Three things: finding friends

This article was written for a Readwave Challenge: 3 things I learned whilst...


I live in a small village in rural Wiltshire. Villages can be very friendly, but also very cliquey. When I first moved here I worked full time and tended to gravitate towards neighbours who did likewise. We had all moved into new build houses so knew few people in the area. Gradually these new found acquaintances formed friendship groups amongst themselves. I had different interests and desires; friendly though they were, I did not feel that I fitted in.

When my children first started at the village school I struggled to befriend the other mums at the school gate who all seemed to know each other well already. The same groups seemed to serve on the various committees that kept village life ticking over. They had coffee mornings together, looked after each other’s kids and ran the many fundraising events that all were cajoled into supporting. By then I was a stay at home mum and knew that I needed to emerge from my shell. In my quest to find friends I learned the following lessons.

1) Do not rely on first impressions.

That young mum who appears fully made up, perfectly coiffed and dressed in the latest fashion at 8.45am each morning? She is not necessarily a societal victim, but is simply interested in how she looks. Just as I am interested in literature, she is interested in fashion. How she looks matters to her as much as an opinion on an author matters to me. We may not have a lot in common outside of parenting, but she can still be a lovely person and interesting to talk to.

That pierced and tattoo’d lady keeping her head down? She may look a bit scary but her kids are amongst the best cared for in the village. All the kids have a great time when they go to her house because she does not fuss about mud or crumbs or noise, although she will expect plenty of pleases, thank you’s and sharing. She appreciates what really matters, and that is a fine lesson for us all to learn.

That mum who looks just like me and who I was inclined to get to know better? The slightly offhand reactions may or may not be shyness, but after a year of never being invited inside her house, accept that she is not interested in furthering the fragile friendship you have made such an effort to build. One sided relationships are rarely a good idea.

2) Smile at everyone

Once I realised that I was not going to naturally slip into a friendship group I decided to simply make the best of a job I had to do twice a day on every week day. As I walked between house and school I would keep my head up and smile at everyone I passed. A number of people seemed surprised by my eye contact. I did not try to engage in conversation but simply smiled as I walked past.

This resulted in people recognising me outside of school (the smiley lady) and I would be acknowledged at village functions and local clubs. I still didn’t have friends, but it gave me a sense of belonging.

3) Only befriend those you are comfortable with

This was a really difficult lesson to learn. I wanted local, adult friends so did not feel that I could decline invitations to social events when they were proffered. This led to some awkward situations when I would be sitting in a room full of people who knew each other well trying to work out if my acceptance of the invitation had been unexpected.

Many of the ladies were lovely but had radically different views or interests to me. I did not wish to go shopping or discuss the sort of television shows that they watched. I did not wish to go the the races or learn flower arranging. I wanted to talk books, films, politics, and had a habit of speaking my mind. I was often at odds with the general consensus.


Eventually I did manage to slip into a friendship group of lovely young mums with children the same age as mine. I was also invited to join a book group populated by a disparate group of literature lovers. A few of these acquaintances have become loyal, supportive and valued friends. Others I have let go over the years because, although I may struggle with finding friends, I have learned that quality is worth far more to me than quantity.





Self awareness and selfishness

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I am sitting curled up in my library, mulling over a very enjoyable few days during which I have partaken of an activity that I view with extreme caution these days; I have been socialising. It has given me a lot of food for thought.

On Thursday I went out for a walk with a friend who used to live in my village. She has been through a great deal in the past year or so, but appears to be in a better place now than she has been for some time. Although I have known her for quite a number of years, it is only recently that I have been spending time alone with her. As we walk and chat I find myself at ease in her company, which for me is relatively rare. I hope that we can find time to get to know each other better. It has been a long time since I have felt inclined to try to get closer to someone.

This weekend we have had long established friends down to visit. One of these friends shared some issues that I had not previously been aware of, which make her active participation in so many endeavours all the more commendable. I know that these are lovely, generous people and I value their friendship highly. They have made me think about how I cope with my own little life and my relationships with others.

