I have 3 jobs at the moment and by January it might be 4. I spend the vast majority of my time at work or rushing between jobs. My socialising time is limited at best and it’s forced me to make some decisions about whom I see on the 1 afternoon I have off in 2 weeks, or for the single evening I have until the end of the month. Upon reflection those decisions are quite interesting. Oh I know, this might not sound particularly radical –
“Well, obviously, Abi. We always have to make decisions about seeing people – we don’t see all the people all the time. This is a really stupid point.”
“Au contraire, dear reader. Au contraire.”
– because here is what I mean by making some decisions:
We all have obligation friends, or guilt friends. People who we’ve known for years and feel obliged to see. People who we like well enough, but we’ve cancelled on them for the last 3 arrangements we made so we really have to see them this time (but they’re really quite average company). People who we know don’t have many friends and rely on us much more than we do on them.
Relationship dynamics are rarely equal but when they are, those are inevitably the ones you cherish – those are the people to whom you give your only “me-time” evening in two months. Those are the people you decide not to cancel on when another shift comes up at work and you *really* need the money. Those are the people you choose.
But the others? Well…they don’t always make the cut. And life provides us with valid reasons and convenient excuses to put off those friends for another time, not limited to but including the old “I’m just really bad at keeping in touch with people”. And you know what? We all do it. It’s not so bad and we shouldn’t feel too guilty about it.
We place a lot of expectation on people, on ourselves. But we change a lot. We change at different rates, through different experiences. As a species we’re driven to progress and it is what sets us apart – it is what makes us so fascinating, this striving for progress and change. Yet we cling on to constants as anchors – why? To allow us to know who we are? To measure ourselves by? We make our friends and family like the Mars bar – it hasn’t changed as a product since its release in 1932, so has become a yardstick of the economy. Our friends are supposed to tell us who we are, either verbally reminding us when we forget, or subconsciously reminding us by being there and allowing us to see for ourselves.
Some say that friends are the family you choose. but you can’t shake your family even if you’d like to and sometimes you really would like to. But the thing with friends is that you don’t have the enforced bond of blood to keep you together. That said, for lots of people in their families, that’s not enough either and people do stop speaking, seeing each other only once a year at Christmas, or not at all.
Because we do change. Undeniably, as people, as a species, we change. We fear it and yet we need it. And because we fear change, we fight it. We are quite simply not programmed to remain stagnant. But is that a good way to be and does that make anyone happy?
Friendships are not so different from romantic relationships: a good friendship requires a lot of the same components – trust, mutual respect, honesty, time, love, compatibility and the shared desire to both be part of the relationship with one another. But although we accept that we make romantic mistakes, we seem to find it much harder to accept that sometimes we make friendship mistakes. We’re not expected to hold on to every boyfriend or girlfriend we’ve ever split up from, but there is something inside us that insists we must maintain our dying friendships and keep them going, even if they’re failing. We make excuses for our friends repeatedly because we just don’t want to let them go. And we shouldn’t always let them go – some friendships go through rough patches and need a bit of time or space or extra effort. Some friendships have the clout of a shared history, if not the connection of shared interests, humour or personality traits. But some friendships simply cannot last through so much change, even with all that effort and ultimately it’s because you don’t really want or don’t need them to. Sometimes we outgrow each other or we weren’t really right in the first place. It’s sad, like breakups are sad, but we move on, get over people and find new friends. When we allow those friendships to float away, we survive.
As we get older we have less free time and more routines to stick to. This means the social circle shrinks – you have fewer obligation/guilt friends because you’re probably both too busy to feel obliged to see each other. My brother of 15 appears to have an endless list of people who adore him (he is especially popular though so he might be an unfair example – don’t feel too bad. We’re all simultaneously baffled, in awe of, and slightly sickened by him) and he has all the time in the world to give to them. He rotates, he flits, he is a social butterfly (sorry younger brother – there isn’t a more masculine version of that metaphor. A bear maybe. A social bear? It just doesn’t give the same image. I mean, bears don’t really flit do they? A social bear would trample on everything. No, a gentle social butterfly you shall remain, younger brother.) My parents have a much smaller number of people they see, individually or as a couple. I am somewhere in the middle. It’s just a natural progression as our lives have more unavoidable responsibilities and commitments.
