friendship fades

Building and maintaining friendships is one of the many areas of life in which I have never excelled. I wonder if lots of people feel this, or if are there people with loads of friends, contented that they have aced that side of things.

Throughout pretty much all my twenties I considered myself quite a loner, I lived alone and did stuff alone, holiday, travel, meals, sex, gigs, endless cinema trips.

Friends come with success, I suppose. If you are enjoying a heap of it and you have followers and alliances by the bucketload, you are magnetic. You are never stuck for a drinking partner.

I have never considered myself successful. You might try to spin it nicely for me if you are my mum or my wife or someone who likes me, but the truth is I have never been all that successful in anything. In fact, my current bank balances indicate I have never been less successful than I am right now.

In large part due to having few friends, in some part due to feeling like a big fat loser (although I am not overweight, yet) I felt a little burned recently. Yes, poor me. Poor little hypersensitive me. Out with your mini violins, if you will. Thank you.

Friends and people come into and go out of your life over a lifetime. They fade in and out, intersect and drop away like an elaborate red arrows display, from nursery school to the retirement home. You might feel entirely secure that a friendship is made for life, but things can always change: circumstances, priorities, people themselves. Or a more dramatic thing might occur, a falling out. Either way, if you have even one that sticks for the duration, you have done well.

Even then though, that one will probably fade in and out of your life. There might be a spell when you might not see them for a year or two or three; perhaps longer, and you miss them from time to time. You wonder if they miss you, if you crop up on their friend landscape, in their dreams.

Social media today gives us an indication of whether we do crop up or not. If you see them regularly Liking your stuff, it’s like a friendly nod so you think you do, you are on their radar. And that’s enough. If you don’t, you suspect you are not on their radar or they do not give a hoot.

It feels juvenile and silly, being aggrieved that someone you thought was once a firm friend does not Like or engage with any of your stuff, ever, over months and years, someone you know who follows you – although you are aware they follow hundreds or thousands of other people too, but they regularly likes all the inane shit your mutual friend posts. But they never like YOUR shit and frankly this feels unfair and you want to cry to the teacher about it.

Pathetically, this is a specific case for me. He originally reached out to me on social media several years ago when I was in a very different place in my life, largely alone and miserable in London. We met for pints with his work colleagues in Soho. It was kind of unorthodox so I was initially nervous but that quickly smoothed out with the beer. I was touched and sincerely grateful someone gave a shit about me. On top of which, this guy was electric company: witty and smart and unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He introduced me to other witty and smart people, some of whom I still have a connection with. I moved away from London but kept meeting him and his friends (he was almost always with other friends and colleagues) on business trips back, until those trips became less frequent and fizzled out completely.

We had a sort of double date in my city a few years ago, while he was with someone local to my area. I had great fun and think my now wife was appropriately charmed too.  Then I questionably attended one of his joint birthday parties in London, and it ultimately felt slightly weird of me to have made such effort.

I hadn’t seen him for around two years until last weekend. In the intervening time we’d both got married in similarly small scale functions. This was despite him and another friend trying to dissuade me from marrying at that birthday party, the last time we’d met – due to a ranty post here about how much she was annoying me. (This place is an outlet for many frustrations, not all of them rational. I deleted that post). We hadn’t been to each other’s weddings and that was totally cool. We had drifted and in no way could you say we were close friends.

But I still genuinely valued the connection and really liked the guy. I wanted him to acknowledge me and like my stuff. So when I saw he was coming to my city for a mass cycling event I suggested we meet up. After a while I prepared for the idea he would not reply, that he could not really be bothered, I did not figure on his busy friendship radar, maybe I would get some excuse in a few days.

Before too long though, I did get a reply and we met in a pub. My wife dropped me off and I walked down to the pub, not knowing if he was going to be with a large group of beer-guzzling young things in their mid-20s. He has a decent Twitter following and strong seeming engagement compared to me. It didn’t seem wildly unlikely. Thankfully he was only with one other, a nice, comparatively mellow sort of guy I’d met once or twice in Soho.

This meeting was fine but with an inescapable whisp of awkward. I felt that I had imposed this meeting when he couldn’t really be bothered on a hot day after a long bike ride, and perhaps he couldn’t really be bothered regardless. Not having that social energy was totally understandable.  There was also the fact that I knew much more of his life than he knew (or maybe cared) of mine.

“When are you moving?!” he asked / demanded in his characteristically urgent manner, keen to show an interest, as he always is.
“Erm, I moved about a year ago and I’m a bit upset you clearly pay so little attention to my life,” I said, half joking but not really joking.

He’s a difficult to pin down enigma with an infuriating email technique of only ever asking questions, never answering them, when he does actually reply. He discloses little about himself, to me at least, although there’s clearly a lot to him, a lot to know.  He builds an impenetrable wall of charming bravado and hides behind it.

After two leisurely pints with them, they wheeled their bikes through the pub and out onto the street. There was apparently no question of meeting up again later in the evening, after they had returned to their digs and freshened up. Me and him hugged and waved half-hearted see-yous, I warmly shook the other guy’s hand. We turned in opposite directions and I wasn’t sure we’d see ever each other again. What he really thought of me and our friendship was impossible to tell.

Our meeting left me saddened and contemplative of friendships and friendship as a thing; how firm they can seem in isolated moments or a series of isolated moments, how those shared experiences can bind you, how it can all easily unstick and unravel, how there are always two different sides and they can be extremely different, how transient and ephemeral they all are in the long run.

