On Friendship (2017)

I don’t have many friends; I never have. I don’t really see the point. It’s not something I’ve taken to. At primary school I recall spending a lot of time going from group to group, never connecting. Even at secondary school I only ever spent any quality time with three or four people in any given year.

My favourite flavour of friendship tends to be as low maintenance as possible. These days, we have Facebook at our disposal: no, I don’t want to leave the house; no, I don’t want to see you in person; yes, I like your picture of something dumb; yes, I found your comment sufficiently amusing.

I see endless people – the same ones with their myriad lists on Buzzfeed – talking about spending time with their friends; their lives seem to revolve around them: I never did that. I lived my life and occasionally arranged to see some people I knew. Eventually I stopped even that. Is that so bad?

I can’t decide whether it’s that I don’t like leaving the house (I hate leaving the house) or whether it’s that I just don’t like people (I hate people). Friendship is not something which has ever floated my boat for longer than the time it takes me to drink a pint or grow tired of your tone of voice.

I love my own company. Hell, I wrote the majority of this post as a text conversation with myself. It’s just that sometimes I get tired of the sound of my own voice. And I’m not talking about my spoken voice here; the one in my mind is equally nasal and whinging. It winds me up, but I’m stuck with it.

I love spending time with my family. Hell, they’re the only people who can stomach my personality for more than five minutes. It’s just that sometimes we grate on each other, and one of us needs to pop out to get a breath of fresh air. It’s usually me, and as I’ve already said, I hate leaving the house.

The solution may be in the company of others; but if I actually want to venture forth for fun, there’s no one left. Consider my options: the former colleague in the North of Scotland; current colleagues in Wiltshire; the London hipster: all a little far from here. Shot myself in the foot there, haven’t I?

I understand that it’s my fault for not cultivating relationships; there have been times when I have actively shunned my nearest and dearest because I couldn’t cope with myself, let alone any of them. They waited patiently for me, and I told them to go and forth and multiply. Mea culpa.

Facebook timelines of life-long friendships I will never be part of, featuring now grown up faces of people I most certainly used to know. I don’t know whether or not I don’t care. I shun friendship, but I seem to want to use it when it suits me. I want to have my cake and eat it, but only very rarely.

Maybe I’ve filled that ‘need’ for friendship with working relationships. I’ve always worked in places where you had fun and built up strong bonds with your colleagues. In my dim and distant youth, I spent most of my social time with people I’d spent the evenings working in restaurant kitchens with.

Later, I gravitated to working in a company with a tight-knit group. I didn’t socialise with them, but there was always a good time to be had during the working day. Then all but two of us were made very rapidly redundant. I didn’t react at all well, but I did lose 20 perfectly good friends at a stroke.

That loss of daily interaction with a group of like-minded individuals crept up on me. At first I shut the fact that it was happening from my mind; I was in denial. By the time the fact sunk in, I was working on my own, out of my spare room, a bank of HD screens my only permanent companions.

Whether I’m paraphrasing Ozzy Osborne or Mark Twain, it scarcely matters. Regardless, of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my friends the least. Getting rid of a toxic friend, one focussed on emotional vampirism or incessant self-aggrandisement is a truly cathartic and rewarding experience. It is.

It’s something I’ve experienced a few times. Often it’s the ones who are always on the lookout: newer, better, cleaner ; ever-ready to  drop you. Others are more insidious, alternately supportive and derisive, rendering your every decision invalid, infantilising you to hold you in their sticky thrall.

Cutting out the diseased core of a dead friendship, while it hurts at the time, has always been the best choice; usually because it was a choice I made for me, and my continued ‘sanity’. Some people are simply too toxic to be around, no matter how much you like them or hope you’ll miss them.

Mark Twain can sum it up far better: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” It could have come from a really crap motivational poster, but I do believe he was on to something.

My best friend now is the one I live with. A close second is the one which we made together (that said; the dogs do sometimes get a look in too). Maybe that’s the flavour of friendship I need: a true partner who shares the same interests as me, and a child to be silly with. And dogs; always dogs.

The three of us bicker and argue the way real friendships are meant to accept, but cannot. The times I found myself arguing with friends in years gone by were the times I found myself most often alone. Now, a blazing argument with a 3-year-old is just one of the standard forms of daily communication.

The main Facebook timeline I see now is ours; the pages and pages of memories featuring our faces, growing up as they go. All I see in other people’s timelines is sallow youth, coquettish inexperience, and an utter lack of adult responsibility: The joys of the emptiness of life. That, I gladly do not miss.

It feels as if I’ve finally come to the notion that friendship is what you fill your life with until you actually have a life. That strikes me as harsh, but part of it chimes. Passing judgement on the lives of others is wrong, but I’ve reached the point where I’m happy with mine. And without friends to help.

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