I believe that I can be quite a jealous friend. Perhaps I have read too many books or watched too many films where each woman has a best friend, who they can and do turn to at every juncture in their lives. I have never been short of friends, but neither have I had that one and only best friend forever. My good friends have always had other good friends alongside me, and I have allowed that to colour my perception of how they value me. I have allowed myself to consider that I am less important to them because of the others in their lives.

Just as an elder sibling can feel jealous of a new addition to the family, so I have felt less valued when friends have talked of activities they have enjoyed with those closer to their everyday lives. I have not allowed for the fact that our capacity to love knows no bounds when nurtured and cherished as it deserves. My friends made the effort to visit us this weekend, even though their lives are full and busy, and I appreciate and value their willingness to spend time in our company.

I find it very easy to put myself down. It was mentioned how often I do this: I pointed out the flaws in the welcome cakes and cookies that I baked for their arrival; I booked a table at a restaurant so that I would not have to cook a meal that I expected would be a disaster; when dressed for dinner I pointed out that I had put on weight. I was not performing some foolish act whereby I expect to be contradicted when I speak negatively of myself or my abilities, this is simply how I think. Nevertheless, it is not comfortable conversation for others to listen to. I need to concern myself less with me.

My lovely friends brought us thoughtful gifts. I intended to send them home with a box of fresh eggs from our little flock of hens and had selected for them the very best from last week’s laying. In the flurry of goodbyes I forgot to hand them over and feel disappointed that I could not manage even this small gesture of appreciation. It somehow sums up my inabilities, yet if I am to learn the lesson that lurked in the background over these past few days I must not dwell on my unimportant failure.

We had a very enjoyable meal out last night and a lovely walk this morning. It is these aspects, along with the non stop conversation and comfortable sharing that I must focus on. I lack confidence in myself, not something that I can simply set aside, but I can recognise that there are people who choose to spend their valuable time in my company. I must try harder to focus on this and be grateful that I am so blessed.


Giving thanks

My American friends and acquaintances are today celebrating Thanksgiving. I do not know a great deal about the origins of this national holiday but, from the little that I have read, some of the historical details are a bit suspect. By that I mean, as I understand it, some of the things that happened way back may not be the sort of things that should be celebrated. Nevertheless, it is now a long, holiday weekend with a tradition of spending time with family to give thanks for what each has. I like the idea of that.

I like the idea of stopping what we are doing for a little while and giving thanks. I am thankful for the good health that I and my family enjoy, for our comfortable home and for my husband’s ability and willingness to work hard and thereby provide us with all the essentials and a fair few luxuries as well. I am thankful for the love, care and consideration that I experience each day from those around me. I am also thankful for my friends.

I have given my friends quite a hard time over the past couple of years. As I have backed away from so much social contact, concentrating my efforts on my writing and on line presence, my friends have not been given the time and attention that they deserve. As I have struggled with my own inner demons, I have neglected the many friends who have been there for me. I am thankful that they have put up with how I have treated them, that they have made the effort to stay in touch and meet up on the terms that I can cope with.

I love the way it is possible to have minimal contact with old friends but then, when we do manage to get together, often after many years of not seeing each other in person, our enjoyment and conversation feels so natural, as if we did this all the time. I hope that these friends know how much I treasure them.

Newer friends have been willing to schedule in time for walks with me, even when their lives are so busy, thereby allowing me the one to one social contact that I can manage. If it weren’t for these people then I would be at risk of turning into a hermit. I am thankful that they have put up with my panics and imaginings, reassuring me that it is okay for me to work through this period of my life in whatever way I need.

And then there are the friends who have surprised me with the efforts they have made to help me out. I find it hard to ask for anything, I much prefer to give. These people have stepped in with practical help for specific problems without expecting anything in return. I am immeasurably grateful for their efforts on my behalf. I am thankful that we can be friends.

