Friends. Now there’s a contentious issue. And I’m not talking about whether or not they were on a break. Nope, I’m talking about best friends, worst ‘friends’, real ones, pretend ones, the good, the bad and the ugly. Not to mention Facebook. Friends come in all different guises and it never fails to shock me about how amazing the unexpected are and how shitty the supposed best are. You win some, you lose some, some cut you out whilst others claw their way in, friendship really is an absolute bloody minefield.
When I was younger I wanted lots, it was all about the numbers. After all, how many friends you’ve got is a clear indicator on how wonderful you are as a human being, no? Look at my numbers, just look! I’ve got over 200 friends on Facebook ergo I am incredibly popular and therefore wonderful. Bollocks. I’ve just happened to meet, go to school with, work with and socialise with a grand total of 246 people since I was born, which in those terms seems pretty sad. Even sadder that I’d say I can count my real friends on my fingers. But now I’m older I’ve realised viewing friends in the same way as sweets is needless and equally as bad for my health. I’ve always wanted as many as I can, not caring about the quality and even putting up with the sour ones. Whilst my Haribo addiction is going strong, I’m starting to feel a little sick of the ersatz ones.
This year there has been a giant friendship shift. One of my best (I use the term loosely, very loosely) friends has decided that we are no longer such. I only discovered this little nugget of information when she and my other three ‘best’ friends met up and posted pictures online of the whale of a time they were having together. Minus moi. Ouch. I’m 28 and was immediately transported to year 4 when again; my ‘best’ friend told my successor that she hated me in the girls toilets. “No she didn’t,” I said smugly, “she wouldn’t say that, she’s my best friend! You wouldn’t say that, would you?” Looking me square in the eye she answered calmly, “YES”. At least she was honest. This time there was no such explanation, I was back at school and my supposed best uni pals had decided that the individual feud I was unaware of was worthy of some classic cutting out bitchiness. Yes there’d been a slight chill in the air between me and she, but I’d spoken to her and she bluntly said she was irritable, I was irritating and it was just one of those things. We’d been friends for five years; of course it was just one of those things, no biggy, right? Wrong. The fog didn’t lift, so I spoke to the others and each one said the same, “it’ll be fine, she’s done it with us all, you know what she’s like”. Yes! Yes I do! And so do you, so why am I the one getting the big heave ho? I asked. Something meek was muttered, there was a lone apology and the stark realisation hit me, I didn’t really care. If they were truly my friends would they have followed the forceful ringleader just for that reason? Had we all kept in touch because of some imagined duty founded just because we’d shared the same lectures? We were growing up and apart yet were determined to cling on for dear life despite personalities and geography getting in the way. For a while I felt bereft and, honestly, a little embarrassed. It made me feel unpopular, humiliated and disliked, it hurt my feelings. I was disappointed because whilst I was aware of the tension in one camp I thought the others knew better and it was a shock to be dropped quite so brutally.
Once I’d recovered from the initial jolt of friendship from playgrounds past, I looked around and noticed that I was surrounded by people concerned about my glumness. It was then I realised that these were all the girls who’d called me the second they heard I’d been made redundant and who organised a surprise chocolate cake on my birthday. These were the girls who text to see how my mum was getting on when she moved house and pointed him in the direction of my favourite jewellery at Christmas. Scary thing was, I’d not known them since school or bonded with at university, we’d met, we’d got on and a friendship grew from a mutual like for each other. Sheesh, this was new. It had been instilled in me that friends were made when you were young and it is those you hold on to through thick and thin, through irritability and irritation. But what if the only bond was the same course, same class or penchant for eating play dough? What happens as we get older and the very thing on which the relationship was established no longer exists? It falls apart, and trying not to feel like a big fat (and not to mention unpopular) friendship failure is hard. So much focus had been put on keeping duty friends; I hadn’t noticed how many other pals I had around me. Of course I have friends that I grew up with and who I have a genuine bond with. But looking around at the grand old age of 28 I realise my best buddies are those not forged from family or educational institution. Scary but true. Part of me is a little sad that I haven’t grown up with my best group of friends and can’t reminisce about that time in the sandpit, common room or SU. But the other part can’t wait to make more memories with the greatest gang a girl could ask for.