‘I’ll be there for you’

‘So no one told you life was gonna be this way, your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s DOA.’  The Rembrandts

Is there anyone who doesn’t recognise the opening lines to the theme tune from Friends? The ridiculously popular TV comedy centred on the lives six beautiful-yet-slightly-flawed friends living in New York.

So influential was Friends in our late 1990s culture that a friend then attempted to turn herself into the image of Rachel Green, complete with the hair cut. She later tried to turn herself into Carrie Bradshaw, (although notably, and perhaps not surprisingly, without all the Sex in the City) which is a whole other story about identity and I digress…

Here’s the point; friendship is not like on TV. And making friends takes does take confidence, which seems to get eroded in this area as we age.

September is national friendship month – yes, it gets a whole month. And rightly so: loneliness is reported as a growing problem in the UK. More than nine million people of all ages say they are lonely either often or always, according to research by The Co-op and the British Red Cross.

Friendships can help pull you through your darkest times, but they’re not always forever. People do fall out and sometimes they don’t make up over a cup of coffee in Cental Perk. Mostly, though, they just drift apart.

The cultural cues of friendship

This varies greatly from culture to culture. In the Middle East friendship is established quickly, in Korea friendship is based on affiliates. Did you go to the same school, do you work together etc. For Europeans, a shared interest can be enough to establish friendship, but we’re much slower to form friendships than people from some other cultures. Apparently, geographical location is also important to us. And that, as someone who’s moved about a lot, I have noticed.

What makes a good friend?

  1. Friends should encourage you to be your best. Sometimes they’ll tell you what you don’t want to hear. If you know it’s for your best interests, that’s a true friend. If they’re just plain mean to you though, that’s toxic. Walk away from that friend.

2. Equality. If one friend needs constant support but is never there for the other friend, that’s not friendship. That’s a user. Walk away.

3. A shared interest or past. Nothing holds people together like sharing a major event, whether that might be career-wise or through education or a momentous experience, like having your first child. Like surviving a natural disaster.

I say: ‘Friendships can be long-lasting and ephemeral. Some people are there for the long-haul. Some aren’t. That’s life. It’s not you. You can’t control this. Let them go. Make new friends.’

‘Making friends gets harder as you get older’

I hear this saying a lot, but is it really true? Or is it just a phrase people parrot in order to block self-critical judgemental thoughts? (‘They might not like me. I’m no fun. What if they think I’m boring?’) Or cover their discomfort with making themselves vulnerable because asking someone to be your friend feels vulnerable? I wonder…

I also wander, because in my adult life I have moved city more times than I can care to recount. Mostly because of work. Sometimes for love, sometimes just to flex my adventure muscles. Each time I have made new friends. I’m in my fifties now and I moved three months ago. I’m making friends. And it’s never been easier.

Meetups can change your life

Go online and look for groups who like what you like. Books. Dancing. Beekeeping… whatever. You turn up, you meet people, you start to form friendships. You start hanging out together, doing other things you both enjoy. You realise you have something in common that bonds you. You both faced a similar hardship. You both really like bumble bees. And before you know it, you feel like you’ve known each other forever. Seriously, it’s that easy. Will they be like your old friends? Probably not, but does that matter? Are you like you were 10 years ago? Probably not.

The Oddfellows organisation (strange name, but there you go) say on their website that they’ve spent two centuries championing friendship. And they’ve plenty going on for National Friendship Month if you want to see what they’re up to.

What do you do when a friendship ‘falls through’?

It is as well to remember not all friends are for life. If life is a journey, there will be few people who will know you from when you were a child. Some friendships are powerfully resilient. Some people are only destined to be with you for part of the journey. Those friendships may feel intense for a time, but they are not meant to last forever. And they might come around again, so relax.

When I upped and moved 300 miles to live by the seaside, I thought my friends from my old city would want to visit. Few have shown that much interest. Your geographical closeness is important to for some. For others, it’s of no consequence. I have friends who used to be colleagues 20 years ago and we still call each other to chat and swap news. We might visit every five years, but I still see them as friends.

This is just the way of life; let it be. It is easy to feel rejected, but that old saying ‘it’s not you, it’s me’… it’s very true. There is nothing wrong with you, you’re just friends with someone whose time to be with you is past for now. Move on. Make new friends.

Some friends come back again, on the great spiralling path of our lives. I am now friends with a group of people from my class at school who I hadn’t seen for 35 years, until we met up at a reunion. Now we meet once or twice a year, tell each other our hopes and dreams, advise each other on our troubles and then go our separate ways into the night.

People who knew you as a child do really ‘know’ you. Perhaps it is that shared experience of school, playing out together, knowing the same streets… but there is no need for your grown-up, adult mask with these people.

It is very comforting. Feeling seen for who you truly are. I recommend.

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