Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Roots of Friendship

Recently, I decided to clear out my email inbox.  To say I hadn't done it in a while is kind of an understatement.  The oldest email I found in there was from 2003...

But it was that last email from fourteen years ago, that caused me to write this blog.  

We talk a lot about how romantic relationships get started.  When you meet a couple, one of the most obvious questions to ask is: "How did you two meet?"  But we don't think about it so much with friends.  We know how we met, but we don't necessarily dwell on the minute details of our first encounters (unless they happen to be really funny or unusual).  And yet, the "how" is actually pretty important.  It's from these little acorns that mighty oaks of friendship grow, after all.

And yes, I realise what a major cliché I just used...

Don't judge me; I'm emotional okay?!

The oldest email in my inbox was from a girl I'd met on a Manic Street Preachers fan forum.  She was replying to the first message I had ever sent her, after I saw some nasty guy picking on her, online.  I don't 100% recall how I got her email address, but I think there was a thread on that forum where you could post it if you wanted forum members to be able to contact you via email (these were simpler times, clearly...) and if that was the case, then clearly she had done so.  

Now, I won't lie to you, dear reader:  I was rather determined to befriend this person.  I already knew that she lived in Devon and, with me living just down the road in Cornwall, it felt too good an opportunity to miss; I could have a friend who loved the Manics as much as I did!  Maybe we could go to gigs together?!

And so, I was already tempted to drop her a line and introduce myself (in the least stalker-like way possible).  Before I could fire up Hotmail, however (hey, it was 2003 and Hotmail was cool - oh, who am I kidding?  I still use it, now...), I noticed a conversation happening in another thread.  

Online forums have always been places where you'll find someone determined to be... Well, to put it nicely, an ass.  The official Manic Street Preachers forum was no different.  And as I scrolled through a thread that day, I realised that the ass in question on this site, was picking on my potential friend.  And I saw red.

So, I wrote that girl an email, telling her that I was completely on her side and that she shouldn't worry about what idiots online said about her views (to clarify, the forum ass had been making rape jokes and she had quite rightly said that she thought rape was too serious a subject to joke about, only for the ass to turn on her and call her a "do-gooder," which was apparently 2003's version of "a snowflake").  

That first email I sent is, no word of a lie, almost too cringe-worthy to stand reading, now.  Not because I regret sending it in any way, shape or form.  But because I was... Well, so desperate.

I really liked this girl - her posts on the forum always made me laugh and I just had this overwhelming urge to be her friend.  And, in my sheer need to be liked by her, I veered wildly from telling her about my experiences of bullying at school, to massively over-using exclamation marks, to getting overly sweary in my attempts to prove how much I disliked the person/people picking on her (you'll find an online ass usually needs backup; cowards don't like to operate alone).  And at the end of the email?  I wrote "loads of love" (TO A FREAKING STRANGER) and signed off with FIFTEEN KISSES.


Guys, I will be completely honest with you:  I would not have blamed her one little bit, had she deleted that email and never responded.  Frankly, had she taken out a restraining order, it would have been understandable.

But she didn't.

She thanked me, called me "sweet" and told me how she had always been seen as uncool, because she wasn't into drink or drugs.  She said that she had strong moral values and would always fight for what she believed in.  She admitted that she had been bullied at school, too.  

Instantly, I felt like there was a connection.  Right from that first message, she stopped being "the cool girl from that forum, who I wish I could go to gigs with" and became someone I genuinely wanted to get to know better.

There is something incredibly sweet about being able to see those first messages.  The tone of them is a little unsure in places - shy, even.  After all, we were two complete strangers and we were very young; I was only 21.  There is a sense of innocence when you read the first exchanges we sent one another.  A sense of something new that just might become something special, given time.

In my reply to that first email from her, I talk to her as though she's already a friend.  I talk about my job.  I mention having recently been away to Wales.  I make chit-chat, as though I've known her for years, and yet, there is a point at which I tell her I ought to keep the email short because "I don't want you to get really bored of me!"  

I'm also pleased to say that I ended the email with a far less creepy six kisses.  Still too many, but hey, I was learning...

I SWEAR I'm not this clingy, usually.  Honest.

She replied and she suggested we chat on MSN, sometime.

For anyone too young to remember MSN...  Think SnapChat, but with way fewer dick pics.  Or WhatsApp, but with way fewer dick pics.  Or...  You get the gist.

