The science of friendship

I spent this past weekend with my family at a friend’s summer house with some other people and their families. It was a long weekend in Denmark and we have just had two blissful days with views of the water and a heated indoor pool. Nothing beats a weekend like this. Good food, endlessly good wine and excellent conversation.

Calvin_and_Hobbes_comics_cartoons_fAt the last dinner that we shared – we were in the end eight adults and two kids – and the discussion turned to something practical. My friend was in a challenging situation, and she wanted to advice on how to deal with this situation. A friend of hers had done something unforgivable, a betrayal almost (I thought at least and so did she) and she wanted to ask the people at the table how they thought she should deal with the situation. It was one of those cases where your friend is not just a friend but also a professional colleague and it was sticky as hell. It was interesting how something I thought was so cut and dry – my opinion being ditch the bitch – was not the route the others would take. Of the seven people at the table, three had similar opinions (like mine but put in a much nicer way) while the others were talking about “saving the friendship” even though what had happened, they agreed, was irredeemable  People talked about conflict resolution. Some talked about how life was too short for red wine or shitty friends. While another friend of ours looked at me horrified and said, “So, I have to make one mistake and you’ll ditch me?” I said, “Of course not. But depends upon the mistake though….”

I started to think about friendship and how my journey through the mysteries of making, keeping and losing friends has evolved.

I have always been picky when it comes to friends. I have had many acquaintances but few friends. And they have not been constant. As I have grown, my taste in friends has changed. In my twenties I didn’t have many friends. I had married my best friend, I didn’t need friends. In my thirties, however, I started to make friends and not because I didn’t have my husband with me, just that my needs expanded and I wanted other people in my life besides the husband and the babies.

My first grown up friends were women friends and I’d never had women friends before. Not many of them at least. I had somehow come to the conclusion that women didn’t like me. Long ago, when I was a student in Memphis, a colleague of mine at the PR office who I worked with told me that “intimidated” her, she said that I was great but she was unsure about herself when she was with me. I was too confident. Direct translation to me was “You’re strange and I don’t like you.”

But it wasn’t always like that. In India, in both school and university I had female friends but I had more male friends. I felt the male gender was less complicated. They didn’t mind that I was direct. They didn’t mind that I spoke my mind and they didn’t mind that I liked to drink alcohol. In India, at the age of 20, then “girls” didn’t drink or smoke or have sex, good girls at least. And girls were as always hardest on the girls, so I steered clear of most of them.

But as a grown woman and in Denmark I found women far more interesting than men my age. My friends were nothing like me even if they were my age. They weren’t married and didn’t have kids while I had had two children before the age of 30.

I got close to these women quickly and one friendship in particular started to mean a lot. We met often and talked on the phone every day, got each other through throws of new jobs, her divorce, my career choices…but then three years later we got on each other’s nerves and decided to take a break. Since then we have become acquaintances but that friendship was lost. this time I became friends with my summerhouse friend and I have now known her for seven years, since my youngest was just a year old. We blow hot and we blow cold. We see each other a lot for a while and then we get busy. Last year due to various things happening in my life all my friends were getting on my nerves a bit and I took a break from almost all of them because I was in general a bit unhappy and pissy. But amazingly enough when I decided to rejoin humankind, my friend was there with open arms and I couldn’t be more grateful.

My oldest friend is from elementary school and I have seen her face-to-face maybe three times in 17 years but somehow with emails, phone conversations and now Whatsapp, we are still friends and know intimate details of each other’s lives. I had other friends in elementary school but none of them survived the test of time.

I have two friends from engineering school and we still see each other once in a while, but I always feel that we all fall into old identities. I am nothing like I was in university, and I mean besides my boob size and weight, I have evolved and grown up and so have they. But somehow every time we’re together I feel as if I’m slipping into the engineering school Amulya who isn’t relevant or real today.

I have left friends because they weren’t making me happy and were pulling me down and I know I have been dumped on occasion because I was making someone else unhappy and pulling them down. I have ended friendships when they crossed a line and without compunction. I have cooled friendships down when they become too cumbersome.

I have very few friends who are “couple” friends (complicated to have four people like each other). I have colleagues who became good friends. I have ex friends who were so close and who I have now have no connection whatsoever with.

I have not changed my husband since I met him 17 years ago, but I must admit that the people in my life have changed. Part of the many friends through time and place has been due to the fact that I have been moving my entire life. As a child and an army officer’s daughter, I moved throughout my childhood. As a grown up, since I left India 17 years ago, I have lived in three countries, thirteen different abodes and many, many cities.

I have friends in Denmark who have lived here all their lives and they have a collection of friends all the way from kindergarten. And they see the various groups of friends and connect with them at different levels.

I don’t quite understand why I’m friends with someone and I don’t quite understand why someone with whom I could be great friends with, just isn’t clicking. Sometimes, I am surprised at how some friends seem to show up like angels to save me, but they aren’t my closest or dearest friends; and sometimes the friends who I thought I could rely on are not there when I need them and thought I could lean on.

I have the good fortune of marrying my best friend and in many ways I grew up with him, but it’s my other friends who are indicative of my emotional growth and transformation. And I am fortunate to have so many friends at different levels of intimacy. Some friends are perfect to go for a cocktail with but then you have some others you can have a good cry with; and how that works and how we decided who is who is just as mysterious as the inner workings of our brains. The heart ultimately, as Woody Allen says, wants what the heart wants and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a partner or spouse or a friend.



One Comment

  1. ak says:

    Love the post. Very true – on the ‘evolution’ of friends and friendship(s). I have over the course of my college grad school and others, gained and lost/never made (more of the latter) friends. Spending too much time in soul searching for that task seems too much work for really no objective. Living loving and accepting the people who treat you the same way you treat them – I think should be the guideline for any relationship, not just friendship.

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