August 03, 2015

The Friendship Massacre

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You are in your twenties. Each day you’re finding out more about how you are. You have more people to please than before. You accumulated friends like you accumulated expensive vintage dresses. A dream career to follow. You have a bit more growing up to do.

Basically, reaching this crazily busy age is a “like a friendship massacre. There is blood all over the walls” described by my writing hero Ryan O’Connell. He’s right you know. You cannot do everything you are doing and keep all of those friends you’ve accumulated from the last twenty years. It’s physically and literally impossible. Sometimes you don’t actually “throw them out” you just “forget to wear them”. Or they forget you. 

And I’m glad he plucked up the courage to say it. Because it’s true. When you start working in a strenuous, emotionally-draining job, especially one you love, time is suddenly way more precious. The weeks are long and busy; with a tiny slither of light that is used as one’s “spare time”. I’ve never been very good at Maths but what I do know is that you can’t fit a square into a triangle. Some things just won’t fit, however hard you may try. We only see the people we really have time for. And ironically the average person has 157 Facebook Friends in the UK.

I have a really vivid memory of being on holiday in Portugal, very young. At a restaurant I remember asking my Mum about one of her friends, who had two daughters the same age as me who I’d “made friends with” years prior (aka cut the hair off some Barbie dolls together, the stuff 6-years-old do to “bond”). I asked her why we didn’t see them anymore. My Mum replied that they lived very very far away and that they weren’t as good friends anymore. I remember being mortified. Being at school at the time, constantly surrounded by hundreds of friends every day I was baffled at how you could just casually not see someone anymore. At school, we never ever thought we’d ever be separated. Ever.

You don’t just lose friends, little-me would think to myself. Friends don’t just “come and go”. 

Except they do.

Now, I get it. You can have friends for a month, a year, two years, three years, because at the time you had lots in common and it was all rosy. When I think of friends I’ve made over the years, from school, university, work, it’s fair to say only a few really stick. It’s like when you throw pasta on the wall to check it’s cooked. Only a few will stay without falling sloppily to the ground. It’s half chance, half deep-rooted connection that your best friends with stay with you until the bitter end. It’s rare that friends also stick with you when you discover your different hobbies and beliefs.

You all get taken down very different paths, and yet expected to enjoy chatting for 3 hours on the phone every night. Lucy Mangan’s piece in this week’s Stylist was interesting; she said “when you first get married, you often find yourself gravitating towards your married friends”. This must happen when babies hit the scene too. How depressing. 

Sometimes you will be disappointed by friends who “you’ve known forever” but cannot see past their own reflection. Some will get boyfriends and go way past the excusable “honeymoon period” into just plain laziness to socialise, and some will have different, random priorities that you just couldn’t have predicted.

We all know that there are different types of friends. There’s the:

a)     Best friends are just there all the time. You never leave each other alone.

b)     Mates that you love and will always be on any party invite list

c)     Coffee once a month friends who you both wish you saw more of

d)  Brand new mates who you are excited about getting to know

e)    People who get in touch when they want something

f)     The-Ghosts-Of-Friendship Past who only say “happy birthday” on your Facebook wall

g)      People who you bump into who say “let’s do coffee” and you know you NEVER will 

Being the social animal that I am. I like having friends and I like meeting new people. I love chatting to people at any time of the day, and going out and doing things. Weirdly, I’ve become more introverted over the years (picking a Sunday afternoon in my pyjamas over going to the pub) but all in all, I adore people. But, since moving to London and getting immersed in my job and having proper grown-up “responsibilities” I couldn’t help feel like my friends were dropping like flies. 

One of my favourite writers Ryan O’Connell wrote about the whole friendship thing in his twenties in Vice: “When I entered my twenties and the post-collegiate workplace, however, I was introduced to a variety of different definitions of what it meant to be someone’s friend. Apparently, being a friend now means meeting someone for drinks from 5:00 PM to 6:15 PM, or only seeing someone at night when you go to a party and get drunk and hold hands all night, acting like the best friends you will never be or maybe being nice to someone who you don’t like but have to keep around for professional reasons, whatever the fuck THAT means.”