Although I am aware that many people feel uncomfortable with on line, social media, I have found it of great value in recent times. It has enabled me to, not just keep up some contact with those I know but do not often see; but also to reach out, share and learn from those who I would not otherwise have any contact with. It has enabled me to keep in touch with many I may not know well but would like to know better. I am thankful for these more distant friendships too.

I feel privileged to live amongst so many interesting people with their disparate lifestyles and views. I feel privileged that many count me amongst their friends.

The evening meal that I will prepare for my family later today will consist of our normal, midweek fare. My husband will come home after his long day at work, my children will have homework to deal with. Although on this side of the pond we will not be celebrating anything special, I will still give thanks.

My life is good because of the people I share it with.


Dinner with friends

My normally quiet and uneventful life was crammed full of a variety of experiences last weekend. My sons finished school for the summer on the Friday and my elder boy brought home five friends, most of whom I had not previously met, for a sleepover. What a lovely group of young people these friends turned out to be. The event ran smoothly, with minimum disruption, and seemed to be enjoyed by all.

Saturday was spent cooking and clearing up before starting to sort out the many things that we would need for the camping trip that was scheduled to start the next day. Before that though, my husband and I had a dinner out with friends to look forward to. This had been arranged at fairly short notice and I had not investigated the venue beforehand. I was happy to accept whatever was on offer as the main attraction of the evening was the chance to catch up with two of our favourite people who we had not managed to see in over two years. What an unexpected treat we had in store.

Despite my dislike of being late for any appointment, I managed to run behind schedule due to my desire to be as well prepared as possible for the next day’s trip away. Had I known more about our destination I would not have allowed myself to waste a minute of the experience. From the moment we were reunited with our friends, after too long without getting together, I knew that their chosen venue was particularly special.

Whatley Manor is located just a half hour drive from our home. Having driven through the historic town of Malmesbury and out into the countryside beyond we approached the hotel buildings along a tree lined drive. We disembarked from our car and realised that it was unclear which of the low built, stone buildings housed the restaurant. Being already late arriving we decided to phone our friends for directions. They came to our rescue and walked us in; I am so glad that they did. At their suggestion we enjoyed a short tour of the hotel facilities, including the opulent Spa. It was becoming obvious that this place offered a level of luxury that we were not used to encountering.

Although my husband and I have enjoyed delicious meals at restaurants that can boast AA rosettes we had never before eaten at a Michelin Starred establishment. The Dining Room at Whatley Manor boasts two stars and offered an experience that my husband and I will be discussing for some time to come. At the suggestion of our friends we opted for the Taster Menu with wine matching. How happily we accepted their suggestion, quite oblivious to the generous offer that was being made.

Undoubtedly I enjoyed the evening all the more because I was so unaware of just what I was being given. Of course I realised that the food was delicious, the service impeccable, the ambiance delightful and the accompanying wines an experience in their own right. To enjoy all of this with our lovely friends was what made it so special though. Had I known of the exclusivity of the venue beforehand I would not have been able to relax so fully; I would have worried about foolish things such as what to wear; I would have felt cowed by the sumptuous environment.

As it was, we had an utterly delightful evening. We caught up with each other’s news while I merrily critiqued the food and wine; we enjoyed ourselves to the full. We have always valued quality food and fine wine but this evening offered us a whole new level to enjoy. Our friends have gifted us a memory to treasure.

The following day we packed our car and set off on our family camping trip. For five days we slept in a tent and lived on simple, campfire food such as eggs, sausages, burgers and beans. The wine we bought in the local supermarket was chilled in a bucket of freshly drawn, cold water and drunk from plastic goblets. We enjoyed getting back to nature but continued to wax lyrical about our fabulous evening with our friends. As a result, my elder son appears to have added ‘dining at a two Michelin starred restaurant’ to his life goals.

