Friendship – quality or quantity?


January 26, 2011 by jessperriam

“To all my friends who have entered my life, I thank you. To all my friends who have left my life, I also thank you,” was something along the lines of a quote one of my wickedly-humoured friends had on his Facebook info page. He doesn’t have it up there anymore so I feel as though I’ve not captured the tone of it.

But friendship is something that’s been on my mind as I spend a lot of time in my own company. Yes, sitting in Starbucks, pondering friendship. Lame.

It’s shoved itself into the front of my mind in many ways over the past week. Mostly through conversations with all kinds of friends. The new friends I’ve met here in Manchester, the ones who give you that warm, fuzzy feeling of connection in an unfamiliar place. The friends who to be perfectly clinical have come into your life through a set of flukes and random circumstances (but aren’t you glad they did?). And then there are the old friends (qualification: a friend becomes old after you haven’t spoken to them in more than six months) who make you wonder whether it’s worth continuing the friendship.

Why so serious, Jess?

I had a conversation earlier in the week and I’d heard friendship placed in some fairly blunt jargon: social capital.

Have I mentioned that I love hearing about new advances in jargon?

Essentially, so long as we have close friends we will never truly find ourselves wanting for food, shelter or many basic necessities in our time of need. That’s because part of friendship is sharing when times are tough.

According to my friend, I have social capital. I have many friends who wouldn’t hesitate to lend me a couch or a spare bed (even if it induces crazy dreams like Bradbury’s spare bed). Or at least I have the ability to be a friendly, likable person. Likewise, I have many friends that I would move heaven and earth for to make sure that they’re ok. That’s what you do: you share the good and the bad and if you’re like my friends and I, you share lots of laughs and red wine for good measure. But I think we’d be just as solid sans red wine.

I am lucky. I have amazing, intelligent, thoughtful, talented friends. I should get a brag book like an overenthusiastic grandmother. You should be glad I haven’t. I wouldn’t want to embarrass the poor dears.

I hope to be lifelong friends with those closest to me right now. And there are some that I just know will be like that. I hope to see my future kids chasing El Presidente’s future kids while they yell insults at Bradbury’s future kids at a barbecue somewhere in suburban Australia. Pardon the rose-tinted glasses, I’m sure there is at least one element of wishful thinking at play there.

I’ve read the much recycled statistics – we’re more likely to lose friends than gain friends as we get older. I think that tendency to cloister ourselves off from the possibility of new friendship as we get older is so sad on many levels.

But at the ripe old age of 25, I feel as though I want to haemorrhage  some of my old friendships.

And before you drag it out: I’ve fully contemplated the old “reason, season, lifetime” platitude regarding friendship. It is true. It’s just Hallmark-esque. I’ve been trying to do autopsies on some friendships, to see whether they really are dead or whether there is a chance for revival.

Some friendships just drift and others gain a priority in the friendship league table (something I absolutely disagree with but it’s real and it happens). I have an old friend who I was close about eight years ago. She became closer friends with some of my friends and now it’s impossible to pin her down, it has been for many a year. She’s constantly double-booking herself and I’m the one left on the unfortunate end of that equation. What do you do? Is it time to call time on that friendship? Or do you merely resign yourself to the fact that you should never expect quality time with this once close friend? You can have friends that come with little or no social capital.

And what about the old friendship that’s had its day? The damage is done, it’s too costly to rebuild, it would only be stop-gap repairs anyway. I’ve been grappling with this one for some time. The damage done – although pretty hurtful at the time – is now irrelevant, but there’s that seismic shift in trust and respect with no equal footing.

After the better part of half a year I called him purely on selfish terms. I needed someone I knew in my own timezone to tell me I was worrying over nothing. Tick.

And once that bit was out of the way, conversation turned to the sweetened condensed version of the “so what are you doing now?” topic. And that’s where I realised the friendship was as good as dead. Not for anything in the past but because I was bored. I was bored with the competitive, oneupmanship nature of the conversation. He said he’d changed and perhaps he had changed, I think we’ve both changed for the better. But the nature of our friendship, the nasty nature of our friendship hadn’t. What’s the use of a friend who makes you feel inferior?

So while I thank him for his words of reassurance at a much needed time, I also thank him for his absence in my life. Some friendships are best left in the past tense.

My tally of Facebook friends rests somewhere in the 300s, but my friend reminded me – numbers don’t equal social capital. He should know, he has 700-odd Facebook friends.

So while I’m not going to cull my Facebook friends to make a (temporary) point, I’m going to work hard to deepen the friendships of those I want to have at that future barbecue somewhere in suburban Australia. Quality rather than quantity.

Does that make me a bad person? Would you lend me a couch (just… you know… so I know)? You can tell me that sleeping-state Jess looks like a murder victim…


2 thoughts on “Friendship – quality or quantity?

  1. Hilary says:

    Jess, we barely ever see each other and it’s been that way for ages, but just so you know- my couch is your couch, and I’d like to think it still will be when we’re old friends who are also actually old. Just sayin.

    • jessperriam says:

      Hilary, we’re super solid. We’ve been solid since our Dads passed our toddler-selves over the back fence. You’ll have my choicest spare bed. Anyway, I reckon we’ll end up being those annoying old ladies who go on bus tours of lame destinations together. And complain. Loudly. Can’t wait for retirement.

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