It has occurred to me over the past few years that friendship is a funny thing. And not in the amusing sense (especially if you are female) If you’re lucky, you’ll meet your forever best friend early on in life and you’re good to go for the next 70 odd years. Bridesmaid, godparent, wingman…check, check and check. Sometimes you meet a group of friends and you are all best friends forever – Although, in my (limited) experience and observations, there are often still pairings in the group (which is a bummer if the number is odd).
But what if you haven’t met your best friend for life aged 5 on your first day of primary school? What then? Because I didn’t and I’ve always felt a little inferior because if it.
Social media celebrates every aspect of life, but in particular it celebrates the relationships people have with other people. People publicly thank those closest to them for the Saturday night, for the support, for the gifts, for the laughter; For being their “best friend in the whole world.” But at what point does someone earn this accolade and what effect does this decision, choosing this one person, have on life? You don’t propose forever friendship the way you propose marriage, so when does it happen that two people just decide that, yup, we’re besties?
Once it has been decided that two people are ‘best friends’, it is more binding than marriage – with no consideration or option of divorce. In reality, the relationship between ‘best friends’ can be more influential and significant than the relationship between a couple, with staunch loyalty and unquestionable defence, the idea that you can fix anything and that you’re in everything together. People seem to be more tolerant and supportive of their best friend than of their significant other – for example, if your best friend told you she was giving up her job to go travelling (who cares if she is 40 and has a mortgage to pay) you’d encourage this and defend this decision to anyone who dared question it. You’ll miss her but you’ll be right there waiting for her when she returns. Your partner suggests the same? Shit. Storm.
I think I’ve pretty much spent my whole life trying to make a best friend. It seemed essential (everyone else had one, I wanted one…) But this in itself is an entirely flawed approach and the reason I always had friends, but not a best friend just for me; forever. By the time I arrived at the table, groups and friendships were established and I seemed to spend most of my childhood flitting from group to group, friends with everyone in the group but on the outskirts of the best friends within. Don’t get me wrong, I realise there were many reasons for this (self-awareness is a curse) and I know I was a pain in the ass as a child (ahem…and as an adult at various points, buts that a different story…) But what if I had been born 2 months later and been in a different year at school? Not moved house aged 5 and gone to a different school? Would I be siting here celebrating 35 years of friendship with one person like so many others I know?
And what would it mean if I was. What would it mean for all the other friendships I’ve had throughout my life – would I still have had them? Because, in my experience, groups of best friends or pairs of best friends don’t really need to make new friends, so often don’t make as many friendships with other people outside ‘the group’ and almost definitely never give other friendships priority. But, and here’s the thing, what happens when a situation forces a change in the forever friendship? What then?
Because things undoubtedly change. LIFE happens. And life doesn’t always go the same way for best friends and all the commonalities can become differences. When one person falls in love, the dynamics of a friendship will change – the pair of best friends who were never seen apart will become tested as one half of the pair is left to watch the love story unfold, questioning their role; the group of best friends becomes problematic for the person in love as the group will pull tighter together in their absence. But, hopefully, after some initial licking of wounds, the friendship survives. But what if you love someone your friends hate? Or what if the someone you love hates your friends…?
I am generally in awe of people who have maintained these firm bonds of friendships through the years. But I’ve realised lately, quite by accident, that I no longer crave what I once did. Throughout my life, putting a label on a friendship was the kiss of death for me. I would become jealous of other friends that came along, would get hurt when plans were made that didn’t include me and I would gradually withdraw, missing out on so much because of my own insecurities.
And in realising this, it has allowed me to realise all sorts of things about friendship (and myself). Some friendships will just never stand the test of time. Different paths will always be taken and there are so many reasons why friends drift. But the important thing is that they happened in the first place. When you have a baby, you might spend every waking minute with someone else in the same position as you (clueless and wondering what happened to your life…) The closest of friendships can be built at this time and new mums are often drawn to each other, sussing out who seems to be their level of ‘coping/not coping/afternoon drinking’. But, sadly, not all these friendships last. Maternity leave comes to an end, the children become little people of their own with their own interests and you realise that maybe you were always from very different backgrounds and on different paths. But you cherish that special time when you helped each other survive life with small children, when background, financial status and hair and make up standards were happily immaterial.
Drifting from a friendship always happens for many reasons. But before the internet, house phones and, latterly, mobile phones were all we had. Drifting was inevitable after school. Social media removes that option now and has, quite wonderfully for me, reunited me with so many people I knew when I was younger. But what is more wonderful still is when someone drifts into your life, or back into your life, without the internet. And this is the case for the most significant friendships that I have (and have had). We weren’t brought together because Facebook suggested them as someone I may know. We were brought together – drifted to each other – because we were just meant to be in each others life.
And in the week where I’ve seen a women I love get married, and absorb the news that someone I spent more time with when I was younger than anyone probably knows about, shared a 100% plutonic relationship with, and loved with all my heart in my youth is at the end of his very cruel, unjust and short journey with cancer, well, I’ve thought a lot about friendship and fate. I’ve thought a lot about the term ‘best friend’ and all the times I’ve used it or heard it. And I think actually that the term is limiting. Some people go beyond being a ‘best friend’ Some people become family; part of you. And that’s pretty cool.
I’d like to say that every friendship will last forever but, with the best will in the world, sometimes the people you spend every waking minute will become strangers. Sometimes they will become enemies. But they will all be memories and these are yours forever. Someone once told me I was “the most expendible person” they’d ever met. And I carried that wirh me for years, letting it define me. But more portant ly, letting it define my friendships. But not any more. Because memories are not expendible.
So this is what I think. If you were single and you happened across someone that you liked, you’d ask them out, take a chance, go on a date and see what happens. We don’t do this enough with friends. How many times have you met someone and thought “They’re brilliant, I’d love to be their friend”? Do it. Obviously, you don’t do this if you’re in a relationship but be more open in your friendships. Make as many friends as possible. You just don’t know where life will take you – or them; Don’t take time or friendship for granted. Temporary or permanent, make it count; make memories that last a lifetime even if the friendship doesn’t. And make peace with yourself about the ones that didn’t last. You’ll be a better friend if you do.