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06 Oct 2004 00:00
Why do old people have fewer friends than young people? Is it because they’re choosier? Or less entertaining company? Could it be that they just can’t work their cellphones?
This is something I found myself wondering the other day when I noticed that, family excepted, there was not one person in my phone book whom I had met before I was 18. Now, at 28, I don’t consider myself old, but I have realised that I suffer from a problem that affects us all over time: relationship wastage.
Put simply, we leak friends.
As a child, I did have friends.
With not a single childhood friend left in my life, I accept that I am an extreme example — not, I hope, of misanthropy, but rather of that stealthy negligence, the failure to keep in touch. I take some comfort from the knowledge that it takes two not to tango, so this can’t be my fault alone. And I take a little more comfort from the fact that almost everyone is guilty of this to some extent, and that it’s a crime we commit and recommit on a weekly basis.
And if you think you’re innocent, try this. First, imagine that you have no particular plans for tonight. This may not be difficult. Now: Who, out of everyone whose phone number you possess, would you feel comfortable calling at 6pm to ask if they fancied meeting up? Pens down.
These people are your A-list, and I’ll bet there aren’t many of them. No matter how relaxed we feel with someone, there are few greater intimacies than admitting that we have nothing to do on a Saturday night.
Now consider again, under the same circumstances, whom you’d welcome such a phone call from. We’ll call these people your B-list, but not to their faces. This time, I’ll bet there are dozens of them.
There is a simple and near- universal principle at work here: people like us more than we think. And, in forgetting this, we allow friendships we ought to maintain to rust and, finally, to seize up.
I had a friend at school called André. I can’t remember exactly when “have” became “had’‘. We lost touch in the usual way — our joint fault.
And then he e-mailed me about two years ago, asking what I was doing and how things were. We arranged to meet up for a drink, but I had to cancel because something came up.
While we were negotiating a new date, I left my job, realising too late that I had also left at the office my only copy of his e-mail address. I meant to ask someone to dig it out for me, but I forgot, and then it was too late. Which is when I realised what this must have looked like to him: that I had politely shown willing, then fobbed him off, and then not bothered to get in touch — the sort of thing that I would have done if I hadn’t really wanted to see him. No wonder he hasn’t made contact again.
The other thing I realised when I was looking through my phone book was that this time it was my turn to get in touch with him. — Â
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