With friends it’s not always a numbers game

As I’ve got older I’ve noticed a change in how I approach friendship. About seven years ago I wrote an article for the now deceased men’s magazine Shortlist which focused on how my friendships seemed to be dwindling and how that was obviously a huge problem for me. I lamented, very self-pityingly, how I’d gone from having loads of mates to just a core few in the space of 19 short years (which might sound like a weird random number, but it wasn’t, I was basing the whole thing on my comparative milestone birthday parties – 21st vs 40th). I was worried, concerned, perturbed, troubled, bothered, distressed. Awkward about hosting a 40th birthday party and it withering in comparison to the ones that came before it, which it probably did I expect (all a bit foggy now). Essentially I was all about the numbers, because that’s how we gauge almost everything that requires an element of validation – it’s not just political parties reliant on you voting with your feet, or films, or TV shows, or hit records. It’s social media feeds, likes, thumbs up emojis, your bank account, birthday parties. The numbers tell you how people feel about you, they give you accurate statistical evidence of how much you matter.

Only, you know, do they?

As people (or ‘human beings’ as I call them), we’re in constant flux, repeatedly rejigging what’s of value, what matters and what constitutes a successful life. And while we’ve always been quick to exhibit totems of our fruitfulness (cars, belt buckles, hot spouses, trainers, suits, boob jobs, Prince Alberts), we know that ultimately they don’t mean anything, they don’t matter in the scheme of things, they’re just the modern equivalent of sporting a necklace made of your enemy’s teeth. Proof that you’re better than some, but not all, when filtered through an overindulged societal lens. The one that insists your true worth as a person can be measured by how good you are at your job.

For me, as I’m sure it is for loads of people, success isn’t about the numbers (because, truthfully, it can’t be). It’s manifested in very specific relationships. I’ve not thrived professionally – I’ve not smashed it in the workplace, my stash of cash isn’t creaking any floorboards. I’m not good with big groups either, I’ve been known to wilt beneath the spotlight. But on a micro scale, in smaller pockets, single figured numbers, I’m in my element. I’m a decent dad, my husbandry (the art of being a husband, not animal husbandry) isn’t bad. And in the right configuration, I’m a spectacularly good friend. And friendship is increasingly important to me, particularly as I get older.

My core long-term friendships have become integral to everything, a huge part of my identity, the person I am is often reflected entirely through them. They mightn’t operate with the same frequency as before – when we’d hang out every month, every week, or in some cases, god forbid, live together every day in the same flat (with full ashtrays in every room, including the bathroom, and a very promiscuous attitude towards other people’s shower gel) – but they’ve evolved. They’re a different texture now, they thrive on a shared history and cultivated shorthand. We’ve collectively steered each other through life, through bereavements, depressions, numerous cases of getting dumped or embarrassing ourselves on nights out, or taking psychedelic drugs and believing that we could actually stop time – and now we’re completely embedded in each other’s lives, part of the tapestry, part of the shared experience, proof that we all genuinely matter. At least in our tiny corner of the universe.

Hang on, have I just spent 600 words basically saying ‘it’s quality not quantity’? Oh fuck I think I have. I’m such a Samantha.

2 Responses to With friends it’s not always a numbers game

  1. Holland Ben says:

    Great article Josh – true words!

  2. alan says:

    Aww, I have a tear in my eye. Beautiful and truthful words.

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