Last week in this column, I wrote about the unfortunate fact that I have fewer friends than I would like, or perhaps than I should (I am unsure who is entitled to dictate the minimum required number, but it is somewhere between one and…something). What followed was quite interesting. Numerous strangers online asked me to be their friend, most notably a man on Instagram who scuttled into my message inbox to make the request. It was accompanied by a graphic and retina-detaching photograph of him dressed as a baby, complete with bonnet. I declined.
More interestingly, and far less likely to cause trauma-induced macular degeneration, were the enlightening conversations it spurred. Unsurprisingly, many people are in the same position – friends emigrate, marry, have babies, or become adults who dress as babies for a hobby, and you find that an inevitable drift necessarily occurs. Setting out to make new friends in adulthood is daunting. I have often, at work events or with the valued friends I do have, sat through conversations in which women in the midst of planning weddings are lamenting the mounting costs.
"The list is up to two hundred and all of the Dennehys are coming – even that hard drinking, poem-writing uncle who no one has seen since he moved to South America in '87. Jaysus only knows what the cut of him will be when he turns up." This always prompts me to wonder who would be on the invitation list if I had a wedding. If I could scrounge up eleven people, I would be doing well, and at least three of them would be related to me, so I'm not sure they would count really.
I can often feel a bit invisible to people who so often seem more gregarious, funnier, more confident and more successful than I am
When the column came out, people in my life saw it. They will check regularly to make sure that I haven't written about their private business. Frequently, I have. Nora Ephron was right – everything is copy – so they should probably keep their secrets a little more fastidiously. Some philosophical questions were raised by people who read the column, and by my own brain (that traitor) in writing it – what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for friendship? What is the definition of a friend? Where is the line between a warm acquaintanceship and a friendship? Can a person be a friend if you don't communicate with them at least semi-regularly?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. If you do, email me – it would really take a load off.
However, I began to receive emails and text messages from people I know who were prompted to get in touch. There are plenty of reasons why I don’t have many friends, and it would seem unwise to ignore the fact of my own crotchetiness and tendency to relish a ten o’clock bedtime as contributing factors, but the response to the column highlighted an error I had been making.
It is an error so many of us make; a tendency to move through the world with a sense of pessimism about ourselves and others. For years, I have been quietly going about my business, like a squirrel busily hiding nuts and then forgetting where I left eighty per cent of them without much peripheral vision. I don’t particularly notice people noticing me, and I usually presume that they won’t remember meeting me, or having a conversation.
Though not imminently conscious of it, I can often feel a bit invisible to people who so often seem more gregarious, funnier, more confident and more successful than I am. This is of course irrational. I don’t know the fact of the matter about their lives, and I often feel invisible while they are actually talking to me, so it certainly isn’t a scenario of their making.
The point is this – like so many of us, I often go through the world ignoring the signs that I am valued by people around me. It is very possible, if my email inbox is anything to go by, that I could have more friends if I warmed up a little, tried a bit harder, and stopped holding myself back. Instead of seeking out strangers to befriend, I could take a risk and reach out to the people already, if peripherally, around me.
I could be wrong, but there are worse things than being wrong. There’s always the guy dressed as a baby.