Friends and Other Demons

I conveniently blame each and every new flaw I discover in myself on this rainy city in pursuit of which I uprooted my entire life:

  • I simply can’t have a proper conversation here, I decide. I’ll never get all of their jokes and I’ll never pass for a native speaker, no matter how stubbornly I rehearse my made up British accent to myself in the shower every night.
  • I’ll never make a real friend in this place. We didn’t grow up watching the same cartoon shows or trying the same ice cream flavours. Heck, I’d never even seen a real life ice cream truck before I came to this country, and by then I was already in my late twenties. And still, even if we manage to somehow make it past that, there’ll always be London, this horrible London with its millions of different postcodes and miles of tube tunnels, keeping us apart. No one’s really one phone call away, I tell myself. No. They’re one phone call, two buses and 12 stops along the Bakerloo Line away. What friendship can possibly survive that in the long run?

So I give up. I slowly give up on all things I believe are not meant to be for me in this country. Closeness. Friends. Being myself, restrictions free. The only constant throughout is me blaming this place for it all. In some deranged, I’m-not-really-happy-but-happiness-is-overrated-anyway way, it’s been working fine for me so far. But these days, I’ve been thinking.

When I was growing up, my mother never had girlfriends over for coffee and cake like all the other mothers. She never exchanged chicken casserole recipes with anyone. She never borrowed anyone’s party shoes, she never spent hours on the phone telling secrets. I used to ask her about it, her unfriendliness, and she’d say she found it difficult to make new friends in her thirties. That my father had taken her a hundred miles away from what had been her life, to this place where she’d spend the rest of her days picking casserole tips and tricks from cookbook recipes and wearing her own shoes if there ever was a party. There never were, and my mother grew into this person I rarely ever remember surrounded by other people, but most often on her own, coffee cup in hand, nagging me about spending way too much time with my friends for my own good.

We’re very different, my mother and I.

I grew up with a hunger for other people’s closeness. I’d love to play games where you got to grab people’s hands or at least share your most intimate secrets with them on a dare. I used to love school, to really, really love school, even when I hated it, because it meant I got to be close to my friends. I’d spend hours on the kitchen phone talking to C, my mother standing next to me sipping her coffee and stomping her foot, outraged at how I could possibly be so irresponsible so as to endlessly hold up the only line in the house with my silly giggles, when there was surely an emergency and a dozen people were busily trying to get through to her. There never were any phone emergencies in our house. Just the permanent, unacceptable danger of me turning into other’s people’s friend.

This wasn’t meant to be another one of those posts where I moan about my mother ruining my life, because she didn’t really. She just didn’t know how to handle a daughter who needed other people, when she’d molded herself into not needing anyone at all. We fought about things. My freedom. Me obviously turning into a bit of a floozy, not studying hard enough, taking everything for granted, looking for comfort in the proximity of strangers instead of that of my own family. A time of screaming and slamming doors it was, and we both came out of it bruised into somewhat, if minimally, changed people.

But this is not a post about my mother. It’s about me.

These days, I’m someone else. I blame it on this country but in fact, it’s me. Not this tunnel infested city, not this slice of continent keeping me from getting somewhere, someone, anyone. It’s nothing but me, I have changed, willingly, or at least consciously, into this person who doesn’t know how to do friendships anymore.

I stopped talking to C a while back. It wasn’t anything dramatic, we were meant to meet and I canceled a couple of times, then he called and emailed and I wasn’t in a mood for talking or writing, and slowly the most extraordinary friendship of my life faded into this thing where we like each other’s photos on Facebook, and I often remember him, episodes of us, but don’t really do anything about it. I could probably pick it up, this shriveled thing that used to be our relationship, and work at bringing it back to life, but I don’t.

And then, there’s new people. They’re nice. We run into each other, we connect, even in this friendship-unfriendly country, I’m fine with talking about why London’s great and why it often sucks, about my favourite colours and TV series, and then I reach a point where our proximity makes me anxious, and I don’t know how to handle it.

I build walls.

I stay in, I make myself a cup of tea, I wipe the table top clean. There’s things people won’t like about me. There’ll be times we’ll have nothing to talk about. Every once in a while, we’ll make plans and those plans will fall through. I’ve lost the ability to deal with all that somewhere along the way. I seem to have passed through adolescence with flying colours, self esteem intact, only to crumble into an insecure shell of myself into my late twenties. And here I thought things would be getting more fun and games as I advanced into adulthood. Oh well.

V and I went out with new friends this weekend. We walked the streets, had great food, played UNO (I know, talk about geeky), lied in the grass. When it was time to part and they invited us up to their place, my psycho friendship-is-dangerous alarm went off in a way that would have made my mother proud had she been there, coffee cup in hands and all. I don’t know how to make friends anymore, I told V as we were driving home. You’re still better at it than I am, he answered, and I laughed. It’s a miracle we’re not too anxious to hang out with each other.

