I am too old to make new friends.
My best friend when I was at school was Steve. We met when he joined my school and I was about 12 or so. We probably saw each other every day and spent most evenings playing football or swimming depending on the season, and as we grew older, playing football and swimming and listening to music, and as the years passed playing football and swimming and listening to music and drinking beer. And as we both found jobs, saw less of each other and had to prioritise our time together, drinking beer and chasing girls.
When we first met we didn't have much history to recall as we were still young enough to just live in the now and not wallow in nostalgia. We were very different people but had just enough in common to be able to talk for hours about the new Black Sabbath album or be able to say nothing whilst having a beer and watching the boats go in and out of the harbour at the Still and West pub. Work gradually distanced us, I got married, he got married, he had children, I married Ploy and we met up again after years apart and we just picked up where we left off, although Black Sabbath had no new album for us to talk about this time. But then we moved abroad and Steve never was a great writer. It has now been years since I have had any contact with him.
Apart from Steve I have had a few closer friends, but no-one who I can talk about anything to without being judged. Until Ploy that is. As with Steve, when we met we did not discuss the past. We very rarely do now. Ploy occasionally asks about my first marriage, I sometimes talk about my mother and father; I know very little about her past, it was only a couple of years ago I found out that she was adopted and who I thought were her mother and father were her adopted parents. It doesn't seem to matter.
No-one else I have met over the years has become any more than an acquaintance, someone to share a beer with for an evening, but for whom two consecutive evenings would find the conversation drying up and the silences uncomfortable. With Ploy and Steve the silences were comforting embraces where just a smile was all that was required to say more than words could. Acquaintances talk about work and sport and mundane things. They don't talk with any passion because that would be letting their guard down. No secrets are shared, the laughter is forced.
With ubiquitous social networking it is easy to accumulate acquaintances. Facebook calls them 'friends' but Steve and Ploy are not on Facebook, my best acquaintance who is the only one to write long e-mails in the style of the hand-written letters of old, is not on Facebook. So who are the 96 people people I had listed as 'friends' there. They are mostly work colleagues. But some are people I have never met.
Last week I got attacked on the only Internet forum I bother to read. It was from someone who was on Facebook as a friend, and also in my Skype contacts. It actually surprised me but also made me realise I don't know anything about these people. His Internet persona seemed pleasant enough, we had talked on Skype and he seemed pleasant enough; both of those judgments were clearly wrong. A while before that he had written about his liking for the Hangover movies; I hadn't seen them but had had the misfortune to buy Due Date, a contender for the worst movie of all time and a movie he also enjoyed. The warning signs were there. Yet they were ignored because we had one thing in common; we lived in Thailand. Without this I would never have met this man, without the Internet I might even had moved to another table in a restaurant if I had found myself beside him as he has a penchant for going topless, and not with any justification. But without that instant judgment that years of evolution have given we allow these people into our lives.
A couple of weeks before that we had a visitor. He had e-mailed me and we had befriended each other on Linked-In. He was an engineer, his wife was Thai and also an engineer, it seemed we might have something in common. The e-mail said he was in Thailand for a contract and maybe we could meet. I replied with suitable vagueness. And then I got a call, he was at Saraburi bus station and could we pick him up. Steve would know not to do that to me; I don't like uninvited guests. Ploy suggested to leave him there but we ended up spending the day talking. About work and sport. He seemed to want to stay overnight but we persuaded him to leave. I still don't know why he came.
Ploy has also had problems with 'friends', people she has befriended who she later finds out had ulterior motives for the friendship. Like the chap that runs the little karaoke parties who complained to Ploy when she didn't bring food one time. I had even had requests for meals as they liked spaghetti Bolognese, so I made it a couple of times even though I don't like karaoke and prefer penne pasta. But the one time we didn't come with food they actually complained, to our faces in front of everyone. Only two people actually made food for the party, Ploy (and me) and one other lady. Sometimes some of the others would buy something to bring. But it became clear there was a hierarchy where the more important guests were instructed not to bring food. We were not one of those. So Ploy doesn't go anymore for which she is now said to be 'jai dam' or 'black heart'.
Friends do not use you like that. Friends do not have conditions on the friendship. Friends do not grade you in importance. Friends are not friends for what they can get from you. Friends don't make snide remarks about you on a forum.
So I have had a purge. Gone are 35 Facebook 'friends' who I have never met and in all likelihood never will. Gone are over 100 Linked-In contacts whom I have never met. Gone are those that contacted me only for what they could sell me; the recruitment consultants, anyone with an MBA. Gone are those Skype contacts who I never really knew, the people that appear to welcome you whilst complaining to someone else I haven't made them a Caeser salad in a while or who don't understand the fact I don't like mushrooms.
I feel better for having undertaken this social networking enema. What I have left are acquaintances, people who I know I would enjoy a beer with. People who don't arrive out of the blue for no apparent reason. But they are not true friends for that would take too long now, and we both come with too much baggage. I needed to prioritise. I still welcome conversations about opera or art history or about nothing in particular. But for the silences I have Ploy and I am too old to find another true friend.
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