Friday, May 16, 2008

Friends again

My sister and brother and I spent part of our childhood being educated at home. After a difficult time at our rural Scottish primary school (we were either “tinks” because we were dressed in second hand clothes and clearly poor, or “toffs” because we had English accents) we didn’t have a peer group around us except for each other; and I think this affected all three of us: we felt like outsiders and our social skills (probably) and self-esteem (definitely) suffered as a result.

The other-ness that made us shy and fearful when we were children is, perhaps paradoxically, part of my confident armoury now; but one legacy from those days is that friends are hard-won, and important to me: I don’t collect them like bangles. The end of a friendship is something in its way as devastating as the end of a romantic relationship.

I started at a new school in Edinburgh, at the age of 13, having spent four years in the “little school”. It was a terrifying experience: how sophisticated they all were with their clothes and hair and make-up and cigarettes, and talk of snogging and lovebites and drinking at parties; how self-conscious I felt with my cheap clothes and hennaed hair. Another girl, F, joined a year or two later, an outsider in a different way, and we gravitated towards each other. She was very different from me: her parents lived in a huge house in Morningside, her father was a name partner in a firm of accountants, and she had come to the school from a well known all-girls school. F was overweight with dyed blonde hair and given to dressing in long black all encompassing tops and skirts. She was clever and funny too, but defensive and prickly and prone to outspoken criticism of others. She used to say she’d love to be a traffic warden because of the power it would give her over others. We were similar too and shared a love of the Smiths and of quoting lyrics at opportune moments (“aye, there’ll be blood on the cleaver tonight”). We went clubbing together at the (legendary, for Edinburgh) Kangaroo Klub, and I often stayed at her house. Her parents liked me. We never fought over boys. We had fun together, even though I resented her family’s wealth and she probably resented me for being slimmer than she was.

Perhaps because of our conflicting feelings about each other the sine curve of our friendship sometimes horrifyingly dipped into hatred and I particularly remember sitting cringeing in a maths class as I heard her loudly bitching to my brother’s ex-girlfriend about me. She was competitive and vindictive, and I was probably no better; when we were friends I loved her and when we were not I loathed her, and I’m sure she felt the same way about me.

After we left school we kept in touch; she went to Manchester University and I went to Glasgow, and despite a disastrous visit to “Madchester” where we went clubbing (I still remember dancing to the (pre-Blur) Mock Turtles’ “There’s No Other Way”) and she thoroughly alienated me and our friend Tara by spending the whole evening chatting up some skinny bloke and then announcing to us at 3am in her room to me and painfully boyfriend-less Tara “I’ve just got a boyfriend!”, we were still what you would call friends. When I applied for my postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice she lent me some money to do the course, which was incredibly generous of her.

This was the seed of our downfall though: after I finished the course and started work, I was a bit slow to pay her back as I wasn’t earning much, and I missed a few payments. Instead of calling me about it, though, she took what was probably the advice of her parents and sent me a “legal” letter by registered post threatening me with legal action if I didn’t repay her with immediate effect.

I sent her a letter with postdated cheques for the remainder of the money, and said I was sorry and that I hoped we would laugh about this in years to come. I have never heard from her since.

I still think about her from time to time and wonder how she is and where she ended up. I heard she works as an audiologist and is very successful. I've never forgotten her, but I'll probably never speak to her again.


Grande Poobah said...

oh boy.

you've reminded me of my platonic friendship with Esther at school which in the end I finished as we were too close and I needed more space. I was at the time 14. It was very important then. And also, at that time, the most meaningful relationship I'd had with anyone outside of my family.

I realised when back in London that the people who are my closest friends I've known for over 25 years - significantly longer than many marriages last. I'd be devastated if any of them ended.

Mummy said...

One of the things I found hardest about leaving the UK were leaving my friends. I had such a support network of close girlfriends, many of whom I saw almost every day because we were rowing together and training lots. The really close ones all pre-date my husband, which is something I cherish because they know me as me rather than as part of a duo (which forever colours how someone sees you).

When I go home, even if we have not spoken all year, it is like I have never left - the hugs are as warm, the laughs as loud, and the tears very real. We would go to the ends of the earth to help each other out.

Thinking about what you said GP, I could probably cope if my marriage ended, but I would be a wreck if I lost those friendships.

mancsoulsister said...

Since I left home at 18 (I am now very much the wrong side of 30), I have never lived in one place for longer than about 2 years.

This nomadic lifestyles means that a lot of my 'friendships' are transient, with very few of them surviving the next move away. Those that do survive, I work really hard to hang on to, but it is not easy when we may go months or even years without seeing each other.

Each time we move it is a wrench, knowing that most of what you have built up (social network and friends) will be left behind and ultimately disappear and that you will be starting all over again from scratch...

magicman said...

Sometimes you meet someone who will be your friend for the rest of your life. Something clicks.
More often friendship needs feeding in the form of shared experience and reciprocity.

