Monday, 25 August 2014

When the rain starts to fall....

Another rainy bank holiday. There is nothing quite as predictable, as a wet weekend the minute the words 'bank hol' are whispered. For once, I don't mind. This summer has been glorious, in more ways than I ever imagined, so the relentless rain doesn't bother me at all. I'm finally blogging again - it feels like this year my blog has taken a bit of back seat - maybe because I get to vent about all kinds of subjects over at Babble, so there is less to vent about here. Who knows. If you are still here reading - Gawd bless you.

Anyway, the reason that I write is that the other day I read an article on friendships - where Relate did a survey and discovered that a whopping 10% of people in the UK don't have a single friend to turn to. It reminded me of all the times as a Samaritan, I'd talk to people who felt they had nobody to share their bad (or sometimes good) news with. It always made me eternally grateful for the friends that I have - the people that I love, the people that I can rely on.

So what makes a good friend? Over the years I've had all kinds of criteria for people who I called 'friends.' There were those that I used for connections to great parties and venues in my shallow 20s; those that seemed incredibly important at the time we worked together - only to never speak again once we moved on; people I met for just one evening but felt like I'd known them all my life. Then there are those we gather as we go, and somehow, never put down.

Friendships though are very different to family relationships - as with family you are pretty much tied there for life. But if you don't live up to a friend's terms/expectations then they can drop you like a stone. Only twice in my life, has someone I loved and cared about dropped me without explanation. They simply stopped talking to me, taking my calls, and left me high and dry wondering what I had done. Both times were devastating. Perhaps because I pride myself on being a good and loyal friend - and would never intentionally hurt someone I valued, I simply couldn't understand why they would assume the worst in me - not even bothering to explain why they no longer wanted me in their life. Plus, I had always hoped that if I upset or annoyed a friend, they would value ME enough to ask me for a coffee, talk over why I'd upset them and we could move past it. I respect enormously anyone who has ever called me on my behaviour - as at least they gave me right of reply.

So what do I look for in a friend? Humour, warmth, shared interests, loyalty, generosity (of spirit) and  kindness. Obviously there is the old 'chemistry' that means we click with one person and not another. I'm pretty outgoing, find people in general fascinating, and always want to hear 'their story' - so making friends has never been a challenge.

But what keeps a friendship going? You can meet someone you work with, bond over work and stress and daily grind, and then one of you moves on to another pasture. Then, really, is the test of the 'friendship' - because to maintain it, you'll have to pull your finger out and arrange meet ups and hang outs - and that all takes effort. Circumstances play a huge part in whether or not a friendship survives - as we move around the country/countries - take new jobs, start families, the time we have to devote to our friendships becomes all the more squeezed. We strike up friendships with those living near us, and gravitate towards those who are in similar situations - juggling bringing up kids, hating the commute, 'we're hoping the council will let us extend...' blah blah.

Crucially I think friends have to be honest with one another - and in being so - are at their most supportive. The difficulty of course, is that most of the time this kind of support can be unwanted, or at the very least hard to hear. I can't be friends with anyone who doesn't appreciate honesty, or can't be honest with me. I loathe flattery and manipulation and value those who can tell me I'm being a twat, or to stop worrying about unnecessary stuff, or simply advise me in a way that I maybe don't want to hear - but I NEED to hear.

Most of all, my dearest friends bring me comfort. I can be my idiotic self with them. I can drink too much, swear, cry, be fearful, sad, happy and everything in between. They still love me. Fuck knows why - they must be good listeners that's for sure. My oldest friend I met aged 3, 38 years ago. My newest friend I made in 2012. The majority of my buddies I have known 30 years, or at least 15, save for those I met in the last 6 when I changed careers in 2008 and also moved house/area.

Perhaps at the core of good friendships, is a shared history - of events, (school leaving, uni years, marriage, travelling, career start outs, weekends away, weddings, christenings and more parties than you could shake a stick at). There is a knowledge that no matter how many months you go without seeing each other - the minute you sit down together it is like you spoke yesterday. There is an unspoken agreement that the friendship is there and should you ever really need something - they'll be there for you. Which makes me hold up my hands to count - that if life ever really threw the book at me - who would be there for me, who would hold my hand, offer me anything from a bed to sleep in, to a huge hug? I feel beyond lucky that I can count over my two hands and beyond.

The older I get the more I realise though, that friendships can't be taken for granted, as much as we often do. That just because you've known someone for X amount of years, if they behave badly towards you every time you see them - then why have them in your life? I'm less tolerant than I was back in the days when my life revolved around my social life and dating. Now, I've got kids, I've got responsibilities, I've got less money to spend on catching up with friends, when I've got cricket lessons and holiday clubs to pay for. (As an aside, how on earth did I ever have the money to socialise as much as I did - christ in 1997/98/99 I don't think I ever stayed in!) Time is more precious than ever, so I'm only going to devote it to those that make time for me, and who want to put in as much effort as I do to keeping our friendship going.

In the article I mentioned, Tim Lott asked what the secret is to long friendships? I have pondered on this - wondering for example, why I kept in touch with so many school friends and yet not one of my Uni buddies? What made us all stick together through primary school, grammar school, uni, jobs, etc - even when some of us live a sea apart? I don't have the answer. Lott thinks the secret is an absence of pride.

He writes, "Too many [friendships] falter on stubbornness or the determination to hold on to offence. Successful ones rely on humility and the recognition of human fallibility." 

So maybe that is the key after all - that the heart of real friendship is that we accept our friends for all their failings and they us. That we can always say sorry and move on. That we can make mistakes and still carry on, because life without that person in it, isn't quite as shiny after all.


Tegan said...

I hunk when we are younger we forgive and live with many more faults so those friends we hang on to....warts and all there has been a long acceptance. Once we get older we are less 'forgiving' of character flaws/ticks....which certainly makes combing through for the keepers a lot quicker! I love the people we meet for small periods of our life but could pick up tomorrow if we saw them again. You know, like if people moved to sunny Oz!!! ;-) ps the top is supposed to say think not hunk but ipad won't let me back up there for some reason hehe

Anonymous said...

This is so true! I have a friend who lives on the other side of the world and who I can go for months without speaking to (& years without seeing ) but when my mum was dying of a brain haemorrhage in hospital with days/hours to live, and my siblings all abandoned me, she was the one who lay down beside me on the hospital floor and held my hand through the night as my mum took her last breaths. What that means is beyond words. You have reminded me to keep making the effort for the. 'Keepers' as so often a busy life means you focus on the transients...