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generation z zzzz

They presented themselves as I pounded the keypad of my BlackBerry in a coffee shop, trying to achieve at least a feeble type of catharsis through a rant which formed the skeleton of my last blog post.

“Hello mate.”

I’d known they were in the country.  He’d sent an email a couple of days earlier warning of their flying visit from Sweden, mentioning they’d be in town today.  It was still a shock to see him suddenly there in front of me, one of my oldest friends, together with his long-term Swedish girlfriend.  I quietly pride myself on being fairly sharp-eyed, spotting people from a distance.  To be found out like this, crept up upon myself, was rare.  I felt dozy and foolish and hugged the pair of them, then we headed out and went for lunch.

We parted and met up again in the evening, this time with half a dozen more friends who all live in the town but increasingly rarely get together.  Their visit provided an ideal excuse.

Everybody had known each other for a minimum of around ten years and clicked comfortably back into our relationships.  I wondered how we looked as a group to the adjacent table of comparatively stiff new graduates and parents.  The town had been awash with gowns, mortar boards, posh frocks and suits during the day.  The table looked upbeat but jaded, cast glances at our larger group, buoyed by a rare spontaneous reunion, ten years down the line from them.

Our table discussed future plans, the two solid couples mentioning children, buying houses, settling down, perhaps doing a final bit of long distance travel before settling down.  It was loosely assumed that children were inevitable and would happen easily.  We collectively appeared to be pootling along fairly well from our own graduation days, life coming together conventionally well for some and stumbling along more uncertainly for others.

Pootling and stumbling seem appropriate verbs for us as a group.  There’s often felt like an over-casual nature to our set, a sense of a very narrow sub-generation to those born two or three years before us.

Clearly this is coloured predominantly by my brother’s freakish focus and successes, but in his year group and amongst his peers there seemed a greater sense of urgency about life, getting a good job, finding a partner, buying a house and having children, preferably before they were out of their 20s. Was it possible that babes of the mid to late 1970s were somehow instilled with more drive and purpose than those of the 1980/81? Was our upbringing more warped by the grey 1980s recession than our older peers?

Probably bollocks.

As a year group we disappointed, though I escaped to a different college for A Levels, achieving better results than those who stayed at the sixth form.  We weren’t on drugs or anything.  We were just largely dopey and ambitionless.  We didn’t know what we wanted from life, so we played football, worked moderately hard and let stuff happen to us.  And stuff had happened to us, and coming from decent middle class bases which steered us through the education system, most of it was acceptable enough – albeit not in any way remarkable.

Heading into our 30s not a massive amount seemed to have changed.  Buying a house and having children were the main things to get excited about.  I found it faintly depressing.  We all dissipated by 8pm.

Three, it’s a tragic number

It’s annoying how friendships get exponentially harder the older you get.  When you’re a kid and you want to round to play at your friend’s house tomorrow after school, even if that friend’s house is a good drive away, it can be sorted.  Mums can fix that sort of thing, no problem.

When you get older, even a fair distance into your twenties, you can easily enough arrange to go for a few beers pretty impulsively, on a whim.

Past that point, when relationships get more secure, when weddings start happening, when the iron grip of partners and employment rule ever more firm, then it gets harder.  Arranging to meet up with a mate can mean planning two months in advance.

Two fucking months?!  I think, acting cool and reasonable.  Yeah, I have, like, other things going on between too so that’s.. uhm.  Yeah, that’s fine.

(I’ll give you “around the middle of November,” you look-how-busy-and-important-I-am PRICK!  All I wanted was a bloody drink).

Nah mate.  Yeah, that’s cool.  Look forward to it.

It’s increasingly standard though.  I’ve always counted myself as a time-rich person, never having had any huge commitments or time-demands, and being lazy.  Time is something I’ve simply always had enough of.  Way more than enough of.  Alright, frankly, far too much of.

Being self-employed, like doing a fairly simple English Literature degree, if you’re organised to a decent level, it’s not all that difficult.  Just get done what you need to get done.  There might be heavier pressures now and again, but you can usually wing it ok and get away without putting yourself under any undue stress.

Because when you do challenge yourself and put yourself under undue stress, the net result isn’t usually worth it anyway.  Best case: a person of supposed authority pats you on the back.  You are recognised.

Woopdefuckingdoo.


Three is a tragic number

Added to this is frustration at the awkward social dynamic of ‘three’ – the tragic number.

It’s much harder for a single person to be good friends with a couple, than it is for a couple to be good friends with a couple.  The single person will, by definition, forever be the other.  You’ll possibly also project your own notions of being pitied if they do deign to spend time with you as a pair, but more often they don’t go out of their way because they have everything they need.  So the onus falls on you, particularly when you’re bored and navelgazy and think you should make some effort to stoke the friendship fire.

When you get round to meeting there’s the common assumption that you always want ‘boys time’ to talk about ‘boys things.’  Sure, he was my friend first but I like you well enough too.  You’ve been together a good number of years, you’re smart and good conversation, we get on ok.  Can’t we just all be friends?  Or do you think I’m a nob?

It leads on to the assumption that you’ll always want to go to the pub and drink beer with your male friend.  Any other activity or pastime is eschewed with a single person, whereas couples can meet up with other couples and actually do things outside of going to the pub.  You’ll see pictures online of a jolly looking day out at the beach.  Single people aren’t usually invited to these things because, well, it’s a bit awkward.

*Big maudlin, self-regarding SIGH..