I have maybe 3 friends in the world who I think I can absolutely rely on. Whilst I haven't needed to test them in this regard, it's something I believe. I treasure these people.

LottieP said...

Thanks for your comments, Poobah, Mummy, Manc Soul Sister (why don't you have your own blog?) and Magicman. It's certainly a bittersweet memory for me.

The funny thing is, I'm sure she thinks about me too.

There's another one, but I can't write about her yet.

Friends are like an extension of you, aren't they?

Anna MR said...

Hei Lottie, a thought-provoking post. I will probably be here for a good long while, trying to formulate my thoughts into something of a reply. (Alternatively, I'll just come out with a jumble, which is really more my style.)

Define what “causes” friendship. I can't. Yesyesyes all the things about mutual trust and fun and togetherness, but - as you know - these things can come crashing down and you can land up being stabbed in the back quite nastily, and still be or become friends again. Sort of. At least try to. For some reason. Mutual interests, yes maybe sometimes (and maybe more so when young - similar taste in music cetra, which seems less important nowadays). I don’t know whether I’m just exceptionally poor at (true) friendship-formation, but I do think in retrospect a fair few of the people I’ve classed as friends have, in actual fact, been people I’ve known and spent a lot of time with due to circumstancial reasons – school, work, mutual hobbies, whatever. I also find the, um, less young I’m getting the less I feel able to have people in my life. It’s a bit crap really, maybe, but I’ve just become more of the loner (loser?) that I’ve always been and which I tried not to be for the longest time. But I do find maybe there is a certain recognition, a "knowing" of someone you don't actually know (yet), which may be where friendship comes from.

There's something about the friendship between girls/women which - I find - lends itself to potential competitiveness and/or vindictiveness. I'm really poor at managing situations that smack of that. As I'm not a man, I don't know whether this is the case with friendship between men, but I would guess not (bitchiness has a gender connotation for a reason, methinks).

I note that, apart from myself, you are one of the few bloggers who don’t list a “blog roll”. I’m wondering what your reasons for this are. I have shied away from it because (for me, right – not suggesting anything about others who do blog roll) there was a danger of it feeling like an exercise in what I call the sandpit mentality, the look-how-many-people-I-know, the do-people-like-me, the I-really-belong, the whole shebang.

In the end I went away and wrote this elsewhere, and am now cutting and pasting it here. I don't rightly know whether it's a comment I'm wanting to leave, really, whether it's too much about my own nonsense to be stuck onto your site. Ah well. It'll be something for me to toss and turn, sleepless, about.

Thank you for sharing a story that obviously isn't a painless one for you.

A xx

LottieP said...

Hi Anna, thanks for your comment, which didn't come out jumbled at all. I suppose one of the good things about growing older is that you get more confident about deciding to pass on "friendships" which don't give you anything. That's what I am afraid my friend R, the one I can't write about yet, has done with me.

I don't have a "blogroll" (horrible word) because I haven't thought it important enough to find out how to do it. I am on someone else's, which surprised and flattered me, so I had thought of doing it recently, partly to repay the compliment. I suppose if someone likes reading what you write, they might want to know what you like reading?

Claire said...

What you said about collecting friends struck a chord with me. There are those of us who have one or two special friends throughout life, and others who have a gang of friends, the membership of which remains fairly static throughout the years. I'm definitely in the former category, and have often felt envious of people whose friends are a cohesive group rather than a disparate bunch, most of whom don't know each other. That was very evident at my 40th. The cohesive group might organise a party for one of their own; a disparate bunch come along to the party, and need to be introduced. What Anna said about male v female is also interesting. I have a couple of really good friends who are men, and appreciate their otherness, and - in the case of one of them, who is gay - the ability to discuss quite a lot of personal stuff that I no longer have a close female friend (a "girlfriend") to discuss them with, the last such friendship having gone by the wayside, over a man of all things, when I was about 20. During the year when i was the subject of a piece in the Observer, it became clear that, in part, I yearned for a relationship because I needed that closeness, that (almost) knowing what each other is thinking, again. Since I was 20, the only person I've had that with was also my boyfriend, F, but consequently he became too like a brother to me for there to be passion as well. Not sure where I'm going with this, but thought I'd throw my tuppence worth in!

LottieP said...

Interesting point, Claire, about the intimacy of friendship and how you miss it when it's gone.

It's nice having male friends, but not the same as your female friends, because in some way they are a reflection of you and you're also seeking their approval in some strange fundamental way.

The entire fashion industry, for instance, is probably fuelled by women's (often critical) appraisal of each other.

Anna MR said...

