Recently there something a character on the wire (of all places) said which is sticking in my mind. That in life the best you get is your family, and one or two friends who are like family, that’s it.
There’s a lot of pressure to have friends. It starts early, and I am guilty of promoting it. I love seeing sandy interacting with his peers. His buddies Laila, Rohan and Cate are great pals for him to learn from and with. And this sort of friendship is pure, it’s innocent and honest and lovely. They both like playing, so they do. That’s all.
Harking back to another TV show I remember Jerry Seinfeld doing a bit about how when you are a child you are friends on the flimsiest of bases:
“Of course when you’re a kid, you can be friends with anybody. Remember when you were a little kid what were the qualifications? If someone’s in front of my house NOW, That’s my friend, they’re my friend. That’s it. Are you a grown up.? No. Great! Come on in. Jump up and down on my bed. And if you have anything in common at all, You like Cherry Soda? I like Cherry Soda! We’ll be best friends!”
And that’s what’s so pure about children’s friendships.
But somewhere along the line friendship goes from enjoying the world with people you know to something territorial, and discerning, and a facet of your own self worth. I remember in the later years of primary school having a new girl join the class. My best friend and I became friends with her. I began to lose my best friend to her. Three is so far from a magic number. There was a falling out, I don’t even remember why. I clearly remember her saying “Helen, you are a bitch, and you know it!” All I can think now is that I didn’t know it. I was 8. I barely even knew the word bitch. Simpler times I guess, and – rightly – I was somewhat sheltered. The new girl teamed up with the resident bully and, in order to get back in the fold and any facetime with my best friend, I found myself running laps round the playing fields by way of punishment. My mum recently told me she spent the summer around that time in hell worrying about how I’d been hurt. I remember at the time being shocked at how angry my mum was about it, but I didn’t know any better, I’d never experienced the mean side of friendship before.
From then on friendship has been anything but simple, and usually fraught with distress. I went to high school and met a girl in the first week. My peers from my primary school decided we should all introduce our new friends to each other, but they didn’t like my new friend. She was uncool, apparently. I was then in the perpetual schism of high school friendships, the choice between people you like and people who are liked. I could choose to have friends and be picked on or have acquaintances and try and slip past unnoticed. I tried both and ended up moving through groups of friends often, never making any real friends. I was disposable to everyone I met, and as the years passed I was disposed of many times. It hurt, and I found it so odd that one small disagreement could render you an enemy in someone else’s eyes, forever. And what’s more, that person would go out of their way to continue to make your life hell.
I’ve never understood the idea that someone could be a real friend to someone else. That you could utterly depend on that person, that they would put the same amount of effort in as I did to the relationship. I constantly found myself picking up the slack, giving far more than I received and being dropped when it suited them.
A few years ago I gave up on the idea of friendship as I had hoped I would have it. I realised that people come and go, and there is nothing I could do to stop them. I decided to no longer invest too much in relationships with anyone other than my family, lest I be let down. To this day I still do this. I let myself be friends with people but I don’t expect much. Perhaps I expected too much before? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s just me, or if loyalty just doesn’t exist anymore.
I would do anything for someone I loved. And to this day there is only one person in my life I have been friends with who I wouldn’t help out, irrespective of the past or how close we are now. I’m fiercely loyal, because if not, then what kind of person does that make me? The kind of person who would willingly throw away years – even lifetimes – of shared history over something trivial, or momentary, or temporary? Nobody is perfect, yet it seems we are expected to be when it comes to friends. You mess up once, or aren’t as caring as you possibly could be, and someone will drop you without a second thought, wrapped up in their own hurt and unable – unwilling – to consider your reasons. So I try to be forgiving, I try to give the benefit of the doubt, and I try to not take things personally. I want to be a good friend, and I know I can be a great one. But there are so many people out there still stuck in high school that the idea of trusting anyone is a horrible minefield. A risk really not worth taking. It’s a sad state of affairs but that’s the way it is. I have got friends, some very good friends, and people I can confide in, but I think I’ve been too damaged by past experience to ever fully trust another person. But try me. Please do. Pleasantly surprise me. I’d love to see loyalty exist. I don’t want to sit and fear what will happen to my children as they grow up, at the hands of their peers.
And after all is said and done I feel so grateful for my family. The ones I could trust no matter what. That thick blood. It is what keeps me going. Those people who want me, well, I’d do anything for them. I hope they know they are never unwanted.