Friendship Through The Ages
I read a blog post recently titled "Being in your Twenties is Like a Friendship Massacre". The general gist is that upon becoming a Proper Grown Up with a job and a life outside of the various learning establishments, we will automatically weed out the good friends from the bad. This is because we simply won't have the time or inclination to make plans with those people who we only remain in contact with for habitual reasons, like doing the same course at university or the fact that your parents were next door neighbours once upon a time. The article, though, only really focuses on those friendships which are lost, and doesn't mention the new friends we pick up when we move jobs or houses or go through a significant life change.
I think our twenties are less of a massacre and more like a garden. Some friendships die - either from us choosing to dig them up and chuck them out, or from natural causes - but some flourish and grow, and new ones spring up from nowhere(1).
But friendships don't just change when you're in your twenties. I've seen many friends come and go, and I think there are a few different periods in our lives where friendships inevitably meet turbulent times.
Primary school is great for many things: Finger painting, growing cress in wet cotton wool, risking a bollocking from Mrs. Beale by doing the animal hand-actions whilst singing "Who Built The Ark" in assembly, but children between the ages of four and eleven are fickle, so going from BFF to deadly nemesis in the space of a single day is not uncommon.
Your crime? Wearing the point down on their favourite crayon. Not sitting next to them at lunch. Having the audacity to claim the Red Power Ranger is better than the Green one. Sometimes nothing at all. I remember, particularly vividly, one of my friends doggy-paddling up to me in the parent-supervised pool session one summer afternoon and declaring matter-of-factly, "My mum says I'm not allowed to play with you any more."(2)
Luckily, these petty arguments are usually solved by a good nights sleep or a short Easter break away from the intense times-table testing and the horror of doing P.E in your vest and pants.
Middle / Upper School(3)
Transitioning from 'little' school to 'big' school also generally brings with it a change in interests. Your friend, who was previously perfectly content playing Tomb Raider and climbing trees with you, now fancies some boy with gel-slicked curtains and a complete set of Pokemon cards. Your lunchtimes are no longer spent sitting and, like, talking and stuff, and now revolve around stalking said boy and his friends, making comments on how well he bounces a basketball and which kind of Lynx he wears, and why it's the best kind of Lynx, because obviously the other kinds are, like, soooo gross.
Maybe you also like some boy. Maybe you'll spend your lunchtimes dividing your time equally between stalking both boys. Or maybe the boys are best friends (very likely), which makes your stalking much more efficient. But maybe you'll be like me and have zero interest in anything other than Tomb Raider and, later on, Tony Hawk's Skateboarding.
If you were like me (unlikely), then your friend probably dumped you so she could spend less time listening to your incredibly interesting insights on how to get Lara Croft to land the snowmobile jump in the Tibetan Foothills and more time gawping at a teenage boy with acne and really fucking stupid hair.
These types of friendships can be salvaged, if you have mutual friends willing to help patch things up by passing surreptitious apology notes scribbled in glittery gel pen. Sometimes, however, it's really not worth it, since people who wantonly abandon their friends also tend to have many personality defects - like being selfish, ungrateful, backstabby, etc. - which do not make for fun friendship times.
University is probably the biggest friendship earthquake you will have in your life, since it's incredibly unlikely that you'll all end up in the same place. Also, Some of your current friends will choose to not take on an enormous amount of stupid debt and will instead venture into the big, scary world or work.
Invariably you will go off to your chosen location, far across the country, and experience the wonder that is Freshers' Week, the evil that is Freshers' Flu and the drudgery that is 9am lectures on a Thursday morning after £5 treble-trebles night at the Glasshouse.
You'll make new friends, of course. You'll live in Halls with a bunch of people thrown together by pure chance. You'll attend lectures with people who are interested in the same things as you and, if you're one of those sociable people I've heard all about, you'll join some societies and make even more friends there. Some of these people will remain your friends for life, but some you'll only see occasionally on quick trips back up north/down south. It's all fine though, because you've practically quadrupled your friend count in a few short months. Simultaneously, your university-bound friends will do the same at their higher-education establishment of choice.
Meanwhile, some of your old friends will stay in the local town or city, work, earn money, buy a house, get married and have a baby or three, all before you've even written the literature review of your dissertation on the Feminist Narrative Structure of Star Trek Voyager.
Or maybe they'll just work, easing their way up the ladder, until they are earning more money than you can ever hope to catch up to, despite your shiny new bachelors degree. Or maybe they go on an envy-inducing gap year travelling around Asia. Or become a stay-at-home parent. Or join the armed forces.
So, you come home from university and arrange to meet up with one of your friends. One of two things will happen:
1) Everything is fine. You go for drinks, reminisce and discuss your new lives with eager interest on both sides. This person will probably remain one of your best friends forever and will eventually become your bridesmaid (or best man).