It would be too easy for me to feel embarrassed that I took this dinner out so easily without realising what was being offered. However, knowing my friends as I do, I feel reassured that they did not expect anything from us other than our company. Going so unprepared was ultimately for the best as it precluded the awkwardness I would otherwise have felt. The enduring memory of the evening, and of our friends, remains absolutely fabulous.

Gardens at Whatley Manor

On attraction and friendship

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I could relax more in the company of boys than girls. Throughout my years at school I struggled to fit in, never feeling that I truly belonged in any of the cliques. I had my small group of girl friends from school and church but conversation with them never seemed to flow as naturally as it did with the boy friends. The boys seemed to talk about and do so much more fun stuff than the girls. I couldn’t relate to it all but I enjoyed sitting in on the banter.

Of course, there was always the problem of the sexual undercurrents. I hung out with quite a mixed group and dated a number of them. The difficulties of break ups and of suspecting that one or other of the boys wanted to ask me out could make knowing how freely I could call them up or suggest we do something a bit of a minefield. I wanted to be liked for being me, not as some sort of potential sex toy.

When I started going to nightclubs this became an irritation. In those days I liked to dance and I couldn’t afford to drink too much. I was happy to go with groups of people I knew but had no interest in being chatted up by a stranger. One of my girlfriends felt the same (she was in a long term relationship from a young age) so we would make a pact to be there for each other; to put off the drunken, amorous pursuits of the beer stoked guys looking for a pick up.

Preparing for a night out, this friend and I would decide what to wear. We had neither the money nor the ability to appear fashionable so often opted for outrageous. On several occasions we put on our stitched together ‘ball gowns’ for a disco. We wanted to dance and would do so together, always turning away any boys who tried to step in. We would never accept a drink from a stranger. As the night wore on and approaches became more frequent and pushy we would play the situation up, slow dancing together or acting like eejits, waving our arms in the air and prancing wildly. When we had had enough we would go home, always together and with nobody else. Those nights out were fun.

Some of the boys we encountered at the discos would act as if we were being teases. Turning up at a nightclub as two single girls and then refusing to accept the attention of any boys was seen by them as not playing by the rules. The places did resemble cattle markets with the girls parading themselves on the dance floor while the boys stood around the edge drinking their beer and eyeing up the totty before deciding who they would honour with their attention. I was never going to be interested in the sort of stud who felt this was reasonable behaviour.

Just as I hated the thought of being picked up by some stranger just because of the way I looked, so I was never attracted to a boy just because he was considered handsome. In many ways this was more likely to put me off as I suspected he would be too concerned about his image for my liking. I had no wish to be arm candy.

I liked the boys who invited a crowd round to their house to listen to music and talk. As we got older the meet ups would often be in pubs, but we would still crowd back to somebody’s house afterwards. Sometimes we would go on walks or to a beach, there were camping trips and drives out to remote places for no discernible reason, but it was the talk that I remembered. I wanted to be able to think the way some of those boys thought; to communicate with that witty rapport full of clever comebacks.

It all started to become more complicated as I got older. As acquaintances started to pair off, to get engaged and then married, I had to be careful how I treated the boys in the groups I hung out with. I could no longer flirt and banter as I had without falling foul of wives and potential wives. I could no longer sit up into the wee small hours discussing everything and nothing without facing accusations of impropriety.

These days I only have a few close male friends. I have learnt to be wary of relationships with men, especially when they are married to my women friends. I have seen too many serious fallouts over perceived mental infidelities and want nothing to do with any of that. I find this state of affairs so sad; I still find the conversations men have so much more interesting than the small talk in which women indulge but which I find so troublesome.

I no longer consider myself to be in any danger of being perceived as a sex toy, but am much more wary than I once was of being seen to be suggesting any improper behaviour. The men I know largely regard me as someone else’s wife and treat me warily. We are all being so careful not to cause offence that we do not get to know each other as individuals.

