You never forget the first time you get dumped.
I was 9-years old when my best friend turned to me and with the type of brutal honesty that only a fourth-grader can muster, said she didn’t want to be friends anymore.
And that was that. The days of playing tennis at her house, and more importantly, kiss chasey with her spunky older brother, were over. To this day I have no idea why.
I retreated to the school library, Judy Blume novels and a growing realisation that if I was going to obtain prefect status it was going to have to be through diligent duty at the school sports shed and not the popular vote.
Honestly, I’ve never been great at making friends.
I was a super serious kid. Introverted, shy and a little sensitive. As I’ve grown older I’ve found that while I’m more than happy to reveal personal stories on the internet (hi!) when it comes to offline relationships, I find it a little harder to open up.
But I’m not alone in being, err, alone. Loneliness is a modern malady. In the UK, more than nine million people say they feel lonely – about 14 per cent of the population. The situation is so bad the government appointed a Minister for Loneliness this year, a legacy of the work of murdered British MP Jo Cox, who in her short time in Parliament lobbied hard on the issue.
In the US, a General Social Survey found the number of American’s with no close friends tripled between 1985 and 2006.
Friendships can be tricky and all sorts of things blow them up: maturing into adulthood at different rates, career success, kids, marriage, getting way too into kiss chasey with your mate’s brother… One minute you’re #squadgoals and the next you are just a lonely duck face #selfie.
For most people, besties are pretty much nailed down before they hit 30. Yes, you may make new friends through work or your kids, but those help-me-hide-a-body kind of friends tend to be forged in the fire of high school, uni and first jobs.
Why is it, that as we get older we find it harder to make friends? Maybe we learn to be less open, perhaps our priorities shift and change and we simply have less appetite for such a wide circle of people in our lives. Maybe there are times we feel unsupported by other women and lose a bit of faith – and patience – in the sisterhood altogether.
Why moving cities and making new friends is hard
And what happens when you are in your 30s and life takes you away from those early friendships? You move city or even country, a relationship ends, or life simply gets so busy that you look around one day and realise your friends have fallen by the wayside.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve met a great woman (or man) with whom I imagined a budding friendship with, fantasising about the great conversations we would have over a class of wine about feminism, kids, work, yoga… I could probably buy the villa on the top of the hill nearby. Sure, Italian real estate prices are low right now, but still.
I suspect part of the reason we make less friends at 35 than we do at 15 is we simply have less time. And when we do find ourselves with a precious open afternoon or a Saturday night with no plans, we’re less likely to take a punt on a horse we don’t know. What if your designated new BFF turns out to be a bit of a dud? They love SATC and you don’t; they’re a Riesling drinker and you’re Sangiovese; or worse, they drink soy milk (joking. Soy is fine, almond milk is when you really have to cut them loose).
It’s harder to build capital with new people. Friendships are polite, kind, thoughtful matters until the proverbial really hits the fan. When you go through a marriage or relationship breakdown, an illness, or some other crisis – that is when friendships are truly formed. Even then, like all relationships they need to be tended to, watered and cared for.
We know people who eat together are happier – but the researchers don’t know why.
We also know that friendships, especially face-to-face interactions, are critical for physical and mental health.
Friendships, especially face-to-face interactions, are critical for physical and mental health.
So, the key to friendships? Put the time in. Social media is a wonderful thing, especially when your friendship circle is scattered across the globe. But it can’t ever replace the intimacy of just hanging out, being able to read a mood or laugh simultaneously or simply bring a coffee, lend a book or share a meal.
We are wired for social interaction. Friendships, even if they are imperfect, are often worth preserving. All relationships, not just romantic ones, deserve our attention, cultivation and love. There really isn’t much that comes close to a proper laugh with a friend and when we’re old and grey we want to be able to share a cup of tea with someone who can laugh at stories from a shared history.
As Judy Blume wrote – “We are friends for life. When we’re together the years fall away. Isn’t that what matters? To have someone who can remember with you? To have someone who remembers how far you’ve come?”.