Friendships are formed throughout our lives, beginning in early childhood. They can blossom out of random events and pure chance.From sitting next to a fellow pupil in school to participating in mutually enjoyed games and hobbies, they begin easily for children – and can end equally quickly when loyalties are tested or distances imposed. As we mature, at some point we become more discriminatory about friends. We recognise qualities in ourselves which we enjoy finding in others – and sometimes turn our backs on possible friendships with those who we unconsciously deem to be outside that perception. Perhaps, in so doing, we lose out – but such decisions can be life-changing.
So, at what point does a friendship cease to exist? Distance is no longer the impediment it used to be, thanks to the internet and new, easy methods of communication. These have assisted in the creation of thousands of new friendships worldwide which would not have been remotely possible even thirty years ago. I have several really good friends who I have never physically met, and the same can probably be said for many of you reading this. No, I’m talking about the point where you start to realise that the relationship can no longer be called ‘friendship’. The moment when you think: ‘Why am I pursuing this? What do I – any longer - have in common with this person?’ The time you decide to call it a day, because people have changed.
I hesitate to introduce a personal illustration here, but I feel I must. So here it is, and the reason I can describe it in this blog is because the ‘friend’ will never read it, and this saddens me because she has been a staunch supporter of my writing throughout the production of my books. This person, let’s call her Sheila, has been in my life since 1974 – which is a really long time for a friendship to last. We met when both of us were studying to become Chartered Accountants, at a ‘crammer’ type institution in North Wales. I would need to write another book about Sheila and her misadventures, for you to gain some insight into her character, but we were drawn together by circumstances and chance, and a fondness grew between us which time failed to quench. Godchildren were born and shared, and both fate and careers took us in different directions and locations.
So, what happened, you may ask? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s more a case of what didn’t happen. We were never alike, and our lives took very different paths. Ten years ago, she celebrated a landmark birthday with a large party which I and my husband and son (her godson) were ‘commanded’ to attend. Such things are logistically difficult when a distance of one hundred and fifty miles of awful roads intervenes, but we managed it despite the cost, staying overnight in a Travelodge. Was it worth it? Not really. We didn’t know the majority of the guests, and we felt like outsiders. It was lovely to see her children after a long gap in their lives, and to meet young grandchildren. Sheila herself seemed in a daze, and where before she and I would have jumped straight into old and familiar conversations, our exchanges were stilted; so much history between us seemed to have died.
Ten years later, and another party invitation was issued last month. I mulled it over. During that time we had seen Sheila once, and she virtually ignored my husband for the duration of the visit. This did not go down well at all, and he declared his complete unwillingness to see her again. Ever. Should I go alone, brave the journey and turn up for old times’ sake, one eye watering from its dry condition rather than tears of emotional reunion? Would she even recognise me this time? NO. (Bizarrely, when I typed the word just now, it capitalised itself.) This friendship hasn’t died, so much as lapsed from lack of use. It’s still there, waiting to be used for Christmas cards. Instead of going I sent a small silver brooch as a birthday present signifying the connection between us of times shared.
A true friend, my husband assures me, is someone in whom you can confide, trust, share laughter and – at times – sorrow. You feel sadness when you say goodbye, and joy at reunion. When these qualities have gone, disappeared over time and change, what is left? Perhaps only memories, but if they are happy ones of smiles and laughter, giggling over stupid and long-forgotten fun, then life has been enriched...