Making friends has never been something I’ve felt particularly good at. I do have some friends, so I can’t be entirely awful, but really I’ve always felt like I have the bare minimum amount. To the point that, when I’m sometimes gripped by a sudden paranoia that maybe I don’t have any friends at all (usually brought about by the prospect of a birthday party) I just list the names in my head, breathing a sigh of relief if I can get to five.
The fact that I’m mediocre at friend-making was something I did not take into full consideration when I moved to London. Living at home in the middle of nowhere, in lieu of a full calendar I had horses to keep me busy, practically blocking out every weekend of my life from the age of 8. I would wake first at sleepovers, getting picked up at 9 so I could go muck out while the others finished watching the film we’d fallen asleep to the night before, on a living room floor lined with sleeping bags and sofa cushions.
I’ve always cherished ‘alone time’ too, rejoicing upon returning to an empty house. I’m still not sure if that’s weird. My mum recalls one summer holiday that I spent entirely on our sofa, just watching film after film on my own. That summer was the perfect, improbable balance of horses and Ashton Kutcher.
These might be the reasons why now, living in London with literally no kinds of commitments or ties, I frequently find myself with an entirely empty weekend. Turns out I’m as bad at making plans as I am at making friends, and behind both lies the same apathy towards socialising.
At school I’d always been happy enough with a small, tight-knit group of friends – surely the exclusivity of a Sleepover Club-style group was the dream? So I often felt a bit outraged when someone deigned to make other friends outside the group. Like that running joke they had in Friends, if someone mentioned spending time with someone from outside the group, they would then have to qualify, ‘YOU GUYS, I do have friends outside the six of us!’ That was a funny joke, but seriously, how dare Pheobe?
But things have changed. Five friends is no longer enough when those five friends – apparently not plagued by the same apathy towards fun – are busy, and to be alone in London is to be so thoroughly alone. It’s to say goodbye to the people at work and some not even register your exit; to get on the bus alone; to walk into an empty flat (because even those guys you met on Spare Rooms are out tonight) and it’s a stretched out evening divided into half an hour chunks of catch-up TV.
So recently I’ve made a conscious effort to make sure I’m seeing new people and lining up plans with a keenness that does not come naturally to me (no matter how much I try to hide it, people recognise me as non-hugger a mile off, which is something that really jars with my self-vision as a free spirit going where the wind takes me). For the first time I’m replying to all texts (Yes we should do something soon! How about tomorrow??) and using my iPhone calendar to book plans in weeks in advance. When I check it to find that most days next week have a tiny dot underneath, a tightness in my chest drops away – even if one of those dots is preprogrammed to tell me it’s Summer Bank Holiday in Scotland. Being able to enjoy your own company is no bad thing, but I have learnt the lesson that staying in only breeds more staying in, and a plan made for next month means next month ain’t so boring. I’m collecting those calendar dots like precious jewels.
Abby Parsons | @abbyparsons30