‘Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.’ ― Anaïs Nin
There’s a woman I’ve been stalking for 23 years. We were both studying at Wellesley College when we met. Then she moved to Florence, Italy, and I followed. She transferred to MIT in Cambridge, Massachussetts and I transferred to Harvard, also in Cambridge.
She moved to London. I moved to London. She moved to Bombay. I moved to Bombay. She moved back to London. I moved back to London.
Okay, so in reality we moved countries independently of each other every time, but she was always a little ahead of me, so anyone tracking our passports could consider me a stalker.
But because this year has been one of changes, I’ve finally broken the spell. She moved with her husband and two darling daughters to Geneva, and I moved to Dhaka.
As with friends of so many years, we have special names for each other. In college, we had watched an episode of Saturday Night Live together. In it was a skit where Rob Schneider, playing the office bore, prodded everyone who passed with, ‘Donna! Donnarama!’ or ‘Jeff! Jeffmeister!’.
Even 23 years later, no email or call is ever begun without my friend and I greeting each other with ‘Sashmeister’ or ‘Sasharama’ and ‘Nupster’ or ‘Nupmeister’.
She emailed me today and said, in response to last week’s blog post about my multiple names, that ‘Nupurama’ still worked for her.
This got me thinking about friendships and the tenacious bonds we form with each other.
How we become friends
Most of my closest friendships have sprung from intense experiences together: roommates in college, foreigners abroad together or working on films.
Working in film production on location (that is, living in hotel rooms for months at a time), as I often did, involved working with colleagues for 14 hours a day and then going home with them for the remaining ten. We learnt all sorts about each other. It would take a lifetime of weekly dinners to get to the level of intimacy we reached in a fortnight.
Now, we can go for years without meeting, but click straight into cosy familiarity because we’ve firmly established our bond.
Finding The Same Things Hilarious
I probably have this most with my mother. Like the time, many decades ago, a receptionist at a dentist’s office in Dhaka asked my mother if I was her daughter. When my mother said yes, the receptionist said in English, ‘How funny!’
We have no idea what prompted this odd remark but now, at least once a day, my mother or I will find a way to say this to each other. And every time we do, we laugh and share a moment.
I have worked with thousands of colleagues by now, but only a handful are close friends. Likewise with people I’ve met through school, college, family and social gatherings. Knowing someone well doesn’t necessarily mean we like them or feel close to them.
An inexplicable connection can override both shared experiences and long histories. When my parents met, they weren’t set up, they didn’t come from the same part of the country (a biggish deal in their time) and they didn’t really have much in common.
My father remained a staunch agnostic until his death some years ago; my mother never misses a prayer. He was calm, quiet and philosophical, while my mother can’t sit still, loves entertaining and is highly pragmatic.
Yet, they had the healthiest marriage I’ve witnessed — and they were the closest of friends.
Why we may not become friends
When I was intolerably obnoxious (which, embarrassingly, was not that long ago) I would insist that I wanted an assistant just like me and a spouse just like me. (I told you I was intolerable.)
This was a control thing, which I’m very grateful I have let go of. In reality, the reason I love my friends is because they are so different, from each other as well as from me. They offer experiences and insights I would never have on my own.
I see a similar issue with arranged marriages and online dating; people are matched on external points that ultimately don’t matter: looks, wealth and status. These are also aspects that may, unexpectedly and even dramatically, turn.
On a related note:
Sometimes we think that because one friend likes jazz, we should have them meet our other friend who likes jazz.
Having common interests is consistently overrated. Of course, it’s great fun to enjoy things together but it’s a thin foundation. Not least of all because interests change and diverge.
This is why when the sole basis of my friendship has been a shared love of a sport or activity, the friendship also peters out when one party moves on.
Way Too Different
Then there are the deal-breakers, like the homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or just rabid right-wing types. They’re not open to dialogue and we’ll never see eye to eye.
The list extends to liars, cheats, the abusive — and the perennially morose. My personal red flag: the unreliable.
We can differ in background, temperament and personalities, but values have to be agreeable.
Somewhere between too similar and too different, there is beauty and balance in an unpredictable combination. As with Yin and Yang, or different players in an orchestra, we bring our selves to the table and create a new third entity that sparkles in its own right.
The magic of friends
Considerateness instead of presumptions
Despite knowing my closest friends forever, we still allow the other to grow. There is huge comfort in knowing each other so well we don’t have to even speak, but I love the considerateness my friends show.
Are white flowers still your favourite kind? Want to nap after lunch? Do you still prefer to sit on the left side in the theatre? Considerateness means we don’t take each other for granted.
Being kind rather than right
Instead of having the final word, we let go. Instead of keeping score of who’s contributed more to the relationship, we ease up, knowing that the things that matter can’t be measured. Instead of nagging someone to please us more, we look for ways to please them.
What we really give and want to receive in our friendships is acceptance. Acceptance of our flawed, whole selves, of our human frailties.
Accepting each other for who we are creates harmony. We balance each other, we forgive each other, we get each other. We accept each other free of conditions.
And because so much of life is getting what we give, we can see ourselves through our friends’ eyes and we actually like ourselves more too.
How funny! And how glorious.
‘Say what you want and be who you are because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.’ ― Dr Seuss
They may have glossy hair and stunning frocks, but the friendship between Carrie and Miranda rings true. Watch the entire box set of Sex and the City (there really is no substitute).
For friendship you believe will last forever, read about Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series.
They may have split up but their music — harmonious and crafted to catchy if kitsch perfection — lives forever. No, really, ABBA, we thank you for the music.