Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Friendships

A lot of people I know offline are aware of this, but I haven't been particularly forthcoming about it on my blog or Twitter, so I'm going to put it out there now - 2017 has been a tough year for me, particularly in terms of friendships.

When I moved down to London a few years ago I was incredibly nervous, I didn't know anyone down here, and for the first six months or so I socialised almost exclusively with people from work, only going to a couple of book events and not really getting to know anyone much. The main exception was Debbie, and to be honest even with her at that point I was feeling more confident online - when we'd talk a lot, and her support was probably the main reason I didn't quit my job in the first few months and move back to a place where I knew people - than in person, when I felt shy and nervous whenever we saw each other.

Fast forward a year or two, and things had changed massively. I had a great group of friends who were really close, and I felt confident for once in my friendships with them. (I'd even stopped feeling overawed by how amazing Debbie was, and just accepted that despite her awesomeness she genuinely likes spending time with me. Yay!) There were 5 or 6 people I could message if I wanted a theatre buddy, or someone to go out for dinner with.

And then for various reasons, that group got looser. Obviously you CAN'T expect things to stay the same; significant life events (to borrow a phrase from Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, one of the best books ever about friendships) happen for people, and I am incredibly happy for one of my friends who's become a wonderful mother to an absolutely adorable little girl. But with that happening, and a couple of my closest friends outside the group having less time to spend socialising (for very good reasons), I was left feeling really down.

I think/hope I did a fairly good job of hiding this most of the time, maybe. I met some really nice new people at the end of last year/first half of this year and while I wasn't really getting to know them well, they were friendly at book stuff and I was enjoying getting to know them slightly better.

And then Debbie RT'd a thread on making/keeping friends from @thewritingj which, no exaggeration, completely changed the course of my year. I read Jaylee's advice 3 or 4 times, and while I haven't followed it completely, the big impact it made on me is that it showed me I wasn't the only person who found friendships difficult at times, especially getting to know people better. The confidence boost that gave me, along with the parts of the advice I did follow, led to me doing a much better job of keeping in touch with people. Instead of worrying they wouldn't want to hear from me, or that they'd be too busy to reply, I tried starting conversations with people and mostly got a really good reaction - there are a few people who I didn't know very well before this summer who I now talk to via text or DM almost every day. We're there for each other to give support if needed, but we're also just enjoying keeping up with each other's lives, talking about books, and generally getting to know each other better. There are several other people who my friendships with have got closer over the last few months, and it's great to talk to them more regularly. (Of course that's not to say it's a good idea to bombard people with messages; I think it's important to recognise when people may not be interested in talking to you much, for any reason, and I hope I've avoided trying to push friendships with people in these cases.)

Another piece of advice I took from Jaylee has been to make actual plans with people, and this has been a massive change as well. Rather than constantly saying "Hey we should meet up soon" but not actually trying to arrange dates and times due to fear of rejection, I've made much more of an effort to make firm arrangements! Because of this I'm finishing this post on the way back from a fabulous afternoon of cocktails, ice cream and board games with Alix - one of the people who's become a close friend over the summer - and I've been out for dinner/done fun stuff with several other people I don't know all that well over the last six weeks or so. I think keeping this going will definitely be harder when I'm back at work, but I'm really going to try my best to make sure I keep in regular contact with people as much as I can.

Obviously, the advice Jaylee gave won't work for everyone. Some people might need to adjust it, as I did; others may not find it useful at all (especially if, due to health issues, they find it harder to keep in touch with people regularly, as pointed out by a few people responding to the initial tweet thread.) But speaking personally, it has made an absolutely massive difference to me, and I would really encourage people who are nervous about making new friends or getting to know people better to read it and see if some or all of it is worth putting into practice. A massive thank you, Jaylee, for giving the advice in the first place!