Let me ask you a question.
How many friends do you have?
Now, I don’t mean how many people would join you on a drunken night out full of fun and laughter, or shopping sprees and lunches out. I could fill a room with acquaintances with a bit of planning. I mean those that, even though you rarely speak, let alone see each other, would drop everything if you needed them at short notice. Friends that understand all the factors in your life that make you seem like an unsociable waste of time. I work full time. My son lives with me full time. I don’t have an awful lot of spare cash. I only get to see my partner once, occasionally twice a week, so no, I’m not free on the one night everyone else seems to be. I can be a boring bugger for whom the literal meaning of Netflix and chill is often what I want to do. On my own. If I was my friend, I wouldn’t put up with me.
So, real friends. What are they? What do they do to earn the title?
I can honestly say, I can count on one hand the people that I class as those that put up with being my friend, a true friend, despite all the above. Five people, spanning my 40 years on this planet. The longest I’ve known for 23 years, the shortest I met this year.
During school, I was quite shy. I had a very small group of friends, most are still in touch now, two of them are Godparents to my son. It was a small group, and that’s what I was comfortable with. I had classmates. People you’d walk from one lesson to the next with. I was neither bullied nor popular. I just, was. My childhood was wonderful. Easy even. Parents still married, both working, we had regular holidays. Nothing happened that needed me to think about who was there for me in a crisis. I got along with people, but noone new was added to my circle of friends. Then, as I still am today, I was happy with my lot. Never felt I needed more.
At college, I had to become a little braver! Only one person from my school was going to Art College that I had classed as a friend, and even she was doing a completely different course to my Fine Art & Design. Lunchtimes we would seek each other out, but we had to make new friends. She was more sociable than me. If someone didn’t make an effort with me, I wouldn’t start a conversation.
One of the first friendships I made at college was with an outgoing, chatty girl from Bangladesh. We had nothing much in common apart from drawing but she was the loud to my quiet. She helped my confidence but she soon switched courses and went to do Textiles leaving me back to square one. We’d catch up lunchtimes, but my days were looking lonely. I was left sat on a table with two guys who had become friends with each other. One of them was a deep thinking, sarcastic guy with a rather bleak outlook on life, the other a bit more outgoing. I kind of ended up becoming the third wheel in their friendship, but grew particularly close to the deep thinker. After a while, we became inseparable. At lunchtimes we’d escape to the local park for him to have a smoke, and we’d talk and talk. People assumed we were an item. We weren’t and I didn’t see it going that way at all. I was so blooming grateful to find someone who accepted me for the way I was and was happy to just keep me company. I did a two year course at Art college, and the majority of that was spent with this guy. Until, everything changed. Valentines Day came around, and he asked my advice about telling a girl he liked her. I did the whole “you’ll never know if you don’t tell her” and “the worst she can say is no”. Supportive friend and all that. Now reading this you can probably see where this is going. I didn’t, at the time. Maybe because this guy was the first close male friend I’d ever had. I saw no attraction from him, nor did I feel any towards him, so when he replied ” in that case”, while producing a card and a rose from his backpack, I really quite honestly didn’t know what to say or do. Actually I can’t remember what I did do. Perhaps I’ve blocked it out of my mind. All I know is, even though I was keen to keep the friendship, it didn’t last. Well, not in the same way. A trip to Belgium was imminent, and I wanted to be in a room with my friend from Bangladesh. However, her new textiles friends didn’t want me in the room because, and I quote “she’s too quiet, I’d feel awkward trying to talk to her”. Even if we’d still been close, sharing with the deep thinker wouldn’t of been allowed, and I was put in with a girl I barely knew, who got drunk every night and had a fling with the barman. I vividly remember sat in a corridor while her friends comforted her one night after the barman had told he had no intention of keeping in touch after she’d returned home. Sat in the same corridor was the deep thinker. He was there regretting drunkenly sleeping with a girl in our party. We sat in silence and I hoped our friendship could be rekindled when he started telling me what had happened. We did speak a bit more again after that trip, but I’d definitely lost my best friend. I got through the rest of college with no one to really call a best friend. I was too quiet, too boring and didnt smoke nor did I drink excessively. I suppose I never really fit in. I enjoyed my college days, but I came away with very few life experiences. Today, I’m still in touch occasionally with the girl who moved to Textiles. A few others have popped up on Facebook. None of them could be counted on in a crisis.
