a new friend

The transition from team-mate to friend is probably not much different to any brokered friendship.  You start with a common ground of going to one place over a sustained period: a class, a group, a pub or a club; you do your thing while you’re there; you separate and come back together and do it again.  You can sense things about them from what they say and how they behave, and you gravitate towards certain people and not others as a result.

You’re presented with a choice – whether it’s made consciously or not: keep your acquaintance within those known parameters or go an extra inch.  There’s seldom any harm or risk in it: seeing if they’re ok outside the environment in which you know them best.  Particularly if they’re the same gender.

It was clear after just a few chats that he and I shared a few things.  Most importantly perhaps was our self-confessed status as loners.  At 36 he’s much further embedded than I.  I don’t know if he’s more comfortable or if he just seems to care less, although he doesn’t appear to care very much about anything.

Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t put effort in on the park.  A nifty-footed midfielder still with a decent turn of pace, he’s clearly played a few levels higher and you can see why some call him “Messi’s Dad.”  The truth is he’s actually the older cousin of a star Premiership player with commendably strong family values.  I won’t say I haven’t thought about selfishly developing the friendship as a route to tickets.  I’m not sure if this is a realistic prospect, but I can dream.

Beers on club socials have been followed by beers on a smaller club gathering last Saturday, and beers during the football on Wednesday.  He’s also an avid cinemagoer, on a par if not exceeding my regularity.  He travels long distances to attend film festivals and thinks nothing of killing whole days watching back-to-back movies.  It was this added to football which cemented a familiar kinship of some kind.  We’d tumbled from an early evening screening at around the same time and stopped to chat.  “So, you’re the kind of bloke who doesn’t like to admit how often he actually goes to the cinema too, aren’t you?”

We’ve spoken about being single, living alone, travelling alone and general independence.  As a former army man who spend a good amount of time in Northern Ireland, he’s on a different level of self-sufficiency to me.  He confessed with a modicum of embarrassment (“I don’t tell many people this”) about spending two weeks entirely alone in a rural Tasmania when travelling, thanks to experience picked up in the field, in various places.  I instinctively knew what to ask about, and what I couldn’t.  Or shouldn’t.  He has weathered narrow eyes which look like they’ve seen, you know, pretty bad shit.

There is something not entirely normal about him, I admit.  Not the sort of guy who’d spontaneously flip, but so calm and able it might be difficult to communicate with him at times.  If he decided to shut down on you, there would be no way back in.  In a way we’re both typical potential psychopath murderer types.  People might say of both of us, like they say of psychopaths, that we’re quiet men without many friends who live alone.  I’d really like a rampaging gunman to be a nice Dad and Husband of flawless repute.  Just once.  It’s always the single lonely guy who’s subjected to suspicion and bad press.

We’ve spoken about implicit rejection from other social groups as you get older and remain single.  First couples split off with each other and, after a period, they friend-up with other couples.  Then couples with kids friend-up with other couples with kids – potentially marginalising those without, and singles with kids do with other single parents.  We appear to seek symmetry in our friendship groups at each stage of our lives, and it can seem nonsensical.  Perhaps more so to the marginalised, to whom it feels more pronounced, less like a natural thing, more like a lazy thing.  Should a single person really rock the core balance of a couples’ dinner party?  Perhaps it’s unnecessary over-empathy, fear of awkwardness, a culturally British thing.

We’ve spoken about how friends, older, best known ones, can be shit.  How they can let you down and how you need to get out and do it yourself if you want to travel.  How you can’t sit and moan and wait for them all the time.  Perhaps there’s been a degree of smugness in those chats as we’ve virtually slapped each other on the back over our pints of Guinness.

Sitting in coffee shop reading a book during a slow mid-February afternoon, not at the peak of spirits, my mobile wobbled with a text.  He was going to see two films: he knew I’d seen the first (already discussed) but if I fancied Paul, the second?  I was also heading to an early evening screening but wasn’t fussed about the second and told him as much.  We bumped into each other by the escalators, where he was waiting for another friend who was running late, or might not show up.

Do I want to be quite so settled in my solitariness as my new friend aged 36?  No.  Looking at him I see how it happens, that inexorable slide into caring less, giving up, taking what’s offered when it’s there.  How is it halted?  By good fortune or not at all?  You deal or don’t.

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One Response to a new friend

  1. Pingback: queasy bromance « Swashbuckled

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