women and friendship

Friendship is like a good book.

If you find one that makes you laugh, sways your heart, speaks directly to your emotions or lights up things in your brain that illuminate the world around you, you’ll keep that book, just like that friend, for life.

You might lose the book, lend it out, or allow it to sit on the shelf for years collecting dust, but somewhere it will flutter back.  You may have changed how you feel about the book as you grow older, but you’ll always hold onto the way it made you feel when you were first introduced.  Or you may re-read it until it becomes as comfortable and close as your favourite sweater.

Like books, you may not see a friend for a long time, but when you meet, you’re still the same 8 or 18 year olds you were even when you’re 38 or 88.  You slip back into that easy space, where silences are never awkward and jokes are always funny.

While writing this piece I have one of my best friends visiting from England. We met aged 18 and despite the eddies of life that swirl us in different directions, whenever we meet we fall into that same easy space.  It’s been almost 4 years since we last met yet in a few days we’ve covered every topic from the mundane to the philosophical and back again with ease and familiarity.  It’s the same for only a handful of friends I’ve been lucky enough to carry with me through the years.

There are best friends, close friends, dear friends, good friends, fun-time friends, work friends, e-friends you may never even have met, even exes as friends (a whole other topic!).

For some, a family member can be a best friend too, for many, friends are their family.

At school I had three best friends yet when we left, we each headed in entirely different directions and within a year had lost touch.  It’s as though we were similar enough yet different enough in equal measure so as to be brought together in the hothouse of high school but sent flying apart out into the great, wide world.

Then there are those friends who only flit in briefly as a result of co-dependence, the drinking partners in the bad times or someone you share a coffee with because you’re both in the same boat.

This friendship often fades away – as you expected it too – and it feels okay.  Or it ends suddenly and you feel like you’ve been dumped. I’ve experienced both.  Lovely friends I met in my first year at college for example, but we drifted into other circles and though I hold them with fondness in my memory, I don’t feel inclined to look them up on Facebook or reach out.  Then there was the friend I made on a short evening college course, we shared some good times, some great chats, we were keen friends, but suddenly she stopped responding to my calls.  No explanation.  It felt different.  I felt hurt and confused. What did I do?  There’s nothing you can do but move on.

But the friends you can count on one hand are the ones that never go away. Living overseas I meet and make new friends, I feel very lucky but I also feel so guilty about keeping in touch. I beat myself up for not doing more but I do what I can do and hope that it’s enough to keep  the friendship intact until the next time we meet face to face.  The one thing that keeps friendship alive across ten – or a thousand miles – and over days or years, are words. Blogs, Facebook, email – they may not have the romance of postcards and hand-written letters – but the essence of the old fashioned pen to paper is still there: words, words, words. Sometimes it’s just posting an updated status on Facebook.  A way of sharing a snapshot of my day or life, a thought or an observation; what I hope it implies is ‘hi, glad to have you here, please stick around’.

Friends and their words can change your day or change your life.  When I was low, I apologised to my friend for whingeing.  ‘It’s not whingeing, it’s sharing’ she said warmly.  I felt supported and valued.  Those words stuck with me. That’s kind of how I view my Facebook updates.  Sharing, not complaining, rambling or boasting. That’s what happens in friendship.  When I was depressed, my sister, my friend, sent me a song, it gave me a hand in the dark.  When I’ve been lost, another friend has shared his stories and sent me books like treasure chests. All these things, all these words, have changed the course of my life for the better.

Storytelling, offering advice, giving comfort or expressing loneliness – connecting through the ethereal internet – is this magical web of words that keeps us all afloat. An email from an old friend that reminds us we are loveable or talented or special when we feel anything but can be like finding religion – creating meaning and worth in a few well chosen, heartfelt sentences.

Friendships come easier and grow stronger when you not only learn how to share words but listen to them too. I love to listen, I hope my friends know that.  Like a good book, there’s so much you can learn when you pay attention to the words you’ve being gifted.

But what about you? How have your friendships changed over time? Do you regret losing any particular friends over the years? What went wrong? And what do you think is the secret to a good friendship?

Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of 7-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to: www.nikkinewmanart.com