Friendships: How Many Actually Stand The Test Of Time?
Remember when you were a kid and basically, your only job in life was to try and make friends? Sure you had to not get kicked out of school and try not to piss your parents off too badly, but essentially, it was all about socialisation, making friends, managing friendships, breaking relationships and building new ones. The first 18 (or so) years of our life are all about figuring that shit out and trust me, there’s a reason it takes that long. Relationships - whether their platonic or not - are potentially the hardest and most complicated things we’ll deal with throughout our lives.
I was lucky. I had a lot of friends growing up. I saw myself as a social creature, one who thrived in social situations. I loved school and parties and meeting friends at the weekend. I genuinely thought that was who I was. It’s only as I’ve got older that I realise I was conforming. I was trying to be something that I wasn’t because that’s what a young adult was ‘supposed’ to look like. It was what the cool girls did so, because I hadn’t yet grown much of a confidence spine, I tried to be like them.
Here’s the thing though - I didn’t really enjoy it. In fact, there were times when I experienced such anxiety when it came to meeting new people or hanging out in big social groups that I could barely get a word out. I didn’t see it as anxiety because I had no idea what anxiety was. I assumed everyone was feeling the same. I couldn’t really talk properly to a boy until I was about 21 - and even then, it depended on the boy.
When school finished and we all dispersed, blown apart by the winds of adulthood, I panicked that I would lose all my friends and, even worse, that I wouldn’t be able to make new ones. In fact, this fear crippled me so badly that I struggled to make any real friends throughout university. Sure, there were people I knew and hung out with but I didn’t leave university with any lifelong best mates (now, one of my university friends is the godmother to my child, but we reunited after a break of almost ten years).
Looking back on it, it was probably something very simple. The people I ended up at school with I just ended up having very little in common with them and by the time I got to uni, I was so crippled with low self-esteem that I put such a strong guard up, I let no one in. When I think of the amount of ‘ride or die’ friends (I can’t use the term ‘best friend’ because I fucking hate it) I have now, I can count them on one hand. There are a lot of friends that I love deeply but, in terms of friends that I would call at 3am because I was losing my shit, there aren’t that many.
And do there need to be? For a long time I felt a real insecurity about the amount of friends that I’d let slip through the net. Was I capable of friendship? Did they all just hate me secretly and sloped off as soon as they could? Why on earth did we just stop calling each other? Did I dump them or did I just get dumped? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Focussing on what I don’t have isn’t helpful and instead I am grateful every day for the men and women in my life who I know will have my back, no matter what.
The fact is, most friendships don’t stand the test of time. Just like a relationship, a friendship takes work and commitment from both people. It takes a phenomenal amount of understanding, compassion and patience. In the first 30-40 years of your life, your circumstances can change so dramatically at any time - kids, house moves, new jobs, marriages, divorces - that it’s inevitable that your friendship landscape will be an ever shifting one.
I have one friend who I’ve known since I was two. We speak maybe 2-3 times a year. We see each other a lot less but I know that if I needed her I could call her at 3am in the morning. I have 4 or 5 friends who I’ve met since turning 25 who I can’t believe I lived without for one minute of time and I have an ex-friend, who I was very close to, who ditched me as soon as she heard I’d been sexually attacked because she didn’t believe me. My point is, you have no idea who will walk in or out of your life.
I’ve made mistakes in friendships and I’ve been betrayed. All in all, I try to be a good friend but there are times when my life feels so overwhelming that I struggle to look after myself and my family, let alone my friends. So how do you know if that friend is a keeper? Forgiveness. A friend that can forgive the missed phone calls, the cancelled dates, the forgotten birthdays because she can always give you the benefit of the doubt? That’s a good friend. The only requirement is that you have to do the same.