Now I’m not saying that all of my friends wouldn’t jump in a car to be at my side in an emergency if I needed them. They would, I’m sure of it. As I would for them (if I could drive!). The majority however don’t put up with me on a regular basis. Don’t suffer my insufferable paranoia
So, on to those that do. Those people that put up with me, put themselves out for me, still love me despite seeing me go through the highs and lows of life, let me rant on and on about the same thing so that I can get it straight in my own head, listen to me justify myself over situations that to them, I don’t need to justify myself over. Like I said, I can count them on one hand.
The one where we wrote to each other.
During our teenage years, my sister and I had several penpals each. Most of them had similar interests in music and football. I found writing to people so much easier than talking to them, a trait that stayed with me. I am so much better at writing than talking! Anyway, some of our penpals we were able to meet up with on big get togethers in Birmingham or London. Others were too far away. Many good friends were made in the process. Again through the wonders of Facebook I’m still in touch with many of them and its great to see marriages, kids and good times for them all. One particular penpal that I started writing to in 1994 though, we’ll call her LC, has become one of the five people that I count as a real true, message whatever time of night, friend, and the one I’ve known the longest. After a penpal advert was published in a football magazine, we started writing to each other. She lived the opposite side of the country but our letters were nothing short of epic. Most of my penpals at the time had really pretty stationery and would write a couple of sheets worth each time. LC and I would use standard A4 ruled paper and our letters would on average be about ten sheets each time, front and back!! We talked about football, boybands, crushes. Everything and anything. As with everything, life got in the way and the letters weren’t as often and eventually stopped but Facebook allowed us to keep in touch. Neither of us could drive and the journey across the country was long and expensive. We talked about meeting up, but logistically it was difficult. However, an opportunity arose in 2010 when I had to attend a course at my work place Head Office near Norwich, which was as near to LC in Ipswich that I was ever likely to get. The hotel they put me in was literally in the middle of nowhere and it was still a bit of a trek for LC, but we did it and finally met for the first time 16 years after becoming friends! Since then I was lucky enough to be able to go to her wedding and we’ve even been to a Reunion concert in Birmingham together. Distance means nothing. She picks up on my vague Facebook statuses and messages me right away, almost knowing what is going on. We don’t talk every day. We don’t need to. I know if I needed an honest unbiased opinion, LC would give it to me. I suppose that’s a good point about a long distance friendship with no real friends in common, you’ll always get an opinion that has your best interests at heart because they aren’t influenced by loyalties to the other people involved in your situation. Its good to have a friend who isn’t in your usual circle. We are determined to meet up again soon, but whether we do or not, the friendship is unbreakable. The distance makes it impossible to fall out over trivial things. I do believe very few people have a friendship like this, but, despite the miles, it works for us.
The one where we’re like sisters.
Next up is a girl I met in my very first job. In 1997, S was literally just 16 and I was 20. Most people make friends in the workplace, and through staff nights out etc, some become closer than others. S and I were friends at work and after we went onto different jobs we kept in touch, went on memorable nights out, she came to my wedding and we grew to be good friends. She won’t mind me saying that we didn’t talk for a few years, a combination of me feeling she had let me down by not coming to something I felt was important, and work taking her away from our hometown. However, I soon reached out to her again and, after hearing her side of the story, its fair to say, since getting back in touch, we are stronger than ever. I literally love this girl to pieces. The day after my marriage broke up, she was sat in my front room, at short notice, helping me and doing all she could to uncover the truth about things I’d heard regarding the split. She is my rock. She is my concert buddy. She has got my back. She is my bodyguard. She’s first in line to sort anyone out who crosses me. She is my very very best friend. She’s as protective over my son as I am. She’s the bad influence who keeps me out all night despite my insistence it won’t be a late one. Again, work commitments and life mean we don’t talk every day, but when we do get together, its like we’ve never been apart. It doesn’t matter if we’re out on the town or sat watching a movie with take out, we have just as much fun. She’s my go to girl. My partner in crime. The person I’d talk to if I needed to know if camels sweat, or equally if my life depended on it, she’d be there. Good times and bad. This girl whisked me away for a day of pampering for my 40th birthday because she knew I needed it.
