I have made friends. Plenty of them.
Yet I found myself at a toddler group last Wednesday, drinking my cup of tea and ignoring the biscuits, and thinking:
"I could ask any of these women for help in a crisis and they would all drop everything for me. But somehow I'm not sure if any of them is a friend."
Because what I'm missing, I realise, is old friends. Not people who are there in an emergency, because, actually, most people are human (not all, I accept, but most) and most, in a real moment of need, would help. But people who you can be honest with. To whom you can say "I'm bored" or "I'm lonely" or "I'm fed up with my children", or, even more difficult with acquaintances, "My children are absolutely the best ones in the world and I'm so lucky". The sort of people to whom you can confess that you sort of fancy Kevin McCloud, or who might once have seen you squeeze a spot. And who have forgiven you (but not forgotten, so that they can repeat the story after a
And by "old", I realise that I don't necessarily mean "old". Because you can find and make that sort of friend in minutes. But to maintain them, what you need is time. Time to natter and gossip and share good and bad stories.
Any one of the women at that toddler group could be that person. But none of us have time. We are all too wrapped up in the minutiae of our lives with work and children and partners and parents and school and, and, and, to have time for the stuff that doesn't matter. Except that it does.
I did something controversial the next day. I went out for a drink. Three lovely ladies and me, for just an hour, blethering. And I mentioned how I was feeling and what I had thought, and they all said "Oh! Oh! Oh! Me too".
I'm not alone; but I was, and they were, lonely.
Before children I used to schedule nights in with B, because if I didn't, I wouldn't see him. I was out every night with one friend or another, catching up on nothing and everything. But gradually, with children, and now distance, that has gone, and I realise how much I miss it.
I'm not lonely in a miserable sense. I'm not unhappy or disappointed with my life. I just need to get out there. To see adults that I am not married to on a regular basis. To be challenged by opinions that are not my own. To groan and whisper and laugh.
I read, every now and then, another opinion piece which tells me how important it is for me to have a life outside my family and my children. To do something that is just for me. To find a passion and live it. And I have flirted with upholstery, and millinery. With going to the gym (that didn't last long). With choir and opera. I have wondered about art courses and Italian courses and refreshing my Russian. I have blogged. But now I realise that the reason none of those was right is because I was looking for the wrong thing. I don't need a thing to occupy me, I need a person. Or people. I need friends.