The nature of friendship

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject recently. Two of the girls’ friends from nursery have recently moved on: one to a different nursery and the other has emigrated with her family. R and G know that H and M aren’t around anymore but have taken a matter-of-fact approach to it. G told us that H goes to another nursery now and she hoped that he would be going for a walk with his new friends. R said that M had gone away, again to another nursery.

Dh and I feel more upset about this than the girls, which is sign of their resilience as children and our sentimentality as adults. We feel the loss of their friends on their behalf – they just accept it as a part of life. I wish that, as adults, we could all be as resilient as the children. Of course, friendships are much simpler when you’re two. When you’re a grown-up they become complicated and messy.

Contrary to popular belief, friendships were actually much simpler the days before social networks. You made plans to meet people and kept them. If you didn’t want to see someone anymore you stopped returning their calls or replying to their e-mails. Now we’re all friends with people in real-life and many of us have a group or two of virtual friends. It makes our Facebook and Twitter feeds complicated and jumbled, which can be good in some ways but disconcerting in others. What do you do if you want to ‘end’ a friendship?

This is a taboo subject to some and a source of confrontation for others. I’m always amused by the people (usually the arrogant types) that announce to their networks that they are conducting a friend cull on Facebook (also known as going on a de-friending spree) or reducing their ‘Following’ count on Twitter. Apparently you’re supposed to feel pathetically grateful afterwards that you’ve made the cut and they have deemed you worthy of continuing friendship.

Sneakily going through your friends or following list and removing people feels a bit dishonest but it’s the approach I prefer. I also go through phases of ‘hiding’ people on Facebook that I want to keep in touch with but don’t need 25 status updates from them every day. Again, it feels a bit sneaky but it’s probably a bit kinder than sending them a message outlining exactly how much their constant updates about their cats/children/dogs or the really crappy and borderline sexist/racist jokes they post all the flipping time irritate the life out of you and make you want to hurl your iphone at the wall. Not that I’ve ever felt like that of course…

I’ve been de-friended by people in my time, usually by fairly remote acquaintances or by people the friended me and I couldn’t quite work out why but accepted them anyway. I used to get quite worked-up about it and try to analyse why they may have decided I wasn’t worth knowing any more (I suspect it’s because I’m 1. Quite political and 2. Quite irritating) but don’t fret about it quite as much now. I’m lying of course – it bugs the hell out of me.

Now, I’m not in the habit of culling and cutting my friends. I value my friendships extremely highly and I’m lucky enough to have made a diverse collection of friends over the years. However, when people that you previously liked become a source of constant irritation, when they turn out to be self-centred nasty little pieces of work, when they prove to be flaky and unreliable, when they turn out to be two-faced and rude and/or when you start questioning their motives for doing things, I think it’s useful to re-assess whether you should still regard them as friends.

It would actually be tremendously useful for if Facebook developed an application called the Friendship Counselling Service, in which you could air grievances with a view to resolving your differences. If the counselling failed you would be given a date on which your social network ties would be severed, giving you time to de-tag the photos of them and to allow for a sufficient period of mourning or voodoo doll-building, whichever you found more therapeutic.

As you may have guessed, I’m at this stage with a couple of my own friends at the moment and I’m not quite sure how I proceed. I’m aware of how awful and arrogant this is but I suspect that they feel much the same way about me, so one of us needs to do something about it. I can’t decide whether to go for the jugular or do the wimpy sneaky de-friending thing. Neither feels quite right. When you’re two, the ending of a friendship is easy and straightforward. When you’re thirty it’s much harder.

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