Hei Lottie - yes, I realise that the idea of a blogroll (yes, atrocious) is to point others towards writing one appreciates, and I'm obviously pleased that others aren't as wussy about it as I am, as it's a good way of finding interesting reads and people. I just get all internally shaky with the whole belonging issue and so steer away from it. Sometimes people have told me they've added me to theirs, and I've thanked them and said I hoped others would find them through my comments pages. I think it's very simple to set one up, though, if you want to have one - blogger beta has the format all set up and all you need to do is insert the urls of the sites you'd like to list. But beware, Lottie - it's a jungle and a quagmire out there. People will add you to theirs, nice good people who are riotously funny and good writers, and you'll be chuffed and flattered and return the compliment, but (and you have now been warned! Or, in fact, are just about to be) sooner or later someone who cnat typ or spel and who is, in other ways too, a complete oiky prat, lists you as the best thing they ever came across. What will you do then? Or even worse - you find some site and writer you think is good, add them, inform them of it, have comment exchanges with them, and they never add you back. Oh, the horror, the horror. I am too fragile a dork to be doing all that stuff.

The reflections, approvals, and (critical) appraisals (in friendships between women) point you make sounds very true to me, but I think it's also where the seed of potential competitiveness lies. Claire (hello, lovely to meet you) has just told how she fell out with a best friend over a man - she says "over all things" but I've a feeling it's a very typical fall-out reason in friendships between women (/girls) - not even as straightforwardly as both fancying the same man but in other ways too (her friend can't stand him, he can't stand her friend, she will insist on being terribly close to him even when it's hurting her, cetra blah - the variations are endless). I wouldn't say that the depth or trueness of friendship is by definition set by gender, or that the best deepest and truest friendships will always happen between people of the same (or indeed, opposite) sex, but I might stick out my neck and suggest that male-female friendships have the potential of being less crowded by power issues, being in at least that way more straightforward.

And what about friendship and passion not fitting in the same relationship (thank you, Claire - did you not then become best friends with him, or did it all go horribly wrong?)? I think that's interesting. I'll go away and think about that, now. Sorry for long-windedness, again, Lottie, hope all is well over there in the Far East. And hei - that thing about R sounds so hurty. You are brave to bring it up, even if you don't feel like writing about it, yet.

A x

Anonymous said...

Hey, Clare and Anna. You do touch on something interesting there.
There appears to be some weight given in western society to the idea that your life partner should fulfil a very broad range of needs in your life, lover, confidant, best friend.

This is all fine and dandy. But there lurks an ever-present fear in the mind of every Sensitive New Age Guy. The fear is that whilst women like to be friends with men who aren’t complete b’stards, the tend to reserve the passion (and really hot sex) for the handsome rogues who plow a single minded furrow through the female population, single or married, with complete disregard for others’ feelings. No weeks of going to Avant-garde arts festivals or difficult movies in Polish for them, only to be told “I really respect you as a friend but I don’t think it’s a good idea that we go out”.

The lyrics to the song “Seven Days In Sunny June” by Jamiroquai appears to touch on this by suggesting that a physical relationship is no longer an option due to “we've been friends for too long”.

Auto-rant aside, I believe my points can be summarised
1) Perhaps it’s too much to expect your partner to be the person who answers all you physical and emotional needs
2) Jamiroquai has written some awesome songs.

LottieP said...

Hello, Anonymous (is that you, Magicman?), and thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you on one point, but can't on the other, I'm afraid. To guess which is which, suffice it to say that I find men in large hats pretending to be American wholly risible.

LottieP said...

Thanks, Anna. I think I will steer clear of the blogroll idea for now, unless anyone reading this wants to know what else I am reading? And agreed it can become a bit of a "who you know" boast list. You scratch my blog, I'll scratch yours!

Please carry on being "long-winded" - plenty to think about there, I just feel concerned I can't do it all justice in this slightly limited forum.

Claire said...

Anna, the guy I was talking about was my boyfriend for six years, and was more like my brother than my real brother by the end of those six years. He and I had an incredibly good friendship, and shared a love of the same things - music, plants and cats (yes cats), to name a few. But I had no physical feelings towards him at all by the end. Then along came an old, unrequited love, and I was off. Although that love remained unrequited (in fact, its object, although very successful in the outside world, lacked certain positive internal qualities such as the ability to commit to anyone), it was too late to go back. I would have liked to have stayed with F, but I would have been driven mad by an unfulfilled desire for passion. The fact that I didn't find some way to make it work is really the only thing I regret in my life. And now I find myself alone at there a moral in there somewhere?

Claire said...

Oh yes, I meant to say that while he and I are in touch intermittently, and there are (I hope) no remaining hard feelings, it couldn't really be called a friendship.

Anonymous said...

Without wishing to pry overly, was the attenuation of your physical feelings for F something that came on gradually over time as a function of your deepening friendship?

Given that one has desire/need for a certain level of passion in a relationship, I believe it is very hard to sustain a relationship if that level is not maintained. The subconscious and emotional parts of our brains are very powerful drivers of behavior and will work to sabotage the relationship, given less than half a chance.

On a more cheerful note, I mention my friend A, who came out of a 10 year relationship a while back and is now, at age 44, living with a delightful man with whom she has been for 3 years.

& yes it is funk-loving Magicman here. If only I could negotiate consistently the technology required to log in as myself.