I’m turning 30 next week and V and I are leaving London for a birthday holiday in the sun. When I turned 23, back in Romania, my friends threw me this amazing surprise party at my place. I remember turning the key in the lock and unknowingly stepping into an explosion of purple coloured confetti and Happy Birthdays. There are photos of me snapped at that very moment, T-shirt covered in purple flakes and this huge, unattractive, happy smile on my face. I wonder if my mother ever had photos like that taken of her and her pack of friends she left for love and a daughter she never could relate to. I wonder if she’s right, and I’ve forever lost my friend making skills as I was slowly reaching the edge of my twenties. I hope I haven’t. That confetti breathing chick looks on top of the world.

5 thoughts on “Friends and Other Demons

  1. Your post touched upon something I’ve been thinking about for a while, if not the last 10 years. My mother didn’t have any friends coming over, nobody she shared coffees with. She used to say that she didn’t need any friends as the most important persons in her life were my father and I. She used to frown when I was going out with friends (a lovely bunch I spent 10 years of my life with and boy, some wonderful years they were), saying that I shouldn’t put my trust in people I didn’t know too well, that only two persons would never ever disappoint me: my parents. She had a very good friend that she shared many memories with, but they got into a (probably very silly) argument soon after my parents got married. And ever since then, the only people who came to visit us were relatives. She doesn’t want to admit, but I think there’s always been something missing from her life, something she’s been longing for but doesn’t muster the courage to do anything about it. She surrounded herself with a wall and she’s not letting anyone go past it.

    As years passed, I started to think that her behaviour was normal to some extent. Especially when that lovely bunch of friends I used to spend most of my time with started to drift apart. People change so much over the years, I just feel like I no longer have a connection with the friends I loved some time ago. I don’t even remember when we stopped talking to each other. Maybe it was because I moved so far away or maybe because we all found someone to share our lives with. What’s certain is that we are different now – for some there are small, subtle changes, for others the changes are quite significant.

    I learnt that friends come in different shapes and forms and that no friendship truly survives the test of time – it sounds harsh, but this is the reality. Distance, differences of opinion, growing families… they all impact friendships to some extent. However, I can’t imagine a life where I spend my time locked in a tower, with nobody to share a smile with (except my other half).

    Building a friendship takes time and in this rushed world, time is perceived as a precious commodity that we hang onto so tightly… but what will I remember when I’m old and not able to get out of bed? The fact that I took the tube for 12 stops or that I spent an enjoyable afternoon with some nice people and laughed like I’ve never laughed in a long time?

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  2. I can relate to a lot of things you say in this post. That steady sinking into your own self coupled with the fact that the sun only rises for about a month in the entire year, are just two of the many reasons I left both a marriage and England. To make matters worse, I didn’t have a job to go to where I could even pretend to have either a conversation or friends.

    I grew up in an Indian household where having family and friends means that you live a strange, tangled kind of life. We’re all so tangled up in each other’s lives and stories, it’s sometimes hard to remember who the protagonist is. It’s a pain in the derriere sometimes, but from a life like that, to a life in England where so few people actually smile with their eyes, or want to talk to you at all- was something I couldn’t handle.

    Don’t get me wrong- I loved London. I love the crazy, chaotic, cosmopolitan mass of humanity that makes its home there. I just didn’t love LIVING in London. Even with all its bright lights, there’s a pervading cold that doesn’t seem to leave, that I still can’t shake off. If I had the money I would visit every year. But for all the great experiences I’ve had, I have too many more that remind me of a really cold, distant and disconnected everyday life.

    I disagree with Moniqs when she says that no friendships stand the test of time. Every experience of friendship is unique, and I also believe that you get as much as you give. Real friends don’t necessarily have to talk every day or really be involved in the details of each other’s lives- as long as they appear when you need them, no questions asked, and pick up where you left off. I know for a fact that these friendships exist.

    My friends are my lifeblood- they have never disappointed me, have always been around (even to the extent where they’d come and spend time with my folks when I lived abroad), and when I am old and weary, I know we will be sitting around somewhere cackling stupidly about something we said or did thirty years ago.

    I don’t believe you ever forget how to make friends, or you ever lose the knack. I felt like you do when I lived in London too, but it’s just about who you meet and when. For example, just by reading your blog, I think we share a wavelength, and could have fabulous conversations and be great friends if we ever met in person. Don’t ever let yourself feel there’s a deadline on making friends- it’s not true. Our parents grew up in a different time, we needn’t have the same experiences.

    Sorry about the mini-post-like comment. Stay happy and stay warm!

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  3. ” I seem to have passed through adolescence with flying colours, self esteem intact, only to crumble into an insecure shell of myself into my late twenties” – this so happened to me too. One moment I was this colourfull, full of laughter and fun seeking person only to turn the next moment in the same person on the inside but on the outside blocked by all these fears and insecurities. It’s an awful shame, but I think there is a road to be taken back to ourselves 😀

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    • I really hope you’re right! What scares me is that I find it harder and harder to try new roads these days, whether they’re meant to take me back/forward to a better me or not. Stupid adult life.

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      • I feel the same way too. Stuck. I do try to tell myself I am stuck right now, I will not be stuck forever. I can’t do this or that now, but I will be able do to it. Hope I don’t tell myself this all my life and take comfort that maybe one day I will be able to do the things I want and be stuck till I die 😐 :))

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