Perhaps this is why I enjoy getting together with old friends so much. With them I can revert to my natural behaviour rather than the uptight carefulness required to avoid social faux pas. Old friends have known me as I was and have seen me move on to what I have become. They have chosen to stay in touch and to still get together from time to time. With them I can just relax and talk.

I never did learn how to communicate with witty rapport full of clever comebacks, but I still enjoy sitting in on such banter. I enjoy talking music and politics and life with friends who can disagree with me whilst respecting my right to hold the views I do. I love being a wife and a mother but I also like to be regarded as an individual with my own thoughts and interests. Just as when I was younger, these seem to conflate more with the thoughts and interests of the men I know. What a shame that so many of us can’t just be friends.

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen

Reliving stupid

I go for a lot of long walks on my own. I enjoy being outside, away from people and their associated traffic. The fabulous views of the countryside spreading out before me in this beautiful corner of the world are an added bonus. It is a chance for me to relax, breathe and think my thoughts.

Sometimes these thoughts are replays of times I have spent with other people. I think about the conversation, how I acted, how I said and did things that I now look back on with embarrassment. Why do I remember the times when I made a fool of myself so much more clearly than the times when I fitted seamlessly into a social scene? There must have been good times too, times when my talk was successfully small and unremarkable.

So there I am, walking across a field or along a quiet footpath, remembering something stupid that I said at a gathering years ago. My body language would look very strange to observers. I find myself grimacing, exclaiming, crossing my arms protectively. I wonder how I can handle looking some people in the eye after behaving so idiotically. I wonder if they even remember.

I try to comfort myself, to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. I will be more aware of my behaviour than others, most of whom are unlikely to have given it much thought. If people have a lower opinion of me after our encounter then why should this concern me when I rarely see them? Perhaps my discomfort is one reason that I feel socially awkward. I enjoy watching people, but will look back on most occasions more fondly if I have managed to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself.

I have no idea why I find small talk so troublesome. Once we have greeted and discussed the weather I seem to struggle to keep things bland. I chat about my kids or what I have been doing, see a reaction of surprise or disapproval on another’s face and go into panic mode. The words that fall out of my mouth dig me deeper and deeper into the hole that I am creating. I want to jump in, cover myself up and never reappear.

I am not like this with everyone. There are people out there with whom I can truly relax; old friends or family who know me well and seem to like me as I am. I can talk naturally without fear of seeing them mentally step back from our discussion. If they disagree with what I have said or done then they will articulate their feelings and we move on. My treasured companions can laugh with me, share my tales, show interest in what I am saying. I come away from these all too rare encounters feeling happy and satisfied. I wonder if that is how others feel after most get togethers with friends.

I do not believe that the people I mix with are hugely judgemental; they do not condemn me for thinking differently to them. I guess what makes me uncomfortable is that feeling of being a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. I can only be myself, yet so often that makes me feel uncomfortable in a crowd. This discomfort provides a catalyst for my foolish talk as I struggle to blend in.

It is not good to dwell too much on past misdemeanours. The way I act will be regarded as unimportant to most. If my behaviour, conversation or attitude is disliked then I would hope that those who feel this way towards me would choose not to include me in their future social plans. We can all be so much happier only mixing with those whose company we truly enjoy.

I cannot take back foolish things that I have said or done. In processing the memories I am trying to come to terms with myself and move on. There are still people out there who choose to spend time with me; I need to make more of an effort to allow this to happen. Too much navel gazing will not make me the better person that I wish to become.



I find it so easy to keep myself to myself. I am comfortable with my own company and that of my on line friends and acquaintances. I need to remind myself of the good times to be had when I make the effort to meet up with others in person. I have been making that effort over the past couple of days.

Yesterday I was invited along to a pub lunch with my Book Group. The plan was for a few of us to walk to and from the pub, meeting up with the rest there. I always enjoy a good walk, and I hadn’t seen a number of the ladies in several months. They are a lovely, friendly group of people and I knew that I would benefit from spending time in their company, which I did.

