some new, some improved, or some simply lost or abandoned altogether. Getting older you gradually learn to accept that nothing stays the same; friends and lovers can come when you least expect them to, or disappear just as quickly, and when they do you simply try and pick up the pieces and move on. Maybe that’s why we become more reserved as we grow older, if not always wiser, but there are often other factors, which make it increasingly difficult to make true and lasting friendships.
We now know who we are – Our friends are a crucial part of our identity and ultimately help craft the person we finally become, in such incremental stages we barely notice until one day we wake up and know, more or less, who we are; which often makes changes that much harder. It is at this stage that we frequently feel a need to cultivate friendships and relationships that are more compatible with who we have become. They don’t need to be exactly like us, but we don’t want to end up wishing we had never met them either.
Time – We certainly don’t want to waste our precious time on pointless friendships. As kids we were a bit more forgiving and willing to consider a wide range of friends, simply because we had more time to waste. But many of us now work long, ceaseless hours so as the time we can devote to friendships becomes ever more finite, we often don’t have enough time for even our dearest friends, let alone find any time to cultivate new ones.
Creating friendships can feel like dating – After a difficult few years an old friend of mine recently moved to a new town. When I spoke to her recently she seemed happier than she’d been for a long time and I was amazed she had made so many friends. She told me that the very first friend she made had been setting her up on “friendship dates” blind-lady-dates where she’d meet a potential new friend for drinks or a movie. At least for her, it seemed to work well, although for me, personally, as someone who is much less gregarious, a borderline introvert even, I feel sure I’d fare less well. Although I must admit I met my most recent girlfriend through old fashioned ‘dating’, instead of my usual habit of just falling into a relationship. Before that it had been years, fifteen, maybe even twenty and I had certainly never considered ‘dating’ just to find a few new friends. Because for me dating, that first date can almost feel like a job interview; so I couldn’t imagine having to interview for an entirely new social circle.
Sometimes we only realise our friends shortcomings when it’s too late – As kids, the worst thing that ever happened in our friendships would be if your best friend wanted to play a different game to you or perhaps started sitting with someone else at lunch. At the time it felt tragic, but by the next day, you often had a new best friend. But now when we lose friends, it can often feel like a breakup, possibly even a death. Like those people who said they’d be there for you, but weren’t. The friend who got married, had babies, then wasn’t as available as they once were. Then the most common type of friendship end, those that simply drift apart because you discover different interests, or find you have nothing left to talk about. Sometimes these friendship breakups can feel like a divorce, and be just as hard to come back from.
Even with many friends, life can still feel lonely; especially now, with so many long distance friendships with people you chat more often with on the Internet. However, no email or tweet can hug you when you’re sad or meet you for a beer when you’ve had a bad day. As you get older you may find you don’t need so many friends anymore, and prefer just to keep a few really good ones. So if you do manage that – treat them well, because you’ll never own a more precious asset, which, you may have noticed, gets that much harder to replace.