Saturday, 11 August 2012

In which I say nice things about my friends

Anyone can be your friend. You just need to hang around them long enough.
 - Will McKenzie, The Inbetweeners

I have some fantastic friends. Loyal, smart, funny, interesting, generous, gorgeous, creative, talented and accomplished: They've all got several of those traits, and a surprising number have them all and more. If I could fake modesty, I might wonder aloud how I managed to gather such a fine collection. But even admitting that I'm a pretty fine fellow myself, I also have to admit that I'm still pretty damn lucky.

My ability to make new friends is about as non-existent as my ability to get laid on purpose, in that I have no idea how it works in practise and can't initiate it on my own. Fortunately, it's much easier to make friends by osmosis and I've met lots of great people without ever setting out to, and even being distant and guarded at first. And once someone's been officially filed in the 'Friend' category of my brain, I have trouble ever thinking of them as anything less, perhaps because I have a bit of a twisted, optimistic, cartoon understanding of how friendship should work, with no sane reason ever enough to want to permanently give up on them.

Reality's gradually taught me that things might sometimes be otherwise. The least unsettling is that sometimes people just grow apart. That's not so bad; I can still have fond thoughts of someone and wish them all the best even if they're far away and we haven't had anything in common since childhood or whenever. David Mitchell has a slightly extreme but more or less valid perspective on this:

But then there are occasionally people who decide they no longer want anything to do with you ever again. I think "forsake" is the right verb for that action. It's taken me decades to get used to the fact that some people don't assume the inherent permanence of friendship that I do. Sure, I have and/or cause fights with people, sometimes very serious fights. But nobody's perfect, especially me, and I can't accept that inevitable, healthy conflict over specific issues voids the value of the good times and the general nice feelings we share. Apparently, there are people who... I don't know. Can't drop a grudge? Aren't willing to risk any conflict? Weren't even invested in the friendship in the first place? I don't know.

One other twist is that I think I might be unusually bad at judging how much to invest in active friendships. Sometimes I lean towards Cable Guyian over-enthusiasm, sometimes I worry unreasonably that my very existence might be too much of a bother to burden someone with, and sometimes I'm just negligent, for various reasons. I suppose everyone strays into those things, especially the over- and under-enthusiasm bits. I just feel, in a very subjective, evidence-free, anecdotal sort of way that I'm extra bad about this. (Huh. Writing it out like this, maybe I'm too harsh on myself. Typical stupid me!) Seriously though, I do sometimes wish people would spell out exactly what my friendly duties are. And I guess I could let people know what I want in more specific terms; let me begin by saying I miss getting thoroughly drunk with fun people and that I lament the so-called "grown-up" turn a lot of my social circle has taken recently. But that's maybe a topic for a later post, if not direct personal communication with the relevant people.

The advent of online friendship is probably also worth writing about, since future generations will probably just take it for granted. It used to be that you had to physically bump meat with people before becoming friends with them, except for the odd and little-respected pen pal hobby. Then, in the early years of the onlineyverse, you could meet interesting foreign people from all over, but probably only if you already had something in common, and if either of you drifted away from the sites you both used (forums, mainly), the odds of keeping in touch plummeted. The main advantage of social networking sites, when they were finally developed into useful and distinct things, is that they gave us somewhere to keep track of all these distant, disembodied people, even when we change specialised online habits and hobbies and hobbits.

I've always been slightly taken aback when I notice that a new and unknown person has started showing signs of becoming a friend. But it's even odder to me when it happens online now, because it's so much more sudden and blatant: "Bob has sent you a friend request." Really? Who the fuck is Bob? Friends are nice, but aren't you supposed to at least know someone before becoming friends? But of course, the old offliney words don't really fit properly, as we never had a word for the act of hanging around someone who seems vaguely interesting, in the hope that mere association will develop into friendship. But my initial surprise aside, I've met some fantastic people online like this. Or rather, they've met me, as I'm still no good at initiating things. But it is easier after that, since friendship is not fundamentally about any of your meat lumps except for the one in your skull, and that's all that shows online. (And I have some lovely skull-meat.)

On review, this post seems a wee bit sterile to me, since I've intentionally left it free of specific examples. I have a million friend-related memories I could have thrown in here, from the distant, fuzzy half-memories of Golliwog Nursery School, through the eternity of subsequent academic settings, to the strange vivid hours rolling polyhedrons for thrills, in a million fictional places in games, on screen and in our imaginations, and ultimately always the best memories that are just of happy thoughts people have stashed in nondescript corners of my mind. But if you were there, then you already know what I'm talking about. And if you weren't, then it won't mean enough to you to matter.

In summary, friends good. Let's all be friends and not be not-friends. The practical prerequisites do bear further discussion, though. Also, more beer.