on . . . new friends and old
A newish, straight-talking friend said something interesting the other night as we ate Indian food at way too late an hour in the kind of restaurant where there’s no closing time exactly just a policy to keep on serving ’til there are no customers left. We were discussing friendship and how you sometimes think you have enough friends in this life so you can’t be bothered to recruit new ones.
I always think I’m closed for business when it comes to new friends and then someone new comes along and I think: I thought I had enough fellow life travellers but nope, turns out I need this person too. Hop on board the friendship train ladies and gentlemen, destination Deep Conversation, Late Night Vittles and All Round Good Times.
“The thing about you ...” my newish friend said, between mouthfuls of king prawn korma, “... is that so far you haven’t done anything to annoy me.” I know I could have taken this badly. I mean what a thing to say, as though she is some kind of arbiter of annoying and I should be grateful that so far I haven’t put her nose out of joint. But I knew what she meant and I took it as a compliment. A year is plenty of time to cause annoyance. Let’s face it, you meet some people and before they’ve even opened their mouths they’ve gotten on your nerves. So instead of being offended, I cracked a poppadom and basked in the glow of not-being-annoying.
To her. Not annoying to her. Because the truth is, like most human beings, I am deeply annoying. Ask the man who lives with me and he’ll gladly point out my irritating ways. “She took the fridge door off its hinges the other day,” he will point out which to be fair was something of a freak accident albeit of the kind that only seems to happen to me.
“She seems to think the floor is a chest of drawers,” he’ll moan. And if I let him he’d take over this whole column pointing out stuff like my programming the electronic doorbell to make a cuckoo sound that nobody can hear except me. Yes. I am as annoying as they come, but I haven’t annoyed my newish friend yet and that made me happier than hearing a bucket load of more conventional compliments.
I might not have irritated my newish friend but I worry sometimes that I am not a good enough friend to my old ones. The fallout of making these new friends is the neglect of those who have been around since the days when I wore stripy, MC Hammer-style leggings and had hair like a desperate Annie Lennox wannabe.
I knew I was guilty of such neglect when an old friend rang me to say she’d been talking to one of her newish friends. “She said, ‘how did Róisín get on in New York?’ and I said ‘New York?’ And she said, ‘yeah, she was in New York. So I was just wondering, were you in New York?”
“Eh, I wrote about it,” I said, as though that were sufficient but my old friend doesn’t read this column. “Oh,” she said and I realised that something had happened where I was doing that thing of taking my old friend for granted and taking more interest in my newish friends than I was in them.
A similar thing happened to me recently. An old friend disappeared off the face of our friendship. She didn’t return my calls, she didn’t write, she didn’t text me supportive messages at the exact time when I was feeling inexplicably down, which is something of a speciality of hers. I felt the loss deeply. I went through all the stages of lost friendship grief. Shock. Sadness. Pissed-offness. It was only when I got to the Acceptance bit that she suddenly resurfaced again.
I was surprised by my reaction to her olive branch, which was to welcome her back into my world without any desire to even question her disappearance. Somehow it didn’t matter. She had needed to take time out of our friendship and I didn’t take it personally and I still loved her as much as ever. Maybe more. I think our lasting friendships, the ones that will survive everything, have that acceptance hardwired into them.
An excellent friendship motto is Sinéad O’Connor’s album title How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? Easier said than done sometimes yes, but such a worthy aspiration on so many levels.
And while I know that at some point in the not so distant future I am bound to annoy my newish friend, I’ve got a feeling that, like me, she’s in this for the long haul.