There are some friends you will forgive almost anything. You lend them favourite books you will never see again. You bail them out at three in the morning, knowing they got so drunk they ordered pizza and tried to rob the delivery guy. Again. No. It’s cool. They wore a ski mask this time. To disguise themselves. And you just laugh. Because they’re your friend.
Even later in life, you can find it within yourself to indulge one or two close and special friends like this. But only one or two. And only if you’ve known them since way back when.
Love is blind, but friendship closes its eyes.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve,” Stephen King wrote in Stand By Me. “Jesus, does anyone?”
There are, I think, two ages of true friendship. A younger and more guileless time for flattening coins on railroad tracks together and poking dead bodies with a stick, deep in the forest. And those mad, free years of your early twenties before work, debt, and parenthood completely press the joy out of inessential delights like poking the ol’ forest corpse—rendering it instead just another tedious chore you’ll struggle to get to between Kimmy’s netball practice and having the dog’s unsightly bulging rectal tumour chopped off by the vet, even though it’s probably benign and is quite the conversation starter down at the park.
This is what we’re reduced to in later life when looking for new friends; the metaphorical equivalent of parading a captive animal with a novelty anal growth in front of random strangers on the off-chance that one of them might comment favourably. Because after thirty, every chatty rando with an interest in canine sphincter cysts is just a new best friend you haven’t met yet.
You do get to a certain age and suddenly it’s hard, perhaps impossible, to make those special friends you can trust to mug the home delivery pizza guy, and who can trust you not to judge them for it. There’s no secret to why this happens. Sociologists have known since the 1950s that true friendship can form only when three conditions exist. Proximity, serendipity, and security. Most sociologists are also garden gnomes in tiny corduroy bib-suits which is why they use words like proximity, serendipity, and security when what they really meant to say was that you’re most likely to make friends with people nearby, after lots of unplanned meet ups in a setting where you feel free to be yourself, to be honest and even vulnerable.
The friends you had when you were twelve, and the friends you made at school or college, they’re the ones you’ll have with you decades after the holiday adventures, the road trips, the break-up support sessions and great parties and all night bullshit carnivals and whatever-and-ever amen have all passed into history.
You can’t really replace them with office friends, or ‘frolleagues’ as Linkedin calls them (because Linkedin is the sort of creepy clavicle-biting upskirter stalking the rows of the cubicle farm who would totally come up with a word like ‘frolleague’). At the office, or the factory, or the small suburban hydroponic cannabis plantation—wherever you make your money—you’re certainly in proximity to all those potential ‘frolleagues’.
But there is no chance to the meeting, no repeated fortuitous coincidence to your being together. No choice, really. And work is not a safe space in which to share. Just ask anyone whose ‘private’ Facebook post about chucking a sickie to attempt the 20-beer record during a Twenty20 cricket match turned out not to be so fucking private after all. Not once their ‘mate’ Darryl in accounts flicked a screenshot to the boss.
No, your later life friendships tend to be situational, contingent.
Bob’s daughter play’s with your daughter at preschool.
Bob works in a comic book store.
Just quietly, Bob has buried half-a-dozen rifles and a samurai sword in his back garden and is two beers away from coming out as a Proud Boy.
Still, free comics!
So think about your best friends. You may not have spoken to them in years, but that doesn’t matter. This sort of friend, you can call them any time and pick up that friendship as though you laid it down like an old, dog-eared novel on your bedside table, just last night.
You should do it. The corduroy gnomes say its good for the soul. And you do smile every time you think about them trying to mug that delivery pizza guy.
From The Seven Stages of Drinking Martinis. (Free on Kindle Unlimited).