Over time, we did progress to chatting on MSN, as well as continuing to email one another.  After a while, we swapped phone numbers and began texting.  We eventually met up, to see if we "clicked" as well in real life as we did online.

We did.  

And she did become my gig buddy.

But she became so much more than that.

She became one of the best friends I ever had.  Someone I could go to if I needed advice.  Someone I laughed with, until there were tears in both of our eyes.  Someone I could tell anything, to.  Someone who I always felt valued me as much as I valued her.  Someone I felt enormously proud to know and strangely protective of; she was strong, stubborn and feisty, but that didn't mean I wouldn't have raised merry HELL for her, had she ever needed me to step in for her.  I never lost that initial urge to show her that I was there for her.  If it was ever us against the world, I was confident that we'd win.  

A friendship like that sometimes rushes in, all at once, burns brightly for a year or two and then fizzles out.  But ours seemed to get stronger with every year that passed.  We grew up, together.  She got married and bought her first house.  I fell into - and found the courage to leave - an abusive relationship and eventually wrote a novel based on my experiences.  We watched one another grow and mature and, as the years went by, our friendship just went on deepening.

Sometimes, months might go by when we didn't see one another.  Perhaps a week or two would pass without a text.  But we both knew that when one of us messaged the other, or we met up again, it would be like no time had passed at all.

And that time we spent together could be anything and it would still be fun, simply because it was us.  We loved getting into silly costumes for Manics gigs, giggling all day in the queue, before singing our hearts out once the band took to the stage.  But equally, we were happy sat on the sofa, our hands wrapped around mugs of tea, putting the world to rights.

Somehow, no matter how much older we got, no matter how much changed in our lives, we were still those two young girls, feeling like outsiders from the "cool gang," rolling our eyes at the aspects of the world that we simply weren't a part of.

I said at the start of this post that we don't tend to think about how our friendships begin.  Except, that's not entirely true.  Just as with any relationship, there comes a very specific time, when we inevitably  think back to how it all started: when it ends.

That friendship was never supposed to have an ending.  After thirteen years, I suppose I figured we were almost unbreakable.  After all, we're both feisty, stubborn so and sos.  We'd had disagreements before and yet we'd always worked them out.

In the end, we never exchanged a cross word.  There was no blazing row that led to us falling out.  No harsh things said that couldn't be unsaid.

I fell out with her sister.  We had an argument that I wish we'd resolved face to face, rather than dragging it out via text and carrying it onto social media.  It was petty and stupid to take it that far and we are both equally responsible for allowing our entire friendship to evaporate in anger, rather than taking the steps to fix it.  Because it was fixable.  It was certainly not a reason never to speak to one another again.  I was angry and hurt for reasons I felt were legitimate.  She was angry and hurt, because she didn't think I should have been angry and hurt in the first place.  We both went about dealing with it in completely the wrong way.  And I don't blame my friend for taking her sister's side.  Family comes first.  That's something we both believed in.

But I miss her.  I miss them both.  Very much.  Every day.

I recently reached out to both girls.  In many ways, I became that shy, nervous 21 year old all over again; hoping to build bridges.  Keen to be friends.

I didn't put fifteen kisses at the end.  I didn't over-use punctuation, or include random references to my childhood or my job.  But I did reach out, with - in many ways - those same feelings that I had when I sent that first email all those years ago.

I just wanted her to be my friend.

I think I sort of hoped and prayed it would go like this...

Often, the roots of a friendship get kind of forgotten, as the years go by.  They're buried under all of the other memories you share.  You're too busy laughing at that time you saw that thing, or making plans that will eventually lead to new memories being created.  You don't have time to think back on how that person came into your life.  They're just there.  And you can't imagine them ever not being.

But it's that initial beginning that led to the friendship you have, now.  The roots are important - they're what got you to where you are.  And, should the worst happen and that friendship come to an end, you'll inevitably end up digging through the memories you created together one day and remembering how it all came about in the first place.

It's not a fun memory to have on your own.  It's a memory worth sharing, whilst you have the chance.

So, let's not make "how did you two meet?" a question that we only apply to couples.  Let's ask friends to share their stories, too.  Let's ask our friends if they remember how we met.

And let's not leave it too late to share those memories.

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