Today is my friend Alison’s birthday. We first met in 1977 at college and became friends. For 3 years we shared many of the major events in each other’s lives – all the drama that young women go through when they are away from home and finding out who they are. I thought she was the coolest person I had ever met. She had an interesting family dynamic that made mine seem dull and boring. She had a big sister who was her best mate and I wished I had that bond with someone (I now have that with my sister but we hadn’t got there at that time). She dressed in a very Bohemian way and had cascading red hair that I envied so much.
We shared so much back then. She introduced me to Leonard Cohen and roll up cigarettes. We watched black and white films together on Sunday afternoons with tea and cake. We talked books and boys and love and sex and music and everything in between. I enjoyed her company and missed her during holidays away from college. Alison was a huge part of my growing up from a child to a woman. And I’m sure I never thanked her for that.
All these years later and we don’t see each other very often. Life and several children got in the way and although we kept in touch we drifted apart from the closeness of college. But this year we are planning to meet up and I am looking forward to that so much. I hope that our friendship is as strong as it ever was and we will slip back into the comfortable companionship that we had in the 70s. But there is the chance that we will have moved so far apart that our friendship is different.
So how do I feel about that?
I have been lucky that I have had several good friends through my life. I have never been someone with a wide circle of friends. At school I had 3 or 4 good friends, people I could turn to and rely on. The same was true at college, there were 4 or 5 good friends and more people who I was friendly with but wouldn’t share everything with. Through the years I have been close to a few people but never had a large circle of friends. If pushed to name my best friend I would pick my sister. I know she would always have my back and give me sound advise. But having a best friend isn’t as important now as it was when I was younger.
Friendship is a wonderful thing and good friends should be cherished. I have made some great online friends through various writing groups and hope to meet with some of them in real life. The support they give me is invaluable but as we have never met how do I know if they would be friends with me in real life? We might not get on at all!
I have read that we need friends for good mental health. Studies show that healthy relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief and help you reach personal goals. Maintaining positive relationships should rank up there with healthy eating and exercise as a necessary investment in your health. In times of trouble it is friends and family that we turn to. Some things are easier to talk about with a friend rather than family as you may not want to burden or worry them. Friends are a great soundboard for ideas and dreams and a good friend won’t judge you for the mad ideas you may have. I remember the blue sky thinking I did with Alison when we were at college, we were going to conquer the world. Even though we didn’t, obviously, it was important to bounce those ideas around and dream about the possibilities. You can do that with a good friend.
So today I wish Alison a happy birthday, raise a glass in celebration of friendship and start planning to meet up with my ‘old’ friend this year.