The one where we work together.
My next job at Tiny Computers saw me working with a guy, let’s call him B. I worked here while pregnant with my son in 2003, and through B, I met his girlfriend LJ and their year old daughter. LJ would come in to see B at work, and due to the nature of the job, ie not constantly run off your feet serving people, I got talking to LJ too. Fast forward a few years and LJ and I were enjoying the same kind of epic nights out that S and I enjoyed, long after I no longer worked with B and she no longer dated him. We’ve been in constant contact and although not out with each other all of the time, we’d still see each other around due to the close proximity of our jobs. Again, a few quieter years where work and being Mum took over for the pair of us, but fond memories of pushing each others children around in their pushchairs were shared. Then a job became available at my current workplace, and LJ was miserable to the point of illness at her job. She applied, was interviewed fairly (and she interviewed fantastically) and she got the job fair and square. Since then, she has worked her way up to become my assistant manager. We’ve both had equally bad times and we are both always rooting for each other for things to turn out for the best. Its probably LJ I feel the most sorry for as out of the 5 friends I’m talking about, she really does have to “put up” with me the most. She’s seen the tears, witnessed the paranoia face to face. The others tend to get the toned down, calmed down messaged version.. While poor LJ gets it in blasts as soon as she gets into work. But then I’ll get the same from her, and that’s why we’re so close. Rough with the smooth. Days at work can be long and slow.. working with LJ, you can add random to the list. With just one look, we know what the other is thinking, and its usually something we shouldn’t be! On that note though.. it’d be kind of unfair not to mention my other two work girls. We may not have the same number of years friendship under our belts but my gosh have they been there for me. They have literally worked with me through my best and worst days. The lot of them have seen tears, put up with giddy squeals of happiness. Laughed with me, made coffee for me. As a small team of 4, we almost HAVE to get on, but collectively, this lot would be friends through choice now. That goes for ex employees too. Amazing ladies that I miss so much that were and still are there for me. One thing my current workplace attracts is awesome people. Team 133- you know who you are!
The one where we can cry on each others shoulders.
Fourth on the list of friends I can turn to sort of sneeked up on me. At primary school, our sons became good buddies, and L and I would chat in the playground while waiting for them to finish on the odd occasion I was able to be there due to work commitments. We became friends on social media, which mainly involved sorting out our sons social lives. The more we talked, the more we found we had in common, and more so, how similar we were in character. Both paranoid. Both doubt ourselves. We became each others “pep talk”. Whenever one of us was feeling down, the other would build back up again. That is exactly how this friendship has continued. L is an amazingly talented woman, who shouldn’t need telling that she’s awesome. Understanding where she’s coming from though helps. L really truly came through for me when my marriage broke up. I experienced some very low lows that I hid from the world and couldn’t let my family see after all the suffering they’d already been through. L wouldn’t sugar coat things, she’d relate stories and experiences of her own that proved to me she got me. She understood me. Most importantly, she made me realise it was OK to feel everything I was feeling. I wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t over reacting. Since then, if I need a kick up the backside, I talk to L. And her, to I. We often say to each other its both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very very deeply. L is the one that understands how I can relate songs to my life, because she does too. L is my voice of experience. She is my oracle of advice. She’s the one most likely to tell me “F#&k the lot of them”.
The one where we’ve only just met.
The final person on my list proves that it doesn’t matter how long someone has been in your life, its how they’ve proved they are there for you in that time. I met them by chance just this year and general chit chat led to more in depth conversation, which led to feeling like I’d known them forever. There is no history to go into on this one as its so new, suffice to say, I feel they are there for me, and I, them.
Some people come into your life and you get to know them, and you get on well, but you don’t think to tell them if something important happens until you see them again. Occasionally, very very rarely, you’ll meet someone who, with good news or bad, you’ll think to contact straight away, because their opinion on it will matter to you.
I don’t have a crystal ball to see into the future, but going purely with my gut instinct, I reckon if I was to write this blog again in five years time, the same 5 people will be on it.
Perhaps there’ll be more added. I certainly won’t let it lessen without a fight.
They will always be my friends, they know too much!