Too old to make new friends? - by Sumiko Tan
SUNNY, one of my dearest friends at work, will leave the company next month for greener pastures.
He is not my first friend from the office to say goodbye. Over the years, there have been a handful of colleagues who became friends. In recent times, at least three others have also left.
When Sunny told me that he was leaving, I moaned: 'With you gone, I will have hardly any friends left in the office!'
Which set me thinking: At what point does an acquaintance or colleague become a friend? And, to take a step back, what is this concept called 'friendship' anyway? Indeed, what makes you click with one person and form a friendship with him, but not some other?
If a friend is defined as someone I feel completely comfortable calling up at 3 am to bail me out of trouble - and Sunny will do so - then, alas, I don't have that many friends. Other than family members, I can count on just one female friend and three, at best four, male friends. But then, maybe that's plenty.
As someone once said, one friend in a lifetime is much, two are many, three are hardly possible.
FRIENDSHIPS are different from relationships - and thank goodness for that.
You can be great chums with your partner, of course, but a relationship is so much more complex. It is not only about that enrapturing feeling called love, but - if you are unlucky - also a host of murky emotions like jealousy, resentment, anger, pain and despair.
Friendship is simpler and fills you, mostly, with harmless Type B emotions - kindliness, fondness, warmth and cordiality.
With a lover, you make demands and have expectations. But with a friend, you're cool. You don't really owe him anything, or have to explain much, because, ultimately, you demand nothing more from each other than pleasant company and an occasional listening ear.
Love, I read somewhere, is blind, but friendship closes its eyes. How true.
The older I get, the more I value friends. Yet, ironically, I find that it is now not only harder for me to maintain old friendships, but also to form new ones.
When I was in school, friendships came naturally. My friends and I moved in a pack - we ate, studied, gossiped and partied together. We exchanged secrets and gifts, sent cards and gave treats.
Our friendships were firm, and sweet. Coming from an all-girls school, I didn't get to make male friends until I was in junior college. Initial shyness aside, I found that it was possible to have a platonic relationship with a guy, and that they made equally good friends.
By the time I went to university, I was already attached, and had little time to make new friends, male or female.
Then came working life. Through sheer proximity and the amount of time spent together, it was inevitable that some colleagues became more than co workers. What is it that allows you to become friends with some people, and not others? Shared experience is one requisite, and the sharper it is, the better.
For Sunny and I, it was our years spent pounding the same beat, politics. That X factor called 'chemistry' is another, and I suppose this explains how you can be firm friends with people who are very different from you.THE saddest thing about friendship is that it can die. It doesn't come with a lifelong guarantee.
Distance is one killer. Unless you are diligent in keeping in touch with a friend, being far away can drive a wedge in your relationship. Changes in circumstance is another. It has been said that a friend in power is a friend lost, and I have found this to be true. When a friend moves up in life, he will become too busy for you, while you don't want to risk rejection by trying to keep in contact with him. Marriages have also caused friendships to fade as your spouse might not take to your friends. Then there are friendships that die because they have simply run their course.
I had a close female friend whom I had known since we were both 17. About four years back, after 16 years of keeping in touch through the mail, long hours on the phone and giggly lunches, our friendship died. Just like that.
There was no quarrel, no disagreement, no underlying unhappiness or animosity or hurts. The plug was just pulled.
The last time we saw each other was at lunch - in fact, it was to celebrate her birthday. We were our usual loud selves.
After the meal, we gave our usual hug, said our usual cheery goodbyes and made our usual promise to meet again.
We didn't call each other for weeks (which was normal, as we were both busy), then months (which began to feel a bit strange, but nothing to be alarmed about), then, yes, years (by then, it was too late to resuscitate the friendship).
We did talk once, last year, when my father died and she called. I was grateful to hear from her and I know it took a lot for her to pick up the phone after so many years. I wish nothing but the best for her, and am always glad to hear from mutual friends that she is well. Yet, I know that if we were to bump into each other today, it would feel awkward.
If I value friendship so much, why don't I just go forth and make more friends? It is easier said than done. People my age and older are busy with careers and family. I have fewer things in common with those younger. But the fault is mine. At my age, I lack the energy and enthusiasm. Starting and maintaining a friendship might be far less arduous than a relationship, but it still requires effort. Do I have the strength for that on top of the other demands in my life?
So, next month, I say goodbye to Sunny and I am left with one friend fewer at work. British writer Virginia Woolf once said: 'I have lost friends, some by death - others by sheer inability to cross the street.'
Should I spot Sunny - and my few remaining friends - on the street, I trust I can muster the energy to walk up to them and say 'hi'. For, really, that is all it takes to keep a friendship alive.