It was one of those days when I woke up feeling like doing nothing more than curling up in bed and writing. I had made it to the gym the day before, had a relaxing swim after my workout, and then spent the evening with my family who had been feeling unusually sociable. It felt like a good day and I had gone to bed in a cheerful mood. Why I then woke up feeling jittery I have no idea.

I was so tempted to cancel my attendance at the organised lunch but knew that this urge was cowardice. Determined to honour my appointment, I kept myself busy until it was time to leave the house. My feelings by this time were quite scary: nauseous, shaky, unbalanced. I wondered if I was actually ill but knew deep down that it was more likely to be nerves. Given that this was to be a pleasant walk and lunch with ladies I have known for some time the reaction was bizarre. It felt as though I was losing control.

In the event all went well. We walked, we ate, we chatted. It was an enjoyable outing. I am glad that I went along, but do wonder why I reacted as I did to the prospect of such a simple gathering. That lack of control worries me. So much seems to worry me at present; my head is all over the place at times.

Today I had arranged another walk with a friend. This time there was no concern beforehand and, once again, I enjoyed the rare treat of having company on one of my many walks. My friend tried to talk to me about how I was feeling but I am not yet ready to try to verbalise that. I am not yet strong enough to cope with the inevitable judgement.

The reaction amongst others to these recent blog posts has been interesting. In choosing to express how I am feeling in this way I am forfeiting the silence that I would normally desire when personal health issues are involved. In refusing to talk about it though, it sits there like the elephant in the room. I am fine I say, and then I write about how I am anything but fine. I cannot blame those I know for offering suggestions and solutions.

I have a number of good friends who suffer from severe depression. I will never again think that I can understand what they are going through. It cannot be fully understood, and how they deal with their situation must be down to them. When they choose to spend time with me I will know that it has cost them dear, however much they want to see me. The effort required to act the part and deal with the aftermath can be exhausting.

Looking back at how I may have treated them in the past helps me to understand how others are treating me now. They are doing their best to help and I am grateful for that. Those who are giving me comfort and hope though, are the ones who are accepting my behaviour, however erratic or irrational it may seem, and just being there. Even at a distance, knowing that there are caring people who are not dismissing my feelings as invalid just because they cannot see any justification for them is stabilising.

When all around appears to be in flux, having even the smallest handhold on something reliably stable helps to prevent a fall into the void. Be aware, my friends, how much you have done for me in being there and not judging. I have needed that.

It feels as though the eye of the storm has passed and I am now dealing with the aftermath. Something in me has changed and I still need to figure out how that is going to affect me from now on. What has been destroyed needs to be rebuilt and I suspect there will be changes. I wonder who amongst my friends will choose to socialise with me when time reveals whatever I have become.

Just the Way I'm Feeling

A good day

I had such a lovely day yesterday. A friend I have known from when I was a teenager in Belfast has travelled over from America on business and we were able to meet up for Sunday lunch. It is so lovely to get together with someone after many years of communicating only electronically. The few hours that we spent together passed too quickly; I love it that there are some friends who it feels so natural to be with.

This friend was part of the large group of teenagers that I hung out with through my late teens and early twenties. He lived nearby and attended the same university as me, doing the same primary degree course, but a year ahead. His career has always sounded much more interesting than mine though. He worked at the ever fascinating CERN  on the Franco–Swiss border in the nineteen eighties, during which time I managed to travel out to see him. He showed me, amongst other things, the delights of Chamonix in the summer and the spectacle of  the Grand Fireworks Display at the Fêtes de Genève. I travelled extensively at that time but these still stand out as highlights.

I must have spoken at some length about this friend over the years as my children were also eager to meet him, especially my youngest who is interested in pursuing a career in IT. The last time he visited they were very young and remember only his tales of bears in his back yard and the other fierce sounding wildlife that he had encountered. It was a delight yesterday to see them all interacting so well and talking technology with a knowledge that now eludes me. It is no wonder that my children find it hard to imagine that I ever held down a well paid job when I see how advanced their understanding is in comparison to mine.

