[Bella’s intro: I just love this 2-part guest post by Carla Watkins. It builds and builds, getting better and better, until it just might move you to tears. I took the liberty of setting in italics a section I found particularly powerful. This is Part 1, in which Carla describes the profound rewards of friendship, and challenges the popular assumption that technology is making it harder for us to create and maintain the closeness that so many of us crave. Part 2, which will be published in a few days, offers a remarkably gracious accounting of friends who disappear, and ends magnificently. (Here it is.)]
An Ode to Friendship — in Your Thirties and Beyond (Part 1)
By Carla Watkins
All friendships change. And it’s not rocket science to think that over your lifetime, you might lose and gain some as you change and evolve and become more yourself.
But… the nearly two years since I turned 30 have been a rollercoaster lesson in just how… unexpected… friendships can be.
One of the complaints I hear most from friends around my age is how hard it is to make friends in your thirties and forties. Or how much harder it is in a modern, tech-filled, over-subscribed world of information overload to have time for new friendships in the first place.
I’ve also seen lots of articles saying how negative technology and texting can be for relationships — that people don’t talk to each other anymore, and that the new communication technologies are damaging our ability as humans to fully connect with each other.
Yet for me, technology has facilitated and speeded up friendships which now mean the world to me. They include a group of girls I met through work and each other, some who were already close friends with each other, and some who weren’t.
We are busy women, with a variety of jobs and side businesses, homes and families and pets. And of course other friends. We don’t physically have the time to meet up as much as we’d like to, and so yes, it is harder to make friends, because there isn’t time in real life to get past the small talk and swap the secrets and intimacies that the best friendships are built on.
There isn’t enough time, in real life, to have time for small talk — and I crave connection on a deep level with my friends who understand me, who don’t think I’m a walking contradiction and a complete lunatic to boot.
There are seven of us now, and our Whatsapp group is the first thing I check each morning, and our emails to each other the things that brighten my day job days.
From pictures of cats (ours, other people’s, any cat will do really) to advice on our businesses, all the way through to sympathy on the days where politics makes us sick to our stomachs.
It’s a place where we can share those little things, watercooler moments, the sort of chat you might exchange over making breakfast in a shared house, or getting a cup of tea from the kitchen at work. It’s given us that safe space to get to know each other better, so that when we do meet up, we can talk without having new-friend awkwardness for three years’ worth of meetups first.
That conversation is also a place where I feel safe — where we can share whatever it is that’s causing us stress at the moment, and know that we are heard and there is help. Earlier this year, one “argh” message during a particularly stressful period in my life resulted in three practical offers of help which saved my sanity and meant I could go away to visit family after all.
And we are all local. We can meet up for coffee spontaneously (well, hot chocolate in my case) without having to plan a whole weekend in, six months in advance. Again, I adore those weekends with far flung friends, but oh, the joy of impromptu pub lunches or crafting sessions or walks in the countryside.
These women, from such a small start, are the absolute foundation of my current life. Because of them, I was comfortable buying a house by myself and putting down roots somewhere. Because of them, I am inspired to build a life that is truly what I want, not just what people expect. Because of them, I am finally picking up my camera again after years of fear and making something of that passion. Because of them, I am happier now than I have ever been .
I love all my friends, but having amazing ones who live near you, who you can get to know so well in less than a year, is a treasure I had utterly underestimated. It’s also these women who took care of my cats while my Dad was in hospital, who brought me & my Mum spare knickers and t-shirts and toothbrushes, who held me while I cried when Dad stepped over to the big bar in the sky.
Then of course there are my old friends. The people that have been with me since childhood — in one case, since the day I was born, through to the people I got to know after uni, but before making The Big Shift in my life and career.
The two women I consider my sisters (though they both have sisters of their own) — who I regularly refer to as my sisters and confuse the hell out of people who are 100% certain I told them I was an only child. Who both dropped everything to come to me after I lost Dad, who between them have called me almost every day since. People say blood is thicker than water, but blood couldn’t have ties any stronger than those I have with these two. They are the yardstick by which I measure friendship and I am unbelievably lucky to have them.
The ones who have seen me through The Breakup and The Awful London Job and The Big Shift and all manner of other huge life changes, and who have been there with me from the very beginning of my businesses. The ones who have accepted the shift and the change in me, and love me still whether they have changed or stayed the same.
And also the ones who are newer, but no less solid. The friends who hold you while you cry at work. The ones who share your joys and your angst over coffees and coworking. The ones who wonder what the hell you were thinking with that boyfriend they never actually knew…
The 3am friends, who you might not be able to speak with at length for months on end, but who you know would be there like a shot if you needed them, as you would for them.
These unwavering, solid friendships (and I am know I am lucky to have more than a handful of these in my life) are part of the core of who I am — without all these people, I would be lost.
Some have been around for years or almost my whole life, some only a handful of months or years. I cannot imagine my life without any of them.
My ‘internet’ friends. Those people I have met through forums, through hobbies, through model horsing and fantasy novels and photography and mermaiding and car clubs and…
The weirder the niche, the more instant the friendship, it seems — and ten or fifteen years on from first starting to meet my online friends in person, some of them are among my most trusted and loved, and I am always hugely entertained when people raise their eyebrows on hearing how we met, and the stories of our first in-person meetings.
“But s/he could have been an axe murderer!” they say. Followed, often in the same conversation, when they discover my romantic status, “You know, I hear online dating is a really good way of not being single any more…”
So I smile, and I ignore them and their prejudices, and I revel in these amazing people who I would never have met without the power of geekery and the internet.
About the Author: Carla is a photographer, writer, dreamer and mermaid living on the east coast of England. She’s a firm believer in the gorgeous rebellion of making your life absolutely your own. You can find more of her musings and all the things she is currently up to at CarlaWatkins.com.
[From Bella again: Thanks so much, Carla. Readers: Stayed tuned for Part 2 (here it is), in which Carla Watkins speaks movingly and compassionately about those friends that most people only speak about angrily – the friends who ghost you.]
[Photo credit for Carla Watkins’s photo: Sarah Wayte Photography. The picture of the group of friends is a stock photo and not a picture of Carla’s actual friends.]