My New Year resolution: stop being a lousy friend | Gaby Hinsliff


Old relationships shouldnt be allowed to dwindle. Its worth putting in the time and great efforts to fostering them

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Although forget is too strong, strictly speaking forgotten is maybe more like it. After all, youre still friends on Facebook, so have pretty much maintained track of whether theyre still with thingummy or how old their children are. You maybe even exchanged Christmas cards, in which once again you both wrote that youd love to meet up this year and once again definitely meant it, even though you both know that once again you probably wont.

And if you bumped into them in the street tomorrow youd be thrilled. Youre definitely still friends; just not friends that actually insure one another. Well, everyone has busy lives. And thus an old friendship dwindles quite by collision into auld acquaintance, before eventually petering out altogether.

So no, it absolutely shouldnt happen. But it does all too easily. And thats why my own New Year resolution for 2016 is to stop being a lousy friend; stop relying on goodwill banked too many years ago; stop meaning to have people over to dinner just as soon as were through this stupidly busy period and then failing to do so; stop reasoning Ill phone tomorrow or maybe at the weekend and start doing better before its too late, as one day it always is.

Friendship circles shrink over persons under the age of 30, for all the obvious reasons. Falling in love pushings around two friends out of the average persons intimate social milieu, according to research from the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, as the freshly coupled-up fall off the radar. But its the arrival of children that really holes auld acquaintance below the waterline, even if the new parent didnt overnight transform into someone who cant ever do Sunday lunch again because Gina Ford says thats naptime.

Sure, NCT( National Childbirth Trust) groups and school gates spawn new friendships at the least until your children grow up, and decide that actually they detest their children but years of being unable to stay awake past 9pm do little for longstanding ones. Being a good friend takes time and effort, and occasionally generosity of spirit, all things that tend to be sorely lacking in people scraping by on 3 hour sleep a night. And by the time you finally come up for air, things dont seem quite the same social hierarchies have been subtly realigned, and social abilities feel astonishingly rusty. How does this whole thing run, again?

Odd that there are a billion self-help books on how to be a better parent, better devotee, better cook, better almost everything, and yet astonishingly little on how to be a better friend. It seems a strange omission when relationship is so key to human happiness, perhaps even to human survival.

Having good, close friendships and a busy social life is associated with a lower risk of everything from heart attack and high blood pressure to Alzheimers( the theory is that the happier and more relaxed you are, the less likely you are to fall back on bad habits such as drinking heavily or overeating under stress ). Which means that resolving to gain a friend in 2016 might be almost as good for the health as resolving to lose the half a stone( 3kg) that nobody loses every January, and surely a lot more fun.

And to be blunt, being able to rub along agreeably with other people has economic value too. Its wrong but understandable that in most workplaces the broadly likable tend to get promoted faster than the competent but difficult; that personal chemistry matters, even at the highest level.

Ask David Miliband, who would have been Labour leader if only hed set slightly fewer of his parliamentary colleagues backs up over the years.( And no, electing the other Miliband wouldnt necessarily have been Labours salvation, but it would doubtless have attained him rather happier .) Never mind beauty or riches, the gift any half-decent fairy godmother would surely bestows at a christening is the lifelong ability to make and keep friends easily.

And the first wave of her wand was likely to be to convey that its not a numbers game. Loneliness is a miserable pandemic, especially among older people and among humen of a generation whose wives always arranged their social lives, only for them to realise to their consternation that they barely know where to start once shes gone. But the frenzied accumulation of insignificant others isnt painless either.

Dunbars previous run suggests most people have between four and six really close friends, whom they might see weekly. Beyond that is a more distant group we insure less often but would still actively miss if they fell dead tomorrow. And beyond that well, most humans cant genuinely maintain meaningful relationships with more than about 150 people. Which does stimulate me wonder whether the snarling aggressivenes on social media of late is a side-effect of people struggling to deal not with too few social connects but too many.

For humans to have social networks this big and complex is a historically unprecedented thing, almost an invasion of mental space; the emotional equivalent of being packed too tightly into an overcrowded rush-hour develop, and feeling an inchoate rage bubbling up inside at every accidental elbow in the rib. No wonder some people make such a belligerent hash of it, lashing out blindly at strangers, behaving in ways they never would face to face. The future of social media may well be slightly less social and rather more private, as we learn that being good at get the hell out of there with other people is partly a matter of to determine when to stop; of recognizing also that the circuit cant expand indefinitely.

But the other thing to know is that being a good friend surely changes with age. If the definition of a good friend at 25 was person willing to stick around for the bad times as well as the good, by 45 thats virtually reversed. Its company in the good times that is like gold dust now.

Its nice, of course, when people fell everything for a friend in situations of emergency. But emergencies are rare, and the rest of life is long. So the people who ring for a chat for no particular reason, whod never dream of wimping out on the night of a party even if they are quite comfortable on the sofa, who never lose interest in the world around them theyre the ones never to be forgot. Happy New Year.

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