Listening to a recent Brene Brown podcast on friendship today gave me, as they say, “all the feels”. Friendship is such a difficult but important topic. Connection. Love.
I don’t have many friends. I am quite difficult to get to know I think, much more so than I once was. It gets really hard to make friends as you get older. Or at least I don’t think my experience is totally unique. It was never that easy to really make a connection. And life makes it hard to hold onto them sometimes.
When I was at school, my earliest friendships were cut short by moving house, mine or theirs. I reflected on this in my counselling course – what impact did it have that I made these bonds, one after another, only for them to be severed, again and again. And so I tended to be on the periphery, floating around other friendship groups. Until middle school, and after that friendships and relationships became intense and complicated and muddled.
Friendships in high school were strange because there was a huge part of myself that I had to hide away – not being able to come out as bi (indeed the lack of discussion of the issue at all meaning it took me a long time to settle on a label – thanks Section 28) – so not being my whole true self with friends, or with family, or even with my then girlfriend, for a variety of reasons. But I did meet some wonderful humans back then. I wish I were still in touch with more of them.
University brought more freedom, and authenticity, and amazing friendships. It was a chaotic time but I look back on that luxury – living on campus, sharing every day and night with a group of people just starting out in life and living it with such intensity.
Part of me would live like that again in a shot – some kind of communal living. But another part of me has become a bit of a hermit and would hate it.
Leaving university was the biggest wrench. The artificial end of so many friendships. We didn’t have facebook back then, so letters and phone calls and visits were required to keep any relationship going. That takes work. On both sides. And when friends are scattered to the four winds, and life becomes full of work and new relationships, people drift. Some quickly, some over years, some gently and some in angry resentment.
New friends were made at work. My second golden era, a close knit group of people of similar age who worked and played and laughed together. Mid to late twenties for me. But things change. Relationships soured, people moved on, and those that stayed, our priorities changed and it just wasn’t the same. It became harder to be friends at work. People seemed to resent it. I’ve even seen people say you shouldn’t be friends with colleagues because you can’t trust them and that’s just the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard. In my experience I work best with friends. With a team who care about each other.
In my depression, I sometimes feel so very lonely. And like everyone left me. Which is nonsense for I have left them as much as anyone ever left me. But there was for a long time a feeling that I remained the same while everything changed for everyone else. I think because people had kids and I didn’t. And my I didn’t get to move through some of the changes I had hoped for in my life at the time I hoped for them.
But coming out the other side of that, making friends was different. There are people you feel a connection with, and those that you don’t. I’ve come to realise that other neurodivergent people tend to get me better than others. My view of the world, my communication style.
There have been times when I have met someone and they have said “we’re going to be the best of friends!” and I have recoiled. Because the connection wasn’t there, but also, it felt wrong – isn’t friendship to be earned? Something that builds over time and familarity and learning one another’s strangeness? Why though? Why does it have to? When the connection is there, it doesn’t. When the connection is there I can meet someone for the first time, and being introduced feels like, “Oh yes. It’s you. I know you. I’ve always known you.” Maybe it is a past life thing, or a wavelength thing.
And here I am at 45 and there are several groups in my mind when I think of friendship.
My husband who is my best friend.
My two closest friends – who live too far away, but who I am still in reasonably regular contact with. One from work, one from university.
The two close friends (it feels too little to say friend for people who felt a part of yourself for so long) that I have lost in recent years, way too soon.
The two close friends, one from university, one from school, who I am not really in regular touch with, and I wish I were. One I check in irregularly with on Facebook, or vice versa – the other who moved away a long time ago and seemed to sever all ties.
The people I used to know well and wish I still did but its long enough to feel weird and stalkery to reach out.
Then there are those people who I didn’t get to know well at the time when life brought us together, but who social media has given a second chance to learn about and now I kind of wish we could be better friends.
There are people I know in real life (I know – how old fashioned) who I kind of feel are friends, could be good friends, but I’m not sure how to develop that. Life doesn’t give the opportunity for deep and meaningful connections and conversations.
How do we make friends as adults? How do we make new connections?
Social connection is an important factor in our wellbeing – we grow through other people, through relationships. Love helps us deal with pain. So trying to reinforce those connections which are there, and build new ones is important, but it can be really hard. When I moved to Hebden Bridge, I was here for years before I started to get to know people. Joining the WI gave me the opportunity to meet people, but not really to connect. But over time, those faces you know to say hello to might become people you see in a coffee shop, or a bar, and stop and have a conversation with. But how does it evolve beyond that? I’m not sure.
Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I already have what I am looking for. But can I be vulnerable enough to find out? To risk testing the strength of these connections and find out if they hold. But then I also wonder if others are feeling just the same. I wonder if they are thinking if they’d like to go for coffee, or talk about life or ask for help, or company – and then thinking, no, it’s presumptuous, I don’t know them that well, they don’t really like me. We’re all daft and vulnerable and afraid.
We should all be a little bolder.