ON: MAKING FRIENDS IN YOUR THIRTIES Daisy Buchanan breaks out of her comfy social circle and makes new pals
DAISY BUCHANAN breaks out of her SOCIAL BUBBLE and finds friends – and self - confidence – in unlikely places
The wind is blowing my hair out of its ‘relaxed, undone’ style into something more Bonnie Tyler circa 1983. Adding to the full Total Eclipse effect, I’m wearing a long, white maxi dress. I thought I was referencing an old Rodarte Virgin Suicides-inspired collection. Now, though, I’m worried I look like a weirdo in a nightie. I dig my nails into the palm of my hand to quell the anxiety, which is at ‘first date’ levels.
In fact, going on a date would be relaxing by comparison. What I’m about to do seems far scarier. I’m meeting a new friend, Annie, and her pals. ‘We’ll be at the bar on the seafront; meet us there,’ she texted. I’m hoping I seem much more casual than I feel. What if no one likes me? What if I have nothing to say? A year ago, when I was living in London with my husband, I would never have put myself in this situation – a Saturday night with strangers – but since we moved to Margate, a town filled with other newcomers, I’ve rediscovered the joy, and utter terror, of making new friends.
More than one person has described it to me as like going back to university for freshers’ week. Only now, we all have the benefit of an extra decade of experience. I adore my old university friends, and I’m still very close to most of them, but it’s good to meet people who have never seen me throw up on my own shoes.
Annie is one of these people. She’s also a writer whom I first met online because she’d written about living in Margate. She was already following me on Twitter, which made me feel slightly less awkward when I took a deep breath and messaged her, asking if she fancied meeting for a drink. We hit it off straight away – as a journalist and interviewer, she’s used to putting people at ease – and she has since invited me to various nights out and parties. Through Annie I’ve met Rebecca, a jewellery designer, Charlie, an artist, and Miranda, a fortune teller I’m convinced I might have known in a past life, even though it was sheer coincidence we met in this one.
Miranda is a cheerleader, a force of nature and proof that making friends in your thirties is one of the best ways to break out of a friendship echo chamber. Her perspectives have changed my world view, whether it’s about when to raise a family or the benefits of turmeric tea. Admittedly, there was one awkward moment early on when she read my palm and told me she saw two marriages in my future, not knowing my ‘first’, current husband was on his way to meet me. Luckily, he saw the funny side.
But along with the highs of making new friends at a time when friendship surveys say I should be shrinking my social circle, there have also been crushing lows. When I was new to Margate, I went to a volleyball party on the beach that almost put me off trying to make new friends ever again. Perhaps the new setting made me feel uneasy – I’m not especially sporty, and I’m particularly tense when I’m meeting new people while wearing a bikini. However, I turned up full of enthusiasm, ready to smile, tell jokes and ask questions. All the other guests had known each other for at least a year, and every time I tried to make conversation, it felt like playing ball with someone who had turned their back to the net. I was deflated and, for a moment, I wondered whether it was pure fluke I’d ever made new friends.
At school, I’d struggled to be accepted, let alone liked. Even when I was with my friends, I felt lonely. The books I read and the music I loved made me ‘weird’, and I longed to be normal. As I’ve got older, I’ve been able to embrace the weirdness. But these people made me feel all wrong and like an idiot for even considering that the cool girls might want me in their gang. It was one of my best friends, Lauren, who reminded me that things were different now.
I’ve known Lauren for five years. We met on Twitter after her brother, who followed me, got in touch with us both to say, ‘Lauren, this girl sounds exactly like you!’ At first I wasn’t sure Lauren would want to be friends with me – according to her feed, she was the coolest girl in the world; a successful journalist, with a diamond nose piercing, hair like a mermaid’s and seemed to spend every night in a different London restaurant. According to my feed, I spent a lot of time watching reality TV and making stupid jokes about it.
Yet, her brother was right. Everything that comes out of Lauren’s mouth makes me think of the C.S. Lewis line: ‘Friendship... is born at the moment when one man says to another, “What! You too?”’ Lauren might be as cool as I am weird, but she’s my twin soul. She’s said: ‘You’re 32, and your own woman, not 14 and desperate for friends. You’re a joy to know. And you don’t need to bother with anyone who makes you feel less than that.’
She reminded me I wasn’t taking part in a popularity contest. I could afford to be picky and patient, and I’d find my people. For every painful party I attended and mean girl I encountered, there was a chance I might meet someone I loved as much as Lauren. I’m not for everyone, and not everyone is for me. In fact, as I get older, the pool of potential friends probably gets smaller because I’m more defined and less malleable than I was in my twenties. New friends will be drawn to me because of who I am, not because they may have an impact on who I might become. Now that I know myself better, I’m able to choose friends from a wise, informed place.
Friends are connected with different strands of your life, and a person doesn’t need to have known you during the biggest moments in order to be close to you. With most of my old school friends, our paths have diverged dramatically. Yet the platonic idea of friendship seems to be about maintaining those relationships. The older the friendship, the more precious it’s supposed to be. For a long time, I believed I was meant to strive for the friendship equivalent of an immaculate wardrobe filled with perfect piles of beloved, aged, soft grey cashmere. Yet, when I think of my friends and how they’ve all come into my life, I picture a riot of sequins, fake fur, carnival masks, musky bits of vintage and stuff that still has the tags on.
Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar had a theory that you can maintain a stable, intimate relationship with only five people, which then increases by a factor of about three, so you’ll have 15 best friends, 50 good friends and 150 ‘just’ friends*. My life is filled with friends, and sometimes I wish I knew fewer people better. However, there is joy in embracing the chaos and always looking to expand your circle rather than shrink it. Friendship is tribal, but we’re all ultimately following our own path, and when our life changes direction, it’s OK to choose a new tribe for that part of the journey. The people from my past are precious, but I don’t want to be bracketed by them. I don’t want to forget who I was at 22, and I’m glad I have friends who still see the ghost of that girl when they look at me – she’s part of who I am. Having old and new friends lets me see my old and new selves coming together. It makes me excited for the future, and makes me wonder who I’ll know in another year’s time – and who I’ll be.