I was, however, grateful that my children had agreed to eat separately from the adults as I wanted to have my friend’s attention to myself for a few of the hours that we had together. When opportunities to meet up are so rare they must be made the most of. I have managed to keep in touch with a number of friends from my youth, mainly through Facebook, but face to face meetings are few and far between. I guess it says something of our mutual desire to get together that we take the opportunity when it presents itself.

All friends should be valued, but there is something particularly precious about the shared memories and acquaintances of old friends. They have chosen to remain in touch over so many years; they have accepted the inevitable changes that occur as time passes and life experiences alter our perceptions; it is possible to get together after years apart and find conversation flows naturally and freely with no effort required. Time spent together brings such pleasure and satisfaction.

I have chosen to spend today working around my house and garden to savour the positive mood yesterday has put me in. Too often I feel that I rush around, allowing myself to be sucked into feelings of concern or self doubt; to pick up on negative comments or perceptions and apply them too personally. I demand more of myself than it is possible to achieve and then fight the feelings of failure. Yesterday I had, quite simply, a lovely time. I am going to allow myself to appreciate that pleasure; to bathe in the afterglow of a very enjoyable day.


Chamonix, July 1988

How others see me

It is rare to be offered an unvarnished insight into how we are seen by others. Our perceptions of the world around us determine our individual realities; our views will be coloured not just by our life experiences but by those whose opinions we seek out and respect. How we ourselves are seen by these people will rarely be verbalised in any detail. We make assumptions based on snippets of conversation, comments and isolated actions. Others are forming their views in the same way.

Friends will rarely feel able to be too critical for fear of being hurtful. We are fond of our friends and accept those aspects of them that we consider to be faults. We are encouraged to accept those around us as they are and not to try to change them. It is likely that our closest friends will share many of our views anyway as we will generally choose to spend time with those who have similar concerns and interests to us. We are much more likely to offer encouragement and affirmation than criticism; differing opinions will be kept to ourselves or offered gently to avoid causing offence.

Those who are not our friends or who do not know us so well are more likely to be critical but, as they will be basing their opinions on scraps of information gleaned from a few, superficial comments or brief encounters, can more easily be excused or disregarded. It is too easy to misconstrue a few words or actions when context is not properly understood. Insight can still be gained from strangers and their perceptions can be interesting and informative, but most of us will look to those who know us a little better; who we care about and admire; for guidance.

Yesterday I was quite shocked to be told by a long standing and highly intelligent friend that he considered me to be a dupe of a political fallacy that was pernicious and extreme. He believed that I had been conned and did not ‘buy’ my claims to reasonableness. I will mull over the discussion we were having and his explanations for this view of me in due course but, almost more interesting, was my reaction to his bluntly stated opinion. His view of me is so at odds with my view of myself; it is a valuable lesson in complacency.

In just about every area of my life I strive to be reasonable. I try to be open to all sides of an argument and to look at a situation from varying points of view; to be balanced in my opinion and accepting that I cannot see all sides; to bear in mind that I cannot be in possession of all the facts and could, therefore, be incorrect in some of my assumptions. To be told that I am seen as a dupe was unexpected. I was, of course, aware that we follow different political ideologies; I guess I just did not expect the rather scathing, personal put downs.

Our exchange of views happened in the worst possible place for such an interesting discussion – on Facebook. Social networks do not lend themselves well to philosophical debate. However, in this instance I feel that I have probably been exposed to a more honest opinion than had we been face to face. I think that it would have been difficult for him to have been quite so blunt had we not been separated by the impersonal internet. His view may have come as a bit of a blow to my self esteem but it was, nonetheless interesting. I wonder how many other people see my supposedly carefully considered opinions as deluded.