What is that about? Friends suddenly being free for “ten minutes after work, sorry babe!”, or “I’ll pencil you for 26th July 2015” when you’ve quite clearly stated you’re having a nervous breakdown.

However, I’ve had an epiphany recently. And epiphanies take time.

I’m actually pleased that a job and a “busy life” filter out the good, bad and the ugly of the friendship world. A friend is NOT someone who shoves their busy diary in your face and “squeezes” you in. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, not really, who were the better friends. Or who would actually be there for me when I needed them. That was when our lives revolved around drinks and parties, of course you were inundated with socialising and group nights out. Everyone was free AT ALL TIMES.

But realising the rubbish ones are is hard. Losing a friend is hard. Ryan also calls this out in his piece: “We expect dating to be hard, we expect getting your dream job to be far-fetched, but what we don’t count on is having our friends no longer make sense to us. They were supposed to be the easy part.”  It’s like a break-up except you can’t appear to be too upset. You both move on. You have so many private jokes you can longer share with them. They get a new best friend and put it all over Facebook. You feel like you’re whole relationship was a lie. When you’re young you give so much more to your friends than a boyfriend, you invite them everywhere,  stay up all night crying with them, succumbing to peer pressure with them. It’s a properly “earnt” friendship. It’s exhausting. 

But, now, post-massacre, I’m glad that at the end of it all, that through the mystical strange world of being a 20-something and “figuring it out”, I’m happy that this natural friendship cull happened. Quality over quantity is genuinely better, for me, anyway.

The people that I meant to stay with you, will stay with you. And I’m so lucky to have them. Even if it’s still a frigging nightmare to book holidays off work all at the same time.

Image source: @girllostincity Instagram

  • Great post. It’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently as I hurtle into being 30 this month. I spent a good few years in my 20s being single and friends were my second family. It’s been strange to see how those relationships have changed as we’ve got older (particularly the last year or so) and have different priorities. I definitely need to start seeing the positives rather than mourning those losses. I guess it’s all a fact of life! Things change and move on.

  • Thanks for writing this – I’ve actually been thinking a lot about and feeling guilty over this issue of friendships fading away over the past while, and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s seen this happen. A few years ago I moved overseas, and in the process I’ve watched as my three closest friendships from where I grew up slowly started to disappear. I always thought we’d remain close forever – we even promised each other this before I left – so it’s been shocking to realize just how much work a friendship actually takes, that time zones play a bigger role in keeping people together than I ever would have imagined, and that when free time is a precious resource, sometimes I just prefer to interact face-to-face with new friends than sit inside the apartment in front of a computer (which I do all day for work) to talk to old friends. I feel bad about this, but at the same time, friendship shouldn’t have to be forced, right? If there’s a reasonable amount of effort from both parties and the friendship still starts to fray after a while, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be as long-term as we originally thought. I still feel guilty about this (and grasp at the fragments of the friendship to keep it from dying out completely), but I do agree that quality is better than quantity, and as people change, friendships appear, evolve, and sometimes disappear…

  • I love this post. I have been going through my own friendship massacre as of late. I have moved to a new city and started my first real adult job. Its hard but I definitely agree that quality trumps quantity any day! Thanks for posting.

  • Are you reading my mind or what? 😀 Lately I was thinking just about this. I moved from Czech republic to Cambridge, UK last year and I feel really lonely. I didn’t find any friends in a job I found here, then I changed jobs. I will start in the next one a week from now. I hope to find some friends there. But I also noticed how friendships can change… I have one… friend? Acquaintance? We were friends in the beginning. Then this friend started to fight with me over anything, nothing really relevant, just fighting to fight. Then we didn’t speak for a few years and now we are talking and attending social events (we have common friends) but I wouldn’t say we are friends. It’s strange… One other friend got upset with me and she didn’t tell me, I just found out that she is not talking to me and she is avoiding me. And another friend just started to ignore me. Nothing happened, we just drifted away… And now she ignores me when I’m asking something, but I respond when she is asking. I don’t know why. I miss the old simple days filled with gossip, fun, activities, school…

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