A stranger on the internet invited me to join her for a witchcraft session this week and I couldn’t be more excited. Anna* and I met via Instagram – she’s a writer, I’m a writer, we both live near the same city – my new friend radar started honking in my ear from the first hopeful glance at her Instagram feed. Images of frothy artisanal coffee next to a well-poised laptop and book had me cracking out the multi-coloured friendship bracelet thread.
“Our husbands have the same first name!”
“That’s the date of my wedding anniversary too.”
“You’re not going to believe this but my first language is the one you are trying to learn!”
The God’s have been quick-firing best buddy signs at Anna and I so quickly that I’ve begun mentally creating the opening credits montage to a British version of Friends featuring us two and our same-name partners. The four of us diving in and out of the fountains by the Greggs in town, smacking each other with brollies as we laugh giddily and head to our new hang out spot at the overpriced hipster coffee booth with no seats in the creative quarter. Evidently, I’m on the brink of starting a fabulous, 90’s-TV-worthy friendship with a woman who I have plenty in common with and will undoubtedly co-write future bestsellers alongside.
Except that, her suggestion that we meet for a witchy afternoon is in fact not a courageous first hang out invitation, but rather a final attempt to kick-start our real-life socialising because thus far Anna and I have done nothing but send a series of ‘coffee soon?’ DMs back and forth.
Arranging to go for a coffee with someone new in your life when you hit your late twenties seems about as difficult to negotiate as Brexit – you both keep voting against whatever is on the table and the date keeps sliding back. Social calendars in your nearly thirties start filling up with weekend visits to couple friends’ who moved out to a sea-side town to escape the city, standing coffee dates with people from school who now dogmatically repeat soundbites to you they heard in the first thirty seconds of a Facebook video, or handing over first birthday gifts whilst apologising for arriving ‘just as it’s nap time’.
“Yes, that’s right, I don’t have kids, I didn’t realise that when the invite said the party starts at 1 pm that didn’t secretly mean 2.30.” (Did everybody else get copied into an email about the fashionably-late-rule no longer being ‘in vogue’ when they hit twenty-six that I was not Cc’d in)?
We often find that by our twenty-somethings we have cast-off from the anchor points that tied us to our past friendships. We co-exist in a strange social landscape where the people we love and who remember how fun we were before we gave up caffeine, are no longer a part of our everyday lives. House-shares are now a thing of the past and standing Friday night drinks have been replaced by cooking a Hemsley and Hemsley recipe at home together with our beloved other half (but seriously, where do you buy ghee?).
Sustaining old friendships – finding common ground in your current lives – can start to become a black hole sucking in time, energy and the same old anecdotes on repeat at every coffee meet-up. Kept busy by the social obligation to constantly bombard one another with ‘what have you been up to?’ Whatsapps, and travelling to attend celebrations in far-flung places with people who used to live across the hall, we are left with little free time to question if these friendships still actually bring us the fulfilment and enjoyment we need. They are our old friends, we are fond of each other. But does that mean we should be pouring our time and energy into maintaining these friendships that are no longer a natural part of our everyday life, that doesn’t give us the social satisfaction they once did? Worst still, this is arguably at the expense of being able to let new friendships in.
Technology’s impact on friendships in the modern age has been well documented in books like Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, in which the author examines how we have entered an age where we prefer social plans to be filtered through social media rather than determined by a knock on our front door. Thanks to digital invites we can more readily choose which plans we accept and decline. The trouble is, most of us never truly do either. We are a generation of ‘can we reschedule?’, often unable to commit because the people we are making plans with aren’t inherent in our current life. Technology has created a world in which we never let go of one another. If you open up any twenty-eight-year-old’s Whatsapp chat history you are guaranteed to find it reads like a scene from a Dicken’s novel – the ghosts of school mate’s past, partner’s ex-housemate still in your present, and yet another Starbuck’s date scheduled for future, all wobbling forth in a scarily apocalyptic manner.
It’s time we exorcised some of these ghosts to make way for the fulfilling friendships of our future. The next time somebody tells you ‘we must do this again soon’ stop and decide if this is true for you. Did you have fun with them today? Are you leaving feeling a little lighter? A little warmer? Did it take a cabinet full of MPs and perhaps a second referendum to schedule this cappuccino round? Sometimes you won’t even need to ask the questions, fiercely defendant of your best friend of fifteen years you will be shaking your head ferociously at the thought, and these are the old friendships to keep. But those mates that deep down you know just don’t fit with who you are now, or where you are in life – it’s time to let them go.
Accept their next lunch invite, then at the end tell them you will always care for them, you wish them much joy in their future endeavours, but this cycle of trying to squeeze one another into your present lives just isn’t working for you. Watch as they visibly melt into their Frappuccino with reciprocated relief.
Keep liking one another’s Instagram posts, but cross each other off your to-do-list. There’s a new friend with common interests and a lifestyle that fits yours just waiting to invite you for a spooky evening of witchy-ness and Netflix note swapping once you create the space to let them in.
*not their real name.