2) Everything is weird. Their life experience is now so tangential to yours, you simply have nothing in common. Conversations are stilted. You grow apart, but probably stay Facebook friends.
It's all good. You've got a million new friends and there's no point clinging onto people who you no longer get on with, just because they were there when you were growing up. Being sentimental for the sake of it just causes you to drag around a ton of unwanted baggage. Let them go! Be free!
Once you enter the soul-destroying world of work, you discover that the friends you make there are irreplaceable. As much as you'd like to hang onto the idea that your best friends will be there for you no matter what, the truth is you spend the majority of your waking hours at work, so it's only natural that you will gravitate towards your work mates in order to vent your petty frustrations.
Frustrations such as having to prepare for a two-hour 9am meeting with that one moronic client who never pronounces your name correctly, or the fact that the coffee machine has been broken for a week, or that your work laptop runs Windows XP rather than Windows 7 and how can they possibly expect you to get any work done under these torturous conditions? These sorts of rants are best expressed via quick angry walks to Costa Coffee and long boozy lunches on sunny Friday afternoons, not the Facebook messages, texts and bi-annual trips to the pub that your Back Home Friends are now used to since you moved away.
This is a good thing. Your Back Home Friends don't care about your office politics or the atrociously formatted PowerPoint deck you had to sit through on Friday afternoon, causing you to miss the beer trolley. And your work friends don't care that Blondie McSuch-And-Such from middle school has just had her third boob job in as many years.
Don't get me wrong, you'll still have your Back Home Friends. Probably until you die. They will be the ones you call in tears when the big shit goes down - the demise of long relationships, debilitating illness, family deaths - but work is a whole other world that requires a different kind of friendship circle.
As much as the prospect of growing old terrifies me, I am optimistic about the future of my friendships. I believe that once you reach your forties and fifties, all the shitty friends who constantly cancelled plans, forgot your birthday and were just generally irritating, have long since been weeded out. This hopefully leaves you with a rich but diverse set of thoroughly awesome friends who you've picked up during your journey of life.
School friends, university friends, gap-year travelling buddies, your children's friends' parents, old work mates from a host of different jobs, previous next-door neighbours, friends-of-friends who grew to become more than, your spouse's friends and their partners, a couple you met on holiday, the members of your knitting club/the WI/book group... This giant melting-pot of people - who have no other connection than your own little self - will attend your big 50th birthday bash and, because they are grown-ups, will chat to each other, potentially forming new friendship groups, who you will meet for coffee to discuss gardening and Cath Kidston aprons or whatever else middle-aged people are into.
I'm looking forward to it already.
I can't finish this post without mentioning social media. If somehow it wasn't clear from my above references to Pokemon cards and gel pens, I grew up in the nineties. Facebook didn't exist until I was in my 2nd year of university, and even then no-one was really using it. If you were born in the nineties or later, then you will have grown up with the internet and social media, so little of this post will make sense to you. Sorry about that.
As much as I dislike Facebook, it has enabled me to re-connect with people who I previously lost touch with and have now lived vastly different lives to me,(4) and I hope these people will become some of the good friends I am shortly going to rave about. I know my mum has also rediscovered a load of old school mates with the help of Facebook too. For this reason, I love social media.
However, we mustn't fall into the trap of thinking that social media makes all our friendships equal. A 'Like' on a status update is not the same as a pat on the back when you get that promotion. A '(>^_^)>' on Twitter is not the hug you need when you break up with your partner.
Yes, it's lovely to have hundreds of messages on your Facebook wall when you announce an engagement or reach a milestone birthday, but real friends are the ones who will send a card - yes, in the post - or arrange to meet up to celebrate with you, or throw you a surprise party.
The real friends are the ones you text first when you have big news. The ones who drop everything to pick up the phone or come round your house, bottle of wine in hand, when you reach out to them. They are the ones who, even if you live far apart, will be there for the big stuff.
Don't let these people go.
It's sometimes difficult, but as long as we make the effort to be there for the people we care about and not let them fall to the wayside when our lives take dramatic turns, then they will hopefully do the same for us.
(1 ) They're not weeds though. That's where my brilliant metaphor falls apart.
(2) I ended up teaching this girl how to ride a bike at the grand-old age of thirteen, which I like to think was a big 'fuck you' to her mother, who never taught her only child some very basic childhood skills and actually did really dislike me for some reason.
(3) This is what you non-Suffolk folk would call a 'secondary school'. I, and many of my friends, went through the three-tier system, which is inarguably much better. But let's not debate that now, because you are wrong.
(4) Hi Charlotte!