Yesterday on a social distance walk with my close girlfriend she mentioned that she had been asked to contribute to a BBC Radio 4 programme this week on Friendships and it got me thinking about my own friendships. This particular friend has a wide circle of eclectic friends. Unlike me she is very sociable both in her personal life and professionally. We talked about the nature of friendship and about how many friends we could both put into our inner circle, those friends that you are really close to, you see often and who you know will always have your back.
So, at 3 am when it was clear that sleep was not coming any time soon, I looked at my friendships and I made circle diagrams of who fitted in where. Friendships have always played a major part in my emotional well being. It goes back a long way and forgive me if I am repeating myself but this is — blog 90!!! — and I just might have forgotten previous anecdotes. I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was young. Being Jewish and bullying played a big part. When it is was my birthday mum would insist on throwing me a party and I was always full of trepidation wondering whether anyone would turn up? Printed in indelible ink in my brain was the Charlie Chaplin silent movie film about his birthday party. The table was laid, balloons, party hats cakes etc and as time went on he realised that no one was going to come. That wonderfully expressive face went from excited, to anxious to demoralised to very upset. And interestingly that has stayed with me to date. Tod used to say when we were giving a party “Don’t start your Charlie Chaplin Roma.”
Oxford Professor Robin Dunbar says that our social networks have a very distinctive structure based on multiples of three. My screen saver is a pic of Tod and I would say that we were very good friends. We both had each other’s backs at all times and when the chips were down, we knew we could rely on each other completely. In my inner inner circle my UK friends probably number 3 or 4. In the inner circle there are 5 in the UK and 5 overseas. Then I got stuck between friends that I like and see sometimes – when it isn’t a pandemic and acquaintances. So, the next bubble is around 15 – people that I would consider friends, but they don’t make it to the inner inner or inner circle. And then there are acquaintances probably around 30.
It made me feel better . I seem to fit right into Professor Dunbar’s friendship structure; innermost group 3 – 5 next a slightly larger group of around 10 (ok so I have a few more) and then he has another group of around 150. I guess over the past 68 years I probably do have many more people that I have known and spent time with but their names at this moment elude me. That said oddly throughout the day names have kept coming to me with “I wonder what he or she is doing now.” It would be good to be a voyeur on their lives, first look in on them and be able to make a decision about whether I wanted to take it further.
But what about those close friends who are no longer alive. I had 3 very close girlfriends all from my early twenties. We lived, played and spent a lot of time together and they are all dead. And I know it is depressing but I guess going forward this will become more common place. My Aunt in New York who is in her eighties often laments about losing nearly all her very good friends.
What I realised at 4 this morning is the importance of good friends. I could not exist without my friends which are primarily female. Maybe this is because women talk, share, have a higher expectation of friends than men do and place a greater emphasis on intimacy. From my limited experience men can go on extended periods of time months or even years without seeing a friend and yet still consider them to be a close friend. We however need regular contact with a close friend.
I probably have not been a great friend over the past 2 years. I have been needy, moody and somewhat self-obsessed but there have been circumstances and I have allowed myself to wallow. My good friends are patient understanding empathetic and loyal. They know that when I am not all these things then I am a very good friend because I too am patient, understanding empathetic and loyal.
“Let’s be careful out there”