(Listening to: “Somewhere In Between” by August Wilhemson).
Friendship is like the ocean.
For a long time, I’ve thought of myself as an ambivert. Well, I did when I understood the concept of what that meant.
I thought I was the kid who got on with everyone. I made up games with people, I played outside a lot, I was friends with everyone in my school (that wasn’t difficult. There were only 30 something of us).
Once we get towards secondary school, I regress into myself a little. There’s a lot more fish in these waters. I test out who would make a good friend. I keep them close. I dip my fins into different shoals. I was friends with a great wide selection of people from different groups, but never seemed to have my own. I liked flitting about amongst them all. It would have been difficult to form my own group, because all my friends gradually slotted themselves into one or the other, and a lot of them didn’t always get on with each other. I felt like the mediator. I felt like the ambassador. But maybe I was just the ambassador for myself?
College splits us apart. We go separate ways. I find myself in a similar situation to when I was eleven. My friends depart and go in separate directions to me. I feel left standing there, but maybe to them I also departed in my own direction. College is where we bloom into ourselves. We experiment with things. We make lewd jokes and do lewd things. College. It’s just the epitome of being a teenager still – young, carefree – but being old enough to know what you’re doing. Those sweet two years where it feels like time stops and you’ve got the best friends in the world.
After exams, post-18 world. Do they call it post because it’s like just after the apocalypse? It definitely felt like that. I was left standing in a wasteland. My hometown suddenly seemed empty and derelict and as though no one was left around. I picked up small pieces – fragments of acquaintances from before, through old, long friendships. I maintained a few whispers of friendships – some, in particular, would go on to mould and shape themselves into new things entirely different from how they started out.
What did I do, finding myself pursuing a different path than the one people tried to carve out for me? I could see the empty path to one side of me; a path walked by so many of my old friends, friends who had left me behind to live the university lifestyle and delve into their number one passions deeply. I didn’t want that for myself – at the time I didn’t know whether I ever would. What was left for me? I had little guidance.
Maybe I’ve always done that, without realising it. Sloughing people off like barnacles which just don’t quite stick fast. I felt like a ship cast out to sea and no compass.
I turned to the only other thing I saw people my age doing – wanted to connect with friends in the dizzy lights of post-10pm clubs hidden away under the streets of my hometown. The student experience without having to be a student. One by one through the hours we’d peel away and turn home, until finally whoever was left would emerge blinking into a hazy dawn.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been awake at that time of the morning, out and about. Again, it’s how I imagine it after the apocalypse. If you see anyone, it’s street cleaners sweeping up the debris of drunken follies with chips and kebab remnants.
Eventually I grew bored of this. Sometimes it would be because I really wanted to see so-and-so, but they weren’t out that weekend. Sometimes it was because I couldn’t face the hangover the next day, and the long weekend cumulative of 20 hours labouring pretending I can do latte art and being nice to rude old people (a 19 year old’s hell, truly).
Work proved to be the next mining shaft for friendships. I chipped away at people, patiently, finding some diamonds there amongst the coal. But the truth about the industry I worked in is that people come and go so fast sometimes you don’t even have time to shake their hand and say hello before it’s time to say goodbye. I do think fast friends are made wherever you work, but sometimes you have to accept they probably won’t be lifelong.
Ah, the elusive lifelong friend. I’m forever jealous of people who seem to have that huge group of friends they meet up with year after year. But I’ve come to accept that maybe that isn’t me. I’ve always been the sort of person to slot into different groups, and I think that might always be the case. But I do find friends wherever I go, so surely there are some ‘lifelongs’ amongst these past times, days out and galleries?
I have three things to say about lifelong friends.
For me, a lot of them are people I’m related to. I’m not ashamed to say that the people closest to me emotionally are also the people closest to me genetically.
Something about university knits together a lot of misfits. I think I would have regretted never reading my way through my degree, because I would have lost out on a lot of the best friendships I feel I currently have.
Don’t discount people who really try. I’ve got one friend in particular who has stuck around for more years than anyone else (who I’m not related to). I don’t know why she’s still around, but thank **** she is. It’s nice to say you’ve known someone a long time, especially when it’s through thick and thin.
What I’ve learned now I think about a lot. I’m constantly assessing the landscape of friendship every single year of my life and how it shifts and changes. I think it must be like the ocean. Some places you swim to are full of life; teeming with opportunities and places to find people you get on with, fish like you. Other places seem like the open ocean. Not a lot swims there.
Sometimes you get a great catch, though.