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Frendships are hard

A survey by Relate rather shockingly suggests that as many as 10% of people in


the UK dont have a single friend to turn to. That translates into nearly 5 million adults
who are, in effect, friendless.

Even factoring in that many of these unfortunates may be elderly people whose
friends have died, or inadequates who lack functional social skills, that is still a
significant number of ordinary people who just dont know how to maintain good
friendships.

I am fortunate to be able to claim at least four friends, of both genders, who


stretch back nearly 40 years, and a number of other more recent ones that are close and
durable. But I have also lost enough to understand that friendships are difficult, and the
closer they are the more difficult they become. This is also true of family relationships,
but its very hard to escape your family. With friends, if you annoy them too much, they
can just drop you. Within this simple fact lies one of the first principles of friendship
tread carefully. Friends are precious, even irreplaceable, but they are also fragile.

Treading carefully is easier said than done. Part of a good friendship is honesty,
and sooner or later one is forced to choose between being amenable and giving a friend
the honesty you think the relationship merits. But honesty is always a risky strategy,
whether its asking Do you like my new dress/suit? or Do you like my new
girlfriend/boyfriend? Sometimes you are forced to find out what your friendship rests on,
and sometimes the foundations prove insubstantial.

Friendships can be rooted in a number of different impulses. Unhealthy elements


like need, the desire for borrowed status, and the wish for flattery are as common as the
more healthy ones like mutual interests, sense of humour and natural compatibility. The
healthy and unhealthy are often mixed together, the latter concealed under the myth of
friendship, which suggests, more than marriage, a certain (unrealistic) perfection of
sensibility.

The thing with friends is that because they tend to be bit-players in ones life
lets meet for drinks/a meal/a game/a movie its easy to build up a false idea about

someone with whom you share a friendly relationship.

Generalisations along gender lines are always tricky, but and this is a purely
personal observation I think women sometimes struggle with friendship in the long run
as they seem to have an unspoken pact that a friend should always be supportive. They
just invest so much in each other. Men often accept a little grit in the ointment one can
tell a male friend to fuck off without losing his friendship. Female friendships can struggle
when the faults in either party begin to surface. Friends, like marriage partners, love
each other, but they must also be allowed to hate each other sometimes.

I do not know what I am doing right to have kept such good friends for so long,
but it is certainly worth pointing out that none of them have got to the present point
without negotiating moments of crisis. In each of my closest friends there have been
moments when the friendship has nearly foundered but we somehow came through
them to a relationship that was stronger than it was before the crisis.

The nature of friendship changes, and you have to change with it. Once,
hopefully, I fascinated my friends and charmed them. After 40 years, I am sure I often
bore them and that is inevitable. A good friendship, like a good marriage, ceases after
a while to be a mutual entertainment society and becomes instead a sorority or fraternity
of battle-scarred veterans. We are still here, we still enjoy being around each other, and
we treasure our shared histories. This is something precious, even if it isnt always a
laugh riot.

Is there a secret to long friendships? Simply this an absence of pride. Too


many falter on stubbornness or the determination to hold on to offence. Successful ones
rely on humility and the recognition of human fallibility. These are not merely useful
attributes. They are the heart and soul of friendship.