This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about (and largely feeling a bit guilty about) for a long time. But a recent glut of inspirational photos on social media about friends and their virtues and how time and distance cannot deteriorate friendships has begun to grate on my nerves. Enough that it prompted me to write a post about it. Sometimes, real life friendships aren’t as effortless as all that. Because sometimes, people have complicated lives. Sometimes, people are a bit lazy. And sometimes, people are, well…not fictitious characters on a sitcom.
Did you ever watch ‘Friends’ in the 90s? Don’t lie. I bet you did. Even if you’re not from that era, you will have watched the reruns. It was a popular TV show. The writing was very good – it was amusing, and it stood the test of time. But I remember watching it the first time around. I remember being obsessed with it. And I didn’t just like it for the witty characters and ‘possible’ romantic relationships woven throughout the show’s ten seasons (hurry up and get it together, Ross and Rachel!). It was the fact that this was a group of companions who were so close, they were more akin to family. I recall how I used to secretly envy this group of six fictional people. How wonderful it must be to have a hand-made clan in your life; sitting around coffee shops all day with your best buds in the whole world.
Looking back, I don’t know why I was envious of this TV ‘gang’. I’ve actually experienced group-friendships (or something like it) a few times in my life. I’ve had sets of friends who I’ve been so close to, we virtually lived in each other’s pockets. And at the time, it’s wonderful. You feel, oh I don’t know, just terribly lucky. Lucky to have been chosen as part of that little gang. Because suddenly you’re a tribe, and you belong. But the thing is, no matter how close those friendships are, no matter how certain you are that bonds that strong can never be broken, that close-knit unit never seems to last. Well, not for me, anyway.
Of course, I have many friends from the past that I’m still friends with now. But not in the same way. Time, distance, change in personal circumstances – they all take their toll on friendships. Life gets in the way. What particularly vexes me are those inspirational pictures that suggest that no matter how long it has been since you’ve seen old friends, you instantly pick up where you left off when you meet. I mean, that’s nice and all, but often it isn’t like that. If I haven’t seen somebody for a long time, at first it can be a bit awkward. A lot has changed. You have changed and they have changed. There may have been kids and jobs and partners and life traumas you have absolutely no idea about. You can’t just jump right back into that laugh-a-minute relationship you once had. Yes, after a while, you usually start to warm up a bit, and those old memories do come flooding back. Sometimes those old friendships do fall back into place and are re-established. But it isn’t always instantaneous to rekindle those links and ties. There are a lot of years to catch up on.
Perhaps it’s just me – maybe I’m a horrible person (although I prefer to think of myself as a frank person). I’ve always said I’m difficult to know. And if I’m honest (and I don’t think this blog conveys it enough), just like the rest of my family, I suffer from shyness. Luckily, mine is not debilitating. It’s concealed under a tissue of quick-fire gags, but it’s just a cover for shyness, all the same. I don’t expect to be automatically likeable, I’m always surprised when people do click with me. Popularity doesn’t worry me anymore, I quite like who I am, but I’m not easy to understand (no, not in a cool and enigmatic way, just in an awkward one). So I respect the people who are prepared to put in the work to know me. Why they do it, I’ll never understand. Because I’m terrible at maintaining relationships – putting in the continuous effort that this requires. I come from a family of six children (maybe this is why I don’t try as hard as I should to maintain other relationships) and I’m not often in regular contact with my siblings either. I deeply regret that I didn’t call my late sister on a weekly basis – because now she’s gone and I can’t ever speak to her again. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but I don’t think I have. Still, family seem to forgive you for your inadequacies – maybe because you’re ‘blood’ and they have to. But friends don’t have to forgive your lack of input. And why should they?
Perhaps it’s something about us writers as a whole (sorry fellow writers, these may not be your opinions and sentiments, I can only voice my own). But writers spend half their lives (probably more) living in a fictional world. We often have one foot outside of our realities on a semi-permanent basis. Being a writer can make you a bad mother, a bad partner, a bad sister, a bad daughter – and a bad friend. Well, sometimes it can. It’s hard to step out of your fictional life and into the real one which is often harsher and crueller than the one you’ve created in your head. And maybe the problem is, us writers are never really alone or get the chance to feel lonely, we always have another existence to fall back on. And yet I’m still ‘a friend’ (mother/partner/sister/etc) of sorts. I’m just one that flits in and out of those roles perhaps more than I ought to.
There are a tonne of TV shows like ‘Friends’; shows with idyllic group-friendships we all aspire to. I’m probably guilty of writing about this fantasy version of friendship too. Maybe we all romanticise it – because we wish it were so. Maybe it isn’t a fantasy for many people, but it doesn’t ever seem to be sustainable for me. The depressing fact is, life and the curve-balls it throws, it distracts me from the work that is required to maintain those fragile bonds. And they are fragile. ‘I’ll be there for you’? Well, I’ll really try – but I can’t promise. Sometimes my own crap will be drowning me at the time. Sometimes, I’ll be so exhausted I won’t have the energy. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or I’m not a real friend, I’m just an elusive one – at times. And I don’t expect you to always be there for me either. Real life isn’t like that.
This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about friendship and my complex relationship with it. I’m not exactly obsessed with the topic, but it interests me. Mostly, I’d just like to express regret for the old friendships I have let dwindle; for the people who I once knew many years ago – who I now only interact with on social media, but nothing more. Or the ones I have let slide completely. I didn’t mean for it to happen – but it just did. If I ever got the chance, I’d fix those bonds; to re-establish what we had – keeping in mind that I’m a different me and you’re a different you. But if you’re prepared to stick around despite that, and tolerate the inconsistent being that is me, then I’m a good friend to have. No, I am. Well, I’m a good laugh down the pub, at least. I might be in your life for years, maybe even forever. Drifting in and out. Not like a Rachel or a Monica, in all probability – but perhaps more like a Phoebe.