Last night I had a chance to catch up with some of my oldest friends and absolute favourite people. It was the 20th birthday special for a club night I regularly went to when I first moved to Edinburgh and half my evening was spent hugging people I’ve not seen in years. The same old faces didn’t even look like they’d aged in the last decade. It got me thinking about friendships, and the different friendships we have throughout our lives.
I was chatting to someone about the overlap between online friends and IRL friends. One of my closest pals is someone I met once on a conservation trip, four years ago. To this day I can’t remember much of that week, nothing much stuck in my mind but I recall the usual exchange of Facebook contact details with everyone at the end of our week away. I’ve stayed in touch with some of them, some I occasionally “like” a stray post. Some wind up being people I can have a vent to about anything. Last week when the shit hit the fan, I had friends I’d only met a handful of times text me in the middle of the night to check I was ok.
My social media skills were sketchy up until midway through last year, and though I had a Twitter and a Facebook for years, I was definitely a lurker. I have social anxiety issues with people I don’t know well, so when I meet people randomly I really don’t know how to handle myself. I always feel like I won’t have anything to say to people, even though I would probably say I am a fairly confident person.
One of my best friends is someone I met on Twitter. We started chatting because we’d both bought tickets for the same gig, and now we chat every day. If I have good news, she’s the first person I’ll tell. If one of us is having a shit time, we know we can always count on each other.
It got me thinking. This past year I have met some awesome people. At first it was a rogue comment on a tweet that resonated, but then I found that they were the first people I spoke to every day and the ones I said goodnight to before bed. Sometimes we talk about serious stuff but just as often we goof around and joke about our lives. I’ve had comments from people I have known for years, saying “but you met these people online, how can you call them friends?” Well, I do. When I’m feeling down, they cheer me up. They know more about me than people I’ve known for years.
As someone who has always been big into the club scene in Edinburgh, however inadvertently, there are people I will see out every weekend who I know nothing about. They don’t know about my hopes, my anxieties, and I’m sure most of them don’t even know my last name. Being present in someone’s life, being in front of them, doesn’t necessarily mean they are a friend. I never understood the need to be accepted by a horde of acquaintances, when you couldn’t phone a single person up at 2am because you can’t sleep and need to chat. What is the actual point?
Sometimes it’s easy to mistake the larger community as a ready-made group of friends, whether it’s fans of a particular band, fellow vegans/vegetarians, people who went to the same school or university, gamers, nerds, or bloggers. You already have something in common, right? You can chat about your favourite ever song/avocado/flatlay well into the night and have an amazing instant friendship with EVERYONE! Everybody deserves your friendship! Everybody is entitled!
Uh, nope. That takes away autonomy and free will, doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter what common ground you have, there is more to friendship than just interests. Sure, there are friends you make and friends you keep out of convenience. When I was a kid if we wanted to have a birthday party, our parents were under strict instructions from my school that everybody in the year was to be invited. Depending on the class sizes, that could be anything between 30-45 folk and let’s not kid ourselves, that’s a pretty epic number of children. It was mayhem.
Did it eliminate cliques? Of course not. We still chose who we wanted to socialise with, we still sat with our pals at lunch, we still hung out with the people we liked on weekends. Forced inclusivity really did nothing.
One of my besties works the most antisocial hours in a bar; she sleeps most days and doesn’t finish closing up until 2am. Last night was the first time we’d seen each other in months, and we had the best time dancing around like kids and we hugged the hell out of each other a dozen times. She went home as soon as the lights went up, but nothing really compares to that look of total and complete happiness to see someone. I don’t care if I see someone once a day or once a year. If you’re my friend then I will always be happy to see you.