If nothing else, this has been a useful lesson in social interaction. This friend and I are unlikely to ever agree on a political ideology, but I do not see this as a barrier to friendship. His apparently low opinion of me on the other hand could be, but only if I let it. I guess that is why we are so wary of letting others understand what we really think of them when these thoughts are negative. He suggested that I was being sensitive and I suspect that he is right although not for the reasons he articulated. My challenge now is to work through what was said, to learn from it and to move on.

I have been hurt by the comments made but only because I need to work out if I consider them to be true. I know that my friend did not mean to be mean; he is too lovely a person for that. My personal perceptions of myself have been called into question and that is not easy to deal with. I do not wish to be considered a fool when I put so much effort into expanding my knowledge and seeking to acquire understanding. That others may have such a low opinion of me is a hard lesson to learn.



Like all relationships, friendships are complicated. Knowing what is expected can be difficult; knowing how to deal with being deemed disappointing even more so. If we are lucky then we will have friends who accept us exactly as we are; who do not feel neglected when we fail to call and who will pick up exactly where we left off after weeks, months or even years apart. Other friends expect a quid pro quo and will feel let down if we do not live up to their expectations.

How easily we tend to describe people as friends! People we know only a little, perhaps through our children or mutual friends, who we may meet up with regularly but do not truly get to know. Perhaps they would be better described as acquaintances or casual friends to differentiate them from those wonderful people who have chosen to stay with us through most of our lives while perhaps living half a world away. Good friends do not need to have known us for so long, but we can trust those who have to stick with us however we may behave, grow and change.

I do not consider myself to be a particularly good casual friend. I enjoy solitary pursuits and the freedom to do what I want when I want. I would not wish to cut myself off from society entirely but neither do I feel the need to socialise often or regularly. When I do meet up with casual friends I enjoy the company and the craic but can still feel an outsider. Fitting in with a group requires confidence that one belongs.

I wonder if we have too high expectations of friendships from a young age because of the happy, inclusive groups that are portrayed in teenage books and on television. I have made good friends at school, university, work and home but do not consider that I have ever experienced the intensely close relationship portrayed in many of the American TV shows. Does anyone truly feel so intrinsic a part of a non family member’s life? Perhaps this is the nub of my insecurity; I do not know if it is just me who feels this lack.

One of the things that I like so much about on line social networks is the ability to share when it suits without obligation. I feel more comfortable with my relationship with some of my on line friends than I do with many who live close by. Much of this is down to how much each person is willing to share, but there is also the attraction of mutual interests and aspirations which I find harder to gauge face to face. I often feel that I do not express myself as I would wish in casual, occasional conversation. On line there is the space and time to consider what is being said.

I like it that I have a diverse group of friends as I do not wish to mix with only one type of person. I want to try to understand how others think and feel about current affairs as well as more personal issues. It is too easy to mix only with those who share the same views; who will validate rather than question opinions. If we are to learn and develop then we need to understand if not agree with other points of view.

The friendships that have stood the test of time are those which have allowed me to grow and change (as we all do) but remained accepting of the person that I have become. These friends will have seen me behave foolishly but will be able to look on this with humour; they will have seen me say one thing and do another without condemning. I value these friends highly, not least because they do not expect me to be anything other than myself.

I have no interest in pursuing a friendship with someone who wishes to put me down; who will make barbed comments or attempt to catch me out. I do not expect agreement on all things, but friends will accept differing views with generosity and grace. They will not attempt to score points or look good at my expense. Friends may debate, discuss and disagree but will not be disingenuous. I would feel happier if those who do not like what I am could avoid me.

We cannot go through life having contact only with those we choose. Good manners and small talk exist to allow us to navigate the social minefield of unavoidable interaction with people we do not know or may not get on with. Friendships, however, can generally be chosen. They can flourish through any type of contact; on line, face to face or both. However much I may appear to neglect them, I value my friends highly. They enrich my life with their support and humour and care. I sincerely hope that I can do the same for them.

Original caption: Ne ties a friendship bracele...