And yes, of course some people are genuinely disorganised or never have a working phone, or remain stubbornly without one. And sometimes it really is difficult to make time for the people you care about because we can’t do everything. We cannot be everything to everyone. We have to accept that we must make choices, especially when time is precious. Sometimes it will be made hard for us because the other party won’t let go – they might think they need you more than you need them and that is always going to be hard. And sometimes it will be easy because without anything being spoken, you’ll both just accept it and let go. You’ll drift apart and that will be it. And you both know it’s OK to let that happen. No break up is better dragged out.
I don’t believe it is that difficult to keep in touch with your friends. I don’t believe it should generally be so much effort to speak to them. Your real friends. The ones you want to speak to. It’s only such a big effort when you’re reluctant to do so. It’s really hard to keep in touch with obligation friends. The real friends, even the ones far away whom you skype or you have to physically leave the country once a year to see for a few days, you find a way because you want to. Those are your “more equal” friends and it doesn’t feel so hard to keep in touch with them.
Wait…what the hell is that?
You’re torn between moving to find out and not moving in case it wakes.
Last night’s antics slowly return to your hangover brain. Oh. *That’s* what that is.
You crack open an eye. Hmmm. Yes he’s definitely asleep and that heavy thing you thought might be a massive book lying open and heavy across your middle is in fact his arm. Oh good. You’re trapped.
You hold your breath.
You release it.
You consider your options – go back to sleep now and deal with him later, run away and just bequeath your bed, room and flat to him, telepathically summon your master of martial arts brother or kick him out now.
You just want him to leave. Why doesn’t he know that!? Why is he still there?! GET OUT OF THE BED, MAN WHOSE NAME YOU DON’T REMEMBER. Phil? Was it Phil? Oh it could have been anything. You’re pretty sure it’s not Greg though. You can’t explain it, but you know with 100% certainty his name is not Greg.
In the end you manoeuvre yourself so that one arm is free enough to reach your phone which was on the bedside table but has now fallen to the floor, ew, under his yesterday’s boxers, which means that he’s definitely still naked. Well that’s that one answered then.
You text your sister/cousin/friend/mum and ask for advice on what to say to make the other human currently taking up space far too near to you leave.
“What do I do to make this guy leave the room? I want him to go!”
Here are some responses you’d get from me if I received that text:
1 – Tickle him then inform him entirely seriously that it wasn’t your fault but your shadow made you do it. Proceed to hiss at your shadow and explain that’s the only way to make it behave.
2 – Put on your fanciest dress and make sure you’re sitting on the bed gazing at him when he wakes up. He’ll go faster if you also stroke his hair.
3 – Call him “Petal”, “Pumpkin”, “my special wittle bed bear” or the wrong name in a baby voice.
4 – Stand over him holding a cross (fashion one out of 2 pencils if you don’t have one readily to hand) and talk in Latin at him. When he asks what you’re doing tell him he was sleeptalking and everyone knows sleep talkers have demons inside them that must be exorcised.
5 – Finish every sentence by neighing like a horse but under no circumstances acknowledge you’re doing it.
6 – Tell him you need to change your tampon and the spiritual blood goddess Menstruata requires that you do it in your bedroom alone. When he asks if you had your period last night just don’t answer.
7 – Call a friend and talk very loudly about how you’ve met the love of your life and you’re going to be together forever and he’s in your bed RIGHT NOW.
8 – Eat some monster munch. Breathe heavily on his face repeatedly.
9 – Begin cleaning while singing Disney songs and tell him that you’re convinced in another life you were the embodiment of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and any other princess who had the ability to communicate with animals. Then crouch down, pretend you’ve seen an ant, spider, beetle or woodlouse and begin crooning to it.
10 – Read out the shipping forecast.
11 – Tell him you’re 14 and your dad will be home soon.
12 – Find any paper or magazine and find the horoscopes page. Begin cross referencing as many as you can in print and online and then declare either that he must go or he must stay forever because the stars have said it is so.
13 – Tell him you, your aura, an effigy and a candle need some time alone to think about what you’ve done.
14 – Bark at him. Like an actual dog.
15 – Offer him a massage and be terrible at it. If you don’t want to hurt him, don’t touch him at all and when he says something, look terrified and tell him that you’ve learned the hard way that you don’t know your own strength.
16 – Mime. Everything.
17 – Make a boat on the floor and sing “Row row row your boats gently down the stream” at the top of your voice, while intermittently shrieking that the sharks are coming and nowhere is safe but the boat. For greater effect, throw a glass of water over yourself.
Of course, if none of the above work or appeal to you, you could just try telling him you have stuff to do and would he mind leaving sooner rather than later please. There’s always that option. But if you’re not going to be up front and honest about what you want to say, you should at least be creative with your lie.