“Who do you think you’ll stay friends with when we leave school?” My friendship group was always obsessed with this question. Why? Well, a) because we went to an all girls school and there wasn’t much to talk about and b) because it was an excuse to be bitchy under the guise of being prophetic (“Well DEFINITELY not Alison – she’ll have been sectioned by then.”)
We were worried that, once we’d passed through the pearly gates of university, our juvenile friendships would be eclipsed by love-affairs, lecture halls and Jägerbombs.
Initially, this wasn’t the case. Given that most of us were privileged little swots bound for further education, our lives continued to run in tandem until graduation. Sure, one friend went to Bristol, another to Edinburgh, but broadly speaking, everyone still had a lot in common. The clubs had different, equally ridiculous names, but our experience was still ultimately shared.
Then after graduation, we felt a shift. Suddenly, we were all in different places, in different countries and at different stages. Some people were doing a nine to five, renting a flat with their partners and talking about credit ratings (What is a credit rate? Do I have one? Is it like taxes? Do they expect me to rate my own credit?) Some of us were still at uni, doing a master’s and soldiering on with the student lifestyle (perhaps trading in the Jägerbombs for G&Ts to signal the monumental difference between undergrad and postgrad lifestyles). Some of us, ok, one of us, was a freelance journalist, constantly having to cancel her plans at a moment’s notice, and getting in touch mainly to beg people to like her latest tweet.
We weren’t living the same lives anymore, and that can make friendship much harder. Not with your absolute closest friends – the ones whose phone calls start with questions like “So, where are we on the ‘to fringe or not to fringe’ question?” (I haven’t had a fringe since I was seven, but every couple of months I force my friends to engage in a long, painstaking discussion about whether or not my forehead looks lonely).
But, absolute bosom-buds aside, with lots of school or university friends, you find yourself repeatedly slipping into talking about the past. You discuss the supply teacher you fancied because he was a) a man and b) under 40 years old, the way that the Geography classroom always smelled of body odour, that person you both hooked up with during freshers week. You worry that all you ever had in common was that you were doing the same thing (sometimes literally, in the case of the freshers week boy).
And at this point you have two options. The first is to settle for the ‘Half-Arsed Adult Friendship’. You say adult things to each other like, “we must go for coffee soon” (even though you still prefer hot chocolate) or “let’s get a pint after work some time” (even though the two of you used to regularly buy a £3 bottle of Lambrini each, and down it before dinner).
We all have some ‘Half-Arsed Adult Friendships’ in our lives. But, if you find yourself wishing that you could rekindle the old, school-days spark with someone, there is a second option.
Instead of seeing your digressions as a reason to talk less, try to think of yourselves facing adult life together, rather than independently or competitively. Think of it as pooling life experience, so that someone’s personal dilemma of “whether or not colleagues will judge you for going to McDonald’s for lunch,” suddenly becomes an issue of universal relevance. After all, everyone could benefit from finding out whether eating McNuggets at the desk is a sackable offence.
In the early days of adulthood, it’s both wise and entertaining to quadruple your life experience by sharing your friends’ pains and successes.
Listen to your mates attentively, and allow their lives to have a bearing on your own – whether that means taking heart in their encouraging stories (“And I DID get the job, even though I accidentally called the interviewer mum”), or learning lessons from their cautionary tales, (“So, I finally understood why they use Ketamine as a horse tranquilliser”).
This way, you can re-establish intimacy without having to pretend that nothing’s changed. And, just because you no longer spend your Saturdays trying on identical dresses in H&M, doesn’t mean you don’t still have things in common. You’ll find that a deeper, more meaningful connection can emerge from the ashes of an old friendship.
Illustrated by Georgia Turner