HAVING FRIENDS IS HARD
A look into why you feel lonely, despite having lots of pals.
WHY ARE FRIENDS SO HARD TO KEEP NOWADAYS?
Have you ever found yourself at a loss? Saturday night with nowhere to go. A midweek day break with no coffee date. Bank Holiday Monday featuring Netflix and Tesco Meal For One.
I have. Life as an actor-musician can be tough- especially during these times where work just doesn’t seem to be coming. Your career suspended in midair until the right gig or casting comes through. But, as always, you carry on.
Last week I said to my boyfriend “I wish I had friends to hang out with”. He replied with a sigh and a smile and a “Bethany, you talk to people all the time. You have loads of friends.” I didn’t believe him.
At a time where most of my uni friends have either yet to graduate or have moved to London, I feel like real human interaction in my life has decreased dramatically. It may seem to my boyfriend that it hasn’t- but that’s because I always have news. Emily has that audition today. Gemma’s tour is going to Liverpool. Andrew went on a date. But I don’t know any of these things because my friends told me- at least, not directly.
Through social media am I connected to my friends and acquaintances, but also through the magic of the Group Chat.
And that’s it, isn’t it? Not only do you never have to schedule a Skype or FaceTime, you’re inundated with updates and questions, and a simple reaction from you can suffice. Interaction with your mates without ever actually having to talk one-to-one, without having to make the effort to say “Hey, wanna chat?”
I call this Accidental Participation. Group chats, social media posts. We seemingly find out so much about their life through these networks that we eradicate the need for one-to-one contact. We can feel close to people, keep up to date with them, without ever actually having to reach out.
Sometimes, it’s a godsend. Making group plans, spreading good news, inviting them to reunions- even the occasional meme or old picture. These things bring me joy and help me keep a good relationship with my old pals now they’ve all moved away. But on my dark days, of which there are thankfully very few, that old anxious voice in my head says ‘They’re only talking to you because you’re all in a chat together. When was the last time someone messaged you and asked how you are? Made a plan? Be honest.’ (1)
WAS I ONLY FRIENDS WITH THIS PERSON BECAUSE WE SAW EACH OTHER ALL THE TIME ANYWAY?
When I was a kid, I walked to school with a girl called Millie every day. Every day we would talk, laugh, ride our scooters (oh yeah, cool kids), and we became as close as two girls from different year groups could be. Then Millie moved. About 600 yards away, across the main road, into a house where she finally got her own bedroom. Millie and I joked about how, in order to walk to school together, one of us would have to cross the road and wait, or we would meet each other half way. Safe to say, this never happened. I went into Year 6, Millie into Year 5, and apart from the smiley nod at Youth Club or in Choir, we never really spoke again.
I feel like a lot of my friends are Millie right now. A proximity friendship run its course. Maybe we'd stay close if I just reached out, if I walked 600 yards, if I made a bloody effort. Then why don’t I?
Well, to start, I’ve never had to before. From boarding school to drama school, life on camp to a musical theatre summer courses- forced interaction was everywhere. I lived with who I worked with, I played with who I fought with. If anything, I spent my time looking for corners of solitude- reading became a respite, and I spent precious time along writing songs. It's hard to start working for something when you've never had to before, especially in your 20s.
HOW CAN I FEEL LESS LONELY?
This is the first time in my life where, if I want friends, I have to work for it. I can’t just do the whole “I miss you! We should meet up soon plz xxx” or “Omg how have you been? FaceTime soon xox” I have to be pratcial. Make dates, make plans, respond. Stop breadcrumbing your pals. (2)
I got a message from a friend in Glasgow, who I rarely see outside of group social events. It went like this:
"hey! hangout soon? I'm skint but I miss you"
And I typed out a:
“yes omg! Ill let you know when I’m free, how are you?”
And then looked at it for a second. I deleted the message and instead sent:
"omg yes! im free Wednesday?? if ur skint I can come to yours and bring food?"
Wham, bam, thank you m’am. A friend date was planned, and we had a gorgeous old time catching up. A simple shift in the way I approached messages, a suggestion of time rather than a suggestion of looking for a time, shifted the whole course of that conversation.
Also, I’ve left/muted a lot of group chats. My year from drama school, work chats, and a group of girlfriends are left open, but the rest I have quietly stepped away from. It’s time to stop with the accidental participation, and move towards active friendships. I don’t have to talk to all of my friends every day- I wouldn’t have time for anything else if I did- but when I do talk to them I want it to be purposeful, personal, and give my friends the time they deserve.
IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?
And here’s the thing- sometimes friends grow apart. If you don’t feel the urge to set a date with someone, if no part of you actually desires a date or a drink or a Skype call- then maybe it’s time to let the friendship gently fade away?
With the rise of social media and group chats, you have constant reminders of the people that were once in your life, and you can feel guilty if you don’t really keep in touch anymore. My best friend from high school did a fashion show in Glasgow last week, I saw on her instagram, and I felt guilty that I didn’t go and support her. We haven’t spoken in 10 months. Why do I feel guilty? Because I was reminded of some past version of myself that wouldn’t ever dream of missing her show. But people grow. I have grown, and we have grown apart. That’s nothing to be sad about, it happens all the time. But the people you want to stay, the people you want to grow with- that’s who we need to start focusing on.
Friendships deserve as much investment as any other part of your life- if you’re struggling to invest time and energy into a friendship, you need to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing this because I want to? Or because I think I have to keep this friendship going?’ If you're honest with yourself, your answer might surprise you.
WHAT DOES THE INTERNET THINK?
I asked twitter if they’s had similar experiences, and oh golly gosh I got a wealth of responses. Not all of them are post-able, but I feel like I want to share a few points. Not only to make myself feel less alone in my plight, but to shed light on some different perspectives.
One twitter user explained that she felt like friends made more of an effort with her when she was in a job (boo, I get you). This is shit. You are worth time and effort regardless of your employment status. If people only reach out when you're in work, then they're not friends, they're social climbers, and you deserve better.
Another user explained how his childhood best friend will be getting married soon, and whilst there’s been a verbal invite spoken with a bar in a crowded bar when they happened to bump into each other, nothing has arrived in the post. Nothing official has happened. An empty promise? Possibly.
A few others thought this was just a natural part of adult life. Only of my favourite responses included “life is fucking busy and I have lots of friends!” Belter.
“Brutal” is a word that popped up in a few DMs. Having to prioritise which friends you actually want to see and focus on them. The luxury of many friends equates to harder social choices.
You can do it, be brutal.
I’d like to point out that this voice is wrong- I treasure my close friends immensely, and am lucky in the fact that they are all good at reaching out and giving one-on-one friendship, not just groups. Shoutout to you guys, you da bomb.
Breadcumbing is a term that used to just be applied to relationships, but now apparently can be applied to friendships, too. The Independent did a thing on it.